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Digging Deep with JonnyVicious

Jonathan Charles or as he is much better known as Jonnyvicious throughout the region as a celebrated DJ, event producer, booker and currently chef!
Rimka Sandhu

Rimka Sandhu

A psychology graduate with a love for all things music and fashion

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There really isn’t much this human can’t do well with attention to every detail. He started his quest in 2009 to create better nightlife in KL after partying around Europe during his yearly summer breaks. From starting his successful Nobody Listens To Techno nights to his current Shagrilla parties that bring focus to queer art and to help young people actually understand what being in a real club environment feels like, the freedom, the expression, the dance.

The one thing that’s certain is that he is succeeding in creating better party experiences for everyone in this city. His musical knowledge ranges wide from Jazz to Classic Rock, to Disco; it is with this understanding that he is able to throw in a soulful Aretha track while playing a deep techno set with such smoothness and ease. His name has been linked to some of the biggest brands in dance music from working with the Amsterdam Dance Event in 2017 to organizing Circoloco in 2019 in Kuala Lumpur. Now that I’ve managed to summarize a very colorful career in dance music for the past 12 years let’s get to know Jonnyvicious a little deeper, so let’s get digging…

As a DJ we all have various reasons for doing what we do. Why do you do what you do?

Well, that is basically why I started this journey in the first place. To be a disrupter. I was sorely exhausted by the likes of Shaggy, Ja Rule and Missy Elliot after partying to their repeated tracks weekly. After hearing about Kuala Lumpur’s rich history in House and Techno, I just had to start disrupting the commercial world with a few House & Techno parties.

Since you started in the scene you have been known to gravitate towards more niche sounds, never shying away from throwing in some unexpected tunes in your sets to create those many wow moments along the journey. What makes you into stuff that’s out of the box?

I’m not quite sure how to answer that, I’ve always been driven by being different. The one thing that turns me off is tracks that are on charts, I know it probably makes me sound like a fool, but if I’m going to play a track, I better not have heard it ever in a club. Life is too short to hear the same songs over and over again!

I think many people in the scene have you to thank for giving them space or a chance to play for the first time. What was your thought process for doing this and how do you feel about giving newcomers space to flourish in a small city like Kuala Lumpur?

When I entered the scene 10 years ago, I found it hard because I never really had anyone to look up to or be coached by. I watched many amazing older DJs do their thing, but the love and time that they probably got from their mentors just weren’t readily available in the city. I took this as a challenge and started focusing on enriching younger DJs with a platform to flaunt their sound. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a picky bitch and not many made the cut, but rest assured if you did, you’d be loved and cherished and occasionally told off.

You have thrown many amazing parties before but one of your most recent stand-out ones has been Shagrilla highlighting the dark underground LGBTQ culture in the city. How did this idea come about and why did you think this party was necessary for this city?

I managed to catch a mere glimpse of what it was like to be gay and have a great time in this city. I entered it towards the end of its glory days. Bars like Frangipani and Marketplace gave queens a space to be, and dodgy but delightful clubs like Queen & Quinte allowed for queer folk to strut their stuff in full regalia. As someone who frequented gay clubs in Europe, I needed to show KL that we could still pull it off. Drag had been expressed solely at drag shows, and the spectator syndrome was driving me insane. Queer folk need conducive spaces to express themselves, and that must include, great music, lights, drag, podiums and themes! Shagrilla managed to pull everything together and playing for 7 hours straight each time at our 5 parties gave me more satisfaction than my entire 10 years of djing combined.

How do you think we as Malaysians can be better allies to the LGBTQ community?

Human rights is very easy –  if you think about them in the most layman way. Protect everyone, whether gay or straight has been my mantra and the mantra of most people around me. Sex isn’t taboo unless you’re deeply affected by it. We are all God’s children, and if you think using god to harm another human is right. You got the wrong idea of her. Life is too short for you to be upset about the habits of another. So, to be a better ally, one must respect not just the LGBT but everyone around.

In 2018 during your birthday you threw A Vicious Extravaganza bringing together KL city’s finest to raise money to rebuild the Stepping Stones orphanage, are there any more projects or causes that you’re interested in working on post COVID?

A Vicious Extravaganza was set to be an annual affair. My take on helping young children around this city was to build them better-living conditions. Most privately owned homes are in shambles due to a lack of funding. The thought of young children trying so hard to get by without basic comforts in life brings me immense sadness. So hopefully when the world regains its strength again, I too will be able to restart this entire project and hopefully build a foundation from it.

Anyone who has heard you play knows how you smoothly take them on a journey with your track selections. Could you tell us a little about your process behind prepping for your sets? Do you usually follow your head or heart when deciding which track to lay next?

It takes a fair bit to catch me truly blowing a dance floor to smithereens. Good sound is definitely one of them as I am partially deaf. So, when I am in a club with a great sound system and booth monitors to match, I tend to enter a void, this void has me working almost like a supercomputer as I effortlessly scroll through my hard drive that holds about 6000 tracks, picking the right track minute after minute. I usually only prepare organized sets when playing in another country. My residencies are led by intuition & what mood the crowd is in. I usually pick out one or two dancers in the crowd and aim to solely please them, it almost certainly always works!

Since all of us DJs are reminiscing about the good old days when we were moving crowds in dark rooms, name me one gig in your life that you wish you could replay?

Well, this one doesn’t involve a dark room but more a small lounge-like stage that I totally fucked up once at a festival. I had no idea what was coming and came totally unprepared for what was truly expected of me. Which was to play an ambient set at Equation Festival. It bugs me till today that I was so unprepared and pretty wired (it was 9 am), and I’m hoping this festival makes its back to its yearly rotation so I can make up for it!

This pandemic has been tough on everyone especially those in the music/nightlife industry. What did you do during the pandemic to survive?

The pandemic created its own sub pandemic within the entertainment industry and I slowly watch more and more entertainers and entertainment joints throw in the towel due to lack of funding and help from the government.

I am so grateful that I have been blessed with the ability to cook very well. This past year led me into creating what I was planning to do when I retired from club life. My partner and I started a supper club called Super Secret Social, my love for the underground has spilled over to my supper club as I keep it a little bit of a hard-to-get secret dining experience.

How will you manage Super Secret Social and DJ’ing once clubs are open again?

To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I am currently living out what I believe I was born to do. So we’ll see when the time arrives. Shagrilla will definitely be something I make sure stays alive 😉

What would 2021 Jonnyvicious tell 2009 Jonnyvicious?

It’s going to get difficult, stop overthinking everything and trust in the process, oh, and don’t forget to smile while djing!

Since you wear many hats, DJ, event producer, booker and currently chef which one do you truly enjoy the most? Or which gives you the most joy?

I love the outcome of everything I do because of its impact on this little city I love and live in. I truly cannot answer that question because I enjoy every hat way too much!

Lastly, do you have any thoughts/ideas on how we can grow the KL nightlife scene?

“Jump on the wagon, but remember to get off at some point and build your own wagon!”  – JonnyVicious

More about Jonnyvicious here

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