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The Marriage of Electronic and Folk Instruments in DJ Teddy Chilla's Music

DJ and producer Teddy Chilla is among a few artists in the current music scene who are known to experiment with Vietnamese traditional music in their electronic works.

Read the article in Vietnamese here.

I met Teddy Chilla at a cozy corner cafe on Nguyen Cong Tru Street in Saigon. He is a man of small stature and a pleasingly gentle aura, a complete contrast from his razor-sharp tunes. Comparing his "Teddy Chilla" musical persona and himself in real life, he shared: “They’re both very laid-back, not very excitable people. The main difference is probably that the Teddy Chilla in music is quite tense, often angry, and at the same time carries many suppressed feelings. Being able to fully immerse in music helps me let go of the pressure and negative energies, yet makes the songs quite uncomfortable to listen to. The rough and sharp sounds help me de-stress.”

In real life, Teddy Chilla is more amenable and gentle than the angular music he puts out.

When folk music, the sounds of life, and even silence are all sources of inspiration

Teddy Chilla, whose real name is Nguyễn Đức Trung Tuấn, was born in 1991 in Bao Loc, Lam Dong. He began producing music in 2011 and started pursuing a DJ career in 2015. Despite having graduated with a degree in international business, his love for music pushed him to branch in a different direction after leaving university. This led to his interest in mixing traditional music and electronic sounds. “I like music that can go internationally, both western and Vietnamese people can enjoy it. But as you play the songs, everyone will recognize that it is Vietnamese music. There have been a few Vietnamese DJ/producers experimenting with it already. I thought, if they could do it then I can too!” the DJ shared.

“It is very challenging indeed. Ten songs can’t all be the same. I have to figure out which folk instrument to incorporate into the song and how to mix the sounds so that they flow well together. It requires a lot of thinking. Just like when you play a game, you have to figure out which move gets you forward, and which move gets you stuck.”

In early 2019, Teddy Chilla and a few friends paid a visit to DSK, a renowned underground rapper. The team searched on YouTube and beyond, looking for the best Vietnamese elements to make music with. They listened to samples of đàn bầu, chầu văn, tuồng and eventually found the charming đàn cò. The end result of the search is a colorful beat named ‘Ladidadida,’ which perfectly epitomizes Teddy’s unmistakable talent.

In addition to traditional instruments, Teddy Chilla seeks to incorporate ordinary everyday life sounds into his music. Noises from traffic, cars, constructions, the rain, or the meowing of cats are delicately woven into the songs. To identify these in his music, one must listen with attention. “These sounds help sculpt the overall vibe of the song. For instance, if I produce a jazz chill piece, I would incorporate the sounds of a bar. This is what makes the listener’s experience extra real as if they are enjoying the music at an actual bar,” Teddy explained.

To Teddy Chilla, ‘silence’ is also a musical instrument: “Moments of silence also have musical potential. Pauses in the middle of songs help people focus better while listening,” he excitedly shared.

The debut album carrying messages about our planet

Having been making music for almost 10 years now, Teddy Chilla is looking forward to the release of his debut album, ‘Conspiracy,’ in 2021. The titular single, released back in August 2020, includes the sound of đàn tranh as well as an element of surprise: the voice of professor and famous researcher of traditional culture and music Trần Văn Khê.

'Conspiracy' is the first single from Teddy Chilla's debut album.

Initially, ‘Conspiracy’ took heavy influence from UK garage. However, after coming across an interview with Professor Trần Văn Khê, Teddy Chilla came up with the idea of including his voice in the song. “I spent hours listening to the interview over and over again to pick out the best snippets and making them into lyrics of ‘Conspiracy.’ I was thrilled that even though the interview was chopped off and edited, the sentences still make sense. Incorporating the sound of đàn tranh, though, was more of a challenge,” Teddy shared.

He has spent over two years working on this album yet still isn’t satisfied with the product. The album has a total of nine tracks, of which half are currently unfinished. Nevertheless, the artist has a clear story he wants to tell through the album. “The album portrays Saigon 200 years from now, when demigods co-exist with humans. During that time, aliens are bringing troops to invade Earth, taking everything, and destroying the planet because humans have not been treating Earth well. Humans 200 years from now, no matter how much progress they have made, would still be defeated by the aliens. However, humans then receive aid from a third force — the giants that had been looking after Earth all this time. They negotiated with the aliens on behalf of humanity, and promised to love and care for the planet wholeheartedly.”

During his 10 years in the music industry, Teddy Chilla has produced various remixes including 'Vợ Chồng A Phủ' by Đen Vâu, 'Người Tình Mùa Đông,' 'Chỉ Riêng Mình Ta,' and 'Tứ Phủ' by Hoàng Thùy Linh. He also collaborated with many underground artists such as Aki, Wean, Krazinoyze, and DSK.

Not yet a household name, Teddy Chilla enjoys making music under his own rules without the pressure of popular culture. His music appeals to only niche listeners and, currently, Teddy Chilla has over 1,000 subscribers on YouTube, and more than 13,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook combined. “I would be lying if I say I don’t wish to be famous and wealthy. Anyone who enters this industry dreams of fame. But most importantly, I strive for self-satisfaction. If I make music just to satisfy the mass, I wouldn’t consider that success mine. To have yourself as well as others love your work, that is true success. To me, fame or no fame, that is fine, as long as I feel good about it,” he admitted.

Besides producing music and performing at small gigs, Teddy Chilla also teaches music. He currently leads a class of about ten students to pass on his music knowledge. “I teach them what I know, and it’s up to them if they want to pursue the same style of music. The important thing is for them to be satisfied with what they produce,” he shared.

With the fast-growing development of media, technology, social networking platforms, as well as audio-streaming platforms, the music industry is allowed to branch out more than ever. Soon, many other breakthrough genres will find a place for themselves. As for Teddy Chilla, no matter how the mass media and audience change, he will continue along his extraordinary path, as he has done for the past decade.

Have a listen to Teddy Chilla's wonderfully eclectic music in 'Conspiracy' below:

Quãng 8, which means "octave" in Vietnamese, is a series of articles on Vietnam's new generation of unique music personalities. Know an interesting musician and want to introduce them to our readers? Send us an email via contribute@saigoneer.com with your ideas.

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