Vietnamese Underground: An Incomplete List of Independent Music Artists
Trang ‘Chuoi’ Le, 28, often known as Chuoi, has been part of Hanoi’s independent music scene for a decade. She played guitar for post-punk band Go Lim before becoming bassist for hardcore band MXM.
Chuoi is self-taught, like many independent Vietnamese artists who got into music out of passion. Hanoi in the early 2000s was all about rock, Chuoi said. “We were heavily influenced by Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin and Linkin Park.”
“At that time, kids weren’t really encouraged to study music because you wouldn’t make money from music,” she added. “Underground music wasn’t really supported, it was mostly DIY and didn’t have a big following.”
Vietnamese audiences are now more open to experimental music, as evidenced by the success of many underground artists. Some genres like EDM and indie pop, for example, have been well received by young fans.
Yet for Chuoi and many other artists, indie gigs are still struggling to sell, and financial pressure remains one of their biggest concerns despite the rise of a number of record labels supporting bands and independent musicians such as Piu Piu, Develhopes and First and Last. But within the small underground music community, there’s a lot of mutual support, Chuoi said.
In 2014, together with Sebastian Urinovsky and Jorn Wind, two expatriate musicians living in Vietnam, Chuoi co-founded Hanoi Rec Room.
The initial idea, in the words of Sebastian, was to offer services and a platform for talented and unconventional young underground musicians to come and perform. For more than three years, Rec Room has been the go-to place for young Hanoians. Sitting on the roof of Hanoi Creative City, it was a great place for young artists to perform live music, until it closed last year.
The platform isn’t dead though, as the co-founders hope to continue supporting Hanoi’s local underground scene by creating their own label.
In honor of Hanoi’s small indie alternative music community, Chuoi has helped compile a list of his favorite indie bands and musicians, some of whom may be new to you.
Here is the list, in no particular order.
Ngot is a hit among Vietnamese underground groups, Chuoi said. Their last show in Hanoi in September sold out in two days to 3,000 fans. The indie pop group, consisting of singer-guitarist Vu Dinh Trong Thang, drummer Nguyen Hung Nam Anh, guitarist Nguyen Chi Hung and bassist Phan Viet Hoang, was founded in 2013. They have performed in Hanoi, Da Nang and Saigon, and their albums are selling. “I think in many ways, indie pop groups in Vietnam have their own personalities in terms of music,” Chuoi added. “When we held Ngot‘s in Rec Room, we saw so many unfamiliar faces, which, personally, was refreshing to me.”
2. Rắn cạp đuôi Collective
Ran Cap Duoi is an experimental group founded in Ho Chi Minh City. The five members hail from different parts of the world and occasionally perform during the shows. They are used to playing in very strange places, from the studio of the National Institute for Cultural and Artistic Studies of Vietnam, the prestigious Salon Saigon, to a small CD store in an old apartment complex. More importantly, perhaps, they are mostly young, rebellious (to an acceptable extent) and very talented people with a great taste in music.
3. Empty spaces
Empty Spaces draws its influences from Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. The group’s name is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s iconic eponymous song, which comes as no surprise, as for Chuoi “their music smacks of the mix of Pink Floyd and contemporary Vietnamese folk music.” The group, founded in 2014, has five members: Cuong Le (vocalist/guitarist), Le Minh Thuan (bassist), Nguyen Tien Hiep (keyboard), Hieu Nguyen (drummer) and Nguyen Quoc Hung (guitarist/vocalist). They gave several concerts in Hanoi and released their first CD, “Tien Hoa”, two years ago.
COCCs are a product of Saigon. The three members who play several instruments are still quite discreet within the community. On their Facebook page, they say the band started out by covering tracks from Smashing Pumpkins, Tool and the Beatles, recording songs with their own laptops and setting up a recording studio at home. Their songs are about low life in big cities, from beggars, scrap dealers and cycle drivers, to abandoned children. A major Pink Floyd influence as well.
Windrunner plays metalcore and is one of the few hardcore bands in which Chuoi can see “feminine energy”. The group performed concerts in Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Penh and South Korea, receiving overseas recognition within the international underground rock community. They have a lead singer, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer.
6. Tanning day
One of the rock group’s main hit songs is “Dam cuoi chuot” or “The rat’s wedding”, which was released in 2006. Gat Tan Day became legendary in the early 90s as students with various covers songs from the Beatles, Deep Purple, CCR and the Rolling Stones. The emergence of Gat Tan Day on the rock scene is phenomenal and the group becomes famous in Vietnam. The group has previously said in interviews that music is their passion, not their career, which may explain why they’ve remained quiet over the past decade as its members pursued different jobs away from music.
7. Go Lim
Go Lim was short-lived but remains a popular band in Hanoi’s underground scene. Despite disbanding in 2012 after only a year, their tracks occasionally emerge reminiscent of their devoted and loyal fans. Go Lim were important to Vietnam’s indie community, their songs defying genre and politics and transcending time, and it’s no exaggeration to say that hardly any punk band can eclipse them in terms of music and coolness.
Besides the list above, here are some other indie bands/musicians who might change your perception of Vietnamese underground music.
In no particular order: An Nam Co Nguyet, (rock), Thiss.Hard (beatbox trio), Small Fire (nu-metal), Wowy (rap), Hazard Clique (rap), The Children (rock), Ca Hoi Hoang ( indie pop), Quan (electronic), Proportions (heavy metal), Collective Hub (indie pop), D hustle (hip hop), DSK (rap), The Veranda (experimental).