RetroKid Founder And Sneakerhead Nam Quan’s Melancholy Songs To Listen To In Speakeasies

RetroKid might become Vietnam’s Palace or Supreme. For now, their small HQ is filled with limited edition apparel, and displays of owner Nam Quan’s collectibles. 

We’re at the RetroKid streetwear store and office in Saigon’s Dakao Ward. There, owner Nam Quan is waxing about his latest obsession—collectible die-cast cars. “All the money I make, I spend on things like this,” he laughs showing us one of his Greenlight collectible cars.

Behind us are row upon row of Nike sneakers too (Nam is also founder of VAMC – the Vietnam Air Max Community). Plus he’s founder and director of Only In Saigon. The video series, that ended three years ago, was one of the first to portray the city as a capital of cool, zeroing in on its most stylish, interesting, or just plain eccentric residents. “I’d describe it as a video channel dedicated to exploring what’s going on in Saigon,” Nam says. It featured locals like Nikki Tran before Netflix discovered her, and Liem’s Barber Shop before they went international. 

In a couple of days Nam Quan and VAMC will host a sneaker gathering. Local indie band Storyteller will play a series of covers from the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s – different phases of Nike’s evolution – and Nam Quan will talk about the brand’s history in the intervals. But for The Dot Magazine he’s chosen ten of his personal favourite tracks of all time. They’re songs that are almost as chilled as he is. 

Retrokid founder Nam Quan in the alley outside the store and office at
9/3 Lý Văn Phức.

Nam Quan, how would you describe your streetwear brand RetroKid to someone who doesn’t know it? 

At RetroKid, we manufacture quality clothing with authentic designs – designs that are contemporary and classic at the same time. 

How do you feel about your Only In Saigon series, now you look back on it? Which was your favorite episode? 

I’m pretty proud about that series to be honest. Even recently I’ve run into strangers who knew and appreciated Only In Saigon. It started because I wanted to tell some authentic stories about small businesses and the people behind them that deserved more appreciation and support. 

My favorite one’s with Mr. Ngoc, the shoemaker. I was surprised how much he opened up to me. He told me stories that he’d never told any other magazine or TV show. I ended up making it a three-part series!

My one regret is the quality of our sound equipment. It’s so noisy in his neighbourhood…

RetroKid is burning down. What do you save?

My laptop and hard drive. As a photographer and a creative person, I need to preserve my work. There are some things you can’t recreate, and some moments you can’t relive.

How do music, streetwear and collecting sneakers connect?

They’re always connected. The ‘80s was the beginning of sneaker culture – when people first started to wear sports shoes more casually. Then, into the 1990s hip-hop started to influence fashion. Those interactions continue today. They inspire each other. And we have trends.

What was your first meaningful experience of music? 

That happened watching RATATAT play live in Saigon back in 2009. It was the first time for me to see such a magical show. The duo played all kinds of instruments live. They made some astounding sound.

How do you feel about the current state of live music in Saigon? And clubs?

I did not follow live music too much. So I can’t really say – the same with clubbing. I’m more of a speakeasy, whiskey bar kind of person – somewhere like In The Mood. I like the feeling of sitting at a dimly-lit bar. Sipping nice whisky. With some good conversation. 

“Hip hop and streetwear inspire each other. And we have trends.

How have your listening habits evolved since you first started listening? 

They’ve evolved a lot. Back in the day, when I was younger, I tended to listen to what’s really trendy. I guess I was fitting in with what everyone else was listening to – things like Hybrid Theory & Meteora by Linkin Park, Eminen’s The Eminem Show and The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.

And I’m thinking of tracks like “Dilemma” by Nelly. Snoop Dogg’s “Pop It Like It’s Hot”. “The Reason” by Hoobastank. “Behind Blue Eyes” by Limp Bizkit and “American Boy” by Estelle. And “Whatever You Like” by TI, and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz…

Nowadays, I search for music that matches my mood. It’s become a source of inspiration. And I’ve developed a love of digging around looking for new and overlooked stuff. 

“What do I listen to for a dose of nostalgia? Some old metal stuff.”

What do you listen to for a dose of nostalgia? 

Some old metal stuff. Tracks like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses. “Creep” by Radiohead. “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. “Chop Suey” by System Of A Down. I think metal music like that is timeless. You always have to stick to foundation sounds. 

What’s the most underrated genre of music? And the most overrated?

Soulful Jazz and Chillhop are underrated. Because it’s kinda slow, moody – and maybe even sleepy to some young people – they tend to underrate it. Check out artists like Rini

For me, EDM is overrated. I don’t rave. I don’t get it. 

“EDM? I don’t rave; I don’t get it.

What’s the greatest album of all time? 

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. They’re legends for their compositions and productions. Their last album has proved it once again. 

Check the collaborations with old-school artists like Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder, Julio Casablanca…and then some later generation artists like Pharrell Williams and The Weeknd

They’re so ahead of their time but at the same time they create timeless classics. 

You have one track to make someone love music. What do you play them? 

“Day 1” by HONNE. It’s a very catchy tune – yet it’s classic with these romantic lyrics. I’d describe it as ‘modern romantic’. 

If listening to music is a journey, what kind of journey will this ten-track mix take listeners on? 

It may start pretty melancholy at first. A bit sad and mournful over past troubles. But gradually it moves from being a bit down to a better stage where you’re more self-aware, self-satisfied – finding contentment in being alone. 

And where would be the perfect place to listen this mix?

Alone. Either in the bedroom at home or at a speakeasy with an Old Fashioned in hand. That always works to elevate the mood.

“Listen to my mix Either in the bedroom at home or at a speakeasy with an Old Fashioned in hand. “

So tell us about these ten tracks.

First there’s HONNE’s “Day One” – catchy and classic. Then Rini’s “Meet Me In Amsterdam” with its soulful vibe, a perfect whisky pairing. After that Jeff Bernat’s “Changes”. That song has a way of making you comfortably lonely. 

Then we have Gert Taberner’s “Fallen” which takes a downward turn – you might shed a tear into that whisky while you listen. Lightening the mood is Juke Ross’ “Color Me” which has beautiful lyrics and a great melody. PREP’s “Line By Line” continues the positive vibes. It’s upbeat, like there’s a party starting. 

Listening to Sun Rai’s “San Francisco Street” is like recalling good times. And Shiloh’s “Losing Interest” is more of the same. Catchy. And it’s perfect to drink to. 

I call Joji’s “Yeah Right” a playboy anthem. We’re back in the game with this one with its melodic hip-hop beat and offensive lyrics. Despite all that it’s kind of romantic somehow. I love it so much I have a one-hour looped version on my iTunes. 

And finally we have “Don’t Give Up On Me” by Andy Grammar. We’re finishing with a powerful track – bright and lighthearted. There’s always hope out there and never too late to push yourself harder.

Photos by Nam Tran Duy

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