We met French-Vietnamese DJ, producer and beatmaker Nodey in The Lab’s back yard. Between dips in the pool and sips on Sampan rum, we got his ten tracks that sum up summertime.
Or read in Vietnamese.
Dôn Nguyen opens a box, takes out his gold grills and slides them in. And at that moment he becomes Nodey. DJ. Producer. And globe-trotting beatmaker.
But rewind to the 1990s and Dôn is wandered through graffiti-covered boulevards and backstreets discovering hip hop in dusty Parisian record shops to a backing track of Cypress Hill and Wu Tang Clan.
Anyway, back to the present and you can still hear those dusty records in his productions.
His first formal release, the Atrahasis EP in 2015, featured “trunk rattling low-end spasms of trap”. Then he produced Vinasounds Vol 1. His sophomore showing sampled crackly Vietnamese vinyl. It was kind of a coming to terms with his French-Vietnamese identity. Set to drums.
Then he did the soundtrack for Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen’s Ishvara. And his soon-to-be-released new album was born in Shanghai and nurtured in Saigon and will feature lead track, Krishna. “Now I moved to Vietnam…I guess to live a new life,” he smiles, gold teeth glinting in the sun.
How do you usually introduce yourself?
I’m Nodey. But my real name is Dôn Nguyen. I was born and raised in Paris to Vietnamese parents. I was a hip-hop producer and DJ in France before moving here. And how would my mum introduce me? “Wossup world!!? Make some motha-fucking noise to my son Nodeeeyyyy !!!” [gunshot.wav gunshot.wav horn.wav]
What does music mean to you?
It’s a spiritual way of communication. Something that connects our brains and bodies to a higher and deeper plane.
What was your first meaningful experience of music?
I have good memories of my childhood. Memories of discovering and learning about hip-hop culture. Back in the day, there was no Internet. To discover new artists and new music was like being on a quest. At that time, we checked underground hip-hop fanzines for the hot new rappers and crews.
Then, every weekend, we left the suburbs to go into Paris. There, we’d dig for vinyl or mixtapes in record shops. I don’t want to sound like an old-fashioned, conservative kind of guy but these kinds of quests were fun. These days, I feel overwhelmed by all the new music that’s coming out. It’s too easy to discover….
When and where do you listen to music now?
I’ve traveled a lot. And I’ve moved to different countries. That meant I had to give up my record and CD collection when I left Paris. Now, I listen to music on streaming platforms.
But actually, I don’t listen to music much. Music is my job. And Saigon is really noisy. I feel overwhelmed by sounds here and my ears and my brain feel tired a lot of time. So now I’m really into silence.
How have your listening habits evolved?
I was born in the1980s. So, I’ve known all the music formats – tape, vinyl, Minidisc, MP3, and now cloud-based music. I studied sound engineering. And when I started producing I had a big mixing desk recording rappers on multitrack tapes and making beats through my sampler – the MPC. But now the music formats and expensive equipment have been replaced by a laptop computer.
However, I’m ready for the world to collapse. And when it does I’ll go back to ancestral ways – making dope beats by hitting stones and bamboo together around the campfire.
Which are the most underrated and overrated genres of music?
At the end of the 1990s and in the early 2000s there were some cool genres of music coming out of the UK. I’m surprised lots of that stayed underground – I’m talking about jungle and drum and bass, and even 2-step and UK garage. Except for “Rewind” by Craig David, I never heard 2-step on mainstream radio.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, but, I’m going to say hip hop is overrated. It’s become the most popular music today. Rap is the new pop in many ways. And I feel that’s diluted the message. And it’s everywhere. I would love to hear some other genres come through.
You have one track to make someone love music. What do you play them?
Do you know something? I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love music at all. So, it’s a hard question to answer.
So allow me to change the question. For people who don’t believe in God, I’d play them the opening of Love Supreme by John Coltrane. By doing that, they can feel enlightened.
And which of your own tracks would you play someone so they understand you?
Nodey’s “Atrahasis”. This song is based on a 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian story. According to the tale, at that time humans were doing so many bad things to the earth, that the Gods decided to delete humanity by raising the sea levels.
What do you listen to secretly when no one’s around?
Secretly, I like to listen really outrageous rap songs. Like “S*ck My D%ck And Wash My Car” by Screwball – a rap band from New York. I used to listen to it as a teenager. And it’s still good.
More recently, I’ve been secretly tuning in to a French rapper. His name is Nick Conrad, He got into serious trouble with the French justice system with a really funny song named “Pendez Les Blancs” which means “hang white people”.
Because of the problems he had, the song has disappeared off the Internet. Luckily, I’ve still got the MP3.
What song would you like played at your wedding? And which would you like played at your funeral?
For my wedding, I’m going with the Jackson Sisters’ “I believe in Miracles”. And for my funeral, Nina Simone’s “Feeling good”.
Can you describe this mix in a few sentences?
It’s basically a bunch of songs that fit my summertime mood. You can feel the light in this playlist. But it’s a nice sunlight – not too hot, not too aggressive. And it’s a sunlight softened by some melancholy.
Which tracks have you chosen?
First up is Boom Clap Bachelor with “Tiden Flyver ft. Liv Lykke”. I love this Scandinavian band. And you can hear Kendrick Lamaar’s sample for “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Next, there’s my track “Tyra Banks”. It’s a sexy, powerful tribute to the Next Top Model host. It’s also pretty chill – find it on my first EP.
After that, there’s Curtis Mayfield’s “We Are The People Darker Than Blue”. It’s not the best known, but it is my favourite track of his. Then there’s Suboi’s last single “Cho Không” which fits this summertime mode. And that’s followed by my “David Carradine” from the album where I sampled old Vietnamese music.
Next is my favourite singer of all time, Nina Simone. “Baltimore” has this kind of swelling reggae beat. Then there’s J. Balvin’s “Brillo ft. Rosalia”. I love the idea that a traditional flamenco singer can become an international popstar. Then we have Seu Jorge’s “Tive Razao”. It’s a perfect summertime track – drinking rum, waves crashing.
I think Bonnie Banane is the best French singer, and The Hop’s “Pollen” features her. That’s next. And then we finish the mix with Johan Papaconstantino’s “J’aimerai” – another amazing singer who can somehow mix pop with trap and traditional Greek music.
Photos by Khooa Nguyen and Nam Tran Duy