Sixty percent of the population in Vietnam today is under 30, most living with their parents until marriage. Pressure to conform comes from all sides; the Communist Government, state run media and the family unit itself. Private moments are shared in public spaces; crowded coffee shops, bridges and parks. Access to the internet and satellite T.V. has given the young a taste of life from outside these borders. For a small minority, the underground metal scene provides a welcomed means of escape.
Since relocating to Vietnam I have been interested in documenting this rapidly developing country with its young, vibrant population. My interest in Vietnamese metal began in early 2010 at a gig, where I found an arena full of teenagers going crazy to rock and heavy metal music. The fans’ passion and energy resonated with me, it reminded me of the spirit of the alternative music scene in the UK back in the mid-1980s. I went to my first gig at 15 to watch UK punk band The Damned. I had my first experience of warm cider, ‘wrecking’, and teenage angst – it was as close to a riot as I had ever experienced. I’ve been documenting youth subculture ever since.
Over the last two years, I noticed a breakaway group of bands and dedicated fans were getting into the more extreme types of this music known as death, brutal, raw black, and grindcore. These sporadic gigs would take place in 80s style mirrored discotheques, run down shopping malls at the city limits and in people’s living rooms – sometimes shut down at the last minute by the police.
Trung, of grindcore band ‘Wuu’ and founder of Vietnam’s first and only metal label, Blood Chunks Records, explains; “Vietnamese people are still afraid of this kind of music. Black, death, brutal, grind core is still something that can’t be understood by them. Just a small community with 100 to 200 people in Saigon know it well and enjoy the gigs. In ‘99 I came across the band Cannibal Corpse and was really attracted by them. Everything was so gory and violent at the time. When I saw them on a live DVD around 2001 I said, “Wow, this is fucking cool, I wanna be like them in the future.”
In keeping with the DIY spirit of these random gatherings, it felt right to shoot with black and white film again. I hadn’t shot in black and white for twelve years and finding processing chemicals in Vietnam proved challenging. Finally, in the back room of a downtown photo shop, I found a kilo of powdered developer and some crystal fixer. I couldn’t find stop bath and soon learned that clear vinegar can be used as an adequate substitute. After acquiring some high contrast old German medium format film, my lab was ready. It seemed to me to be the perfect way to capture the raw, brutal energy of this music and the small hardcore group who love it.
Slideshow soundtrack: Pleiku by Wừu
The band name Wừu was taken from Bok Wừu, an ethnic minority hero from Pleiku in the central highlands of Vietnam. In 1939 he joined the communist backed revolution against the French colonial power. Twice he was caught by the French army but escaped, the third time they caught him they cut off both ears, all of his fingers and nose. He finally died but this capture drew the army into a trap causing French casualties.