YOUR INSIDER'S LIVE MUSIC GUIDE
IN HO CHI MINH CITY 🇻🇳 SINCE 2008
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT live music
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT live music UNDERGROUND MUSIC IN SAIGON PART 1: TECHNO
How good is the Saigon Techno’s scene?
Apparent in most other Southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the states of their respective music scenes have evolved from small gigs in bars to full-fledged electronic music festivals such as The Djakarta Warehouse Project (Indonesia), ZoukOut (Singapore) and even larger-scale international franchises like Transmission (Thailand) and Ultra Music Festival (Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand).
The Subgenre Revolution: Techno
Vietnam may not be on the radars of these large-scale franchises just yet due to a lack of large-scale interest. However, this hasn’t prevented small pockets of self-produced underground shows catering to various genres and subgenres from flourishing, with a number of venues opening up to such events catering to these groups.
With a decent number of clubs and bars such as The Lighthouse, Lush, and The Observatory in Saigon, we have seen an increasing number of foreign guest DJs and producers who are highly respected in their field, yet relatively unknown in the mainstream circles, making appearances in the country. Although the general default playlist of choice in a number of these clubs are the typical EDM bangers or even Vinahouse, which may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea but brings in the revenue, some of these same clubs have also hosted events catering to more niche audiences.
Run by a trio of audiophiles who took it upon themselves to introduce techno to Vietnam, Heart Beat is a movement that began in 2012 and is still going strong today with its quarterly editions, which feature groundbreaking DJs your friends have probably never heard of. According to Paul Tonkes, one of the guys behind Heart Beat, things have changed drastically since they first started “because there was barely a techno scene at that time”.
“Underground is funny in Vietnam since the beginning, as there wasn’t a real mainstream scene either and there isn’t a proper translation for this word in Vietnamese too.” He said. “We didn’t have to hide our events in basements or forests but in fact, the opposite had to be done in order to be noticed.
If we had stayed underground, we would not be able to find our potential Vietnamese dance freaks.” Although Paul would like to see a music festival happen at some point, they prefer keeping Heart Beat as a club event.
The Growth of The Culture
“I think we have a very nice culture here that is still growing and expanding and my feeling is that it will always be more eclectic and original, in terms of nightlife options, than in some other Southeast Asian cities,” Tonkes added.
The journey towards a “proper” techno scene in Vietnam is also heading in the right direction as a higher ratio of Vietnamese stay longer and dance nonstop at these events, compared to five years ago. He also mentioned that the once-hidden scene is slowly gaining visibility thanks to magazines like Techno.vn . Dedicated Vietnamese Facebook groups and websites are also increasing in number and popularity.
Beyond Just Music
Loop Central was founded by Dong Phuong Nguyen, he aims to reach out to the Vietnamese-speaking crowd who have been looking for resources to know more about dance music. “Underground music is not just the music, it’s also a culture; a platform for artists to express themselves, their beliefs, and their thoughts through music without having to worry about any trends to satisfy the mass audience,” he said. “The sense of community and people coming together for the love of music is crucial for underground music and that’s what differentiates it from EDM club bangers.”
Dong started Loop Central with a few other friends because they felt that dance music has been ahead of Vietnam for decades. They reasoned that people have mostly been exposed only to the mainstream side, which is only half of the music universe; understandably, it would be appropriate to have a platform to show people the different genres of dance music, and hopefully open a new horizon for them.
The Future of Techno in Saigon
Both Dong and the Heart Beat team are working towards similar targets: a scene featuring weekly events, with international DJ bookings for a majority-Vietnamese fan base and an increase in Vietnamese DJs and producers focusing on these styles. The Heart Beat team also hopes to have Heart Beat and HRBR recognized in the region.
Although there’s no Ultra or Electric Daisy Carnival Vietnam happening anytime soon, the scene is certainly growing thanks to the work of organizers, promoters, and venues. Therefore, fans of electronic music, whether mainstream or underground, will always have options to rave the night away, albeit in their own cozy spots across the country.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT live music BEST VENUES FOR LIVE MUSIC IN SAIGON
Whether you’re a DJ junkie, a clubbing friend, or a lover of live music, Saigon after-hours is a maze of musical possibilities.
As a city that never sleeps, Vietnam’s commercial center, and one of Southeast Asia’s top backpacker hotspots, it’s no wonder that Ho Chi Minh City is home to such a diverse number of top music venues and artsy people. There is no excuse for staying home here – Saigon has something for everyone.
Are you a bit of a slower-moving night owl? Ok, relax – chill out at one of Saigon Outcast’s evening music jams. Or are you more of a cigar-puffing lover of all things unique? You hipster, you. Don your leather shoes and red lipstick and get yourself to Broma. But what if you’re more of a wiggler? Like to party? Dance the night away at Lush nightclub, or shake it in the flashing lights of Air Saigon.
And finally, are you a fan of a good honest classic?
Well, why not enjoy “a bottle of white, a bottle of red, perhaps a bottle of rosé instead?” as you kick back in Acoustic Bar’s smoky interior and thank the Lord for Billy Joel. Honestly, no matter what your nighttime music scene is Saigon surely has the answer. There are just so many great places to spend an evening in this city, and as a bunch of party animals, rock music whiskey sippers, and guitar-strumming hippies, we would like to recommend:
224 De Tham, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 282 210 2929 / Facebook
Thi Bar is not only conveniently located – slap bang in the middle of Saigon’s tourist strip – but it also happens to house a quality cover band and a crowd of friendly, chilled-out staff. Although beer is offensively expensive compared to the VND 10,000 draft just around the corner, it’s worth every zero for the raucous good time you will find inside. The bar also has an excellent ‘buy two get one free happy hour special for beer and cocktails from six to nine p.m., which continues all night on Wednesdays.
Join the cheerful band and crowd of beery ex-pats, backpackers, and the odd Vietnamese for a night of good, honest fun.
22 Nguyen Thi Dieu, D3, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 283 933 0577 / Facebook
Founded nearly two decades ago, YOKO is one of Saigon’s most respected and established live music venues. This is a place for musicians to meet, perform and share their creative ideas. Most evening artists put their own twists on classic songs, but other nights YOKO plays host to some unique international artists.
InterContinental, Corner Hai Ba Trung & Nguyen Du, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 283 520 9099
Chic, romantic and cozy, Purple Jade is one of the quieter music venues. If you want somewhere to sip an expertly crafted cocktail while enjoying the occasional saxophone or piano performance, this place will delight you. The appetizers are huge, so if you want a quick snack with your cosmopolitan, the bar snacks are well worth a look.
95 Hai Ba Trung, Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 909 028 293 / Facebook
Blanchy’s has only been open since 2011, but it’s got a such defiant class that you’d think it had been open forever. DJs play the best charting hits and all your favorite dance classics, and the bar itself serves top-notch drinks. Blanchy works with local acts and international artists, from Grand Master Flash and D Ramirez to Bob Sinclar and Sebastian Gamboa. With a global market in mind, this stylish after-hours hub strives to cater to a more internationally integrated crowd, competing as an evening and music venue on the world stage. The most important thing to wear here is a smile, and the most important thing to do is enjoy.
If you are a lady, we recommend a visit on Wednesday evening to make the most of ladies’ night - free mojitos from 10 p.m. to 12p.m.!
76 Le Lai, Ben Thanh, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 283 824 3760 / Facebook
Catwalk is one of Saigon’s top karaoke venues, nightclubs, and live music joints – all rolled into one. A classy city venue, this popular spot is frequented by the businessmen and higher-end revelers of Ho Chi Minh City society, and regularly hosts parties, karaoke events, and music acts. Catwalk houses 14 private karaoke rooms, a spacious dance floor, and a stage for the club’s Cuban and Vietnamese bands that perform international hits, with the skill of musicians who honestly love what they do.
One of the biggest attractions of this place is its female staff members, perhaps, unfortunately, who give Catwalk an added allure to further stand out from the crowd. Smiling Vietnamese ladies will sing karaoke with you, beat you in a pool, chat with you and serve you drinks.
2 Ly Tu Trong, Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 918 630 742 / Facebook
For the bright lights and blurry adrenaline you would expect from a quality nightclub, Lush is your Saigon number one. Featuring two levels – a crowded lower dance floor and a slightly less populated upper gallery – Lush is home to the members of Saigon’s most dedicated party scene. You will be squashed because that scene is surprisingly large, but we think that’s all part of the fun.
Lush prides itself on its range of quality international and local DJs and is popular among tourists, locals, and expats alike. Tuesday nights are ladies’ nights, with free drinks from 10 pm to 12 pm for Saigon’s women, but the club is typically full of dance music revelers every night of the week. The upstairs gallery is usually less crowded but sometimes reserved for private parties.
43 Nguyen Van Giai, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 122 399 4260 / Facebook
One of Saigon’s newer venues, Indika is a delightfully weird bar/restaurant experience. With a broad and eclectic variety of musicians performing every week, and superbly crafted theme nights, special events, and chill-out parties, Indika has become the hangout of choice for Saigon’s hip creative scene. The Sunday afternoon sessions in particular are well worth checking out.
6E Ngo Thoi Nhiem, D3, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 903 787 685 / Facebook
At the end of an alleyway behind a rustic wooden exterior, Acoustic Bar offers the best of Saigon’s covers and original music. A resident band plays all your favorite hits every night from 10 pm until midnight, and before that, a number of different local bands and acts play their music and their versions of popular songs for an audience of locals, ex-pats, and the musically minded traveler.
Inside the bar, it’s smoky and dim, the ideal tavern feels for those with a nose for after-hours grunge, and its friendly atmosphere and cheerful MC make this notorious Saigon live music venue the ideal place to relax with a good honest beer. Or perhaps a mojito!
188 Nguyen Van Huong, Thao Dien, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 902 365 7 80 / Facebook
Resting in the heart of Thao Dien’s famed ward, Saigon Outcast is the resident “cool kid” on the music venue block. This open-air venue, constructed from repurposed shipping containers, holds both intimate music gatherings and large festivals and is known as one of the top live music spots in Ho Chi Minh City. It also sells home-brewed cider which, let’s be honest, seals the deal.
Wednesday night Jameson Whiskey-sponsored acoustic jams break up the hum drum DJ’s spinning in the city and invite any and all to participate. Major recurring festivals like The Melting Pot call Outcast home and help display the best of Saigon’s art, music, food, and design scene. A life drawing workshop is now offered on Tuesday nights, and Outcast also runs a monthly Urban Flea Market full of local designers, artists, and entrepreneurs.
3 Đ. Quốc Hương, Thảo Điền, Thu Duc City, Vietnam / +84 905 316 456 / FacebookTwo short blocks from the Acoustic Bar, the RockFanClub hosts Vietnamese rock bands with live music every night of the week. They specialize in a kind of loud, energetic rock played at full volume alongside a well-stocked bar.
Kingdom Beer Club
236A Lê Văn Sỹ, Phường 1, Tân Bình, Thành, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 904 664 5 673 / Facebook
Kingdom Beer Club sounds a lot butcher than it is. The venue, fronted with glass and two silk-clad doormen, should perhaps just be called ‘Kingdom’ since the kind of guests who visit and the vibes within are far from the connotations of a ‘beer club’. No rustic wooden stools or flagons of frothy brew here.
The kingdom is a popular local venue that attracts mainly Vietnamese patrons of a variety of local demographics. As it’s generally super crowded, we recommend that you book ahead and reserve a table with your group of friends. The bar has no dance floor and is instead one big area of high tables and the occasional stool filled with bouncing, snack-nibbling, beer-chugging twenty-somethings wearing skimpy skirts, and smart dress shoes. Beer is sold in large, communal vats which sit on your table and from which you can tap a glass whenever you fancy.
Many locals drink it with ice, and the club’s range of Vietnamese and Western snack foods is a tasty addition to an evening of partying. Local and international DJs play a continuous set of pumping beats, and a variety of drinking competitions and special offers make a night here into a serious event. Get up and dance on the stage, or bop by your table and down a million glasses of delicious Saigon Red.
13 Hồ Xuân Hương, Phường 6, D3, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 909 014 608 / Facebook
The Fang Pub’s rise to favorite status among the local and expatriate communities is due in no small part to its consistent live music offerings. Except for Mondays, the bar hosts a rotating cast of rock musicians who play on a lowered part of the bar floor.
Broma: Not A Bar
41 Nguyen Hue, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 28 3823 6838 / Facebook
“Broma” is Spanish for “joke”, but this place has a serious offering of live music that is nothing to laugh at. The rooftop bar hosts regular musicians and DJs, where performers play under a teardrop shaped disco ball rotating for maximum effect. It also hosts an open-mic night on Tuesdays, a live band on Wednesdays and a jazz act on Thursdays.
The Old Compass Cafe and Bar
3rd Floor, Apt 11, 63 Pasteur, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 903 900 841 / Facebook
During Friday evenings, The Old Compass Cafe and Bar transforms from a quiet, classy lunch spot to a live music venue with a selection heavy in folk music and singer-songwriters. The music here ranges from the quiet, reserved musical offerings of English writer and performer Claire Robbin to more lively rock and folk acts. Saturday nights belong to the ’60s and ’70s.
56A Bui Thi Xuan, Ben Thanh, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 839 255 258 / Facebook
Top-quality cover bands and a polished atmosphere make MZ a hot live music venue. This is very much a party venue, and the music befits the purpose. The drinks are expensive and rumors of bar girl scams abound, but the staff are generally welcoming and accommodating and the wine list is well-curated. Worth a visit on a special occasion.
8 Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC, Vietnam / +84 901 354 787 / Facebook
Carmen Bar’s intended effect is that of a Spanish castle, which mirrors its nightly live music offerings: the bar prides itself as the go-to spot for Latin and gypsy music recalling sounds native to the Andalusia region.
SAIGON INSPIRATION GOING OUT live music UNDERGROUND MUSIC IN SAIGON PART 2: TRANCE
Electronic music is increasingly popular in Saigon
And this is evident not just with the number of nightlife events and music festivals that have graced Vietnam before the Pandemic, but also in the increasing number of homegrown acts that are taking the nation by storm. With a wide range of genres in electronic music, there’s one in particular that has been going strong since the ‘90s, and Vietnam has evolved into not just a music scene, but a common one.
The Subgenre Revolution: Trance
Trance music came about in the early ‘90s from two distinct sources: Germany and India. The former has always been the more popular variant, drawing influences from other musical styles such as techno, pop, and even classical and cinematic scores. As the genre started gaining ground across the planet, we saw the rise of producers and DJs like Tiesto, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold, and Paul Van Dyk, among many others who helped give the genre a more accessible sound. These artists enjoyed constant airplay in nightlife scenes and even on radio stations around the world.
The Indian variant, on the other hand, was a more intense and darker form of the genre, drawing inspiration from Indian classical music techniques like acid house, psychedelic rock, and techno. With distinct synthesizer sounds, it evolved into a few other subgenres such as goa trance and psytrance (psychedelic trance), and was mostly confined to underground parties.
The Growth of a Community
The European variant of trance made its arrival in Vietnam during the turn of the millennium, and one notable event was Tiesto’s show in HCMC in 2002, which attracted a sizeable crowd curious to know what trance was.
As the genre started gaining more popularity in Vietnam over the years, a sizeable community started to form, mostly made up of locals who were into the more mainstream variety. Uplifting Euro trance sounds and events were organized to cater to this particular group, headlined by well-known and even legendary international guest DJs.
Tran Quang Thang, an IT manager by profession, fell in love with trance music about 11 years ago and made it his mission to find like-minded enthusiasts to start a community. During the days before Facebook, he moderated forums and organized and promoted trance events in the country. Finally, he launched ‘Vietnam Trance Lovers’, and together, they managed to invite international DJs to perform in Vietnam. However, it wasn’t very easy.
“Vietnam has a slightly lower living standard than many other countries with low purchasing power,” he said, which made it harder for him to organise larger-scale events due to the costs involved. “I am faced with the financial risk and have to work hard to seek for sponsors,” he added. This sentiment was echoed by Kaiser T Tran, a notable DJ and long-time member of the community. He has performed in various events in Vietnam and beyond, sharing the stage with some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Pete Tong, DJ Snake, and Cosmic Gate.
“The issue with trance in Vietnam is that it’s too small and to organize events catered just for that genre, organizers will run the risk of losing money. That’s why most of the festivals and events in Vietnam feature top 100 DJs from DJMag, who mostly play EDM,” he told us. Vietnam Trance Lovers’ Facebook page has about 17,800 members as of July 2022 and, with the guidance of Thang and his extensive global network, has managed to bring in international acts like Super8 & Tab, Genix, Mark Sherry and Husman in 2016, although one of his most memorable moments was seeing legends Above & Beyond live in Ho Tram in 2015.
Although Thang mainly focused on building the trance community in Vietnam and setting benchmarks for events by inviting international acts, there’s another side to the spectrum. Being a diverse subgenre itself, what seemed to be lacking over the years was a strong “connection” between fans and artists of the various trance subgenres available in the country. The ironic twist was that there was now an underground scene within an underground scene.
For those who preferred the darker and grittier versions of trance, there weren’t many options available in Vietnam. Not until two brothers from Paris dropped by to plug the gap. Asian Rave Connection, made up of the Ferruzza brothers Josselin and Florian, was formed with the philosophy of “establishing connections”. They try to connect people with music, and artists with other artists and work to create a culture of collaboration.
They arrived at HCMC in November 2016 with a simple plan after leaving their jobs as financial controllers in Paris: to start a project that organizes parties that cater to diverse subgenres of electronic music. Josselin chose Vietnam because he had lived here three years ago and realized that there was barely an underground scene here — an untapped market waiting to be explored. “ARCAN is a project to develop a more diverse underground scene in Vietnam. We came here to first get to know the market and because the underground was very small back then, we wanted to do something about it,” Florian told us.
With Josselin helming the decks as a DJ, and his younger brother Florian handling VJ (Video Jockey) duties, the pair first made their mark as performers in Hanoi, playing in small-scale shows before getting the opportunity to dish out trance music at F.Club, a more mainstream institution, to a crowd of about 500 young Vietnamese. A huge accomplishment for the boys.
As they started to play more shows and organize more events under the ARCAN project, they started to gain more prominence and are currently expanding into genres outside trance as well. This also means they plan to explore and introduce sounds that have yet to surface here, such as dub, raggatek, and hardtek. But unlike ARCAN, there is another entity that’s solely dedicated to promoting psychedelic music such as psytrance in Vietnam.
Psytrance… in Vietnam?
Psytrance is a subgenre that’s huge among the underground electronic music circuit in Europe and India. However, not many know that, if you know where to look, you can actually find it here in Saigon too. Chillgressive Saigon was the brainchild of Yevhenii Kurtov who first arrived in Vietnam from Ukraine to attend a martial arts seminar and somehow ended up staying here. “Chillgressive Saigon was born out of a struggle to reach like-minded people with the same tastes in music. At first, I was just posting tracks there but people started to gather and some of them were interested enough to form a team and make a party,” he said.
Yevhenii explained that “psychedelic trance is an opportunity to reach an ecstatic state of perception. If a party is going well with the right people in the right place, and organizers respect what they are doing, then it will certainly be the smoothest and healthiest party experience possible, yet with enough room for surprises.” He feels that psychedelic trance is gaining global popularity and this is also evident in the warm feedback he has received from the local crowd. Therefore, he plans to continue organizing events and has a goal to organize three big parties a year.
Different Sounds, Different Crowds, One Vision
Thang wishes to have a strong and dedicated event team to be able to one day bring in international trance franchise events such as A State of Trance (ASOT) or Future Sound of Egypt (FSOE) to Vietnam, although he knows it’s going to be a monumental task. “Often both international DJs and other international organizations have no idea about the Vietnamese market, so they usually just ask me questions more than actually confirming anything. It’s only when trance DJs finally come to our events, then they know about our community here. Although it’s not big, they can see we are passionate people,” he added.
Kaiser is a little more optimistic and feels that an event like that could take place in Vietnam within the next two years. Being a signed DJ himself with Another Dimension Music, Yevhenii is looking to tap on his extensive network to bring world-class artists into Vietnam to attract not just local fans, but also people from around the world, all while putting Vietnam on the world map for psytrance. ARCAN, however, prefer to keep things underground, as they know that even if their events generate interest among a larger audience, their priority is to keep their shows small and intimate, to capture the true essence of what an underground show should be like.
“Trance is all about family,” said Kaiser. “Regardless of where you are in the world or what subgenre of trance you’re into, the music unites us all and this is why we are more than just a community — we are a family.” It’s with this spirit that Kaiser decided to not just focus on one subgenre of trance, but also explore the other subgenres with different aliases. He also plays psytrance under the alias Digital Code. “It doesn’t matter what we play, it’s all about the music. Just close your eyes and open your mind,” he added.
As the man who runs the marketing efforts at Pioneer DJ Center in Vietnam, Kaiser is also responsible for allowing DJs the platform to showcase their skills in their weekly “The LAB Invites” sessions, which are streamed live on Facebook. “The idea is to let DJs take their art to the next level; we give them the platform and they show us what they can do.” The LAB sessions feature DJs who specialize in different kinds of electronic music, from house to techno and, of course, to trance. And with their DJ academy, they are also helping to develop the next generation of DJs in Vietnam.
The Future Sound of Vietnam?
Kaiser noted that some Vietnamese DJs have taken the world by storms, such as Thien Hi and Hoang Anh, and the future looks even more promising with acts like Swainz and 20-year-old KSK coming through. ARCAN discovered a young Vietnamese DJ by chance in the first edition of their Konnected Beats shows and, when they realized he had the potential to play his own sets, decided to train him.
Twenty-year-old Huy Truong plays a range of genres from techno, deep house, and what ARCAN calls “full-on trance”: an intense and high-tempo set. Also doing their part to encourage Vietnamese DJs, Chillgressive Saigon’s approach to their parties in May Cay is to invite as many local DJs interested in psytrance as possible; Yevhenii’s favorite, by far, is DJ Thorley.
Khoa Tran is another highly-regarded local trance producer who has managed to release multiple tracks on international labels, according to Thang. So if you’re into a trance, or even just curious about it, do check out these events and show your support. Who knows, you might just be a part of Vietnam’s fast-growing, diverse underground music ecosystem.