On The Record: DJ Wu-Chang
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Nightclubs that comfortably house 1,000 or more patrons don’t exist in Honolulu these days, but Chris “Wu Chang” Chang’s tenure in the nightlife industry helped set the standard for big room throw downs.
Chang thrived during a time when a party wasn’t an all-out rager if you couldn’t draw a minimum of a 1,000 people and there were more venues that kept the club grooves going until 4 a.m. Chang was a common, reliable thread that specialized in catering to massive audiences.
On Saturday, he’ll join a number of former Pipeline Cafe employees and customers at a reunion for the nightclub at The Republik. The Pohukaina St. venue was a premiere concert hotspot and club destination before it turned into the current home of UFC Gym BJ Penn.
At one point in the early 2000’s, Chang’s weekly residencies consisted of Dave and Buster’s, Zanzabar Nightclub and Pipeline Cafe. At the time, he was one of the most in-demand DJs on Oahu.
“I’m just a normal dude lucky enough to do what I love to do for this long,” said Chang, who worked full-time as a DJ from 1987 to 2008. “Pipeline was the big one for me, large, packed wall to wall and always live on the radio. We did this for eight years. Pipeline would be off the chain with anywhere from 1,300 to 1,900 crazy party people from all over the island every Friday night.”
For the turntable vet, it’s no secret he can’t wait for Saturday to celebrate an important period of his DJ career. The reminiscing and party flashbacks began soon after the reunion party was made official.
“Pipeline is where I met my other half,” he said. “I miss the staff, the people behind the scenes of our live radio broadcasts, the regular customers that would come out every single week no matter what. There were even customers that would carry my records from the car to the stage just to get in free.”
Since 2008, the former club mainstay has worked full-time as an audio visual technician at the US Army Pacific Regional Command (PRMC). He called the decision one of the best he’s ever made and somewhat a natural transition because he still DJs whenever possible.
“A DJ residency is a great thing because it’s stable, (but) as for health insurance you’re on your own. This is why I went with the 9-to-5,” he said. “Good health insurance is very important to my family and I will do whatever it takes to provide that, even if it means giving up a little of the dream job.”
The Aina Haina native credits much of his longevity and success to promoter Rick Rock, who he met shortly after Rock moved to Oahu from the Bay Area. Along with Pipeline, Chang and Rock helped keep their “Thirsty Thursdays” college night going at the former Zanzabar Nightclub for more than 12 years.
“I think it’s much more competitive now, but also much less experienced,” Chang said of the current nightclub landscape. “Serato has made it easy for everyone with a computer, media player and a hard drive full of a DJ buddies’ music to be a DJ.”
Chang compared his friend of over 16 years to an “evil older brother.” Their abilities complimented each other to the point where Rock’s charismatic persona on the mic meshed perfectly with his own precise standards.
“Rick would say crazy things on the mic. It was like shock radio at the club,” said Chang. “We always worked very well as a team. He asked me to DJ his events and the rest is history.”
Rock’s memories of his all-time favorite partner in crime revolve around Chang’s professionalism and sheer know-how behind the decks.
“He would keep the crowd on the floor until the lights came on,” recalled Rock. “Throughout the years I believed in him because he has a gift that many DJs need to learn; programming. From the first song to the last song he could control the crowd to do exactly what he wanted.”
As for teaming up with many of the leading nightlife figures for this weekend’s reunion event, the promoter and DJ agree that bringing back the old school, good time feel is a given and the ultimate celebration of a great venue and long nightlife run.
“I want to show the new school party kids that only believe in the EDM music scene that there was life at the parties before,” said Rock.
While dance floors have literally shrunk in size and the megaclub concept has given way to more lounge-style bars, Chang believes the market still exists for another Pipeline.
“Here in Hawaii there’s 1.5 million people. I know there are at least 1,500 young, single people looking for a cool place to go,” he said. “It would be challenging and perhaps more expensive to draw a crowd of that to size to come out to a single venue at least four days a week, but I hope and truly believe it can be done.”
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.