Wednesday, August 5 2020


Expat festivities, with local flavours

Update: November, 13/2016 - 09:00

Viet Nam NewsIn three years, the merry expats behind last weekend’s Quest Festival have built it into something improbable, a force bringing sleepover music festival culture to Viet Nam and infusing it with Vietnamese culture. They also throw quite a party. Max Marshall has the story.

It was barely 10am when Ngoc Le began to see expats in their costumes again. Ngoc was sitting at the Quest Festival headquarters tent, wearing her green volunteer t-shirt and watching the second day crowd. She looked out at a queue of Australians, Americans, Irishmen and South Africans in neon tights, tie-dye shirts, fuzzy jumpsuits and/or full body makeup, and then she grinned. “I feel like I’m living in another country,” she told me.

Quest is held at the Sơn Tinh campsite, an hour west of central Hà Nội. To the uninitiated eye, though, it probably looks like another planet. From November 4-6, this year’s three-day retreat featured 70 DJs, 35 bands, dozens of New Age workshops, a film contest, swimming, an obstacle course, a costume contest, a few pyrotechnic displays and a small parade. For the 3,000 attendees, the diversions blended into something almost psychedelic.

But where many expats are familiar with this wild kind of spectacle, Quest is a foreign concept in its host country. Outdoor, sleepover music festivals are a multibillion dollar industry in Europe and the Anglo-speaking world; in fact, they play a more regular role in today’s Western youth calendar than they ever did in the Woodstock era. But for Vietnamese attendees like Ngọc – a third year student at Thái Nguyên University – there’s no precedent.

Revelers: Quest Fest provides a chance for expats to dress up, party down and hit a globally-minded dancefloor with Vietnamese music lovers. -- VNA/VNS Photos James Fehrnstrom

Quest started in 2014 when 250 free spirited Hà Nội expats threw a party in the forest. Since then, though, the nouveau-hippies and their festival have turned into something improbable: a sprawling, tightly organised force for bringing festival culture to Việt Nam and fusing Vietnamese culture into a festival.  

“It’s a community festival, so for us our goal is just to create a platform for creativity and connectivity. We’re posting everything in Vietnamese and really trying to reach out to the Vietnamese audience, and in addition we want to provide a platform for really good local underground acts, because that platform doesn’t really exist here yet,” Malcolm Duckett, one of the festival's directors, said.

When it began two years ago, Quest probably looked a lot like a Tây Hồ bar plus tie dye and foliage: expats getting wild in the wilderness. But as it’s grown, the festival’s ambition, scope and local commitment have transformed.

Vinh Nam, who attended the first Quest with a German friend, remembers being one of the only locals there. This year, he looked around the festival grounds and felt like celebrating. “It’s more organised, more Vietnamese, more diverse, but the same amazing vibe and the same… crazy,” he said.

The shift is no accident. Before anyone could enjoy the crazy, the organisers at Venture North Productions toiled to make the festival its most organised. The festival has yet to turn a profit, but Duckett, the other directors and their rotating team of expats and locals collaborated on everything from international music booking to implementing a new cashless wristband system to cleaning out shrubbery in order to make room for over 700 tents.

“We’re setting up a small city for the weekend. Throughout the year, we’re sitting at the computer, typing, reaching out to people, organizing and setting up systems. We have to bring in toilets and electricity, all the infrastructure, restaurants and food. But the resulting city is beautiful, very different. It’s a visual feast,” Duckett said.

Fields of green:Quest not only offered 70 DJs, 35 bands and countless cultural offerings, it also gave festival goers a chance to enjoy Ba Vì Mountain and Đồng Mô Lake.-- VNA/VNS Photo James Fehrnstrom

At the Quest site, you see Ba Vì Mountain above you, Đồng Mô Lake beside you, and a sensory overload of festival colours and lights everywhere else. At night, all at once, you can eat chicken kabobs on a dock by the lake, watch strobe lights and fire dancers in the distance, and hear Bulgarian tech house in your left ear and Japanese post-rock in your right. The festival brings these weird and beautiful global moments, but you can also see it begin to make good on its local commitment.

“I’m really thankful that Quest is doing something for my home country, even if I’m not living here,” Phương Lê, one half of Vietnamese-Swiss house duo ME & her, said. “Four years, two years ago, there were not so many Vietnamese people at Quest. But now you see it more and more, and I can tell that they are very motivated, they want to experience, they want to learn. I can feel that spirit and hope that everything will grow and blossom.”

This year, Quest themed its costume contest around the Vietnamese legend of Sơn Tinh, the god of Ba Vì Mountain, and Thủy Tinh, the god of the sea. It brought in more Vietnamese volunteers, advertised through Vietnamese language media and attracted more Vietnamese acts. But its biggest draw was word of mouth.

“We find that Vietnamese people who do come are blown away, and then they go back and tell all their friends. And then they come next year,” Duckett said.

Back at the HQ tent, Ngoc seemed to show that theory in action. If this small weekend city felt like a foreign country, then she was also starting to feel at home.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of this kind of festival, but it only took a moment on the dance floor to know I love it. Absolutely, yeah, I’m going to come home and tell my friends about what I saw,” she said. – VNS                                                                                                                                         


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