Music bursts from the entrance of the Sky Bistro at the top of Sakura Tower. Past the smokers congregated in the corridor and the two young women stamping wrists at the entrance, the entrance to Sky Bistro offers a view of the downtown Yangon skyline pierced by the spires of golden pagodas and coloured by neon lighting beyond the images of party guests reflected in its windows like bodies floating in the night. Inside, guests mingle in small groups. Some enjoy the music; others order drinks from the bar and watch the dancing crowd. A woman dressed in black stands behind the DJ booth, with her hair pushed behind her ears by a large pair of headphones.
She bobs along with the music. Yu Kyaw Tin, also known as DJ Yu, was first exposed to mixing music while studying in Britain for a bachelor’s degree in business management. She left for Britain after high school and returned to Myanmar in September 2013.“I think I made the right decision,” Yu said in an interview, referring to her decision to come home when the economic and political transition was underway.Being a woman DJ in Myanmar has its advantages, Yu said. “There are not many female DJs around who play the same of style of music as mine,” she said.
“I learnt the basics of mixing about two years ago and my style of music widened over the years. You are less exposed to a variety of music here and this is why you need to give yourself more time to find your music and keep yourself updated.”As the beat grows louder, the crowd thickens. A steady stream of guests joins the gyrating crowd on the dance floor, each exploring their response to the pulsing beat.“It’s amazing how much music can inspire people to feel and dance. It’s not a bad feeling to be on the other side of the booth now and get to make the crowd smile,” said Yu.One of her first public performances in Yangon was at the TS.1 Gallery launch after-party at Gekko Bar in April 2014. Yu says one event was a turning point in her career as a professional DJ. It was a rooftop party at the Alfa Hotel in December 2014 and many of the guests ran bars. They were impressed by her mix and approached her to play at their venues.“I have been quite lucky with my bookings ever since then,” she said. “A lot of doors opened up for me.” Her bookings have risen from six in 2014 to more than 24 last year.Yu’s style is a mix of different genres, from minimal, Nu disco and techno to deep house, tech house and progressive house.“I would like to become a much more advanced DJ on stage and learn to use other technical tools when I am mixing,” she said. “I prepare my sets according the event, the location and the crowd. It depends on the kind of event at which I am performing. But I always aim to uplift the vibe in the room during my sets and bring the dancer out in everyone.”Yu’s DJ career is facing some obstacles, including the recent bar curfew and a relatively small number of bars and clubs in which to perform.”We are lacking a variety of venues,” Yu said. “The venues here are limited in terms of space and capacity and the variety of events hosted. I would like to think the scene is moving forward, and the audience definitely seems to have an open mind. But the current social scene seems to have taken a step back because of the restrictions.”The curfew in Yangon that has bars and clubs shutting their doors at 11pm has had an impact on bookings. “I’ve been getting fewer gigs since the curfew but I am still very happy with the number times I play out,” she said. “I am getting more bookings for corporate events lately. I think overall it [the curfew] just somewhat killed the vibe of Yangon’s nightlife. I doubt the curfew will be lifted anytime soon.”Her biggest challenge, though, is juggling her career as a DJ and her full-time job as marketing manager for PUN+Projects.“I have some evenings during the week to play around on my decks at home, but I would like to devote more time to it,” Yu said. “It can consume a lot of your time because you are always trying to learn more. I would eventually like to learn to produce but I do not have enough time at the moment.”Yu is undaunted by the challenges she faces. Her drive to develop her style and ability stems from a love of music that inspires her to keep moving forward and contribute to change and growth in Yangon’s nightlife scene.“I think being a DJ is easy as long as you have the passion and the ear for it,” Yu said. “I don’t think I need a reason or motivation to be a DJ; it’s self-motivated,” she said, adding that the nightlife scene needs more women DJ with real passion. “Most DJs want to be in the scene for the popularity rather than the love.”