The Story Of Vietnamese Hardcore Music
There’s a lot happening in the New Vietnam, so it isn’t always easy to keep up with what’s going on. We found a way way to cut through the noise. Each week we sit down with someone at the centre of one scene within the creative community and ask them to be a personal guide – to curate 5 talents and talk us through their selection.
This week we spoke to Tran Vinh. Former vocalist of Multiplex and The Current Will Carry Us, for the past few years he has been “Mr. Hardcore’ crowdfunding for festivals, bringing in Hardcore artists from Thailand, Australia and further afield and encouraging young talent to try and foster a scene. ‘There is still a long way to go” he assures me.
I waited for Vinh at Midway cafe, a breezy spot in Binh Thanh District next to the canal. Everyone had left town for the bank holiday, heading for their home towns or for the beach. We were part of a small congregation of people who stayed behind, enjoying Saigon’s empty streets. There was an eclectic mix of American paraphernalia, from 50’s ‘pinup’ ad posters to biker logos, plastered across the walls. Various forms of Americana drifted over the speakers, cutting through the unusual quiet. I wondered if this was a hint at the hardcore scene I was about to hear about.
Vinh showed up in an asian, oversized, all-black get up with long hair and black converse. It didn’t take him long to get in a rhythm where well rehearsed anecdotes turned into a fluid living narrative.
“Getting into hardcore in VN is a bit of a culture shock for everyone. In most countries it emerged out of the punk scene but we never had a punk scene so there was no natural progression from anything before. It wasn’t until secondary school that I first heard Linkin Park and I think that’s the biggest thing, unless you’re into classic rock or your parents are, you don’t really have any contact with it.”
“10 -15 years ago we didn’t have any genre’s. We didn’t care as long as we could sing at the top of our lungs or have something to jump around to, to bang our heads to. The specification only came after a while as people became more aware of what they’re listening to and started to divide it into groups.”
Whilst Vinh has his own musical opinions and tastes he uses our meeting as an opportunity to support all factions of the scene with the kind of wisdom and responsibility you might not expect from someone whose hobby is to scream at his peers through a mic.
Vinh frontman and vocalist at hardcore United
The story of the hardcore scene in Vietnam, as is often the case with subcultures, is one of dedication to a sound and a lifestyle, believing in the profound importance of a space for self-expression, community and craft.
These are all ideas that have become increasingly popular on a global scale in recent decades but perhaps more exceptionally, in Vietnam as well. Vinh explains how, 5 years ago people would laugh at his hair because it was long, that people couldn’t go out with tattoos – “now everyone has tattoos. It’s a drastic change in youth culture.”
There was a moment around 2010 when the Hardcore scene was taking off and there was one show that was the very peak of its popularity, but it was also the beginning of its decline.
“My friend just showed me this gig, Saigon Rock 3. It was a big show from 3pm – 10pm with about 12 bands. It was the biggest rock show ever in Vietnam. A lot of bands from Ha Noi and around Vietnam came down. The gig was was even sponsored by Honda. But there was a problem with the show: People didn’t have a festival go-er mindset so they just got wasted and aggressive and ripped their shirts off.”
“We were so drunk on rebelling, we didn’t give a fuck. The bands went off the agreed set list and they had visible tattoos on the broadcast, so the sponsor cut them off. They didn’t have festival ethics. After that everything went back to DIY and it wasn’t long before the DIY scene declined as well: less people formed bands, more groups disbanded and everyone was stuck. Even now there is no more new songs.”
When the old scene dissipated it was down to the younger generation, like Vinh, to take up the mantle and steer the scene in a new direction.
“We wanted to play more music; but we didn’t want to identify ourselves with the older style. We wanted to write a culture so that we could encourage artists to keep playing and inspire people to keep going.”
But with the scene in tatters this was no easy pursuit. “Hardcore had always been like ‘I don’t give a fuck’ as long as your aggressive it’s good. The younger sub-genre was more metalcore; more about the music and less about what you do with your life. We split off and started our own scene. We crowdfunded to bring artists from America to Vietnam. Back then there was no real community, it wasn’t really a scene. We’re still a long way from bringing it back.”
Vinh remembers the rise of mainstream festival music (like EDM – electronic dance music) moment of departure.
“After mainstream festival music came in everything went haywire. I think it fucked everything up. It came in along with American consumer culture. We were subjected to all kinds of products from brands to drugs. If you liked that music you had to spend money. It was about being flashy, buying drinks looking hot, women flashing their tits. They made everything look fancy in the name of art and culture. It switched from artistry to entertainment. It was on a much broader scale: a national scale.”
This mainstream music seems to have filled the void that opened up after Saigon Rock 3. It became the place for young people to use up their energy, to throw themselves around and act a little crazy. Vinh is trying to carve out a different space for Hardcore today.
“We are a different kinds of kids. There’s a lot of young energy – people running around and screaming, it’s a very energetic environment. But at Hardcore Vietnam we promote the idea of being clean and responsible and encourage people to stay away from getting too deep into drug use. You don’t often see people drunk and wasted at our Hardcore shows now.”
Here is Vinh’s personal selection of band’s in the scene today. Some who have been around for a while and some who are just starting out.
From Ha Noi, they were one of the early bands that were also playing music outside of the hardcore scene. They mixed post-rock and ambient with traditional Hardcore so they got into a more emotional approach. Their music is good quality as well, it has a high production value.
Also from Ha Noi, Voluptuary are a mix of hardcore, metalcore and death metal. They actually write in Vietnamese which I like and which is really unusual. It’s dark sounding music, very emotional. It’s ‘Darkest deepest hell, rip your heart out’ shit.
They make music of a good quality, they pay attention to the mix and it’s good. They have even released two full length albums which is huge for Vietnam.
Here is a very young Saigon band, they’ve been around for two or three years. They make traditional metalcore and metal death hardcore.
They have a lot going for them so I’m excited to see what they’ll do in the future. You gotta pay attention to these youngsters and promote them.
In your Eyes
From Saigon, In Your Eyes are one of the oldest bands. They pump out a lot of stuff and even had a music video on Yan TV which was a big commercial break. They are one of the most popular bands in VN right now. They are more geared towards melody but still have powerful riffs and breakdowns.
Knife Sticking Head
At Hardcore United 3 at 3A station organised by Vinh and co.
They are a young Saigonese band, about two years old. They play old school traditional hardcore and it’s everything you’d expect to see. They talk about life and brotherhood and all that inspirational stuff in their music.
They have a lot of energy, their music moves people and they are good people at heart.
What do you hope for the future of the scene?
I would like to see more of a culture. We’ve been running the scene for three years and there are three factors that make a good scene: the artists, the audiences and the organisers. It depends on the audience as much as the organisers. We don’t really have any new hardcore listeners, just those who have been following the scene from before.
All the youngsters like everything from Hip Hop, EDM, Indie, Trapp and rap. I don’t care about how many people are into it because trends come and go and curious people come for one show and then leave. If we don’t have quantity, we must have quality.
I hope to see more music. If you can actually make money doing music it’s going to have a big influence. For now, there’s no market, there is no industry. I think if we just want to sit here and play our music and expect it to get followed, we’re in our own heads. Now isn’t the time for that.
For those who want to earn a living and want their name to be heard they should treat it like a proper business, with the proper etiquette, attitude and planning and try to build connections.
While creating music is art, selling music is purely business. Unless the country is developed to a place where we value originality and creativity then you have to change your music to suit the masses. The most important thing is to sustain yourself – do a tour, make an album that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg. That is the ideal for now. The rest will have to wait.