Moshing, the Rec Room and family
Wherever there’s an urban landscape or a dejected suburb, there’s usually a sub-culture of young, energetic metal-heads ready to vent their frustration through music.
In Vietnam it’s no different.
The heavy metal scene in Hanoi is small. A lack of professional bands and the inability of many young people to afford instruments and recording equipment have ensured that the growth of the scene is gradual.
It was Saigon that kept the torch lit during the 2000s. Long Ton, a member of progressive cover band Metronome, recounts the work that RockFanClub was doing in the early 2000s, organising monthly shows and even keeping band members close by taking them camping.
Bands like Microwave, Little Wings and Unlimited were drawing large crowds and the beer was flowing. But this wasn’t the case in Hanoi back then. While the bright flame of metal burned in Saigon, in Hanoi it was closer to a bunch of LED lights at the bottom of West Lake.
All the same, for the last five years or so a growing crowd of young Vietnamese have been regularly showing their faces in support of a niche group of metal, punk and hard-core bands. In recent years, the scene has been gathering more material support and publicity from a dedicated set of distributers, promoters and other creative types.
In February of this year five people came together to create Rec Room — one of Hanoi’s latest music venues and a spot that is expected to soon be a real mover in the city’s nightlife scene.
Koremoto ‘Kore’ Todaka is one of the venue’s joint owners and the man behind First and Last records — a label of Japanese origin dedicated to supporting hard-core bands from Vietnam and beyond.
Kore was quick to mention the slow pace of growth in Hanoi’s metal and hard-core scenes. “It’s hard to reach people now. When I was growing up in Japan you would go to the record store and they’d be promoting some great bands, but now you don’t have that.”
While it’s true that the scene in Hanoi is still a small blip on the radar, it is now constantly growing, ear by ear. New and more competent bands are making waves and gaining attention.
One of the bands that First and Last supports is WindRunner — a five piece hard-core act from Hanoi that’s renowned for their raw live energy and partly for their lead vocalist Duong Bui, a seemingly innocent five-foot-tall girl with the ability to unleash a voice that would make Oliver Sykes jealous.
When asked if people are ever surprised by her talent, Duong replies: “People often mistake me for the tech support or something. The rest of the band is doing their sound check, and then when the music starts and I scream people are, like, whoa!”
Kore’s efforts with First and Last records haven’t just been limited to building a scene in Vietnam — earlier this year he took WindRunner on a tour of South Korea — he has constantly been trying to connect the scene in Vietnam to the rest of the world.
No matter who I spoke to, almost everyone had the same thing to say: It’s more than just music, it’s a family. This sentiment is something that’s easily recognisable from other countries’ metal sub-cultures.
There is almost always a sense that being involved in metal, punk or hard-core music sets you aside from others — even makes you an outcast in some cases. Out of this, the metal community has arguably built something stronger than any other musical culture — a unified community of expression that defies borders and laughs in the face of conformity.
In Vietnam, the pressure to conform is not just cultural; to many people it’s a matter of sink or swim. In a developing economy where the fruits of economic progress are increasingly in plain sight, the prospect of missing out on financial advancement for the sake of following artistic passions can be seen as indefensible.
I asked Tuong of WindRunner what draws young Vietnamese to the metal community: “It’s definitely a way to express and to vent frustration — not negative energy, but the frustration of work, of relationships and family pressure.”
He adds: “When I’m on stage I take this frustration and I throw it at the crowd, and they take it. They like it! They let go of their frustration too.”
Sitting on the roof of Hanoi Creative City, I ask Kore, and Seb, the managing director at Rec Room, what the best thing about being involved in the scene is.
“Watching it grow as a movement,” says Seb.
Adds Kore: “Being able to support people who have a passion for hard-core music but who don’t have the equipment, and allowing them to play. That’s the best thing. The community.”
You can support WindRunner by following them on Facebook and attending their upcoming shows. Rec Room is now hosting regular events for metal and hard-core music