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An Introduction to Hanoi's Flourishing Independent Music Scene

From fusion bands to pianists and close-knit young collectives, Hanoi’s independent music scene is blooming.

For the uninitiated, the main sounds emerging from the capital may at first seem like a worrying blend of wailing karaoke and Vinahouse. In reality, the current crop of underground artists has never been stronger.

A whole host of bands are so talented we want to shout their names from the rooftops, so we decided to compile a (non-extensive) list of some of the city’s most promising young performers.

Limebócx – 'Yêu Nhau (Qua Cầu Gió Bay)

Through a mix of traditional instrumentation and contemporary beatboxing, live electronic duo Limebócx has forged one of the freshest sounds in the city in 'Yêu Nhau (Qua Cầu Gió Bay).' The song takes the lyrics and melody from a Bac Ninh quan họ classic and remixes them with electronic elements and a generous sprinkle of sultriness. The music video for this reggae-tinged song also pays tribute to this blend of new and old: water puppetry, breakdancing, quan họ attire and đàn tranh all feature in a stylish homage to fusion.

Da LAB - Đời Là Đi

Founded as a student music group in 2007, Hanoi's Da LAB is now among the most recognizable names in the local music scene thanks to massive hits like 'Một Nhà' and 'Thanh Xuân.' They are one of the oldest active bands in the scene, members of Da LAB are all in their 30s and married, yet their music maintains a youthful appeal resulting in hit after hit. 'Đời Là Đi' is a lesser-known song in their repertoire, but has perhaps the most breathtaking accompanying video — more than three minutes of Vietnam's natural and rural landscapes featured in a clip that brings viewers to Quang Nam's "mural village," Hoi An, and more.

Ho Tram Anh – ‘Low (Requiem for a Soul)’

With lyrics referencing “empty streets” or the feeling that one “can be lonely but…can't stay alone,” isolation forms the predominant theme on Low, 25-year-old Ho Tram Anh’s impressive three-track debut EP. In persuasive and naked songs about loss, the Hanoi-based lyricist and pianist delves into the depths of human sorrow.

Through brittle, yet confident, octave-straddling vocals, Tram Anh reflects on both a self-awareness of separateness while issuing a strong statement on one’s ability to remain stoic in the face of isolation. Undoubtedly, the standout track is album closer ‘Low (Requiem for a Soul),’ a stirring ballad featuring flourishes of cello, unorthodox chord changes and vocals recalling more than a hint of Kate Bush.

HUB – 'Đi Và Đi'

Is there any band in the history of Hanoi as close-knit as HUB collective? The band regularly performs in Hanoi and has gained a loyal following via concerts that can be either gentle and reflective or manically intense, depending on who’s singing that night. This camaraderie comes across in their video for ‘Đi và Đi,’ which exemplifies their warmth and sense of belonging. Upon watching, the viewer is left with the sense that we should all make the most of being young because, before you know it, you'll be looking back and realizing these were the best days of your life.

Quyếch – 'Độc Thoại'

Though featuring Ngot’s lead singer, Quyech are anything but a side project. 282 Perspective recorded a music video for their song 'Độc Thoại' (Monologue) last June. The track feels both dreamy and driven, opening with an unplaceable ticking sound that seems to pull lead singer Linh’s voice, wavering slightly, all the way through. The camera rarely stops panning across Linh, singing and playing bass, Duc on guitar and Thang on electronic drums; you follow the sudden zoom-ins and direction switches even as they make you dizzy. The song isn’t catchy as much as it is transfixing.

Tiny Giant - 'Flying Mouse'

Hypnotic and driven by an elegant mix of electronic beats and ambient dance, Tiny Giant’s new EP 'Flying Mouse' marries traditional Vietnamese instrumentation with haunting vocals. Featuring five tracks with lyrics in English, Vietnamese and German, the duo’s debut release marks one of the musical high-points of 2019.

A live event held at Hanoi Rock City this summer revealed the band’s dedication to grandeur, production and spectacle — their set followed a traditional Lanna fire dance and contemporary performances by Kinergie Studio and Abnormal Conceptz. The band recently toured Europe and will play at Thailand’s Wonderfruit next month alongside renowned English electronic musician Four Tet.

Marzuz and Onionn. - '3 Phút'

Despite only turning 19 this year, marzuz has been a staple voice in the capital's indie music scene for more than four years. Starting with a mellow cover of Ngọt's 'Em Dạo Này,' now the Hanoi singer-songwriter is best known for her vocals in hip-hop and electronic-infused hits with producer Onionn. like 'Nếu' and 'Và Thế Giới Đã Mất Đi Một Người Cô Đơn.'

In '3 Phút,' marzuz muses about coming-of-age woes: public image, the generation gap, and staying true to one's sense of self in the internet age. 

Bluemato – 'Tonight'

Formed in 2013 with three members, Bluemato is perhaps one of Hanoi's earliest indie groups. Through EP 'Chuyến Tàu Xanh' and singles like 'Nào Ta Cùng Chạy,' they've gained a loyal fan base over the years. 'Tonight' is the band's latest track, released just before their mini-show in Saigon last August. The song features lyrics in both Vietnamese and English, and is arguably inspired as much by British post-punk as J-Rock outfits.

Ngọt – 'Chuyển Kênh'

Ngot is a primary example of a relatively new phenomenon in Vietnam — a band finding its own way from bedroom rehearsals to local shows to steadily rising popularity that eventually reaches a level of national renown and semi-ubiquity. Established in late 2013, the band’s self-titled first album comprises 10 songs and includes celebrated hits like 'Khong Lam Gi' and ‘Xanh.’

Ngot’s latest album brilliantly captures the band’s most appealing quality: the ability to walk the fine line between playful brightness and bitter profundity. Earlier this year, the band released two videos from their new LP: 'Lần Cuối' and 'Chuyển Kênh.' If the former is a soft piano-driven track reminiscent of The Beatles, the music video for 'Chuyển Kênh' is a cheeky tribute to the television classics — from Gặp Nhau Cuối Tuần to The Dancing Skeleton — that have left significant imprints on young Vietnamese fans.

Vũ Thanh Vân – 'Chiện Tình'

Released in May of this year, Vu Thanh Van’s ‘Chien Tinh’ is a trip-hoppy, ambient track reminiscent of Portishead’s earliest recordings. Slow-building and featuring composed yet potent vocals, the song is one of Vietnam's strongest R&B records in recent years. In between Van's languid, drawn-out verses are samples taken from a rather random YouTube clip of a young man doing histrionic improv in the style of old Hong Kong dramas. The spoken words blend surprisingly well with the trendy production and music video, a gorgeous montage of Van wandering among the trees of Da Lat and a still lake.

Me2 Band - 'Quả Dâu Vô Tội'

As one of the freshest indie bands in Hanoi, Me2 Band is already making waves in the LGBT community for their first single 'Quả Dâu Vô Tội,' a soft, intimate track about a lesbian relationship. Me2 Band was established just last month with five all-female members. 

'Quả Dâu Vô Tội' shares its name with and is also the theme song of a project by 6+, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the mental well-being of queer women and helping vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community.

Những Đứa Trẻ – 'Thành Phố Người Điên'

On their debut album, 'Con Đường,' the much loved Hanoi outfit brought a darker yet more mature sound that speaks as much about the depths of heartbreak and loss as it does hope. Previously released EPs 'Những Đứa Trẻ Trong Ngõ' and '2.0' featured frenetic, post-punk tracks that earned them a reputation as one of the capital's most promising young bands. The new concept album takes listeners from the excitement of those earlier years and along the difficult road they have taken since.

'Thành Phố Người Điên' is track four on a 10-track record that paints a youthful picture of Hanoi's millennials, including desperate hopes, love, moments of confusion, and even painful loss. 'Thành Phố Người Điên' was released as the lead single for the album and includes found sounds such as thuốc lào tokes and city traffic. 

Lom Dom Band - 'Hà Nội Sữa Đá Của Em'

From its name, one might put 'Hà Nội Sữa Đá Của Em' down as yet another loving tribute by a Hanoian songwriter celebrating the capital's enchanting qualities. But according to Lom Dom Band, the tune is a "sad love story hidden in a happy song." True to that description, the song's lyrics wander aimlessly on Hanoi streets, where every familiar scene and object serves as a reminder of a time when a relationship hasn't dissolved into a bundle of lingering yearnings.

 

 

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