music • 13 Apr, 2017
Interview: Equation Festival Founder Ouissam Mokretar
We talk junk boats, record labels and the power of music with the creator of Vietnam's newest fest.
Ouissam Mokretar brings people together. And he doesn’t care where — parties in dusty basements, aboard junk boats bobbing through Hong Kong harbor, and this weekend at the house and techno festival Equation. It’s the first his team have organised, and it’ll be held on the site of Quest, at Son Tinh Camp, on Dong Mo Lake, outside Hanoi.
It promises to join the dots between Asia’s underground club network with a coming together of crews from places like ‘Elevator’ in Shanghai, ‘Safe Room’ in Bangkok, and our own ‘The Observatory’, whose DJs will take a turn alongside international artists like San Soda and Oskar Offermann. “Who am I most excited to watch? All of them. They all have a story to tell,” Ouissam begins.
It’s a natural progression for Ouissam, from a basement business that became the Cliché Record label in Hong Kong, to the perfectly appointed Savage, his club hidden away near Hanoi’s west lake, to this weekend’s Equation. “It’s the power of music lovers connecting and making things happen. We started with monthly parties, became a booking agency and then the record label, Cliché. Then we wanted to have a venue where all the DJs we love in Asia (and some from further away) could come and play. Every project and idea has come naturally and grown organically for our team,” he continues.
What influence did music have on you growing up?
Music’s always been important in my life. I always had headphones when I was a kid all the way up to being a teen. I could spent hours and hours listening to different sounds, digging for records and finding new music. The soundtrack of my youth? There’s The Brothers Johnson’s ‘Strawberry Letter 23’, and IAM’s ‘Nés sous la même étoile’. Also Bobby Caldwell’s ‘My Flame’, Chaka Khan’s ‘I Know You, I Live You’ and ‘Les Princes De La Ville’ by 113.
Do you remember when things got serious?
When I discovered Soulseek [online music forum and sharing platform] in the 2000’s, my passion for music got even crazier. I’d spend a whole night in the ‘funk room’ or the ‘Japanese sound room’. And I’d skip school just to share tracks with other music lovers. When I logged-out from Soulseek it would already be 8am, but I’d be happy to have discovered something new. Then I’d take the train or a long walk, put my headphones on, and just enjoy the music.
You swapped Hong Kong for Hanoi. Compare them for us culturally.
I was based in Hong Kong, in a tiny flat and spending most of my time at the office with my friends and crew from my record label. Hong Kong has great potential, but the rent is just killing the scene. Hanoi is much more affordable in terms of rent. That helps creativity to thrive. Artists and dancers have space to create. I’ve noticed Vietnamese are more curious than Hong Kongers, I can see the difference within 6 months! I’m also glad to see a mix of locals and expats in Hanoi. Hong Kong is mostly an expat crowd.
When did you know you wanted to do Equation at this location?
Back in 2015, when I was playing at Quest with Julie from Cliché, is when I realised. I loved the place so much, and I wanted to offer something different to Quest in terms of music, and with the vibes too — something more intimate and more focused on house and techno. Back then it was just an idea. I really made the decision last summer in Croatia, after attending ‘Love International’. It’s such a great festival. ‘Organik’ in Taiwan has also been an inspiration — the best festival I have been to in Asia so far.
Which clubs have you connected and what’s their spiritual link?
There’s ‘Mystik’ in Seoul, ‘Elevator’ in Shanghai, ‘The Observatory’ in Ho Chi Minh, ‘Safe Room’ in Bangkok, ‘Korner’ in Taipei and ‘XX XX’ in Manila. What connects them? Each offers a safe space for everyone, and everyone is welcome and allowed to be themselves. And all their dancefloors are magical.
And how was setting up the club you’ve called Savage in Hanoi last year?
Very challenging, and I liked it! It took us so much time to open the club but we made it. Now we are slowly building a strong community of people around Savage. I‘m so impressed by the number of interesting people I’ve met through the club.
What’s the Savagest track you’ve been playing lately?
‘Sex is good’ by Chris Korda.
If you weren’t at Savage or Equation and could be anywhere, anytime, where and when would that be?
The club is ‘The Loft’ in New York, the DJ is Ron Hardy, and the year is 1979.
You brought the Boiler Room to Vietnam for the first time.
A friend of mine in Shanghai mentioned to the Boiler Room’s booker that I was opening a club in Hanoi. After few emails we confirmed a date. It went super fast. Actually it was a real surprise, because I had the Boiler Room event confirmed before the club even opened! The event gave us some credibility in town. But, I think, it also showed the world that something was happening in Hanoi and Vietnam. I am especially proud of Quan who represented the Hanoi techno scene.
We spoke to Lotus Disco about his set that night.
Amazing. Lotus Disco killed it with his moves. The energy was so good and the crowd was on fire. It wasn’t like the regular Boiler Room events you see online, with everyone standing around and taking pictures and selfies. The Savage event was sold out. It was a huge event, and it was on a Thursday night.
Where’s the dance floor of your dreams?
Hong Kong has the junks [boats you can rent, set up a soundsystem, and take around Hong Kong]. They’re my favorite dance floor on the planet. I wish we could have junk parties in Hanoi!
The line-up for a future Equation, if you could choose anyone?
Maurice Fulton, Lauer, John Talabot, Morgan Geist, Dream 2 Science (Live), ND_Baumeker and Ron Trent.
You’re part of Fragrant Harbour Sound System. What’s your favorite smell?
Difficult to choose but any smell that takes me back to my youth.
And which are your top three most played tracks ever?
Destination’s ‘Move On Up’. Then there’s Dennis Ferrer’s ‘Son of Raw’. And I can’t forget Womack & Womack’s ‘Teardrops’.
Finally, which drink would be the cocktail equivalent of your DJ sets?
Probably the Negroni.
The first Equation Festival will be held 14th-16th April. Find ticket information here and follow the event here.
Images courtesy of Ouissam Mokretar
Words by David Kaye
Graphic byThanh Duong