Vietnamese underground: An incomplete list of independent music artists

By Bao Yen   February 4, 2018 | 12:00 am GMT+7
Vietnamese underground: An incomplete list of independent music artists
Chuoi (2-L) and fellow MXM band members. Photo by Matias Hidalgo.

From post-punk to electronica, check out some homegrown alt music artists you might not have heard of. 

28-year-old Trang 'Chuoi' Le, often known as Chuoi, has been part of Hanoi's indie music scene for a decade. She used to play the guitar for post-punk band Go Lim before moving on to be a bassist at hardcore band MXM. 

Chuoi is self-taught, as are many independent Vietnamese artists who got into music purely 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."

"In those days, kids were not really encouraged to study music as you wouldn't make money off music," she added. "Underground music was not really supported, it was mainly DIY and did not have a large following."

Vietnamese audiences today are more open to experimental music, as proved 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 fellow artists, indie gigs still struggle to sell, and financial pressure remains among their biggest concerns despite the rise of a number of record labels that back indie bands and musicians such as Piu Piu, Develhopes and First and Last. But within the small underground music community, there is a lot of mutual support, Chuoi said. 

In 2014, together with Sebastian Urinovsky and Jorn Wind, two expat musicians living in Vietnam, Chuoi co-founded Hanoi Rec Room.

The initial idea, in Sebastian's words, was to offer services and a platform for young, talented and unconventional underground musicians to come and perform. For over three years, Rec Room was the place to be for young Hanoians. Sitting on the roof of Hanoi Creative City, it was an ideal location for the young artists to play live music, until it was shut down last year. 

The platform has not died, however, as the co-founders hope to continue supporting Hanoi's homegrown underground scene by building a record label of their own. 

In honor of Hanoi's small and independent alt music community, Chuoi helped come up with a list of her favorite indie bands and musicians, some of whom may be new to you. 

So here is the list, in no particular order. 

1. Ngọt

Ngot are a success story among Vietnam's underground bands, Chuoi said. Their last show in Hanoi in September sold out within two days to 3,000 fans. The indie pop band, which consists of vocalist-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 held shows in Hanoi, Da Nang and Saigon, and their albums sell. "I think in many ways, indie pop bands in Vietnam have their own personalities in terms of music," Chuoi added. "When we held Ngot's shows in Rec Room, we saw so many unfamiliar faces, which personally for me was refreshing."

2. Rắn cạp đuôi Collective 

Ran Cap Duoi are an experimental band founded in Ho Chi Minh City. The five members originate from different parts of the world, and play on and off during shows. They have a history of playing in very odd places, from the studio at the Vietnam National Institute of Culture and Arts Studies, the prestigious Salon Saigon, to a tiny CD shop in an old apartment complex. More importantly, perhaps, they are mostly young, rebellious (to an acceptable extent) and very talented people with great taste in music. 

3.  Empty spaces

Empty Spaces take their influences from Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. The band name calls to mind Pink Floyd's iconic eponymous song, which is no surprise, as for Chuoi "their music smells like a mix of Pink Floyd and contemporary Vietnamese folk music". The band, founded in 2014, has five members: Cuong Le (vocalist/guitarist), Le Minh Thuan (bassist), Nguyen Tien Hiep (keyboardist), Hieu Nguyen (drummer) and Nguyen Quoc Hung (guitarist/vocalist). They have played several shows in Hanoi, and released their debut CD, "Tien Hoa", two years ago. 

4. COCC

COCC are a product of Saigon. The three members who play multiple instruments are still fairly low-key within the community. On their Facebook page, they say the band started out by covering tunes by Smashing Pumpkins, Tool and the Beatles, to recording songs with their own laptops and setting up a recording studio at home. Their songs are about the living low in big cities, from the beggars, the scrap dealers and the cyclo drivers, to the abandoned kids. A major Pink Floyd influence as well. 

5. Windrunner

Windrunner play metalcore, and are one of the few hardcore bands in which Chuoi can see "female energy". The band have played gigs in Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Penh and South Korea, receiving recognition abroad within the international underground rock community. They have a female lead vocalist, two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer. 

6. Gat tan day

One of the rock band's major 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 of songs by the Beatles, Deep Purple, CCR and the Rolling Stones. Gat Tan Day's emergence on the rock scene was phenomenal, and the band became well-known in Vietnam. The band previously said in interviews that music was their passion, not career, which might explain why they have been quiet over the past decade, as its members pursued different jobs away from music. 

7. Go Lim

Go Lim were short-lived but remain a much loved band in Hanoi's underground scene. Despite disbanding in 2012 after just a year, their tracks emerge from time to time to the reminiscence of their devoted and loyal fanbase. Go Lim were important to Vietnam's indie community, their songs defying gender and politics and transcending time, and it's not an exaggeration to say that hardly any punk band can overshadow them in terms of both music and coolness. 

Aside from the above list, here are a few more indie bands/musicians that could change your perceptions 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 (electronics), Proportions (heavy metal), Hub collective (indie pop), D hustle (hip hop), DSK (rap), The Veranda (experimental)

 
 
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