HCMC Dining Guide

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

More of this, please

The best live-music event I've ever attended in Saigon took place this past Sunday. Saigon Outcast, a creative collective housed on a plot of land across from a trio of luxury apartment towers in District 2, features a half-pipe, graffiti-covered walls, a grill and a bar, an eclectic collection of seating and a couple of shipping containers stacked on top of each other where people can hang out. Outcast opened early last year and has become very popular among young expats and Vietnamese. There have been quite a few events that I intended to go to, but I had never actually made it out until this weekend. Unsurprisingly, this type of alternative, youth-oriented place hasn't gone without controversy, though the source of the complaints is rather surprising: expat mothers. A couple of months ago a group of (apparently French) moms tried to get Outcast shut down since they claimed it was a hotbed of drug use and underage drinking. And I thought the French were supposed to be open to stuff like that?
All photos courtesy of neeveedamo.com.

Anyways, on Sunday Outcast hosted an event called Extinction that featured three local bands and a two-man Indie rock outfit from California called The Dodos. Live music is one of my favorite social events, and anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I think the music scene here blows. Fortunately, finally, things are changing.
Two of the local bands that played consist of expats - Brian Wilson's Brain and Joy Oi! I had seen both the previous Saturday and really enjoyed their shows. They are both rock-based with a bit of an experimental edge, though they have very different playing styles and lyrical content. Instruments include the usual staples of guitar, bass, and drums, as well as keyboards and newer technology like iPads and computers.
Brian Wilson's Brain
Joy Oi!
The third local band was Time Keeper, a post-rock all-instrumental group consisting of two young Vietnamese guys. They have built up a bit of a name for themselves recently, and their guitar & keyboard/computer based songs are unlike anything else you'll hear in Saigon, or all of Vietnam for that matter.
One half of Time Keeper
These bands played through the afternoon, and the headlining Dodos took to the half-pipe somewhere around 8pm. I knew nothing about the band going it, but they were fantastic. The stripped-down set consisted of nothing but drums and an electric guitar, as well as some great vocals. There was a lot of energy, and the crowd was great. It was obvious that everybody was enjoying the show.
The Dodos
These types of events are exactly what Saigon needs. There were over five hours of music, and every single song was original content. For most of the 30+ months I've lived here the music scene has consisted of little more than lukewarm cover bands. There are some very talented musicians and a handful of underground scenes, but it's tough to get exposure when the authorities are still so intent on dominating culture, older Vietnamese are suspicious of anything involving tattoos and guitars, and most young Vietnamese only listen to complete shit. We seem to be at a turning point though. Extinction was fantastic, and over the next few months Q4 is hosting a handful of promising international acts. A year ago the list of biggest acts to hit Saigon included the Backstreet Boys, Big Bang and Taio Cruz. It's time some respectable artists with actual talent started getting added to that.

Here's a Dodos song for your listening pleasure. I recommend you get your hands on a few of their albums.

The only disappointing part of the night was when I nearly ripped the nail off my left big toe with my moto's kickstand as I got ready to leave District 2. Sometimes I wonder how I've made it this far in life without killing myself.


  1. Dearest Mike,

    For someone to spew such vitriol as "the music scene here blows", then subsequently admit to never having visited SGOC prior to this past weekend is laughable at best.

    The underground arts and music community in Saigon is undeniably vibrant for those who actually participate in it regularly.

    Maybe you should improve your list of contacts and actually get out to some of the events, rather than play wizened armchair pundit.

    Tonight - O'blec @ I'm Yours in Phu Nhuan. Free-jazz and experimental, electro-acoustic noise music.

    This weekend - Melting Pot Arts & Music Festival @ SGOC. A dozen or so local acts playing throughout the weekend.


    Additionally, while it is great that Q4 and the Saigon Sound System/Loud Minority guys are bringing in some intl acts (Dengue Fever, Japandroids, et al) it is imperative that promoters take into account the fact that tickets should be discounted for local VN residents. Charging 400,000 VND for some good independent music is acceptable for expats, but this is an inordinate sum of money for locals to spend on a night of music.

    The hallmark of a robust music community is all-inclusiveness and we need to foster a scene that brings together expats and Vietnamese alike. The Dodos show was a grand night, but the lack of VN faces in the crowd was a bit disconcerting for those who have invested a lot of time rocking out in this city.

    Catch you on the dance floor,




    1. Gavin, thanks for the comment. I agree it is rather hypocritical to complain about the scene when I haven't been all that active in it, but I'm trying to change that. Went to the Melting Pot on Saturday, was a grand time.

      Good points on the ticket prices, though I do wonder how many locals are really interested in that type of music. I'm sure people who like rock and whatnot are out there, but I haven't met very many. In my experience most young Vietnamese like covers or Kpop. Would be great to see an all-inclusive scene for sure.