I recently noticed a post from a friend who performed at Naka-Kon, the Kansas City area’s oldest anime convention. Feeling a little glum from the weather, I pulled up a clip of Steve Nguyen DJing and bringing the crowd to life during his performance that night in March. Many of our readers may know Steve as one of the Video DJs at Missie B’s. I’ve known him since he was a student in the first LGBT literature class I taught years ago. Since then, I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and evolve into an amazing performer. After watching that clip, I knew exactly who I wanted to interview for this month’s column!
How old were you when you first became interested in DJing, and how did you get started?
When I was 8 years old, I would have one of those mini-cassette tape recorders so that I could record anything I wanted to listen to. However, I only had one take at capturing what I wanted to hear. As I got older, my parents gave me a portable CD player and I bought my first CD, which was the soundtrack to the movie A Night at the Roxbury. For those who aren’t familiar with the CD, it was a nonstop megamix full of popular ’90s dance tracks that was seamlessly mixed. I don’t remember how many times I listened to that disc, but that was when I wanted to make my own megamixes. In 2006, I attended KU, and during that time, I thought about working for KJHK, a local college radio station. A couple years later, I got approved to host a program called Club Soda. This was a program where I started mixing live; however, the equipment had limits as to what I could do in terms of matching beats. In 2009, I bought a DJ mixing unit for CDs, and I started DJing for Pride nights on Wednesdays in Lawrence.
When did you start DJing at Missie B’s, and what do you like most about it?
I started DJing at Missie B’s in 2010. The staff and attendees are generally nice, but what I like most about DJing there is working as a VDJ (video DJ). This started my transition from CDs to digital audio and video files, as well as using the computer for mixing. It made DJing much easier. Yet learning to use various mixing programs was a great challenge. Also, the crowd is fun to work with because I can deliver various new tracks they can groove to.
Recently, you DJ’d at Naka-Kon at the Overland Park Convention Center. What was that experience like?
I must say that I was nervous and anxious to perform in front of a larger headcount than usual. Actually, I still get nervous even when I DJ on my Friday nights at Missie B’s. When I took center stage at Naka-Kon this year, pressing play on my first song seemed to cause all of my worries to go away. The crowd was amazing and willing to accept what I mixed. Normally I play at a steady dance club tempo; however, this event was different for me because I was given the opportunity to mix with a faster and hard-hitting pace. The music I chose for my Naka-Kon sets are from my favorite music rhythm games, such as Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania IIDX. It was quite an accomplishment to guide the crowd on a journey through the music I like other than what I play at the club.
How do you keep your DJing fresh?
There are many sources I tune in to, such as certain programs on iHeartRadio or even fellow DJ friends who put out their own mixes. This gives me some inspiration and influence as to what direction I want to steer my DJing style towards. I also like to gather tracks and visuals and try to incorporate them into my sets. Working for the radio station has given me that foundation in what it means to throw songs into rotation; out with the old, in with the new, yet push the trend. That’s essentially what I do with every DJ set I play at Missie B’s. It makes each night become unpredictable.
How would you describe the persona that you embrace while DJing, and how is that different from who you are when you’re not performing?
As DJ Chef Nguyen, I like to see myself as the head chef of a five-star restaurant. For each night I DJ, I want to be able to serve what the people would like to hear with mainstream music. I also want to deliver different sights and sounds for a new experience. I’m usually laidback when I spin, and I have to keep myself flexible enough to read and react to the crowd. I want everybody to go home happy and satisfied. If something isn’t right, then I’ll personally talk to affected individuals and see what I can do to make things better for them. Just like in culinary, it’s all about presentation and taste.
As Steven Nguyen, I’m just a guy who likes to have a plan for each day. I like to live my life with structure and organization because it’s what helps me feel like I’ve accomplished something during the day. I’m also a nerd who enjoys listening to different genres of music other than mainstream, such as jazz, K-Pop, and lounge. During the work week, I’ll stop by the nail salon I own, and do some bookkeeping and inventory. If needed, I may do a manicure or pedicure for my regular clients. On top of all of that, I also host trivia, in which I have to put together my own questions and slides to present in the evenings. With all of the things listed, I like to keep myself busy. Perhaps that’s just how I was raised: to be a hard worker.
Now, you are a DJ by night, but a microbiologist by day. How did you choose microbiology as a profession?
I graduated from KU with a B.S. in molecular biosciences, which opened up many career paths I could dive into. After going through many interviews and offers, I chose to go with working in a microbiology lab. I work as a quality control technologist, where I inspect and ensure the products manufactured at the site are within specifications before they are released to the company’s customers. I would test the products using all different types of microorganisms, such as E. coli or strep.
What do you enjoy most about being a microbiologist?
The result of my work is the most important thing to me as a microbiologist. After releasing a certain batch of broths and agar plates from production, they get sent out to hospitals, clinics, schools and food plants. These customers use those products on patients, lab classrooms and food to test for any contamination. In a way, my contribution to the world is making it a healthier, cleaner and safer place. It’s actually rewarding to think about that.
The STEM fields are often pretty conservative. Do you feel comfortable being out at work? Please explain.
I actually feel comfortable to be who I am as a gay man in the lab. I work in a very mature environment, where my fellow colleagues and myself recognize the objectives to achieve. The most important thing is to focus on the mission at work and leave the drama at home. Nobody in the laboratory needs to waste time on disputing who I am. I have a job to do and I’m going to do it. It’s as simple as that!
What do you like to do when you’re not performing or working?
I like to cook, simple or sophisticated, depending on my mood. My favorite dish to cook would have to be Salmon en Croute, drizzled with homemade hollandaise, served with a side of steamed zucchini medallions and couscous. In my spare time, I like to play Japanese music rhythm games, such as Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania IIDX, and Sound Voltex. I also like to hang out with my younger brother. We have so much in common, and I see him as a carbon copy of me.
OK, now something a little fun. Think of all of the music you have for DJing. If you were a track, which one would you be and why?
This is actually a tough one, but I’ll pick one that I like to dance to. There’s a song made by Barry Harris (from the DJ duo Thunderpuss) called “What Makes Your Heartbeat Faster (Toy Armada & DJ Grind Defibrillator Mix),” and it was released almost three years ago. This song may have repetitive lyrics, but the overall composition is smooth, tame and pleasant. It’s a fun track to dance and strut to. It’s also a song I like to start my live DJ mixes with because it helps set the mood and atmosphere.