Photos by Nam Nguyen
There’s a small underground house and techno scene in Vietnam, but it’s often overlooked in favour of bigger club scenes in regional cities such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.
The slow but steady growth of Saigon’s house and techno community can be attributed to Paul, Erik, and Chris. Together, they formed Heart Beat Saigon in 2012, an electronic music collective that throws 10 to 12 parties a year.
While Heart Beat Saigon has made major contributions to Saigon’s underground nightlife scene, Paul, Erik, and Chris weren’t the pioneers. “The pioneer in the south is Jase with BassRepublic, which has been running for eight years now. And in Hanoi, Tri Minh was pioneering and bringing noise and experimental music at his Soundstuff Festival in Hanoi since 2008 and making his own Vietnamese minimal techno live sets,” they tell me.
We speak to them to get a glimpse into the underground electronic music scene in Vietnam, so if you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll know where to go for a good time.
How did you guys end up in Vietnam?
Chris: I’m from Germany. I used to party a lot in Rostock/ Berlin area, then started DJing 15 years ago and producing techno seven years ago. I ended up in Vietnam because of work for a German engineering company in Hanoi. Played at Soundstuff festival in Hanoi from 2008 to 2010. In 2012, I ended up in Saigon and met Paul. I’m in love with dub Detroit techno and quality/original tech house.
Erik: I’m from Sweden. I used to really enjoy going to techno parties and events in Europe and South America (Peru, Lima) and then I moved to Vietnam.
There was no techno scene at that time and that was something I really missed when arriving here. Since I am half Vietnamese and half Swedish, I decided to check out the homeland of my mother. After some disappointing experiences with its nightlife, I went to see the first Heart Beat event ever and fell instantly in love with that party. Then I went to the second event and got better acquainted to Chris and Paul. And from there I became one of the three guys behind Heart Beat, running the events and promoting the community of techno music.
Paul: I’m from the Netherlands and have been in Vietnam for more than five years. I fell in love with techno when I started listening to the industrial electronica sound of Coil and Tackhead. Before that I was collecting bootlegs of all the house tracks from the ‘90s (Mid Town Records Rotterdam). I also followed punk, grunge, and metal in that time. After I went to one of the first Awakenings parties in Amsterdam, I was more hooked to techno than before and the emphasis was on techno from that moment onward.
Why was Heart Beat Saigon formed?
Very soon after Chris and Paul met, the establishment of a community like Heart Beat was inevitable. Unexpected support from German General Consulate’s cultural fund led to a night of brainstorming where we picked the name Heart Beat Saigon, and our first event was on 14 December 2012. It was a blast.
Who brings what to the table?
Erik is the VJ and does all graphic design and support in event organisation with Paul. Chris is the DJ/producer and in charge of sound, DJ riders, building our artist network and our label Heart Beat Recordings. Paul is in charge of event management, production, and artist bookings.
The three of us always decide on the bookings together and that has to be unanimous.
Who are some of the most memorable DJs you’ve booked?
Our most memorable DJ is Andre Kronert in June 2014 and Etapp Kyle in June 2015. The former was because this was the first time people could really hear the DNA of Heart Beat. The latter because we got to work with Ostgut/Berghain/Panorama Bar and that is an experience in itself. We luckily got good feedback from the maestro himself and at the same time we learnt from this experience.
Who are some of the most memorable DJs you’ve seen in Vietnam?
We really appreciated Trus’me, Henry Saiz, Tom Trago, and Borrowed Identity.
What are some of the clubs that champion house and techno music in Vietnam?
Topping that list is The Observatory. It’s the best if you are looking for a night of dancing to original house and techno. The venue features loads of international acts with fresh original music. There are also other venues like Broma, Last Call, Saigon Ranger, Nostalgia, and Cargo Event Space.
What is the percentage of local vs expat crowds that go to these parties?
We make an effort to attract Vietnamese to our events as much as possible. We usually have a decent percentage beginning of the evening, up to 70 to 80 per cent or more. So normally our parties start getting busy earlier than normal. Later, you see it change when the Vietnamese start leaving and more foreign party people come, till there is only 10 to 15 per cent Vietnamese left. Nowadays we have more Vietnamese staying longer and dancing the hardest of all. We also have a more stable flow of punters compared to some of our smaller events years ago.
What do you think got locals interested in the underground music scene?
Something new and out of the ordinary. Places where you can see how expats/ foreigners are partying. Different music, new artists, cosy warm events and good sound. And in Vietnam you have a very young population. The “EDM boom” arrived in Vietnam and got more youngsters interested in electronic dance music. Although it is almost the opposite of underground, it still may help dance music that is not popular. And now, we might even get some people interested in the original dance music when the EDM craze dies out or moves in another direction.
What kind of change do you hope to see in Vietnam’s underground scene as it grows?
I think we are on the right path, so we hope the Vietnamese crowd will grow in numbers and at the same time remains just as energetic as they are now. This enables us and other promoters to make more quality events and bring more artists at a time per event.
This should also result in more Vietnamese quality productions and/or record labels for house and techno. And then the quality of nightlife should be an SE Asian equivalent of some cities in Europe (e.g. Berlin, London, Amsterdam) which will result in future legendary venues with quality sound and lighting as well. We believe this could be the future in Saigon and not just a dream.
We believe this could be the future in Saigon and not just a dream.
Any plans in the pipeline?
We work closely with BAX our Vietnamese DJ/ producer and other local DJs as a collective and hopefully we’ll become more of a platform. We’re planning to make more production masterclasses focused on introducing techno by working with young Vietnamese enthusiasts which would shed more light on the the label side of Heart Beat, Heart Beat Recordings. Our events are still essential to introduce this music to the people here and promotion is still our biggest task.
Heart Beat will present German techno DJ Oliver Deutschmann on Mar 11.