December 4, 2019
Interestingly enough, the history of Vietnamese hardcore stretches back into the late 1990s. It began to flourish in a time when there were very few foreigners here. It was indeed an underground scene, unlicensed shows would exist in transient locations and be shut down by the police. Most notably, circa 2000, there was an underground venue in Saigon’s District 7 of all places! Now the location of some of the wealthiest citizens in Saigon – quite the contrast.
Fast forward 10 years. In the 2010s, the was a thriving hardcore scene. No finer documentation exists than the MUST-SEE IMAGES of award-winning photography of the British photographer Neil Massey. From the first image to the last, each hits the viewer with the air of Rock and Roll authenticity. The authenticity that is damn near impossible to come by these days. Sadly, this version of the hardcore scene is long gone. To go to a hardcore show these days and expect to see the same thing would be like going to Jamaica and hope to see the Bob Marley era Reggae scene intact.
So, where does that leave us today? Well, on the plus side, the hardcore scene is thriving. Young adult males definitely still have loads of testosterone. The hardcore music shows are some of the most organized and best promoted. We have bands like District 105, Knife Sticking Head, Razorleaf, and Cut Lon just to name a few.
On the minus side, though, the intensity is not the same as it was. The grittiness is gone. It’s kind of like “shopping mall” hardcore – the music hardcore you would buy at Hot Topic if they sold it. The modern bands have great gear. Some use pre-recorded backing tracks, and most members have proper day jobs. They are healthy and not starving by any means. There are calls for people to “jump into the pit” when none should be needed. It’s a watered-down scene in comparison to the era of Massey’s photos.
Another piece of evidence marking the end of an era is the end of the line for the band Timekiller, who played their final show last Saturday at the We’re Loud Festival. Timekiller was a duo consisting of Jason Brits on drums and Garrett Ranous on guitar and vocals. I feel its a slightly a disservice to single them out as expats amongst the backdrop of so many good hardcore Vietnamese bands that have existed over the years. But they really were in a league of their own and easily fit onto the world stage.
Jason’s drumming was blistering. No other way to describe it! Garrett’s guitar work was fantastic because the low frequencies were split from the high and handled in separate effects chains and amps. This gave a massively full sound from a two-man band. Then, throw on the vocals which are heavily processed and often held for a very long time in delay and, man, you have the real deal !!! You don’t buy that at Hot Topic for any price.
At any rate, it’s cool that the hardcore scene is still alive and kicking in Vietnam. The ramblings of an old man about what it was like “back then” could easily be ignored. I would definitely recommend heading to any hardcore show that is out there. It is guaranteed to be loud and fun.
One last note before signing off. One of the first and absolute classic California punk rock bands was Agent Orange (Unfortunately named for our case.) The relevance to the changing of the hardcore scene here is via lyrics from their iconic song Bloodstains from their 1981 album Living in Darkness. They write: “Things seem so much different now.The scene has died away.” It may not have died away completely. Still, it has transformed into what I describe as shopping mall hardcore. At least in comparison to the brilliance Neil Massey documented and brave souls who faced police batons at gigs 20 years ago in District 7.
Mr. Trouble (Anh Rắc Rối in Vietnamese) has a long history in music spanning both space and time from the earliest days of the California punk scene in the late 1970s to the darkest European goth scene centered around Belgium in the 1990s. Playing in many bands along the way, he was most notably a member of the San Francisco based band Dresden who was a fixture on the industrial club scene back in the time before mobile phones could take pictures. As a certified lover of nightlife, Mr Trouble served numerous posts in the 1980s nightclubs of Chicago and San Francisco, and the 1990s clubs of London and New York. He has only one regret – sunrise. After spending the last 21 years immersed in music and the literary arts in Saigon, you’ll perhaps spot him with his band Pretty Broken Dolls described as Saigon’s most dangerous band of pussycats or on its new music blog called Vietnam Sound System. Today he also shares his knowledge in Bliss Saigon of what’s happening on the music front in Vietnam and all about the great stuff that makes our city and our country come alive when it comes to music.