DJ Arthur Tan looks back at the year (and past) that was
Music has always had the power to move. Sometimes it’s a rush of emotions at the first note or getting teleported to a memory because of a certain hook or lyric. Each song has its own story to tell, intermingling with your own experience with the piece. And that’s what Arthur Tan, New York-based DJ and one of the founding members of After The Noon Records, aims to do with his sets and music. And with each listen, you get a treat for the ears, flush with Tan’s electronic house sensibilities that have a dash of drippy emotions.
Some might know Arthur Tan from his earlier work with After the Party or his heady remixes of Nadine Lustre’s Intoxicated or James Reid’s Soda, but the producer has been active in the local underground scene through Young Blood PH and Logiclub Producer Collective, playing in spots like Black Market, The Palace and Poblacion’s place to be: Notorious HQ. Along with these, he also released a couple of singles; the most recent ones being the joyous Follow The Sun with Massiah and the soaring track with Lesha, Meet Me At Sunrise. The common thread in his music? The dazed and dreamy headspace it welcomes you into by the first few beats. Sometimes it’s euphoric, sometimes it’s wistful, but all in all equally addictive.
Blink 182 might’ve sparked Tan’s deeper love for music, fully coming to terms with music as a career path is actually a product of a decade-long foray into competitive dancing. “I found in dance battles that there is always a DJ, and it was so cool to me that they always set the mood, how the dancers would move and the whole atmosphere,” recounts Arthur Tan. “That's when it bridged the two things I loved the most: dancing and my love for music.”
The rest, you could say, is history.
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A major stint at Fiamma, Makati that solidified his resolve to pursue DJing and producing. But his thirst for knowledge led Tan to explore the scene in New York City in 2018. “The purpose was really [to] go to school and just gain any experience I could in the States,” he explains. What started with him exploring different spots and underground events gave him a deeper understanding for his craft, and a newfound diversity in influences that helps him continuously evolve his sound. “Hearing other DJs there, it also gave me a new perspective on how to dig for music or how some music [genres] can go together, how they switch from house to hip-hop sometimes or how they switch genres. That [experience] really shaped my perspective coming back [here], even until now.”
Up ahead, Arthur Tan reflects on the year that was and looks at what’s over the horizon for his music and After The Noon Records.
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Wonder: If you were to give an elevator pitch about The Arthur Tan Sound™, how would it go?
Arthur Tan: I always say that my sets and even my original music have a sense of nostalgia. So I always like to throw in classics or give a nostalgic feeling whenever I'm DJing. I'd throw in a bit of indie dance from the early 2000s to 2010s’ Phoenix era or hip-hop or house songs that have come out right now. I'd also add in remixes of classic disco songs from way back when, but they were remixed to a different kind of genre at this point.
I can definitely say that I'm an open-format DJ. I like to pull from my musical taste and the tastes of my friends and peers—that's the best way I can describe my music. It's nostalgic because I enjoy playing songs that I have loved throughout the years and make me remember key moments with my friends, a certain place in New York or key moments that I remember. I like to share that when I play.
W: This year, you’ve reveled in a couple of releases. Follow The Sun with Massiah is a particular standout. The press release mentioned that you were inspired by the excitement of returning to a beach. Can you walk us through that story? And what made you decide to have Massiah come on board?
AT: Follow The Sun was actually produced in 2021, around September to early October. During that time, Manila was under a strict lockdown and the pandemic was still at large. One of the few places then that was very open with little to zero cases was Siargao. After The Noon was actually going on its first tour to play in a few bars there for Halloween weekend. That was the one and only time that all of us were about to perform together in front of live audiences after so long, and a lot of our friends were going to be there. I was just really excited to just be free, party in the beach, play my music with other DJs and my friends again after being stuck in the pandemic—that really drove the emotion when I was producing the track.
With Massiah, that was like a very happy accident. At the time, I just started working and hanging out more with him. I was also starting to listen to Channel Tres, with hip-hop rap on top of house beats which I find super dope and progressive. So I sent the beat to Massiah and asked him, “Hey, do you wanna work on this together?” He had a few drafts, some lyrics and it all worked out in the end. It all came naturally.
W: Speaking of new songs, you also dropped your second collaboration with Lesha, Meet Me at Sunrise. The song stands opposite I Need U, where the yearning dissipates and gets replaced with introspection. Did you plan to have thematically different collaborations for this? Who approached who?
AT: For Meet Me At Sunrise, we didn’t plan it. So, that beat was also made a few months after we released I Need U. I made that beat and kind of sent it to Lesha last year. I asked, “Hey, maybe, we could work on a follow-up single?” But it never really went anywhere, because we both got busy and it was still pretty hard to work with another artist only via Zoom. When she got signed to Careless, that’s when we saw each other more frequently and we were in the studio more often. That’s when we said, “Why don’t we finish that track that we wanted to work on last year?” When I played the beat again, she asked me, “What mood are we going for now? What’s the vibe?” I said, “Maybe sadder. Not like, love or trying to get someone like I Need U. Maybe like a sadder song with more emotion to it?”
A lot of my influences also, whenever I produce, are from watching a lot of films. Romcoms, young adult films like Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist—the book and the film are some of my biggest influences. So, I guess for this song I kind of want it to [have] a euphoric coming of age kind of feeling. Especially ‘cause we dropped it towards the end of the year [in] December, almost like it’s cuddle weather around the world? With Lesha’s lyrics, she also nailed that feeling dead-on. It was actually a very fast studio session when we made that.
W: In 2022, you’ve released a couple of singles and, with After The Noon, launched flagship projects like Love Ya Fest. With the New Year on the horizon, what are three goals you have in mind for 2023?
AT: For After The Noon, I really wanna explore tours. Definitely start touring more as a label or individual artists. I do wanna hit more cities, go around the Philippines and explore going on tours outside of the country. Hopefully in Southeast Asia, and just connect more with other venues around Asia, actually. I definitely want to collaborate with more creatives. Not just musical artists but all types of creatives, whether they be graphic designers, photographers, art directors, stylists, fashion designers—just branch out and work with more people.
I do want to explore more kinds of events for After The Noon, whether it be artist showcases, special theme nights, more launch parties for our producers that’ll be releasing more music, or any type of special event that we have in mind for our DJs or producers. I definitely want to explore that too in the highest magnitude possible.
W: Is there anything you hope to leave in 2022?
AT: I would definitely like to leave hesitation in 2022. I think because the pandemic has finally eased up, a lot of uncertainties from the years before have finally gone. I would wanna leave hesitating and go all out with music with After The Noon. Now is the time, in 2023, to really just go all out. Don’t hesitate and do the best that we can. There’s no more restrictions! Just aim for the highest possible achievement that you can.
W: Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring artists hoping to break through the scene?
AT: I would definitely say, you don’t have to keep to yourself. Working with other people has definitely helped me just grow as an artist, and it also helps with your collaborations in not overthinking. If you’re always keeping to yourself with whatever music you want to make, or if you feel shy about something, collaborating with other people helps you get out of that headspace.
The biggest thing that I learned for releasing music is don’t be afraid to release it and let the whole world hear it. I think that’s a fear that a lot of people have at the start, like I had. [It’s] super nerve-wracking to release an original piece for everyone to hear ‘cause that’s a very deep part of yourself. But I think once you actually release that song, you get more confidence and then you know where you wanna go after that.
If you wanna go into DJing, my best advice really is to practice. Watch other DJs that you love, not to copy them, but just to be inspired. Watching other DJs do their thing and adding their own flavor is always inspirational for me. Always be curious about new music, for sure. Don’t be closed off on only the music that you like to hear all the time, but be open to all kinds of music.
The pandemic might have slowed things down for many of us, but Arthur Tan’s still took it as an opportunity to seize some opportunities, something that he hopes to double down in the New Year. So if we were to take cues from Arthur Tan’s word of advice for the time when we’re hitting hard reset and planning for the months to come, it’s to not let fear get in the way. Second guessing everything else should be a thing of the past as we face 2023 head-on. And in the process, we’re all set to follow the sun just like the way he’s always been.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photos Arthur Tan and After The Noon Records
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver