As 2014 drew to a close Saigon was treated to something the city had never seen before. A week long rock festival at Cargo Bar courtesy of the lovely people at Loud Minority and Saigon Soundsystem. The idea was simple. 4 shows – 3 International bands and one local showcase, with support acts being drawn from the wider emerging Saigon music scene. It was a resounding success and a great way to put a stamp on the year that has seen Saigon starting to become a player in the wider global music community. It’s a win/win situation. The bands get to experience Vietnam, a place that is still relatively new territory for independent live music, and Vietnam gets to experience some incredible live acts. So it’s kind of a shock to me that one of the most exciting things to come from the week was sitting right under my nose – right here in Saigon.
Gen are a 3 piece band made up of Guitarist and Singer Quan, bassist Hieu and drummer Nori. Its a simple set up but they manage to make incredible, textured music. Taking influence from bands such as Muse, Radiohead, Mono, Olafur Arnalds, Sigur Ros and Placebo, the music manages to be intense and brooding one moment then transforming into something uplifting, dreamy and melodic the next. Quan’s vocals were what really took us by surprise. It’s not often that a vocalist can add another texture to music as complex as theirs but following from the likes of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) and Jónsi Birgisson (Sigur Ros) Quan slips in and out of a falsetto vocal style, almost moaning and wailing at times.
Drummer Nori adds another element of chaos to the mix as he thrashes around behind the kit, at times becoming a kind of whirling dervish focal point as the intensity builds. Hieu switched from playing guitar to playing bass when the band started to write together in 2013. Like many guitarists turned bassist he isn’t afraid to use the higher notes of his bass guitar, resulting in some really interesting bass-lines which switch and interplay with the guitar. It’s real music, complex and unashamed yet with no hint of pretension. Even if nothing else happened in International Music Week (and it did) our discovery of these guys made it all worth while.
Gen landed the gig at Cargo after supporting Heavy Tiger earlier in the year. This support slot allowed them to meet the staff of Saigon Soundsystem and Loud Minority who offered them a chance to play to a bigger audience than they had before, supporting White Noise and Black Infinity … a lucky break? When I asked Quan about the future of Saigon independent music, he explained that he sees it as part of the ongoing growth that is happening here:
“Going around HCMC concert bars for the past 2-3 years, we could see lots of bands playing covers. But lately and slowly, many bands emerged as playing their own songs. And most importantly events, festivals, and bars are now inviting bands to play their original songs. And we think the public is also following. So the future for Saigon independent music looks good!”
As one year ends and another one begins, Saigon looks forward to another year of building on what came before. Local music, international music and lots of it.