DJ Phat needs no introduction amongst the British Chinese/ East Asian clubbing community. His popularity is clear from his large loyal fan base and unrivalled reputation as the people’s favourite ‘Headlining DJ’. Respected by his peers and adored by his fans, it’s his untiring work ethic that has helped raise his profile taking him on tours in Europe and East Asia.
Having just completed a nationwide freshers and Halloween tour, Nee Hao’s Sally Wang managed to finally catch up with the heart throb to ask him a few questions.
How did you get into DJing?
Coming from a big family it was common for us to hold family gatherings, my dad being an avid music lover was always the person in charge of the evening’s playlist. This worked well as the entire family were never shy when it came to ‘getting down’ (dancing). As a kid my dad and I would regularly pop into record shops during family shopping trips while mum and sister go shop for clothes (laughs). He was always very generous buying the music I wanted plus it was a great way to add to his ever growing record collection without upsetting mum too much hahaha! As my own record collection grew I got more involved with the family party playlist, where I first experienced the unique feeling from exciting others with music I had hand picked.
Where did the name DJ Phat come from?
As a matter of fact it’s my actual name! Honest! (Laughs). It’s my Chinese/Vietnamese name. So in Chinese it would be ‘發’ with the Vietnamese spelling being ‘Phat’. My friends joked around with the name when I first started out due to its dual meaning and it eventually stuck… Initially I went by another name which I’m not gonna disclose (laughs) but in the end settled with Phat as I thought it was cool to use my actual name and play off the street meaning (urban dictionary it)!
Having been to some of your gigs one of the things I’ve notice is how energetic you are on stage.
I think personality has a lot to do with it (smiles). I’ve always been a very excitable person so when you mix that with music that gets me hyped up. I suppose the results are clear for people to see at my sets (laughs). DJs are so much more than just playlist selectors otherwise clubs would just use iPods right? My personal opinion is that the modern DJs are too in their own right performing artists. This may not be obvious to some as DJs originally did not hold their own concerts, write music or even record songs which are associated with the more traditional music artist. It’s a really exciting period for DJs now.
Your interaction with the crowd is now a ‘DJ Phat’ trademark. Describe your style and influences?
Growing up in London meant I had a lot of exposure to a lot of the different forms of club music. The club culture in the UK is very quick and cutting edge as people constantly have their ears to the ground for the next big trend be it home grown or abroad. A lot of my time growing up was spent in raves where I suppose where most of my influences as a DJ comes from… With the interaction side, the UK raves I went to had one thing in common. There were always MCs accompanying DJs on their sets to help raise the atmosphere, be it by hosting or even spitting bars which is now synonymous with genres such as Drum & Bass and Grime. For me I love the concept of interacting in the club with a mic as music alone sometimes is unable to express certain elements I want to convey.
When was your breakout moment?
I don’t think there was one breakout moment like how you see in the movies or a show like X-Factor where one performance projected the person to new heights. For me it was more gradual and a collection of many smaller moments such as playing to strangers for the first time or spinning on a radio station. I mean when I first DJ’ed I wasn’t even aware that it could potentially become a career or anything? I didn’t even know at the time the term ‘DJ’ existed? The motivation was simply to share music with people. To this day I still have that very passion instilled otherwise I don’t think I could carry on doing it.
So was there a moment you felt when you graduated from a bedroom DJ to a DJ who had to take things more seriously?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always have taken DJing seriously but I suppose it wasn’t until I started playing for parties organised by East Asians in the UK when things began to grow. Prior to that I spent a lot of time taking up any opportunity to play in front of people be it at house parties, weddings, almost empty rooms/clubs, hosting shows on pirate radio stations and the list goes on…… There are things that are still the same now as it was then which is the time I spend on honing my craft practising scratching, mixing etc.
Back to the question (laughs) the East Asian party scene in London at the time was picking up pace so as the number of attendees grew so did the size of each party demanding bigger venues. At my first East Asian party I played to over 1000 people! Getting dropped in the deep end is an understatement… This all began through a recommendation of a friend who passed on one of my mix CDs to at the time the biggest East Asian party promoter (Shortie Entertainment) where he listened and thankfully liked what he heard.
As an East Asian DJ, was it difficult trying to break into the scene in the UK?
Despite being British born Chinese/Vietnamese, I did indeed experience some prejudice which were purely based on my appearance. During those days it was rare to see an East Asian DJ in a club which meant we had to work harder in order for people to take us more seriously. Of course I had the odd ignorant/offensive comments thrown at me but I wasn’t going to let a few ignorant people stop me from rocking dance floors now was I (smiles)? To put things into perspective those incidents were rare and when a party is rocking right, people forget who is playing the music and just enjoy the music. More and more quality East Asian artists are representing in western mainstream media with acts such as Steve Aoki and Far East Movement etc. It’s great to see more East Asian talent being recognised but at the same time it’s important to first see the quality of ‘talent’ before seeing anything else as that too can be within itself a form of prejudice.
From your gigs I have noticed you attract quite a few admirers namely females… Do you pull a lot of girls?
(Laughs) Just like regular guys some attract more girls than others (laughs). To be honest DJs lead a rather lonely life.. A DJ would spend a lot of time travelling, listening/preparing music, emails, planning, producing/remixing tracks etc which mostly happens on your own. Sometimes I might have friends who would accompany me to gigs but as you can imagine that is only one part of the DJ cycle.
I am not a great multitasker and when it comes to DJing especially, I focus deeply on the job at hand and can’t free up enough brain cells to talk to people (laughs).
Do you ever play music you don’t like?
Very good question! In short my answer is NO! The policy I adopt is to always please the crowd within my own tastes. I’m very fortunate to have an eclectic palette when it comes to music but will not play anything that doesn’t excite me. Authenticity is something that sets you apart which is something very important to me and not just on a DJing level (Honestly expressing oneself – Bruce Lee).
Djing in different countries must be an amazing experience. How do crowds from overseas compare?
The cliche is true where by music is a universal language but with regards to differences apart from the obvious ones such as language it is largely the same. An example of one difference is when I dropped some dubstep in France one time people were practically moshing like they were listening to heavy metal hahahahaha! While in Taiwan it was more of a fist pumping thing… Both as hype as each other but presented differently.
Throughout all the years of spinning what was your favourite moment?
Argh. I hate these types of questions as there are too many.. (silent while deep in thought).
I have had so many awesome nights with so many memorable moments but there was one time where my friend Suki Mok who is a very very talented guitarist and myself had the opportunity to showcase at the prestigious Linbury Studio Theatre in the Royal Opera House. Basically we were given a 30 mins set to put on a showcase fusing technical skills from our disciplines (guitar and turntablism). It was a once in a lifetime experience… The audience didn’t know what to expect from our set apart from the fact it involved a guitarist and a DJ. The night was sold out and on top of that we were the first ever ‘hip hop’ act (they didn’t know how to market us and just dubbed us a hip hop act) to perform at the venue which added further pressure. It was pretty much a make or break scenario. I remember stepping out on stage and not being able to see a single face as it was a traditional theatre setting where the venue was dark and the spotlights bright. There was so much anticipation as well as expectation especially being a ‘contemporary’ act in such a venue. The next 30 mins was a blur as both Suki and I performed our set which took 3 months to prepare and perfect. The crowd thankfully approved and was impressed with the skills displayed topped off with a nice review in the papers the next day. This was memorable because I had the chance to express myself more than usual using a DJ set up where normally it would be the case of playing records only. Also it was one of the rare opportunities for me to perform in front of my parents and for them so see what the fuss is all about with this DJing! They were very proud of me that night. The last time I saw them this way was when I presented them a swimming certificate from junior school hahahaha!
It sounds like your parents are very supportive?
My parents are indeed very supportive and I will always appreciate what they’ve done for me as well. Although in the beginning being your typical East Asian parent worried over the time and attention I paid to music and not towards my studies (smiling). But thankfully they saw how much it made me happy and learnt to accept it. These days they are more worried over me burning myself out as my schedule can be punishing at times.
Sounds like DJing is hard work? What do you get up to in your free time?
During my downtime I like to do regular stuff like watch movies, gaming, socialising with friends which normally involves a lot of drinking hahahaha! We call it the Sundae Club! More on the healthy side I do study Shaolin Kung Fu. I am a huge fan of the martial arts and growing up in an East Asian household I had a lot of exposure to Hong Kong/Chinese movies introducing me to role models such as Bruce Lee, Jacky Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen etc. Apart from the physical and mental benefits practising Kung Fu, it is one way for me to keep in touch with my Eastern roots which I am very proud of.
On behalf of all the Phat fan’s out there what can we expect from you in the short and long term?
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey so far.. I will continue to cherish every second I get to play for you girls and guys!
Despite the time and effort required I really do love touring as it’s a great opportunity to travel, meet new faces and play to new crowds. This year’s schedule is mega demanding with lots and lots of dates! Please subscribe to my facebook page (facebook.com/djphatofficial) for more details of the tour as well as all furture dates! Other exciting developments would include another trip to East Asia before the year end with details to be confirmed in the near future.
Long term I would like to head back into the studio and record more music.
You record music? Like songwriting and singing?
Yup. I produce, write and sing. It’s funny how most people react when they find out I sing (smiles). I did release on YouTube a few songs and covers under my actual name (Kevin Quan) as I wanted to keep the DJing and songs separate. I hope to pick up from where I left off as I have so many ideas to transform into actual songs. The music had to be put on hold because my DJing activity grew rapidly leaving me with very little spare time to concentrate in the studio.
So you are quite the multi talent!
I’m just trying my best at doing what I love with the thing I love. Music is subjective so I’ll let you decide if I’m multi talented or not hahahaha.
Tell us more about the ‘Kevin Quan’ side of your music?
I would love to! But maybe the Kevin Quan side of my music can be covered in another interview as it’s a long story in itself (laughs).