An intimate gig with an international act
Hanoi’s music scene is starved for international acts, so months ago, when CAMA ATK posted an event on Facebook featuring New York-based instrumentalists Ratatat, music nerds across the city collectively freaked out.
I’ve been a fan for 10 years, so I won’t pretend that I kept my cool. I turned up at the venue two hours early. As people began to filter in, my friends and I claimed a spot at the front of the stage, waiting like a bunch of giddy teenagers about to see our favourite local band play a house party. Except this was a band that’s toured with the likes of Interpol and Daft Punk, played massive festivals like Coachella, and released five studio albums.
“Ratatat wanted to do a small gig in an intimate venue,” says Dan Dockery from CAMA. “We could have sold the tickets at VND500,000 apiece and sold out, to be honest, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about music, and making it accessible to everybody.”
There’s something about a small venue with good music that makes for wild parties. Everyone in that tiny, hot room was soaking wet and vibrating with joy. The band gave us nostalgic smiles with familiar riffs from their first album, Classics, and treated us to new tunes off their latest release, Magnifique.
‘We Love Vietnam’
If you’ve never seen Ratatat live, let me explain. The band is producer Evan Mast, guitarist Mike Stroud, and a whole bunch of knobs and pedals. Projections of reworks and lions spill across the stage, while Evan pounds a giant drum with a bass guitar around his neck, and Mike leaps and thrashes and does guitar solo backbends, occasionally throwing water all over his sweaty crowd.
You’d never guess from the energy they gave us, but Evan confessed to a fan after the show that they hadn’t slept in a week, on the tail end of their first world tour in four years. This was their last stop before heading home, but it wasn’t their first visit to Vietnam.
In 2009, the band played a stilt house in Long Bien to a crowd of 300, and made an appearance at Saigon’s Loretofest that same year. When I asked Evan why they keep coming back, his answer was simple: “We love Vietnam.”
Outside CAMA after the show, the guys were inundated with thank-yous and autograph requests. Fame hasn’t gone to their heads, they graciously posed for selfies, and shared cigarettes and small talk with the crowd.
It’s this breakdown of the barrier between audience and performer that was so special. The bigger a show is, the more you feel like just a ticket stub, and the less you’re able to connect to the experience. But when 100 people get to huddle around a band they love, some kind of magic happens.
As my eyes strayed around the room during the show, I caught the gaze of dancing strangers who smiled back at me knowingly. We didn’t have to say anything. The music between us was enough.