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Built on Rock, Raditori's Music Shines Thanks to Whimsy and Unpredictability

With the release of their ambitious debut album "Những Con Người," Raditori is making a name for themselves in the local rock scene.

 

A Search for Missing Puzzles

Since making their debut in 2018 with their first single ‘Già’ (Old), Raditori has been on the radar of Vietnamese rock listeners, with a solid Saigonese fanbase in particular. So far, the band has released two notable projects, one being their live session series and the other being an EP titled “Khung Cửa Khét” (Burnt Door Frame). While the live sessions show a certain playfulness through nonsensical backdrops, like a flooded alleyway in ‘Như Màn Mưa’ (In the Rain), a roof in 'Khung Cửa Biếc' (Blue Door Frame) and a kite field in 'Khờ’ (Silly); their “Khung Cửa Khét” EP was able to showcase the band’s rugged and radical, yet poignant, musical flair.

Main vocalist Đức Nguyên (top row, right), drummer Hoàng Chương (top row, left), guitarist Văn Đức (bottom row, right) and bassist Quốc Thiên (bottom row, left).

Raditori got off to what could be called a less-than-ideal start. Đức Nguyên, the band’s lead vocalist and composer, has been passionate about rock since he was a child, and always dreamed of forming his own band. In order to make his dream come true, Nguyên turned up at every single live music café in Saigon, hoping to find those who shared his vision, but after two continuous years of searching, no suitable candidate showed up. That was until 2018, when Nguyên and seven friends came together to perform at a show for Van Lang University, a collaboration he regarded as “filthy, but fun."

After the show, Raditori, which still went by Radio Story at the time, added to its ranks two additional members, who were each in charge of drums and keyboard. Unfortunately, people come and go, so Radio Story became a one-man show again. Later on, Hoàng Chương and Quốc Thiên joined the band, respectively, as the bassist and the drummer, but they then lost their lead guitarist. Exhausted by this continuous exodus, Nguyên invited Văn Đức, the band’s producer at the time, to join them. Văn Đức, who was not a professional guitarist, surprisingly accepted this offer, and the rest became history, as Radio Story became Raditori.

Rocking It Out

When asked to describe their music, Nguyên and Văn Đức teased: ”Cool. We strive for coolness.” But far from their self-evaluation, Raditori isn’t just a band of cool-looking and -sounding rockers. Their music isn’t confined to any framework, and every song, every EP and every album is unique in its own way.

Meanwhile, Nguyên described himself as a “free-spirited composer” who likes to make songs that are more emblematic. When he writes, he usually doesn't have any particular person or thing in mind: "That’s why Raditori's songs don’t carry any fixed meaning. The listeners are free to have (or not have) their own interpretation."

'Như Màn Mưa,' a track from the EP "Khung Cửa Khét."

The name of the five-track EP, "Khung Cửa Khét," is a combination of two other titles from the EP, 'Khung Cửa Biếc' and 'Khét.' With regards to writing ‘Khung Cửa Biếc,’ Nguyên said that he tried to depict the feeling a person has when looking out of their window: "Through their window, that person sees everything around them change, and they too find themselves no longer the same. The only thing that remains is the ever-blue sky."

A performance of 'Khờ' from their live sessions.

For 'Khét,' an adjective commonly used to describe burnt food, Nguyên and his band wanted to depict the boredom of a person who tries to escape to an imaginary utopia in their mind, only to get burnt when finally gripped by reality — an experience that many have gone through as we struggle to let go of things that we desire out of fear and selfishness.

Ups and downs make life perfect, like how having different instruments make music more interesting.

Other tracks, meanwhile, are somewhat more optimistic, as the band hopes to provide their listeners with a place of comfort where they don’t have to be alone. Nguyên said: “In music as well as in life, do whatever you can to stay grounded and hopeful, to accept things as they are, because the ups and downs are what make life perfect, much like how having different instruments make music more interesting.”

It is this perspective that is fuellng Raditori’s upcoming album, "Những Con Người (The People). According to Văn Đức, the album will include eight tracks, along with an intro and outro. The formula for all the titles is already set as follows: An adjective relating to emotion, plus “people.” The band hopes that when listening to the album, the audience will find themselves represented in one of these emotions, and thus not alone as they face life’s highs and lows.

Being Part of Rock History

Due to unfortunate circumstances from the pandemic, the album production has been temporarily halted. "Originally, we planned to shoot two or three MVs. But when we were filming the first, we became secondary contacts of a COVID-19 patient. We ended up having to shut the whole thing down and self-isolate at home." But fans still have something to look forward to. The band “warned” listeners that the next album would be much more experimental, though they remain confident that "Những Con Người” would gain explosive success.

Raditori performing at the "Xanh Hơn Show," a series of gigs to raise funds for reforestation.

My conversation with Raditori gave me two different impressions about the guys: carefree and laid-back, but also very sophisticated and professional when it comes to their music. On the side, Đức Nguyên is still finishing his architecture degree to fulfill his parents’ wishes, but he’s determined to fulfill his as well. Being a musician might be a precarious path, but “any path has its risks, so if you’re doing something, do it til the end, don’t look back," said Raditori’s centerpiece.

Meanwhile, Văn Đức, who seems to be accepting of a prospective conclusion to their musical chapters, said “It is quite inevitable, especially [given the context of indie music making] in Vietnam." But for as long as they’re a band, he hopes that Raditori could leave their mark on the Vietnamese rock hall of fame, so that even after they’re long gone, people would remember that there was once a band that gave their hearts every time they played.

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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