Before last May, bringing an international rock band to Saigon was exceedingly rare. Sure, Bob Dylan came once and so did Ratatat — both at the behest of Saigon Sound System / Cargo Bar (7 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Q4, HCMC) impresario Rod Quinton. But unlike Hanoi, which thanks to CAMA and other promoters has had a regular flow of international acts, the accepted wisdom was that lyrics-led, non-pop-styled original music just couldn’t draw enough people or revenue in Saigon to make it worth any touring band or promoter’s while.

 

 

That started to change in March, when English folk-punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner came to Cargo as the star of the first Loud Minority festival — back when promoters were still phrasing international gigs as festivals. All proceeds went to charity, but the event was an unqualified success.

 

When American two-piece The Dodos played Saigon Outcast (188/1 Nguyen Van Huong, Q2, HCMC) two months later, profit margins were on the line. Thrown their way by a Shanghai-based promoter, Outcast’s Doan Phuong Ha and Linh Nguyen — together with Lix Bae, soon to form Tiny Extinction — were faced with a choice: should they take a flyer on a niche-indie band or not? The Dodos were an odd choice to start a revolution, but when they drew nearly 300 people at VND300,000-plus per person, it signaled the start of something.

 

Party throwers like O Dau? fed off this new breeze, collaborating with Tiny Extinction on bringing in American hip hop group Shabazz Palaces and the relatively obscure punk band Dead Farmers from Australia. And then Loud Minority got in gear.

 

Under Damian Kilroy’s guidance, they brought in buzz bands like Japandroids (US) and Cub Scouts (AUS), and well-known acts like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (US) and The Cribs (UK). Despite close calls — witness the barely exceeded 500-plus ticket breakeven on The Cribs — they’ve continued to make it work. Even if it means lugging a Cribs-requested Orange amp all the way back from the UK.

 

Although there will be bumps in the road, it seems like Saigon’s finally catching up to its CAMA-led northern neighbour, and putting itself on the map.

 

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