Interview with Phuong-Dan

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Phuong-Dan is a DJ from Hamburg, he’s doing his Gatto Musculoso night in one of the best underground clubs in the world — Golden Pudel. We talked with Dan about scene in Hamburg, his early years, collecting records, Kunstkopf and more.

Where are you from? Were you born in Hamburg or how did you get here?

My parents are both Vietnamese. I was born in Germany and grew up in a small town close to the former capital Bonn. I moved to Hamburg over ten years ago after finishing high school, and studied there.

What is your musical background?

I used to breakdance in my younger days, hence, as you might expect, all facets of hip hop, especially early electro, funk, soul and jazz were really formative and influential.

When and how did you start playing records?

Well, due to different reasons our b-boy crew split after a couple of years. Since all of us quit dancing, me and a close friend, who was also a former crew member, started seeking the music we used to dance to over those years.

In the very beginning both of us were also enthusiastic about finding the original samples our favourite hip hop artists used in their productions. By and by we left it behind us and opened ourselves up more for the music in general.

Besides pure gaining and owning of records, we also wanted to bring the music to another context and a broader audience, instead of just leaving them stored in our shelves at home. That is the reason why we set up little parties in Bonn, which were addressed to our wider circle of friends – but not just graffiti-artists, hip hop DJs, MCs and producers joined those nights, also friends of friends came to dance there on weekends. After a while the parties got quite popular and we had a more and more increasing audience.

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Who influenced you as a DJ?

As I was surrounded by hip hop DJs in my youth and was never interested in playing rap music or to practice myself in turntablism, all the friends I went out to the flea market and record shops with, had a huge impact on my musical taste and understanding rather than the DJs I experienced at hip hop jams and parties at night. At first it was much more about the music itself than about techniques of mixing etc. – I did not consider myself as a DJ back then.

When did you start with your own party in Hamburg? How did you get a residency at Golden Pudel Club? What is the idea behind your Gatto Musculoso night?

Without any intention of having a residency, I played at Golden Pudel Club for the first time in 2004 when I was twenty – two years after I moved to Hamburg. I went to Pudel with another guy I met at the university who was into the same music as me and asked them, pretty naively, if there is any possibility for us to get a date where we could play out some of our records. Surprisingly they agreed straightaway. Soon after we had a really nice party on a cold and rainy Tuesday in autumn.

During this time I also visited many clubs in Hamburg and Berlin and discovered more and more electronic dance music – both, early Chicago house, Detroit techno as well as contemporary club music. Though my enthusiasm was great, it didn’t drive me to the point of getting deeper into that stuff instantly. Instead it led me to late 70s and 80s disco and boogie, which took me a bit away from my former concentration on early soul and funk records. I started my first regular night at Pudel where, yes, especially disco-ish music could be heard. Those parties where on Wednesdays or Thursdays.

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For all of that, my musical approach and taste steadily got broader and more particular. Nothing but playing disco and boogie stuff seemed to be really monothematic and narrow-minded to me and I got bored after a while – there was much more incredible music to discover. On one side I engaged myself more with raw, early Chicago house and darker, experimental techno and once I got in touch with very different musical genres such as krautrock, electronic avantgarde, wave, industrial, synth-pop, acid, new beat as well as brazil, afro, ambient, fusion or balearic sounds, I decided to quit my first regular club night and set up a new one in 2008 which runs under the name Gatto Musculoso until today.

The leading concept behind Gatto Musculoso, was to get rid of any musical fixation and to combine anything which advances a special, challenging and unexpected feeling and energy – somehow in a quiet cerebral way, but without ever forgetting the dancefloor of course. This idea is also evident in the range of guests who played and performed there previously – Lovefingers was here as well as Vidal Benjamin, Alexis Le-Tan, Beppe Loda, Tolouse Low Trax, Harmonious Thelonious, Der Räuber und der Prinz, 30.10.3402, Duane Harriott, Sean Canty from Demdike Stare or Veronica Vasicka and Pavel Plastikk, just to name a few. All of them are serious music lovers with a really impressing and sensitive intuition and understanding for DJing, producing and for music itself, of course.

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How many people are coming to your party? Do you have a constant bunch of people or friends on it or are there also many new faces? Who is your audience?

The Pudel is not a really huge place, I would say around 200 people fit in there and it’s really packed and sweaty then. As Gatto Musculoso takes place on weekends, it’s always pretty busy – approximately around 400 to 500 people passing the doors during one night. The audience always consists of a very interesting mixture of students, random party people, other DJs, artists, writers, musicians, tourists, freaks and of course, friends of mine and people which come purposefully for the music. But as you can imagine, there’s no considerable scene or certain movement for this kind of musical diversity and approach as it would be with contemporary house or techno music for example.

What’s the story about Golden Pudel Club? Does this place offers such a free atmosphere as we read in the recent Resident Advisor feature?

Oh that’s a long story. Let me keep it brief and tell you some important things about this unique place. It’s a former punk place and this attitude still lasts until recent days – since over 21 years by now. No matter who is DJing or which artist is performing, entry is usually never more than 5 Euros or even free. This goes hand in hand with an attitude to musical content, which can be described as more than free – you can play whatever you want and in any way you want to. As free-thinking the place and its people are, as open-minded let me say 90 percent of the audience is.

It is not only a great pleasure and a big chance to have the possibility to get people dancing to music they never expected they would dance to or to slip them strange music which was not actually intended for clubbing. It is also a great opportunity to have the necessary space to experiment as a DJ, to keep yourself and your musical understanding moving constantly.

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What is the story with your amazing posters? Are you a designer?

Many thanks for the kind words! But no, I am not a graphic-designer at all, I studied cultural anthropology and photography. I create these posters in a quiet dilettantish, simple and intuitive way, just trying to capture and convey this certain feeling and idea Gatto Musculoso is about – without explaining what to expect there, which is impossible and unnecessary anyway…

Your mixes include so many different styles and genres. Are you also that eclectic while playing in a club?

As most of my mixes are meant for listening, they don’t really represent how a Gatto Musculoso night entirely sounds like. On the one hand, as people usually show up pretty late in clubs on weekends, the first hours could sound similar – I always ask my DJ guests to bring some calm or obscure listening records in addition to the stuff they want to play out in the meantime. It’s great to hang around, showing each other recent findings, treasures and favourites, to step into the night quietly and patiently. What my mixes and the actual club nights might have in common is the same spirit of variety and maybe a peculiar mood.

Can you remember some funny moments at your parties?

Haha, far too many to mention here…

What are you collecting? Are dance- or listening records dominating in your collection?

I collect everything I like. So, there is all kind of music in my collection – exhausting fusion, cheesy ambient, sweet soul, krautrock, folk, disco or library records as well as more obvious and functional electronic dance music…. But as I don’t buy a lot of contemporary releases, vintage music dominates in general. Furthermore I think that any piece of music could turn into an unexpected, thrilling danceable one…

What was your first record?

I got my first record from my uncle as a present. It was the Mizrab LP by Gabor Szabo.

Which five records in your bag can change the situation on the dancefloor?

Oh, this is really hard to say and of course always depends on the whole situation, what the actual party is about, the venue, the crowd and my own mood. There are a lot! Since I have only a few to choose, these following tracks worked out particularly well in my recent sets and really became all time favourites beyond that.

30.10.3402 by 30.10.3402, the moniker under which Nenad Markovic from the surrounding of Klub 20/44 in Belgrade produces extremely promising and unique music. This one came out on the very young and also very promising Dusseldorf based imprint Kunstkopf.

Local Vers by my close friend Tolouse Low Trax from Dusseldorf´s outstanding Salon des Amateurs.

Stou by Giorgos Theodorakis, a pretty rare thing, which Tako and Ilias thankfully made accessible to a wider range of people by their Into The Light compilation.

Ostafrika by German duo Die Partei, a project of Walter Dahn and Tom Dokoupil.

Stil Der Neuen Zeit by Dunkelziffer, at the wrong speed and pitched up to +8.

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In Ukraine there’re only a few cities where you can realize yourself as a non-pop, alternative DJ. Are you happy in Hamburg?

Despite of some details, which could always be better, on the whole, definitely yes! But of course it’s never easy to build something up, which is distant from the mainstream or current trends. You always need the right, open-minded people to realize things like that. Luckily we have some of those in the city…

Do you want to move to Berlin or something?

No.

What are your favourite places to play?

Any place with a good spirit, a nice audience and a good sound system. Basically, Golden Pudel Club of course and another very special venue in Hamburg called Golem. Salon Des Amatuers in Dusseldorf is another incomparable place.

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What’s next, man?

Keeping on with Gatto Musculoso, working on some film- and photography-projects and hopefully starting with my own music soon, as this is a really long-standing plan. There will be a new little mix on the french blog www.lesyeuxorange.com and for you guys soon…

Great, Dan! Thank you!

Many thanks for having me!

Check Dan’s website and Soundcloud

Words by Artem Super Ikra & Sasha Tessio
cover / portrait of Dan / copyright Katja Ruge
photos of Pudel / ©
Pelle Buys