Lou Nietunz meets Lee Stone from Secret Bali Life – a man on a mission to give local muscians a better platform. And other mischievous ventures. Portrait image by Nic.
So Lee, you somehow found your way to Bali through a friend’s recommendation?
Yes, that’s true. I had known for many years my calling was to set up in SE Asia and after many recce’s and exploring of various openings I decided on a project in Vietnam helping to set up a project to teach the children about traditional Vietnamese opera and all the music around that.
Because of all the turmoil and war they had endured for decades a lot of these beautiful instruments and traditions hadn’t been passed down. I agreed to spearhead this project for some very influential people in return for support and permissions required in putting on music events and festivals.
I was just about to sign on the dotted line when I got a call from one of my closest friends who had been in Bali for many years who said to not do anything until I had checked out the island. At the same time a couple of problems arose with the project in Vietnam so I flew over to Bali to scope it out, it blew my mind and the rest is history!
Any first impressions of Bali that you’ll never forget?
Possibly not my first impression but definitely the most lasting was discovering the incredible people and talent on the local music and art scenes. Every week I try and venture out to truly underground and local events and happenings on the island and they very rarely disappoint.
This island, as well as Indonesia as a whole, is just full of incredible creative talent. My goal in the long run is to help, through my experience and expertise, to join the dots and bring this beautiful underground world to the surface.
Growing up – were you always involved with music or events?
Pretty much, yes. Initially it was just as a kid going to parties in London, where I was born and bred. I was very fortunate to be witness to the birth and rise of the Jungle or Drum&Bass scene and went on to be part of that musical movement. And the magic of those days inspired me so much that I knew then this was my chosen path in life.
When I was 18 or 19 I moved to Manchester because of the incredible music scene up there and started deejaying and throwing parties and from an early stage great things started to happen for me. I’ve never looked back since.
Do you remember the first concert you went to?
Wow … I struggle to remember the last concert I went to! I think the first live music event was Michael Jackson with my Mum and Dad which was a pretty good start. I am fortunate to have very young parents with good musical taste so I was always listening to really cool stuff while my school friends were listening to garbage – like NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC VOLUME 857!
In fact, the first music I can remember was stuff like Kraftwerk, Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Gary Numan, Donna Summer, Ian Dury and The Blockheads. Pretty good stuff.
Among other landmark music events you were involved with The Warehouse Project in Manchester. What did you learn the most from that experience?
That was an incredible chapter in my life. I was the head promoter from its conception for six years and it taught me so much as a promoter. I went from doing some really cool underground parties to suddenly being involved with arguably one of the biggest and best things to happen on the non-commercial scene anywhere in the world.
I think the thing I learned the most from those days was how important it is to have a cohesive team of like-minded people pulling together. With some imagination and a lot of hard work, and then a lot more hard work, you can pull off what is widely considered impossible. They also taught me how to make money in an industry where it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so.
In a pretty quick whirlwind of a year you have started to connect the dots here on Bali’s underground music and art scenes – what have you found or discovered so far?
This year has been one of the most incredible of my life, hands down. When I came here I expected to be working predominately with the DJ side of things but the more gigs and shows I went to the more I discovered that despite some truly incredible DJ-based events here the real magic for me in Bali and Indonesia is on the live scene.
The people involved in this sub culture are all so friendly, positive and open. Some of them really need some guidance in how to promote themselves better and this is where I want to try and play my part, through putting on really innovative and carefully curated events and happenings, helping to bring these wonderful people to as many ears and eyes as possible. Secret Bali Life, which is my baby (other than my dogs Ska and Roots), has done a very successful job of promoting the very best non-commercial music events on Bali.
Due to the nature of my clients on that project however, these have been on the whole deejay-based events. However with SBL I always strive to evolve and improve what we do, and this year we will be focusing on giving the live music scene a lot more exposure.
How do you see the music industry these days – both as a means of personal escape and public work?
The music industry has changed a lot over the years. I’m not going to say it’s better or worse because it’s neither, it’s just different. The electronic music scene has definitely crossed over into the mainstream now, even the cooler genres like techno. People use the term ‘underground’ way too freely now – most events are better classed as non commercial.
But if you know where to look and put the effort in to find them, there are some incredible parties going on with incredible crowds. On a personal level, music and good parties will always play an important part in my life. There is something very spiritual and tribal about like-minded people dancing collectively to a beat, both creating and immersing themselves in the positive energy that the best events manage to do.
Equally – just listening to music can change my mood so dramatically in whatever direction I want it to. Music is the most beautiful and powerful thing in the world, it is a universal language that can bring people together and make a difference to all our lives.
What’s the biggest challenge you find these days in your line of work?
The biggest challenge in my life without a doubt is going to meetings or events with full knowledge that my beautiful Bali dogs Ska and Roots are probably eating my belongings or pieces of the villa in my absence! They’re becoming quite well known on Bali. I get so much love and energy from them when they are with me.
What’s your dream?
My dream is to make history not money. If, long after I am gone, people talk about the crazy bule who helped give many local artists and musicians a better platform to do what they do then my mission will be complete.