Is Next Stop for Rock Bands Vietnam? P1

Posted: Tháng Mười Hai 7, 2009 in Âm nhạc, Cảm xúc rock
Thẻ:,

HANOI — A recent rock concert in the capital attracted 1,600 fans and unusually, half were Vietnamese. With headlining Australian band ‘Regurgitator’—one of the very first international acts for Hanoi—and the new star power of some of the country’s up-and-coming groups, change was discernible in this communist capital.

Ticket prices were a very low 30,000VND (US $1.80), thanks to sponsorship from Tiger Beer and the Australian Chamber of Commerce. “We wanted it to be accessible,” Andrew Lamont of Tiger Beer told IPS. The October 12 gig was put together by the Club for Art and Music Appreciation (CAMA), an expatriate group that organizes music events in Hanoi.

Vietnamese rock band ‘Ngu Cung’.

The presence of respected home-grown bands such as ‘Ngu Cung’ and ‘Holy Red Cross’ was as much, if not more, of a draw card as the Australian band. Ngu Cung won Tiger Beer’s countrywide ‘Rock Your Passion’ band competition at the beginning of this year, earning the honor of supporting US rockers ‘My Chemical Romance’ on their one-off concert in Ho Chi Minh City, which traditionally has hosted larger events than its northern sibling. Holy Red Cross was runner up.This, coupled with a number of other large-scale events this year, such as the multi-disciplinary ‘Artport’ held in early August, is seen by some as progress for Hanoi’s live rock scene, long an underground phenomenon in a country where pop music, techno and karaoke have ruled.

“Regurgitator were a new band and a new style for them,” Giles Cooper said after the concert. “(Though) I think many of them only came to see Ngu Cung.” Many among the crowd were seen sporting black Ngu Cung T-shirts.

“There are a lot of activities in town now. Big companies have money for sponsorship,” Bui Thanh Ha, the commercially-minded manager of Ngu Cung, told IPS. “It’s developed a lot, the quality of bands has improved; they are sponsored by brands. Though a love of rock doesn’t depend on economic factors,” he was quick to add.

This is true. Vietnam’s rapid economic growth has led to rapid social change in some quarters. Youth activities and interests, from elaborately decorated bicycles, to hip hop and even kissing in public are often ascribed to the ‘westernization’ that comes with more money and big brands. But the rock scene in Hanoi has history.

Though initially banned in 1975 after the communist nation’s reunification, rock music gained a toehold post-doi moi in 1986, when the government opened the centrally-planned economy to market forces. Though the economy shifted quickly, day-to-day life remained largely traditional.

“After 1975 rock and roll was considered a type of music that encouraged negativity. They thought it made you crazy, insane, a freak, that it would destroy the order of society,” former drummer Vo Anh Tuan told IPS via phone.

Now a salary man, Tuan once played for the legendary rock outfit ‘The Wall’, leaving in 1999 after becoming disillusioned with the more commercial tact the band was taking. His drumming idol is Ian Paice of ‘Deep Purple’.

The burgeoning scene quickly ran into difficulties. Around 1993 there was a clamp down after an event marking the anniversary of John Lennon’s death held at central Hoan Kiem Lake went awry. Combined with a concert where the audience clashed with police, problems were inevitable.

“Newspapers wrote bad things about those events. The subject was, ‘Let’s Say No to Rock!’. Everything to do with rock in Hanoi was given a hard time in public,” said Pham Ngoc Quan, 30, lead singer in a local death metal band. “But nobody forced any of the rock cafés to close.”

Hanoi’s rock scene has largely remained within those cafés, which are often little more than bare rooms with some scattered wooden stools and tattered posters of still-popular idols like Ozzie Osbourne and Jimi Hendrix (music from the ‘Vietnam War’ era remains steadfastly popular among musicians in Hanoi).

“There’s always been this latent sense that the students are gonna revolutionize everything, but it never happened,” said Cooper, a corporate lawyer who’s lived in Hanoi nine years. “Live music hasn’t really developed in a decade. Now maybe it has a bit, because Tiger is pushing things.”

Though the scene may have stayed small and often informal, greater freedom has been granted. According to Tuan, “Ten years before you needed a lot of permission for a performance.

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