Interview by Joe Delon, Dec 22nd 2021
The latest instalment of our mix series comes from the DJ, booker and club/record store boss Ouissam. After stints in China and Hong Kong running a booking agency, festival (Equation) and labels like Homesick and Fragrant Harbour, in 2016 Ouissam moved to Hanoi, Vietnam, to set up the club Savage. Now in its fifth year – and at a new venue in the ex-Embassy of Angola in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district – Savage has established itself as one of the region’s most progressive clubs in terms of both music programming and the diverse crowd it attracts. Since mid 2020 it has also been home to a record store, Pond Records.
Ouissam’s mix for us shows off his appreciation for all things italo, synth, boogie and house, mixing cuts from contemporary labels like Public Possession with classics from UBQ Project and others. The set is a lesson in how to build a joyful energy, speaking to his years of experience as a resident DJ in his own club and on the road in places like Panoramabar (Berlin), Folklor (Lausanne), .TAG (Chengdu) and Honcho Campout (Pennsylvania).
In our Q&A he discusses the contribution of Savage and its queer night Snug to the Hanoi scene over the past 5 years, the challenges of running nights and a record store during the pandemic, and his work as a DJ exploring different sonic territories.
You recently celebrated 5 years of Snug, which in the past has brought some of the lights of the queer scene in Europe and the US to Hanoi. What changes have you noticed in the queer scene in Vietnam over those 5 years? And how has Snug fit into that?
I see more young party goers who need to express themselves and a new-wave revival in sound selection across the world – both of these have affected Vietnam’s niche scene, encouraging more diverse mixes and a strong post-genre attitude. The queer scene itself has been growing with multiple safe spaces, and we have organisations that support LGBTQIA+ rights. Over the past five years, Savage has gone from being something completely new in town to becoming one of the longer-lasting venues. We continue to celebrate love and this keeps our dancefloor free and increasingly queer with every event.
The 5th anniversary was by necessity locals only. Was the experience for this Snug different at all for you as a promoter, and for the vibe of the party itself?
In the past five years we’ve always pushed Hanoian selectors alongside booking international names. The difference this time is, even with a fully Hanoi-based lineup and goers, we still managed to have a serious rave. There was a strong unity between these familiar faces.
I’m interested in how much integration there is between the Vietnamese community and a scene that I’m guessing is also fuelled by expats and tourists. How do you bring in a local audience?
Since we are a Hanoian club it’s important to welcome the people who live here rather than only relying on international guests and tourists. Those of course are a joy to host, but we’re also able to stand alone as a unit, thanks to the people in town. There all kinds of people here who have an initial love of electronic music and then their ears eventually venture to multiple variations of the genre.
Just the simple gesture of putting our communications in the local language already indicates how we would love to integrate and cater this niche towards both locals and expats, and to celebrate being where we are. And for the past 5 years we’ve always had lineups that are largely Hanoian selectors, both born and raised and the people that chose to live here.
You moved Savage to a new venue during the pandemic and opened Pond Records in the same building. It feels like a bit of a counter-intuitive time to open a record shop. How has it been? What’s the vinyl market like in Hanoi, Vietnam and East Asia more widely?
I have to be honest: it was a very difficult decision, thanks to the beginning of the pandemic hindering our activities and logistics. It has been a hard year for us but hopefully when borders reopen, we can start importing our record catalogue, because all of our stocks are mostly overseas. The market here is very young, but there are enthusiastic collectors in town, of all genres and ages in Hanoi. There are actually two other vinyl shops in town now, also running very strong with their own collections.
For me one of the pleasures of being a travelling DJ is finding unexpected things in unexpected record shops. What will visiting DJs find at Pond? And what’s your mechanism for establishing and maintaining the shop’s selection?
They will be able to find an old rare Korean Disco LP or a classic techno/house EP. They could find an Italo disco Maxi or a new EP from an Asian label or artist. When the borders reopen, I’m planning to reach out to countries like Japan and Korea to be able to work with collectors there that are considering reselling. This way we can maintain our distinctive but always fresh selection for Pond.
The mix you recorded for us runs through the 80s and 90s styles that I love from you. I’m curious though about what other sonic territories you find yourself in when playing live. What moments stand out in your memory from gigs, of musical regions you didn’t necessarily think you’d end up in, but are glad you did?
I play everything from Cantopop to Korean disco to Japanese funk and tribal sound – they’re all very apparent in my sets. A lot of Phrygian scale too – namely Indian music, Arab disco. I play a lot of percussion, so it is always more energetic with just an organic rhythm. Then I love to add a lot of breaks in my set so everyone can have time to pace it out. That way people can have more space to enjoy the colours and absorb it all.
For the Snug 5th anniversary, at around 2am I put on Fantastic Man’s track “Antiboudi” just to remind the room to pace it out, whilst people are still dancing, but everyone loved it! So that’s an “I’m glad I did it” moment recently.
What’s coming up for Savage, Snug, Pond, you?
The highlight for 2022 will be Equation Festival in April, which will be hosted in a cave! We are looking forward to having our edition back after a 3 year break, and to reconnect with everyone as borders will be open in the coming weeks. There will be some major facelifts for Savage too, meaning upgrading our lighting and sound system.
And with Pond we will start working hard after Tết [Lunar New Year] to upgrade our collection and launch our Web Radio too.
Thank you so much for having me 🙂