City Pop DJ Van Paugam

While surfing the web for some inspiration for the music in our Japanese cultural centre, we stumbled upon the works of City Pop DJ Van Paugam.

As the first DJ on Youtube who uses only vintage Japanese records ripped from vinyl, Van Paugam explores music, nostalgia, aesthetics, philosophy and the outer reaches of Japanese culture. Of course, we Japan Fans immediately found this extremely fascinating, so we are thrilled that our new favourite DJ agreed to an exclusive interview for our website! ^_^ Thank you so much, Van Paugam.

When did you start DJ’ing?

I started DJing over 10 years ago, though I was not really well-known until I started DJing City Pop. I DJ’d Vaporwave, and Future Funk back then. It was fun, but I think maybe there were too many other people doing the same thing for me to get noticed. I always wanted to DJ music that was different in some way, but that I really enjoyed myself so it wouldnt seem like work.

How did you come into contact with Japanese pop music?

Originally with old anime from the early 2000s. Anime intro and outro songs were my first time experiencing Japanese music, so I have always had a sentimental attachment to it. Later when I started getting into City Pop it was like in a way reliving the memories of my past when I would stay up late to watch anime. Its a good nostalgic feeling haha. My first introduction to City Pop was through Future Funk remixes, where I started looking for the originals, then I never looked back.

What do you like about it? Do you understand the lyrics? 

I like that there is a sincerity in the music, and it’s so well produced. It sounds like music from the west, in the best way possible. I started learning Japanese in 2018 because of City Pop, and today I can understand a majority of the lyrics, but my speaking still isnt perfect haha. I always think I sound better than how it really is. The music is worth learning Japanese, because there is so much poetic sense of lyricism and romance. It’s a beautiful language. 

What is “City Pop”?

City Pop is music made from the years of around 1975-1985. It’s a style that is closely sounding to western disco, jazz, pop, rock, and more. Its many genres at the same time, which is because I think Japanese people could take different genres and mix them together to make newer sounds. City Pop is music with a specific mood and aesthetic. When it was starting it was more for Japanese socialites and people who could afford to buy the records, but today we can all get a taste of what it was like to be an affluent Japanese person in the 80s because of the internet haha. 

“The future means nothing without warm memories of the past to look back on, real or imagined”


How do you make your mixes, how do you know what will fit, e.g. do you look for words in the lyrics, or for riffs or for tonality or tempo…?

I make my mixes based purely on feeling. If I feel something sounds like it should go together, and it doesn’t clash too much, I just mix it together. It can be hard sometimes because this music is before house music and the formula that most DJs use for mixing. So it’s usually based on my mood, how I mix and the tone of the songs I use. Im super particular about the songs I like, so I make sure everything I mix is something I really like. Some mixes I will go by theme, like Summer mixes, where every song is about that topic. When I DJ live I never have a playlist however, and I go by reading the audience. 

How/where do you get your vinyl? Do you have friends sending you stuff from Japan or…?

I got a lot of it when I was in Japan, but much of it was also brought online through Yahoo Auctions Japan, or Discogs. Sometimes I would trade with other collectors. I made friends with some record shop owners in Japan so sometimes they will also give me a good deal on something rare. Japanese Record labels are releasing new copies of many City Pop records so its never been easier to buy them.

What would you advise Japan Fans who are interested in making their own Japanese City Pop Mix?

I would say to be careful and not go with YouTube because they can be really strict. I had mixes with millions of views that weren’t even monetized and still taken down. It can be tough. I think the best method is to buy the vinyl and record live vinyl mixing if possible. I know not everyone has turntables however. If you like the music and want to make a mix, I think its nice to make one with songs that mean something special to you, even if they don’t naturally mix. You can blend songs too and do fine.

What are your dreams & wishes for the future?

Eventually I would like to produce my own city pop styled music. I have the means to do it currently, but I just feel its not the right time for me yet. I think we have to go with our instincts in everything. I hope City Pop continues to grow and influence more artists. Its such a great way for people to get into Japanese culture. 

City Pop DJ Van Paugam
City Pop Vinyl – an image from Van Paugam’s weblog

City Pop DJ Van Paugam

“Van Paugam is an American Chicago-based DJ who creates music mixes of 1980s Japanese City Pop music along with running a 24/7 Radio of this music and many live events around Chicago. He is mainly attributed to the rise of City Pop in mid-2018, being one of the first DJs to start mixing what is now commonly called City Pop—or Japanese disco, funk, and pop music that tended to be a genre blend of many western styles of a particular era between 1979 and 1985. Van’s channel previously hit 100,000 subscribers before being stricken off the site on February 14, 2019.” – Wikitubia

“Originally from Miami Beach and currently based in Chicago, Van Paugam specializes in 70s and 80s Japanese Disco, Funk, and City Pop. Claiming the title as the first DJ on Youtube who uses only vintage Japanese records ripped from vinyl to create mixes of rare and classic music that has rarely been heard outside of Japan. He started his journey into Japan’s music scene in 2016 in search of nostalgia for a distant time and place and continues today to uncover artists and records that might have been lost to time if not for the meticulous preservation of Japanese record shop owners and aficionados.” – Anime Magic

More about Van Paugam…

For more about City Pop DJ Van Paugam, check out his great website and be sure to follow him as well! He also has a very informative podcast:

Logo of the City Pop Podcast
Logo of the City Pop Podcast