With this series, we aim to have a deeper look at the protagonists behind the decks. We already spoke with several DJs like Joachim Spieth, Ness, THNTS and Hydrangea. Now we are continuing with our next guest: Van Anh.
She is an Amsterdam-based DJ, a regular figure in the dutch techno scene and a welcome guest abroad. Sigha, Donato Dozzy and Adriana Lopez are just a few big names who have shared the bill alongside her. Furthermore, she is also hosting her own event ISOTOOP, which has already gained a remarkable reputation. Recently, she organized her first festival, Under The Desert Stars, in Morocco. We are more than happy to have a talk with her.
Hello Van Anh, thank you for your time! First of all, what is your musical background, and how did you get into DJing?
Thank you for inviting me for this interview! I’ve been listening and collecting music ever since I was a kid. I played the piano when I was a teenager, but at the same time, I started to get into gabber which didn’t go well with classical music! I started DJing around the age of 22. I was working at a bar in Rotterdam where we had DJ’s playing over the weekends. After that I would move the DJ set to my home to practice until I had to return it to the rental company on Mondays. This heavy operation went on for months until I was finally able to buy my own setup.
Last year you recorded a podcast for us, which is fantastic! What was your setup and how did you prepare the mix?
I recorded the set at home where I have a set up with 2 x Technics SL1200 and 2 x CDJ1000 plus a small Pioneer DJM400 mixer. My preparation is usually the same, whether it’s a podcast or gig. I try to envision what kind of story I want to tell and then I start collecting the pieces. Nowadays, I record without interruptions. I had to force myself into this and learn to let go of my obsession over being perfect. There’s a funny story about the making of the Monument mix; I was at Rotterdamse Rave festival where Ben Buitendijk, Deniro and Stranger were playing. Stranger had the honor to close the main stage for the first time, which was super exciting! After a few hours at the festival, I suddenly felt inspiration and the urge to record the mix. Crazy as I am, I left the festival to drive 88 km back home to record the mix and then straight back to the festival just in time to catch the closing set!
How do you prepare for a gig in general? Are you preparing a tracklist or do you mix spontaneously?
My normal routine is to select a box with records and a playlist for my USB with the direction that I have in mind. I practice playing a few days prior to the gig to learn the tracks and to get into the vibe. However, it’s not unusual that I end up playing something entirely different when I sense that something else would be more fitting during the event. It took many years to build the confidence to mix spontaneously but I prefer this over a prepared tracklist. It doesn’t always work out as good as I want it to be, but when it does, it is the best feeling!
How do you organize your music collection?
I don’t! But I do keep a record of my collection on Discogs, which can be quite useful at times so that I don’t buy a record twice. I also use it as a guideline to dig for other related tracks.
Where do you like to dig your music and what are your favorite platforms to buy music?
In Amsterdam most of the record shops are centered in the same area within walking distance so it’s easy to hop from one to another. My favorite shop is Killacutz because of their second-hand collection and I also like 3445 in the Hague but I’m often too lazy to travel. Online I buy from Deejay, Discogs, Clone and Rush Hour mostly. Digital music I typically buy from Bandcamp or Beatport. There is a new site, Formaviva, with improved functions that I still need to try out.
Who influences your style of DJing the most? Have you got any particular sources of inspiration?
I get inspiration from many things in life from mind-blowing sets to observing artists in other creative disciplines such as dancers, visual artist or filmmakers. I’m sure that I’m always influenced by my surroundings more than I want to be. Still, I think that it is unavoidable unless I would completely isolate myself to a place in the middle of nowhere without internet. Every year I do withdraw myself to a secluded place in nature alone (mostly beach) to reset and reconnect with myself and have a clear mind.
It’s hard to name the ‘most’ influential person for my DJ style because it is continuously evolving, and to name one person doesn’t do it justice. I’m actually trying to be less influenced at the moment and to go with what I feel inside. I think that the Monument mix is a good representation of my signature sound.
It seems like you are playing a lot of vinyl at your gigs. How was your experience with playing vinyl at your last gigs so far? What are the most important things for you to be able to play vinyl comfortably?
Playing vinyl still feels very new and exciting to me! Unlike most others, I grow backwards from playing digital to vinyl. It’s the best decision made 4 years ago. I uncovered a new enjoyment of mixing and collecting music that I’ve not felt before. I believe that my ears are trained on a higher level now, allowing me to be more creative and versatile. It’s tougher at times, but it comes with more pleasure! It happens sometimes that the turntables don’t work properly but I still have my USB’s so it’s never a real problem. Lights are also important for me to be comfortable. I prefer dark and no lights on me or my sight. It’s better if I don’t see the people because it can distract me and make me feel insecure. I want to feel people’s energy, don’t see them.
I have listened to some of your mixes and you are clearly able to jump between different moods with proper mixing. How do you keep the diversity in your sets and do you have any special techniques to change the groove or rhythm into another?
I go with the flow. I like variations and to build up and bring it down to keep it compelling.
Do you play with more than two decks and do use external effects?
No, but I’m keen to learn it! That would be the next new thing to add to my setup once I’ve saved enough money to invest in a new mixer and CDJ to practice.
Last time we spoke with THNTS about the importance of a residency. You are also a resident of ISOTOOP. How can a residency influence you and what are the benefits of being a resident DJ?
My residencies at Perron and The Crave gave me a lot of exposure. I was able to share the booth with big names and play different slots. The great thing about a residency is that you are familiar with the setting and the crowd. I think it is the best way for a DJ to develop, especially when you are part of a good team and you get to play on a frequent basis. Berghain and De School are good examples of this. ISOTOOP is my event and we have formed a solid team: Shoal, Vand, Koen Hoets, my boyfriend Ben Buitendijk and myself. Apart from me and Ben, the rest are less experienced but nevertheless they have delivered quality every time which makes me believe in their potential. The boys also started to produce music together that will be released in the near future. I’m really happy with my clique!
How did you get your first gig and where did you play?
I’m guessing somewhere in 2006. The place was called ‘Gay Palace‘ in Rotterdam. I don’t remember how I got the gig, but I knew many people in the scene back then already because I was out partying all the time! My first ‘credible’ gig was at ‘Zeeruis’ on the legendary Stubnitz boat in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2008. Secret Cinema took me under his wings and I was with his agency for 2 years.
How do you manage your booking requests? Do you have someone to manage them for you?
I’m currently handling my own bookings and surprisingly it’s working out better than before. 2020 is filling up really nicely! An agent recently turned me down and advised me that I could better manage my own bookings and have personal relations with promoters. I was disappointed at the time but being a promoter myself I do acknowledge this to be partly true. I wouldn’t mind to have an agent though, I think combining best of both worlds would be ideal.
What do you think is the most challenging in DJing, and what is the most exciting part of it?
Putting your ego aside and play the music that you love versus playing the music that makes you famous. I could be playing banging techno sets all the time and increase the likeliness to move up to primetime sets, whereas I feel that is a lack of competency. It’s all about playing the right music at the right moment and time.
The most exciting part is the ability to enjoy people. I love performing, especially when I get to play in front of the right audience and my mind is clear. That’s utopia.
Can you end up the interview by sharing with us in which country, festival or venue you would like to play for the first time?
So many places that I want to visit! Japan and Georgia are high up on my list. It’s cliche, but Berghain or Panoramabar would also be a dream. It’s a special place.