Tastemaker: Anderson Muth, The Groove Thief
DJ Anderson Muth, a teacher by day, blogs about the good sounds produced in Hong Kong and around the world, writes Richard Lord
There's a large pile of beer cans in Anderson Muth's home. It is, he explains, not for personal use, but for an event he's putting on at a ferry pier in Central the next evening.
Sorting out the drinks for an event, in addition to DJing, promoting, arranging the line-up and in all probability clearing up the rubbish afterwards, is fairly typical of Muth, aka The Groove Thief, who is among Hong Kong's leading arbiters of musical taste. From this cosy, beer-filled flat in Shau Kei Wan, he has also taken it upon himself to write an eponymous blog that publicises and reviews all types of music produced and performed in Hong Kong, as well as plenty from around the world.
A treasure trove of quality local music, the blog makes Hong Kong's music scene, in contrast to what some people will tell you, feel vibrant, dynamic and fizzing with energy. He started it, he says, because he wanted to break down a few musical barriers. "I felt there's so much cool stuff going on in Hong Kong but everyone's doing their own thing, stuck in their own tiny bubble, and there's nowhere to find out about it all in one place," he says. "Things are so compartmentalised here, and that's also been a big motivator in my writing. If you like good music, you like good music. What I'm trying to do with most of my projects is foster a community. We're all trying to do the same thing in different ways … you shouldn't have to pick among them."
A habitual traveller for most of his adult life, Muth used to run a travel blog, but the subject changed to music when he settled in Hong Kong three years ago. As well as most of the good music produced in Hong Kong, it also reviews music from elsewhere, taking in just about anything Muth likes, but with a focus on reggae and in particular dub reggae. "Even in a small genre like dub, there's more going on than even an obsessive fan like me can listen to," he says.
He tries to balance enthusiasm with honesty in his writing, and doesn't review anything he doesn't like. Fortunately, there are plenty of gems he does like: in fact, while some weeks he only spends two or three hours on the blog, during others he can spend 20 or 30 hours. "Fortunately I have a very tolerant wife, who doesn't mind me spending so much time doing that."
Most of his readers are in Hong Kong, but the blog is also popular in the US and certain European countries, particularly Britain, France and Greece.
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Muth moved to Hong Kong in 2011 when his wife, Liz, accepted a job as director of two international pre-schools; Muth also teaches English at City University of Hong Kong. A classical cellist who played in orchestras as a child, by his mid-teens he realised there was a dramatic disconnect between the music he was playing and the music he was listening to, orchestras not often given to performing the works of Nine Inch Nails or Tool.
However, his preferences shifted from rock to techno, and he started DJing on college radio in Iowa at a time when the rave scene was taking off in the US in a big way. Then both rock and techno gave way to reggae - "the bass groove rather than the guitar solo", as he puts it. "Part of the appeal of dub and reggae is that it's an underground style. People who like it really like it - it has nothing to do with any trend. It's interesting: Jamaica's more about dancehall now, and most reggae is coming out of the UK, Europe, even Asia."
When he moved to Busan in South Korea, he started to spin regularly, securing a Friday, 11pm to 6am slot in a bar. "It was my coming of age as a DJ. I'd play some dance music and some reggae but also some popular stuff, and after that I made a vow to myself that I'd never play music I didn't like again."
His DJ and promoting commitments include regular nights at Oma plus two Pomegranate events monthly with DJ collective Paragon Sound System. Playing that regularly, he says, it's important to keep it fresh. "Too many DJs phone it in because they can. Every show should be completely unique. I want to reward people for coming. It's not about you: it's about putting on a successful party where lots of people become one, with that communal energy, that sense of losing yourself. The art doesn't really matter - it's the energy created by the art."
That energy is something that Hong Kong's small and fractured music scene regularly provides, Muth says. "There always seems to be such a family vibe, where you know half of the audience. The challenge is in marketing it so that you attract new people."