Being a record collector in Vietnam is no easy task. The tight grip placed on content flowing into the country makes stories of the intense vetting of records and crates being stuck at customs anything but uncommon. Fortunately that has not deterred some of the most dedicated aficionados who have found a way to tread these tricky waters. Injecting a new wave of diverse record stores in the country’s capital to forge a path for the next generation of Vietnamese diggers to emerge.
After being gifted his first record by a friend, Cong instantly threw himself deep into the vaults of electronic records to become one of the rare Vietnamese gems spinning wax. His penchant for cross-cultural electronic nights has seen him play host to an east-meets-west vinyl-only night at his resident club, The Warehouse, as well as forming Half.Half with Min8: an event series where the pair focus on sharing sounds from local artists with international audiences.
It’s with this cultural mosaic in mind that Cong delivers his Diggers Directory mix: a rich tapestry of the deeper shades of his collection, traversing through the US and Asia. This sits alongside an interview detailing his relationship with records as well as the people and places that inspire him the most.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
I was born and raised in Vietnam, a country that still has a developing music industry. The cultural interference and integration with the world is still in the development stage and there are many difficulties.
My musical inspiration comes from my family. I’d listen to songs from my dad’s CDs with songs that have been on the Vietnamese pop charts since I was a kid. That was the starting point for my passion for music as well as my future artistic mindset. Now, I don’t often listen to pop music much anymore, but for me music has no specific limits.
‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ by Mr. Fingers (aka Larry Heard) is absolutely the track. This is a very pure piece of early house music with a light acid bassline, melody and vocal which is more fitting with what I am into these days.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
I think for me it’s simple: collecting records that I like, what my friends recommend to me or anything I know will fit with my style, vibe and my collection. Sometimes it’s just one track I’ve heard in a DJ’s set and I feel like I must have it.
My first pair of turntables I purchased three years ago. At first, I was a digital DJ, then I got the inspiration from a friend who owns an underground club and a record shop in Hanoi.
He gave me a record as a gift and that completely changed my opinion of music and the feeling I get when I play music. From then on I became fully involved in the vinyl scene and fell in love with records!
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I have a stand where I store all my music things. My vinyl and music accessories. It’s quite hard to import things from outside into Vietnam so I don’t have too much vinyl. So I only buy vinyl I’m actually interested in and I file it by genre and then mixset.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
To be honest these days I do most of my buying online, I have such a tight system with Discogs, Juno, and deck.de that I don’t need to go to record stores too much. Of course I still do it offline by going to the record shops – one of my favourite spots over the last few years is Pond Records in Hanoi. I love their collections because Pond Records is a pioneer for the Vinyl scene in Vietnam. They help listeners and DJs a lot in finding their music, motivation and inspiration.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
I’m so grateful that I met a great friend who inspires me a lot in the music scene in every way. He is a businessman, also a DJ and a music lover that always wants to share music with the right people. He’s already shown up in a bunch of the hottest spots of the scene, such as Panorama Bar, ://about blank, .TAG, La Dame Noir and many more. In my opinion, he is one of the most important men who keeps this underground scene in Vietnam alive. He is the director of Savage Club, the founder of Equation Festival and Pond Records.
Shout out to my friend Ouissam Mokretar who gave me a record album – TRIPS#2 by RED AXES – hope you keep this fire of dedication to the Vietnamese scene.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be elusive over the years?
I think nope, I always find it or it has found me.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
With friends? I think I prefer digging alone! I can spend half a day in many record shops listening to one genre that I’m into, just to find a few tracks that could fit in my collection.
I want to focus 100% on my music because at the end of the day this is my collection not anyone else’s. Better be alone with this!
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
I always do it in two ways depending on how much time I have.
If I can spend some time enjoying music, I will listen to all the records in one rack, one genre that I’m looking for at the moment.
If I don’t have too much time, I will pick the artist that I know. Sometimes I will check out the artwork and see if I have any feeling about the appearance of the vinyl. It will tell me about the vibe or reveal something inside.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
Some music I buy just because they have good artwork, especially disco sleeves. They always have cool designs and art full of colour and style. But I have to say there are some brilliant records with an ordinary design outside – just like a human being.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
The mix is a selection of records I felt like I wanted to mix this time. I always want to create an eclectic set with many genres. From house to classic house, deep house, disco, indie dance, techno, j citypop, and ACID sounds, there is no limit! Everything and every genre that I think has the same vibe and can help me build up the energy of my set.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Not really, I like every track in the mix in every different way. I chose to play them because through that track I can show a corner of my vibe, my music, my sound and hopefully people will get it.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
I always find inspiration from my DJ friends and producers that I admire. I always feel grateful for what they are giving me so my fire always shines.
First up is my good friend and boss of Pond Record, Ouissam Mokretar. We connected through his club when we were talking about music and have a really strong connection when it comes to deep electronic. We are very much on the same wavelength with that. Ouissam is always advancing his sound and as a digger, a DJ and a collector he has a cool story to tell.
Second up is Z@p, he is a resident of phonotheque club in Montevideo and now based in Berlin, he has a huge collection of house music with acid sounds that I’m always heading to, and also blending with techno and breaks.
And finally Craig Richard; you guys all know him as a vinyl DJ and also his collection is so huge. I remember one time listening to his live DJ set b2b with a Russian DJ at Epizode Festival held in my Country in Phu Quoc. I could tell that for over 20 years in the vinyl game he’s never stopped digging, always buying vinyl and playing it. Some DJs leave it because it’s not convenient for a touring DJ but he is the one who will stay in that scene and inspire a lot of people newer to the game like me.
Are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
My friend Jeffsy Jeff is one of the most exciting collectors in Hanoi, Vietnam. Since we don’t have a lot of local vinyl DJ/Producer, he is truly setting his position in the scene with his record label: Doner Beat Records. His style of funky, citypop and techno can create an exciting journey for all the music lovers.
Another friend that I want to mention about is Marco Yanes. He is an Italian DJ/Producer who’s been performing in Ibiza, Spain for many years. Now he has set his base here in Hanoi and has done a lot of things for young local talents. He created his own label Hanoi Underground Movement and with that contributed to the community.
Anything on the horizon you’re excited about?
Right now, I just hope for this pandemic to be over. So many struggles for the music industry all around the world and the underground seems to be having a really dark time. In Vietnam now, we just had two big festivals in Phu Quoc: Sunlit Fest and Studio Adventure. That really helps our scene become alive again after a long year without big events.
Also I hope that the club scene in Hanoi can come back soon. There are some venues that I really want to mention such as Savage, The Warehouse, Birdcage and Mirage. These venues are really the hearts of the scene in Hanoi, they create a true vibration for the local community with good music and a special setup.