From the summer 2021 issue of Dazed
One minute, CÃºt LÃ´n is hammering the stage with his high octane thrash metal, the next, they share the floor with a severed pig’s head. The pelter, whose tongue sticks out of his “bloody” mouth like Gene Simmons, examines the scene from the mosh pit after throwing his head like a fleshy hand grenade. Dressed in schoolgirl outfits and knitted Pikachu-inspired hoods, the four-piece group from Hanoi, Vietnam are known for their playful antics, making fun of everything and everyone, including themselves. “I came out of the show soaked in sweat and (fake) blood,” said a shocked reveler, after finding himself in the path of the flying pig’s head.
For Anh Phi, Linh NgÃ´, Celina Huynh, Thao Vu and Mike Pham – the founders of the GÃ£y night club in Ho Chi Minh City – anything is possible. Since its debut in October 2019, the night has quickly established itself as the craziest rave in town, still known locally as Saigon. For the Franco-Vietnamese Anh Phi, it reflects the collective’s predilection for experimental sounds and a desire to break all the rules of rave. (Gay is Vietnamese for ‘broken’.) But it was also, she explains, an attempt to fill “a gap in the market and the need to develop a local rave scene,” without waiting. âI often left a club early myself, because the music didn’t quite suit me; it just wouldn’t support me.
âWe wanted something inclusive, but also a lot of fun,â the 28-year-old filmmaker and music producer said of the LGBTQ + friendly night. âWe don’t subscribe to the convention, or at least we try not to. Gay, that’s a way of saying that when everything is broken it’s okay. In addition to standard house and techno, GÃ£y raves introduce clubbers to the full spectrum of underground music largely absent from the Ho Chi Minh club scene, from trance and psytrance to drum & bass and hardcore. . For the collective, GÃ£y is an invitation to radical self-expression and exploration. A booming economy, coupled with the country’s largest age bracket – 70% of Vietnam’s population is under 35 – means that in Ho Chi Minh, youth dominate.
Before Covid-19, Ho Chi Minh had started to establish itself as a key destination in the Asian underground music scene. When the pandemic struck, GÃ£y withstood its impact better than some of the city’s biggest clubs, reflecting the fortunes of Vietnam itself. As many wealthy countries with strong health infrastructure collapsed, the Vietnamese government acted swiftly and decisively to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, the country has been able to enjoy a relatively Covid-free existence over the past year, with the clubs reopening in May 2020.
âWe’ve never been in this for the money,â says Anh Phi. âWithout a fixed location and the costs associated with it, we didn’t have the financial pressure that others were facing. From the ashes of the dance floors of Saigon, GÃ£y surfs on a new energy. âCovid has really been an opportunity to dig deeper locally, to connect with interesting local DJs, and to nurture and develop the talents of up-and-coming new artists here in Vietnam. This, for us, has been the biggest lesson from the pandemic. “
âCovid has really been an opportunity to dig deeper locally, to connect with interesting local DJs, and to nurture and develop the talents of up-and-coming new artists here in Vietnamâ – Anh Phi
After the clubs reopened in Vietnam, GÃ£y was a much needed antidote to the restrictions. âIt was one of the most surreal nights of my life,â said Linh, 27, recalling the CÃºt LÃn party in June 2020 – their first post-containment event. The DJs took turns to gradually build momentum, and by midnight had whipped the crowd into a punk-rock and techno racing frenzy. âThat first night after the pandemic, after three months of lockdown, there was definitely something different (about this),â Linh said. âThe people of Saigon are much wilder and more expressive; they gave it all up. In Hanoi, they are more calm and restrained.
In October, the collective hosted another party at a family-run guesthouse located in a narrow, multi-story, typical Vietnamese building on Bui Vien Street, a notorious pedestrian strip full of inns and 24-hour bars. / 24 which would normally be packed with backpackers. After months of stasis and commercial pressure, the restaurant was more than happy to host a rave. âIt was a win-win situation,â Linh recalls.
Despite the emphasis on hedonism, the GÃ£y team has ambitions beyond the dancefloor. The loss of a close friend to suicide prompted the group to partner with InPsychOut, a mental health charity run by young psychologists. The collaborative podcast provides young Vietnamese with a vital forum on mental health, with most listeners between the ages of 18 and 24. âNone of us in the collective are qualified beyond talking about our own experiences, which is why it was important to collaborate with people who are,â says Linh. “[Discussion around] mental health in Vietnam remains taboo – our parents don’t think it’s real, even though many in our creative community have suffered from depression. If I tell my mom I’m depressed, she’ll just tell me to get over it or take care of it.
âThere aren’t many facilities here and the few that most people can’t afford,â says Anh Phi. Depressive disorders in Vietnam account for 5.7% of the disease burden, according to the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, the government estimates that around 15% of the population is in need of specialized mental health care. The profits from the collective’s first club compilation, published on their own label Nhac GÃ£y, were donated to InPsychOut when it was released in February.
Just as the CÃºt LÃ´n party opened the pressure valve on a locked city, GÃ£y’s safe physical and emotional spaces are helping a new generation of Vietnamese clubbers connect through music, exchanging social isolation with a sense of self-esteem. membership. âWe are all misfits,â says Linh. “At Gay, we celebrate this.”