“This one was for the ‘Color Me Run,’ this one was for Deadmau5, and this was for my US tour last year,” Phatbeatz says proudly showing us the posters for the events he’s played that line his DJ school wall.
Phat first discovered hip hop at the parties he used to breakdance at, “and one time I got up with the DJ and he let me touch the record…and it was electrifying,” he smiles remembering the moment that inspired him to become a DJ.
With a two-year-old son, these days Phat’s content to take a back seat and let Muse Inc.—the company he started in 2017—send their roster of twenty DJs out to play shows, artists like PauloRico, Annie G, DJ Napple, and DJ FELIZ.
But Muse Inc. is more than a DJ-booking agency. There’s the DJ school where they run three-month courses for aspiring artists, practice rooms, a store, and an office all in the 3rd floor of this building off Le Van Sy. “If you need a DJ, we can provide that, equipment, we provide that too, practice rooms, a training academy…everything,” Phat nods confidently as we sit down to discuss how this old-school hip hop head went from club DJ to CEO.
Do you still find time to DJ now that you’re CEO of Muse Inc.?
I don’t play every night. That would be like having a mundane office job. Now, I probably play two or three times a week. My routine’s fixed—get home around three in the morning, have a snack; fifteen minutes later sleep. I wake at ten and chill with my son, and I reach the office at eleven and stay till the evening. What happens after depends on the bookings for that night. If there’s no event, home for seven and running—you’ll see me doing laps around the Masteri in District 2.
But last year I did an anniversary tour of the US. I played Lock & Key in LA, Pharoah Bar in North Hollywood, then I went to San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Las Vegas. I’m Vietnamese and I played hip hop in the States, the home of hip hop. It’s the equivalent of being a foreigner in Vietnam and singing Cai Luong….
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How easy was the transition from DJ to CEO?
Not easy. At night you’re filled with dreams and ambition, then you wake up and it’s fucking hard. It’s under VND100m to open a business—that’s one thing—but I didn’t know shit about how to build a business. In fact, a lot of people looked down on me and told me I couldn’t do it. They perceived me as an artist and not a businessman—I mean, I was an artist. But this was God’s plan. The opportunity came and I had to take in.
So, in 2017 I started the company. I’ve always been a risk taker in my DJ sets and now in business. The most important things I learned are cash flow and human resources. People would join attracted by the idea of working with me, Phat Beatz, and being in the industry. They imagined the entertainment industry is fun. In reality it’s freakin’ hard. They left…and it hurt me. But in hindsight it had to happen.
I also learnt the importance of relationships—once people gained trust in us we could flood the market in clubs and bars in Saigon, Danang and Hanoi. The goal is to become one of Vietnam’s leading entertainment groups with artists who play here, and in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore…
With eight years since you started DJing, you’re something of an original—how’s the scene in Saigon evolved in that time?
The nightlife scene is growing. There used to be Vina-house clubs, and hip hop clubs—even though they weren’t real hip hop clubs. Now, there’s places like Drinking & Healing and Irusu, small places you can have a drink with friends and enjoy good music. These places are cool, in Vietnamese we’d call them ‘chặt’.
But because I’m from nightlife, on my nights off I’m not going to jump back into clubs. Actually I like fishing. I go out to Thanh Da island…
Where did you get the name Muse Inc. from?
I struggled with that. Originally I gave the company my name. But people told me the company name has to be bigger than me. And Muse is related to the arts, and to music, so we settled on that. The logo represents the three core businesses—academy, store, and DJing.
How has the business of DJing changed since you began as a nineteen-year old?
It’s different. These days people want to be DJs too fast. And with technology a lot of the skills are disappearing. For me, a DJ without the headphones is not a DJ. Lots of DJs today can’t beat match, they just hit the sync button and let the system do it for them. The mindset is different too. Lots of DJs are only motivated by the idea of being on stage with everyone with their hands in the air.
That doesn’t mean I’m a purist who insists upon playing vinyl. I love new technology, which is one of the reasons I opened the DJ store. You get the same feeling of playing vinyl using Serato. But I’ll use anything, Numark, Pioneer, Denon—actually we’re Denon’s exclusive distributor in Vietnam…
What’s special about your approach to training up-and-coming DJs?
I started out as a club DJ who got the opportunity to play big festivals like Color Me Run. The first time my hands were shaking. But I told myself that this was my big chance. Then I did the tour with them, to Danang and Hanoi. Then there was the Zed’s True Colours Tour, which I opened for. I opened for Deadmau5 too. Did I talk to him? He’s kind of introverted—shuts himself off, unlike guys like the Chainsmokers.
Overall, I think anyone can train people to become a DJ in three months. But we train them to become an artist—which is what I had to learn. It’s not just how they play, it’s how they act. We also focus on elements like music history and how to put together a playlist, with courses in open format professional DJing, hip-hop DJing, and summer courses….
DJs often complain about the strange requests for tracks they receive—what’s the weirdest request you’ve had, and how do you usually handle it?
One time someone asked me to play country music! I tend to say, “right now, we’re playing hip hop, but if I get chance to play your music I will, but if not, don’t be mad at me…”
What’s your favorite track right now? And what’s your approach to seeking out new music?
There’s the new Chainsmokers track, “Hope” featuring Winona Oak. I like Nghtmre’s productions too. I’m more open these days to music like trap, house, even EDM…although I still love to drop an all hip-hop set, from old-school to new-school, early ‘90s to 2000s.
We have a team that does the digging, and they also make our own exclusive remixes too. We do a lot of tracks that combine trap and hip hop, for example.
And what would your dream party line-up be?
A-Trak, Jazzy Jeff, Zed, Laidback Luke, and probably Deadmau5. I’m not into minimal tech-house, but being at the side of the stage for his set was transcendental.
Finally, imagine your studio’s burning down. What’s the one record you save?
Bob Marley’s “Legend.” I don’t know why but every time I listen to it makes me feel peaceful, it’s filled with love. That record never gets old….