Khoi Pham sits down with two of Saigon’s most sought after DJs to discuss the VIN>ART project, Vietnam’s current DJ scene and whether our young DJs are ready to take on the world. Photo couresty of AHEAD VIN>ART.

The ambience at Bootleg Bar on Le Thanh Ton is surprisingly mellow during the day. The coolness of the air-conditioned atmosphere inside stands in stark contrast with Saigon’s punishing April heat. I meet up with DJ Drew and DJ Duy Duy amid muted sounds of traffic rushing past outside, soft lounge music and the occasional booming of blenders mixing up drinks in the far corner.

“I have been working as a DJ for more than 15 years, and have been in Vietnam for the last 10,” says Doru Tudose, who goes by DJ Drew. Originally from Romania, Tudose started his career playing house and progressive. After spending a lot of time travelling and working in Holland and Hong Kong, Tudose finally settled in Ho Chi Minh City.

The story of Vo Dang Duc Duy, better known in the DJ scene as DJ Duy Duy, is not much different. The Dalat native found his passion for music at an early age and has been behind his DJ set for 12 years. There are not a lot of well-known clubs or bars in Saigon that he hasn’t mixed music for, having been in the trade since 2003.

They might have started out across the globe from each other but both share a passion for creating magic by harnessing the best elements of both the music industry and technological advancement. Now taking on a new responsibility as mentors for the AHEAD VIN>ART DJ Project, they get to groom a new crop of young DJs while giving us a glimpse into the trials and triumps that DJs have to go through.

“The idea is a bit similar to Vietnam’s Got Talent, or The Voice and so on, where the young DJs are given a DJ routine to complete,” explains Tudose. “We as mentors will give them comments on the spot on how to improve.”

“It’s a reality TV show first and a competition second,” he affirms.

AHEAD VIN>ART project pits a diverse group of young DJs against one another through various tasks and challenges given by Tudose and Duy, in hopes of finding promising talents to raise Vietnam’s DJ skills to the global standard. The episodes will be uploaded exclusively on AHEAD’s YouTube channel, airing twice a week on Tuesday and Saturday, featuring a different four-minute segment each time.

According to Tudose, on each episode the young DJs are given a time frame of seven to 10 minutes to perform a short DJ routine to prove their ability. The challenges vary from basic tasks such as mixing music for a specific music genre such as house, electronic or dance, to more complicated ones like composing a mix without the use of computers. This certainly is a huge problem for some of them, who have grown accustomed to the technical assistance of computer programs.

The ultimate prize for the project is a chance to perform at the Escape party, where the winners get to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the international DJ scene.

“Being in the presence of big international DJs, meeting and talking to them, will give them a different career perspective,” says Tudose. “It gives them a reason to dream bigger and not just settle for playing in a beer club in Can Tho.”

AHEAD VIN>ART’s goal to bridge the gap between local and international standards of skill among young DJs seems to be as timely as it is ambitious in today’s fast-changing clubbing scene, where even a hit song doesn’t stay on top for long.

“When I started learning about mixing music, we could only play around with the existing technology and even then we didn’t fully utilise their functions,” Duy reminisces about the beginning of his love for music. “Nowadays, the young generation are so much better, both in terms of technical skills and the ability to seek out new ways to make better music.”

For Tudose, it was all about old-school hip-hop, R&B and house when he first started. The genres have remained relatively the same throughout the years but everything else has changed dramatically. The clubbing crowd are getting younger by the year and more international, while the music in Vietnam is getting closer than ever to an international standard.

“If you take a look at some Vietnamese music videos before the era of YanTV, they were pretty much like PowerPoint presentations,” Tudose deadpans. “Now music is a huge industry here, thanks to the impact of YouTube and the Internet.”

Vietnam’s young DJs undoubtedly still have a long journey ahead to eventually reach the high bar set by existing DJs in the global arena. However with the assistance of new projects like AHEAD VIN>ART and mentors like DJ Drew and DJ Duy Duy, they’re getting there at a steady speed.

“I’m actually pretty confident: some of them not only have a good technical approach but also a right direction; they have travelled more and had the opportunity to see more and hear more,” says Tudose. “Some of them have the potential to go far.”

Passion is the most important quality for a DJ, in Duy’s opinion. “People with passion will go the extra mile to learn new things and try out new music,” Duy says in Vietnamese. “Those who treat music mixing like a simple hobby won’t achieve excellence because only passion and a good music sense can get you there.”