Ngọt success augurs indie trend in the capital

September 25, 2017 - 09:00

The 3,000 fans lucky enough to see Ngọt in concert on Saturday night—the tickets sold out in two days—had discovered the band’s music through various media and in various moments.

Rapper Đen Vâu joined the band on stage for part of the concert. — VNS Photo Samantha Serafica
Viet Nam News

HÀ NỘI — The 3,000 fans lucky enough to see "Ngọt" in concert on Saturday night—the tickets sold out in two days—had discovered the band’s music through various media and in various moments.

Thư Võ, a 23 year-old non-profit employee who lives in Điện Biên Province, had heard a group of friends covering one of the band’s songs. Mattias Rossignol, 38, used to own a bar called Hầm Hành, where on a good night in 2014—the band’s first full year together—40 people would show up to see them play. Minh Thư, 17, heard Khắp Xung Quanh (All Around) on a friend’s phone about two years ago. 

“I just feel like their music is part of my story,” she said before the show.

At 8pm, Thư, Võ and Rossignol watched as four silhouettes appeared behind a screen on the stage at Long Vĩ palace. The massive figures swayed slightly as guitar chords built slowly towards some unknown culmination. Three thousand people began to chant: "Ngọt, Ngọt, Ngọt."

For the next two hours, the group—singer-guitarist Vũ Đinh Trọng Thắng, drummer Nguyễn Hùng Nam Anh, guitarist Nguyễn Chí Hùng and bassist Phan Việt Hoàng— played songs from their first album, Ngọt, and their new album, Ngbthg, as fans chanted lyrics and danced. Acoustic singer-songwriter Vũ and rapper Đen, who released the song Cho Tôi Lang Thang with the band, joined the group for a portion of the concert, gathering three of Viet Nam’s most popular indie acts on a single stage.

“That feeling when 3,000 people are singing along with you…,” Thắng said after playing Không Làm Gì (Do Nothing).

The days Rossignol witnessed, when a crowd of 40 people was a big deal for the group, seemed a distant memory.

Since 2013, the Hà Nội band, whose members began playing together when they were just out of high school, has performed surf rock-inflected compositions with philosophical lyrics about salmon struggling against the current; about sitting on a park bench, doing nothing; about running errands and other topics that eschew songwriting clichés. A crowd-funding campaign enabled them to release their first album.

The release of their new album Ngbthg (An Ordinary Guy) marks a period of both musical and commercial growth for the band. This time, all post-production was handled by members of the band instead of outsourced as with their previous album. The tracks reveal a range of new influences and sounds; Thắng said he thinks his songwriting has become stronger as he’s become less interested in being “amusing”. The band has upcoming shows in HCM City and Đà Nắng and plans to add other tour dates soon. They’ll also be the youngest performers at the Monsoon Music Festival in Hà Nội this November.

The 3,000 tickets to the liveshow sold out in less than two days. Fans waited for the opening act, Ha Noi indie band Mimetals, to play at 7:30 pm. — VNS Photo Samantha Serafica

Ngbthg and the supporting tour seem poised to cement Ngọt’s reputation as one of Việt Nam’s most popular indie bands. But members hope the album will lead to something bigger: the growth of a thriving, crowded indie music scene in Hà Nội and Việt Nam.

“This is why I started a band,” Thắng said in an interview a few days before the show. “Because I want other people to start a band also. I want competition. I want people to write better music than I do and I want to try to write better music than them.”

Võ Đức Anh, the founder and owner of Hanoi Rock City, a live music venue in West Lake, said he thinks that the scene Ngọt wants to create has started to develop. When he first started booking the band shortly after their founding, he said, “There wasn’t a scene.”

Since then, however, serious young bands have appeared, not quite following a path still being laid by Ngọt, but certainly motivated and inspired by it. And thanks to Ngọt’s broad success, Anh thinks, the new bands will find eager listeners more easily.

“They were definitely the first ones that brought like a 34 year old office worker, that kind of person to listen to an indie song,” he said. “When I go to work and I see my co-workers or my students who are 14, 15 talking about them, that’s when I realised how popular they were.”

When the last song ended at 10pm, hundreds waited to get T-shirts and albums signed by the band members. Thư declared the experience “legendary” and stood in line for an hour to meet the band.

In the slowly emptying concert hall, a dozen university students sat in a circle on the floor, passing around a ukulele and singing songs they had just heard Ngọt perform.

Đinh Quang Minh, a 21year-old university student and aspiring rapper, said he carries the instrument with him everywhere he goes “for moments like this”. He had just met most of the people sitting with him.

The last fans finally cleared out at 11:30. Minh and his friends left without getting autographs. The music had been enough. — VNS