music • 23 Mar, 2017
AAMIXTAPE: Jan Hagenkötter
Golden music from German DJ and record label head
Finding records from a forgotten era isn’t easy. Jan Hagenkötter searched backrooms and basements. He met reclusive record collectors with their not-for-sale collections. He went digitally digging on eBay, buying records from France and the US. All to put together Saigon Supersound Volume 1, a collection of southern Vietnamese ‘golden’ songs from 1965 to ‘75.
It began back in the early 90s. Straight out of school, Jan moved into music. “In 1992, we opened an illegal club in Frankfurt. A year or two later, we were asked to put out a record. Realising how expensive that was we asked artists in the city to each contribute a track. The packed launch party paid for the next record. And that’s how the INFRAcom! record label started,” Jan says.
Like finding records from Vietnam’s golden era, it wasn’t always straightforward. “One time these hip hop guys came into our club and stole one of the turntables...while we were playing.”
What’s the first track you remember playing?
I have a favourite opening track. I’ve played it since ‘92 and I still play it occasionally today. It’s by Guem & Zaka and it’s called ‘Le Serpent’. He’s actually a percussion teacher in France. He’s very old now, but he’s still teaching. It’s a pure percussion track. We actually licensed it and released it on a compilation a few years ago.
And the first record you bought?
The first record I ever bought was disgusting. It was ‘Disco Fever 1980’ with artists like Boney M. I was eleven. After that I bought all the Beatles records and learned English through the lyrics.
Tell us about this new mixtape you made for us?
I put it together with DJ Datodeo, who really introduced me to this music. We picked some tunes from Saigon Supersound Volume 1. Hùng Cường and Mai Lệ Huyền’s ‘Sống Cho Nhau’. Mai Lệ Huyền’s ‘Có Ai Trên Đời Mà Không Yêu’ is also on there. There are a few special unreleased tracks. We tried to mix in some more traditional tracks. And we finish off with ‘Saigon Oi’.
You just held the record launch party [at La Fenetre on Friday 17th March] with the Saigon Soul Revival, and DJ Datodeo. What happened that you didn’t expect?
A girl at the event bought the album and gave it to her mum who was there too. I got an e-mail the next day, saying how special the night was. That’s when I realised this project means so much to people.
Saigon Supersound Volume 2 is ready. We might release it next year. It was hard choosing tracks and heartbreaking leaving out others for Volume 1. First, we have the release parties in Da Nang and Hanoi.
Where would we find you hanging out in Saigon in ‘65?
Rue Catinat (present day Dong Khoi). It’s where the clubs were.
The song off the album you'd sing at karaoke?
Mai Lệ Huyền’s Có Ai Trên Đời Mà Không Yêu (Con Tim Và Nước Mắt). Honestly? It has the easiest lyrics.
Carol Kim sings ‘our love is now like fresh rice’ on the opening track. What else is love like?
Sweet and sour! That’s the reality all relationships have to go through. Plus the name has ‘passion’ in it and love is passion too.
What does old music have to give us?
Without history you can’t create anything new.
Create a new country with the best parts of Vietnam and Germany. What can we find there?
Vietnamese food. Noodles. Oc. And German efficiency. Plus, I hate the winters in Germany, but spring there is re-energising. Everything starts coming back to life. I’d like the dry season here turn into spring in Germany, back to the summer dry season here.
Your house is on fire. What’s the one record you save?
Trust me, I’m sure I can grab more than one!
Your records are on fire. What’s the one thing from your house you’d save?
I can’t choose my family, right? Then my hard drive. I recorded and stored most of my records there.
The non-music venue you dream of DJing in?
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, with the atmosphere around the temples there, and in those surroundings. What would I play? It wouldn’t be the usual electronic set. It would have to be really carefully selected, from John Coltrane to old Khmer music to African chants.
If one night could last forever which would it be?
I had some nights DJing that I wished would last forever.
Time travel. Which club, which DJ, which year?
The Paradise Garage [legendary New York club]. With my record-label partner who passed away, Namé. Because I loved to DJ with him.
The most outrageous reaction to a track you dropped?
There was one time I played Lil Louis’ ‘French Kiss’ at the University in Frankfurt. In the middle it slows down and there’s just this sexual moaning. A girl came over, looked at the record, and slowly and gently picked up the needle and moved it to the end of the track and walked away.
The other time was having that turntable stolen during our set. It was so quick. But we eventually got it back. We reached out to some friends in that hip hop scene, and two days later we could pick the turntable up.
If you were a piece of DJ equipment, what would you be?
The needle. It’s very fine and precise. And it’s the most important point, because it takes the groove.
Save one of the stars we lost last year.
Loud or quiet?
The drums. DJs love drums.
Favourite music movie?
‘Searching for Sugarman’.
Finally, finish this sentence for us, vinyl records are…
A life saver for me. Music saved my life.
Saigon Supersound Volume 1 is officially released on download, CD and vinyl on May 6th. Listen and order at Bandcamp. The launch parties with DJ Jan Hagenkötter, DJ Datodeo and the Saigon Soul Revival continue on 24th March in Da Nang at the Waterfront, and on 25th March at Hanoi Rock City.
1. Intro - Mai Diệu Linh
2. Sống Cho Nhau - Hùng Cường & Mai Lệ Huyền (Tuấn Hải)
3. Ai ? - Phương Tâm (Trường Hải)
4. Tam Nghiệp - Kích Động Nhạc A.V.T. (Lữ Liên)
5. Hoạ Mi Ca - Sơn Ca (Vinh Sử)
6. Phố Đêm - Hòa tấu (Tâm Anh)
7. Xin Lễ Cưới Em - Tuý Phượng (Thông Đạt)
8. Ván Đã Đóng Thuyền - Hùng Cường & Mai Lệ Huyền (Hùng Linh)
9. Đoàn Người Lữ Thứ - Thanh Thuý & Văn Thanh & Hoàng Liêm & Thanh Mai (Lam Phương)
10. Có Ai Trên Đời Mà Không Yêu (Con Tim Và Nước Mắt) - Mai Lệ Huyền (Hoàng Thi Thơ)
11. Sáng Rừng - Tanh Lan (Phạm Đình Chương)
12. Tình Ta Như Lửa Đơm Hoa - Carol Kim (Khuyết Danh)
13. Bốn Màu Áo - Mai Lệ Huyền (Anh Thy)
14. Đêm Cuối Cùng - Kiều Oanh (Hoàng Thi Thơ)
15. Sài Gòn - Trúc Mai (Y Vân)
Words by David Kaye
Photos taken at Hoang Thi Cafe, 31 Nguyen Thai Binh, D.1, by Tuan Tran
Graphics by Thanh Duong