A lady in the mix

DJ KingLady is making strides in Southeast Asia’s male-dominated world of electronic dance music.

A winter moon brightly lights up the clear night sky. The dull roar of the ocean waves against the shore can be heard in the background. There is a crisp, cool breeze—this is winter, yet most of the crowd are wearing shorts and are bare-feet. Some are even shirtless. Ah, this is winter in Vietnam. The crowd is restless, but their focus is keenly on the stage. The lights dim into darkness, and scattered hoots and hollers increase in anticipation. A minute passes, nothing happens. Another minute goes by. Then another. Still, nothing. It feels like an eternity. Suddenly, all the lights flare on to maximum intensity.

Cheers erupt. The countdown ball start in motion: Ten… nine… eight… seven… the excitement builds… six… five… four… the crowd noise crescendos… three… two… one. Zero. This is not just winter in Vietnam, this is Happy New Year! A volatile mix of cheers, electronic dance music (EDM) and fireworks explode into a frenzied chorus of sound and celebration. And at the center of it all, up alone on the main stage, master of ceremonies, is a mighty figure all of 49 kilograms. A musical entity known as a DJ. But not just any DJ – this is one of Vietnam’s most popular female DJ. This is KingLady.

By the time you read this, DJ KingLady will have had finished headlining the New Year’s Eve countdown party in the beach city of Danang. This is a normal night in the life of KingLady, but there is nothing normal about her. When she is onstage, everyone knows her. She captures her audience, and leaves them in raptures. She performs to please her fans, but make no mistake about it—when she is on stage, she is their sovereign, and they are her subjects. KingLady (or ‘KL’ to her friends) performs more than a handful of events each month, many internationally. She has been to over 20 countries (so far). She has been paid as much as VND50 million. Life is busy, business is good, life is good.

But this wasn’t always the case. Being the eldest child in a traditional Vietnamese household, a job as a DJ would have never entered her mind. But one serendipitous night in 2012 changed everything. “I attended a music festival in Singapore called ZoukOut. I knew right there and then exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” KL fondly recalls. Returning home, she remembered her mother’s reaction when, “Hey, Mom, I’m going to be a DJ!” was the first thing that popped out of her mouth. “It actually wasn’t anger, she was more worried thinking about the late-night, alcohol-infused culture of night clubs and events,” KL continues. But knowing she had raised a good daughter, her mother decided to give her a chance (and hoping she would quickly grow out of it). Besides, “I am very responsible with my money, almost a tightwad!” she laughs.

Being responsible with money when you have it is one thing, but getting it in the first place as a DJ is another as she soon found out. “I started out from nowhere, so of course no one knew about me. In the beginning, that was the hardest part.” Social networking in Vietnam in 2012 was minimal, and it was a struggle to find paid work. Even when there was paid work, most clubs back then did not pay much. But when you do something you love, you keep doing it. She decided to stick with it, and her dedication and persistence paid off when she caught her big break in 2015. “I found my calling card as ‘KingLady’ in 2013,” but it wasn’t until 2015 that the world of DJing in Vietnam grew from underground to mainstream. It was in many ways from the impact of the TV show The Remix—a competition program that combined DJs with singers and bands, and each team would be judged for the song they performed together. While KL’s teams in 2015 and 2016 only got first runner spots, it was enough to catapult her into stardom.

So what exactly is a professional DJ? In a nutshell, being a DJ is about “stitching music,” answers KL. “You have to know all the popular songs and you sequence them together.” You have to feel what a particular audience would like, “and be able to adapt and change on the spot if you are wrong.” To KL, “feeling the vibe and energy of the crowd” is a cardinal rule of being a good DJ. “When I first started I had a playlist of all the songs that I loved. But I didn’t know how to adapt to the crowd and adjust. I just played what I loved, which wasn’t always what the audience loved.” What was in that playlist? She would not tell me specific names, but she does admit nowadays she plays more mainstream songs. Some of her favorite artists and influences are the Black Eyed Peas, Rihanna and the DJs Skrillex and Armin. A good DJ must posses a vast knowledge of songs, as many as possible, and from as far back as possible. Sometimes a particular audience might feel ‘old-school’ and want to travel back to the 1980s.

Not all DJs are created equal: Some just play music while some go further to “adjust the sound output and add effects, or remix.” Where does DJ KingLady want to be? She doesn’t create her own music right… yet. Does she think her looks, sexy outfits and style have helped her become famous? “Yes, I will not lie. But that is not what I want to be known for,” she is quick to add. “What do you want to be known for?” I ask. “I want to create my own music from scratch. That is the ultimate ambition and evolution of a DJ,” she replies. To that end, she is currently taking music production classes and hopes to be able to share her original compositions with her fans later this year. Although she has no musical background that won’t stop her from her ultimate ambition: To have an original track become an international hit. “Write this down: I want to take over the world one day.”

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