There was a time not too long ago when electronic music in Saigon meant DJs playing pre-recorded music they didn’t write. Everything from coffeeshop DJ Hotgirls to the occasional international star behind the deck. While my research continually leads me to investigate the former, that’s not our topic. For now, let’s discuss musicians who are writing and performing original music using computers, synths, and a host of other instruments.
From ’80s classics to modern club all-nighters, the synthesizer has been the workhorse of the biz. These days, there’s a fantastic confluence of hardware and software that electronic pioneers, like Kraftwerk or Gary Numan, could never have imagined. For example, Eurorack systems are wildly popular. Of course, these machines don’t do much if you can’t operate them.
Saigon has some talented musicians who are as equally comfortable driving a studio full of electronics as getting in front of a crowd with a bunch of mysterious boxes connected by wires and some controller thingy.
Attiss Ngo is well into the electronic game. What makes his sound unique is his collection of rare synths and his ability to drive them. The “roundness” of these machines is spectacular. It’s not that they are humanlike. It is that, for example, one of the drum machines produces ever-so-slight variations with each hit due to its circuitry. The human ear and brain can detect this even though it is almost imperceptible.
Contrasting this is the square and cold mechanical sound of Ian Richter. In German, I’d say he is “mensch-maschine” or man-machine. Upon hearing his sound, including his uttered and heavily processed vocals, I was instantly transported back in time to Berlin 1982. Shutting my eyes and imagining the cold, steel, sex of a heaving Berlin club. Ian’s making brilliant stuff.
Adding traditional instruments to an electronic soundscape is where Adrien Tournay (Bac Gau Cam) stands out. Whether it’s a violin or a traditional Vietnamese instrument like the Dan Tranh, Dan Ho, or Dan Tiba, he makes the sound come alive. Digitally sublime and ethereal. Close your eyes and get lost in your mind. Note that Attiss and Adrien often play together, and they are doing a ton of work to promote electronic shows in Saigon. It’s much appreciated.
Combining electric guitars with synths and live drums is what Pretty Broken Dolls does best. With shameless self-promotion, that’s my band. We sit in the darker Goth / Punk / Industrial space. PBD also features Jack Briggs from the internationally acclaimed Psych Rock band Skeleton Goode on guitar. Combining my clockwork digital background with his analog fuzzy-wuzzy, we’ve invented a new style of music – Psych Goth.
Pretty Broken Dolls lyricism and video is derived from Classical Vietnamese Literature and Tang-era Chinese poetry. Highly evocative of the sensual and physical pleasures romanticized by poets centuries ago. As a rule, we only play songs you can dance to, fight to, or f;)k to. If you have made it this far in the article, then definitely catch a show by any of the artists mentioned above; Guaranteed to be good electronic times.
Pics Mr Trouble/ Ian Richter