*товарищ: Comrade in Russian.
If you have been a regular listener of music venues around the streets of West Lake (Hanoi), then surely you will be familiar to the foreign friends who are an English teacher, or an office worker by day, but become hysterical with music at night. For a long time already, bands assembled by foreigners living and working in Vietnam have gradually become an indispensable part of the diverse and free music community in Hanoi and other big cities like Ho Chi Minh City, or Da Nang.
Whammy News’ guest this week is a very special foreign friend, or you can even call him товарищ (“Comrade” – in Russian) of the Metal community in Vietnam. Because he has been with the community since the first days as an enthusiastic audience of iconic bands like “Giao Chi” or “Go Lim”, and gradually became a close comrade of underground bands throughout the South and the North.
That’s Sergey Bochenkov, a guy from Russia, currently a drummer for bands like CUT LON or KAALI, and a well-known “promoter” in the “heavy” music community in the country. Sergey was originally a technology engineer, coming to Vietnam for work purposes, but I don’t know when he fell in love and wanted to stick with this land. Perhaps it was music that helped him find the right soul mates, or more importantly, find his life partner in Vietnam. When the Covid-19 epidemic suddenly struck, unlike most foreigners who chose to return home to be with their family during the complicated epidemic situation, Sergey decided to stay in Vietnam, because he has a small family here and has a stable job at a big technology corporation in the country.
With Whammy News, let’s chat with Sergey Bochenkov, to listen to this Russian friend sharing about the first days he arrived in Vietnam and the ups and downs over the years that he has been with the Metal community in the country for the past 10 years.
Could you say a few words about yourself to the Whammy News audience?
Hey, everybody! I’m a Russian dude who came to Vietnam as an engineer to work on a local project and fell in love with the country, being almost 10 years in and married to a local now.
Since when did you come to Vietnam and is there a special reason why you chose Vietnam as your destination?
I came in May 2012 and it was completely unplanned! Back in Russia I worked as a software engineer for different companies and most of my friends, if they would ever to leave the country, were picking on some destinations in Europe or US, which wasn’t much of an interest to me somehow. So when one of my co-workers told me that there’s this interesting project in Vietnam and they are looking for engineers with similar experience to mine, I was like: “Oh shit! Nobody of my friends had ever been there! It sounds awesome! I should try it, it’s gonna be cool!” So that’s how I ended up packing my stuff and taking a flight to Hanoi on the 5th of May 2012!
Before coming to Vietnam, do you think you will continue to be passionate about music in this new land?
Yeah, I had my first trip to Asia earlier that same year with my good buddy and we picked Nepal as our destination. We did a long ass mountain hike for like 3 weeks and my mind was blown away by the beauty of the scenery and also by how different life was there comparing to my homeland. I also knew few bands from Nepal before coming there as the punk scene existed in Nepal since the 90s, I’ve read interviews with some Nepalese bands in local ex-USSR fanzines, mostly it was Rai Ko Ris, but I couldn’t find any way to contact them prior or during our trip.
But that trip put a strong interest to find out what the underground music scene in Asia is like!
I did my research and back then I’ve found Giao Chỉ from Saigon, Gỗ Lim from Hanoi and Bloody Chunks Records ran by Trung Loki. I was always a big fan of post-punk, so I fell in love with Giao Chỉ instantly and I was also blown away by the videos of Gỗ Lim performing! It wasn’t punk musically, but it had that rebel vibe that I can’t resist, even not understanding the shit of a lyrics back then. Trung’s label was also interesting because I was surprised to see the person with such ambitions and charisma behind it even though I wasn’t much of a metal fan back then.
When you first came to Vietnam, did you have any difficulty in finding friends with the same music genre as you?
Yeah, man! I remember that I somehow found out that there’s a show of Gỗ Lim in CAMA in October 2012. I drove a bus to the place (I didn’t even have a motorbike back then somehow LOL) and I couldn’t find the place! Can you believe it? I walked back and forth by Mai Hắc Đế looking for a sign or something, but I couldn’t see the place even though I easily found it later next time I came for another show. And that was the last show ever of Gỗ Lim, at least from what I know.
I think the first person in the scene I’ve had a chance working with was Hưng from the Onion Cellar collective. They were doing a show for THE OBSERVATORY from Singapore and MOE from Norway and asked on their page to help with hosting the musicians. Their cafe was just down the Đội Cấn road from my house, so I walked in and told that they could stay in my place if they want. Don’t remember whether they ended up staying or not, but since then we did some gigs together with Onion Cellar and that’s how I met more people.
I think, the first gig we did together with the Onion Cellar was COCC + Proportions + Mimetals show and that was also a debut show for Proportions. Dude, I LOVED that band! They were that kind of emo which many of my friend played back in Russia in the early 2000-s and they played great! Certainly is a bummer that they don’t play anymore! I even gave their CD to the vocalist of the first Russian emo band and he said he liked it a lot LOL.
Up to now, what changes have you seen in the music community in Vietnam compared to when you first came to Vietnam?
It certainly grew a lot from shows happening once in a while to having something going on almost every day (especially before COVID time) and luckily the local promoters reached to a level where they can do shows for big international names on their own without having a huge sponsorship. Smaller local shows are also getting more stable audience and the diversity of music played on those shows is also getting bigger. Can’t deny the fact that the bands that started as fully DIY with an occasional HRC show are now well known throughout the country with their music being played in every small cafe around your neighbourhood!
Can you share one thing you like and one thing you don’t like about playing music in Vietnam?
The great thing is that it’s a growing market, so with little to no investment you can get your way through to your audience. And with Internet available country-wide, but not so much competition, young and talented musicians can easily find their way to a country-wide success.
The thing that I don’t like is the quality of the venues, of course. That will certainly come later when there’s more money in it as running the venue is more of a business rather than an art.
Your main job is a technology programmer, doesn’t it seem to have anything to do with passion for music? Is there any complementarity between your left-hand job and your right-hand job?
No, not much. Back when I was a student, I helped some bands with their website or smth, but I can’t say there’s any relation between the two right now.
Let’s come back to the music you are pursuing, what led you to Rock Metal?
Back when I was studying in a music school I mostly listened to classical music, but I had a friend in my neighbourhood, who had a garage with motorcycle repairing service. And every time I came to his place he was banging some punk stuff from a huge collection of cassettes that he had. All those bands played like shit by musical standards, but the energy and charisma they had certainly caught my attention. My love to punk grew only bigger since those ages. 🙂
Then I moved to Moscow for university and quickly got into the punk scene there. What got me again was not the music itself, but the activities around it. The bands were organizing Food Not Bombs events where everybody cook for homeless people to help them survive, Critical Mass where people drive their bicycles in huge groups to show a more eco-friendly way to commute… These things are considered as the norm in many countries right now, but back then of course we got a lot of shit an hatred falling on us.
Can you name a few Rock Metal Bands that you idolize and have influenced your style a lot?
Music-wise I love Japanese and Finnish punk scene the most!! Their stuff is pure noise and energy and is just so fucking awesome! Bands like GAUZE or OUTO from Japan and stuff like KAAOS, TERVEET KADET from Finland! I remember much later when I was in Vietnam already, I was hosting a suomi friend of mine and we had a full on youtube party in my house. So I asked him to finally translate one of my favourite songs, because back in the day we just enjoyed the music and didn’t have any idea what the songs were about. It was “T.Tuho” by Terveet Kädet and it went like this:
You are my friend
And we are together
I think I loved the band even more since then! 😀
What about in your hometown? Did Metal develop there? Is there a band that the Vietnamese Metal community can refer to?
My hometown has very laid back provincial vibe, there’s a small DIY scene there out of which the only band worth mentioning that I know about is called REPRESSION ATTACK. They play that kind of slow pace metalpunk stuff similar to AMEBIX / INSTINCT OF SURVIVAL / AXEGRINDER and were also involved in doing the shows for some DIY bands from Europe that would occasionally tour around as the town is located just 200km south from Moscow (which is nothing by Russian standards).
So in Vietnam, which Metal Band do you like the most?
If it has to be metal, then I’d say DISGUSTED were always great and good fun live. From what I’ve heard recently – GODFATHER and OBLITERATORS are great as well! If outside metal, then there’s just too many of them even in our small scene.
I was very surprised with your ability to speak Vietnamese, since when did you learn Vietnamese? Do you think Vietnamese is a suitable language to perform Metal songs?
I learned Vietnamese from Thắng Béo (LOL). When we started doing shows with Hanoi Scream Metal, he didn’t really speak any English, so I had to improve my skills to be able to communicate. It ended up so that he was the only Vietnamese who could understand my Vietnamese and can then translate to others.
I don’t know about the language for metal as I’m not a vocalist myself, but last year I went for my wife’s brother wedding and one of the uncles in that family was singing rock karaoke, maybe some Da Vàng song or I don’t know… but he did it so great! I filmed a short clip with my phone and watch it back sometimes, his singing was LEGENDARY!!
I know that other than playing drums in the band Cut Lon, you’re also a promoter who organizes metal shows in Vietnam. After a period of working in this role, do you find yourself “profitable” ” or not?
Well, that’s how I’ve found so many people who are passionate about music. It’s always nice to have such people around you! Musicians are the nicest people on Earth (maybe not).
If you had the right to choose 01 foreign Metal Band to come to Vietnam to perform to celebrate the end of the pandemic, which band would it be?
Haha. I play in Cút Lộn, so let’s say MUNICIPAL WASTE. A pool show in a villa!