Making the Journey to the South
At the end of June 2019, I was fortunate enough to join a stellar crew (artists and filmmakers George Clark and Esther Johnson, broadcaster and writer Matthew Sweet, Scottish Documentary Institute Director Noe Mendelle, Live Cinema UK Director Lisa Brook, and Artistic Director of Cryptic Cathie Boyd) for a week-long British Council research and development trip to Vietnam - oh, international travel.... Cushty gig you might be thinking - well, I’m not sure cushty is the right word, but it was definitely a privilege - I’d never been to Vietnam before, and the opportunity to spend a few days meeting various artists all over the country, and getting a sense of the artistic communities making films and art in Hà Nội, Ho Ch Minh City, and Hội An was really special.
The idea behind the trip was to instigate projects between the UK and Vietnam that explored Vietnam’s film or music heritage in some way. So I had an idea of bringing artists and filmmakers together from both countries to create an audiovisual performance.
Of all the artists who I met in Vietnam, I was particularly taken by a musical duo called ANNAM. Combining traditional Vietnamese music (through the use of indigneous instrumentation) and electronics, their sound was an amazing fusion of past and present. I found myself listening to their stuff on spotify fairly regularly whilst I was out there, and they definitely brought an intrigue and dynamism to the table when I met them!
Another musical discovery I came across whilst out there, was Jan Hagenkoetter’s Saigon Supersound project - over a number of years Jan had been unearthing some incredible rock, pop and soul records from South Vietnam’s “Golden Era” (1965-75) of music where, under difficult circumstances, a lively pop culture had developed.
Influenced by the “imported” western rock n’ roll, this new kind of pop music had been developing since the 1920’s under French colonial influence, namely the chanson that was much appreciated by the growing Vietnamese bourgeoisie. Latin rhythms and dances such as the Bolero, the Rumba, Tango and Cha Cha Cha as well as Slow Rock were also integrated into the standard repertoire. Over time, Jan collated two albums of amazing tracks, highlighting some of the best music to come out of that era. You can hear both them here:
With these two albums in mind, and ANNAM’s more contemporary style of composition, I started thinking about ways in which a live AV performance piece could be formed using the heritage of the Saigon Supersound collections as a starting point. And at this point also, the work of British animator and visual artist Emily Scaife came to my mind. Her sumptuous style of animation which often has a nostalgic, tangible quality, seemed like it could be a perfect fit with ANNAM’s music.
After a few discussions, everyone was on board and work could begin with a view to having an intensive period where everyone would come together at the end of the project, followed by a live performance in Vietnam in the summer of 2020… and then of course the pandemic hit, and everything was put on hold.
It took a while before an alternative plan could be agreed upon, but as soon as we decided to abandon any idea of international travel, it was full steam ahead - Emily working on the visuals, and ANNAM on new music. Through many zoom discussions, going back and forth, the work itself started to evolve. It was amazing to hear what ANNAM were doing by sampling some of the older tracks from the Saigon Supersound albums, and bringing their own musical edge too. And Emily’s evocative, beautiful, and at times high-energy animation is transportative.
A date was firmed up for a live performance (with an actual audience!) in mid-May at the Vincom Centre for Contemporary Art in Hà Nội, and then a few days prior to the event, Vietnam was placed under tighter restrictions, and unfortunately the event had to be cancelled. However ANNAM were able to do some filming at the VCCA in one of their smaller spaces, so we’re fortunate to have some documentation of a ‘performance’, albeit not how we had hoped.
At some point the work will be performed to a live audience, possibly in both the UK and Vietnam. For now though, we hope you enjoy the music and the visuals if you manage to catch it at our online festival.
Finally a big thank you goes to Emily, Thao, and Dustin - thanks for all your hard work, and to the British Council in Vietnam for their support via the FAMLAB project.