Robberies, Bags of Cash, and Disappearing Rappers: True Stories of a Rising Promoter
Zaran Vachha, of Collective Minds, is one of the players changing the game in Singapore. We spoke to him about some of the wilder moments in his rise.
Here's something to think about the next time you're six drinks deep at 3am on a Saturday—all your good times are just someone else's job. That's right, the people who make your favorite parties, gigs, and shows happen might look like they're partying for a living, but what you see is only the tip of a figurative iceberg of round-the-clock work to satisfy fans and artists. Bookers, promoters, and agents regularly put their reputations—and money—on the line, sorting out the logistics of the international tours of some of the most-popular DJs and musicians out there while also handling the endless flood of guest list requests, last-minute cancellations, and visa hassles.
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Singapore isn’t always a top priority for artists touring Asia but that's slowly changing as more forward-thinking clubs open their doors. With a small but solid roster of open-minded venues now in place, Asia-focused events agencies like Collective Minds have spoiled Singapore residents with a ceaseless flurry of underground acts. Last year alone, the team brought the likes of Nightmares on Wax, Shigeto, Daniel Caesar, Benji B, and others to perform in the city-state.
Zaran Vachha, founder of Collective Minds, has seen his fair share of ups-and-downs in the game. Before moving to Singapore, the music lover organized all kinds of gigs in London and Hong Kong, where his events collective Fresh Off The Boat hosted the likes of Mykki Blanco, Pharrell, and LA’s famed afternoon shindig The Do-Over. Given all the high-profile musicians he regularly works with, Zaran’s well on his way to party legend status.
So, we asked him to tell us about some of his craziest stories on the job.
ON AVOIDING JAIL TIME IN CHINA:
“I did my first gig in China about seven or eight years ago. The show was cash at the door and about 1,000 people came through. I got to bed at 6am and my flight was at 10am.
"I knew I had no time to sleep because I had to deliver the cash to my friend's house first (I wasn't able to wire it to myself). I sat in my room for what I thought was a second but obviously fell asleep straight away. I woke up, threw all my stuff in my bag, and found out that the artist I came with had left without me, taking the car I ordered.
"I got another car and rushed to the airport. Sweating from alcohol and still sleep-deprived, I was the last person to check in. They took my bags, went away, and then came back. I asked for my ticket. A lady said 'customs' and pointed to a room at the end of the check-in counter row. I run there and see my bag in the empty room.
"I'm sitting there all casual and then it dawns on me that I forgot to deliver the money to my friend. In my suitcase was roughly 80,000 RMB ($11,680 USD) in a loosely sealed envelope. At the time, you weren't allowed to take more than 10,000 RMB ($1,472 USD) out the country. I DID NOT WANT TO GO TO JAIL IN CHINA. I started panicking and sweating even more than I usually do. There were cameras everywhere so I couldn't open the bag. I wasn't even thinking about my flight, I just didn't want to end up behind bars. After 15 minutes, a uniformed lady came in, opened my bag, and started moving things around.
"The white envelope was so obvious that I resigned myself to the fact that I was going to jail. In my mind, I was even justifying the fact that I wasn't a real criminal. Every time she lifted up the envelope, I had a mini heart attack.
"I asked her what she was looking for, she said the word 'fire' and made a sign for lighting a cigarette. She was looking for lighters. I had five fucking lighters in my bag as I had been on tour for nearly two weeks on the trot. I moved the envelope out of sight and found the lighters. She let me go. I made my flight, which was delayed. Hallelujah."
ON GETTING LOCKED OUT OF A SHOW:
"I was at a music conference in Sydney with one of my heroes from London, who is easily the biggest tastemaker in jazz and world music. It was a big deal to me. We had talked about plans in Asia and this was my chance to convince him to work with me.
"We spent a couple days together. His show was at the end of the conference. My then-girlfriend and I were on the list and told to show up before 11pm. We get there around 10:30pm but he wasn’t on until 1am.
"We laid in to the drinks that the promoter had put out for us and by 1am we were hammered. We have a couple more drinks with the DJ who then goes on stage. I then say to my girlfriend at the time ‘let’s nip across the road and get some chicken.’
"We go smash some Oporto chicken and head back to the venue. The bouncers tell us that we can’t get back in due to ‘lock out laws.’ After a drunken argument, we give up, and back it in. In the morning, the artist calls me and we grab breakfast. He asks me how his set was, I said amazing. And that was that. I start touring with him a year later. We get a few shows under our belt. I felt like I got away with it.
"Later at a festival, we are both a little intoxicated in a portaloo. He looks up and me and says 'I know you didn’t see me in Sydney you lying bastard, you drank all my booze and got kicked out.' Then he went on stage and smashed it."
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE TALENT VANISHES:
"I once did a show in London with a masked rapper. He's from there but hadn't performed in the city for some time, so it was a big thing. He wanted to come to London early and we offered to put him up in a hotel throughout his stay.
"Ten days before the gig, I see a live stream of an event on Facebook and he seemed to be DJing there. We had paid for him to travel from New York so, obviously, we were mad.
"The next day, I found out that the rapper we booked wasn't actually at that event, it was an imposter. People were furious and straight-up started to boycott our event, saying we booked a fake.
"We spoke to his management and they said that it was all part of the act, that he's a ‘madvillian.’ We got him booked on radio and he said that he would 100 percent show up to the gig otherwise audiences would get a full refund. Being naive, we decided that this was good enough and went on as planned.
"On the day of the show, everything was going smoothly. He was on at midnight. Two security guards and a staff member went to pick him up, he got in the car, and they drove towards the venue. At a traffic light, he opened the door and got out. He went to an alleyway as if he was gonna take a piss and then just bolted. Before they knew it, he had disappeared.
"Back at the venue, people were getting impatient. By 1am, the crowd was getting mad, booing loudly, and throwing things on stage. At 2am, we called it off.
"That was potentially the worst moment of my life. Or so I thought. I walked out the venue with equipment and cash on me. Usually, I have security walk me to a car but I had sent everyone home because I was so mad. I got jumped by two guys who were waiting for me. I got smacked in the face twice but managed to get away though they took everything. I woke up with two black eyes. We had to refund everyone their tickets and had to pay all the acts who performed. That is the reason I moved to Asia."