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[Video] Saigon Electronica Ep. 1: Creating a Community With Heart Beat and HRBR

Editor's note: Over the next few weeks, Saigoneer will feature Saigon Electronica, a video documentary series about the city's vibrant underground music scene, starting with the first episode this week.

When Christoph Wolter and Paul Tonkes met in 2012, neither of them expected that the little party they were about to set up would evolve into one of the strongest underground music communities in Vietnam. Hailing from Germany and the Netherlands, respectively, both men are passionate about techno music.

During that period, there wasn’t much of a scene. There was the occasional party or two but nothing was planned to sustain it . Wolter, who previously lived in Hanoi, had already established himself as a DJ there. Although his subsequent move to Saigon did not yield many opportunities to perform, his desire to bring good quality techno to Vietnam was strong enough for them to decide to organize parties and hopefully, to begin cultivating a music scene.

Together with Swede Jan-Erik, they organized their first party in December 2012 at the now-defunct Red Bar, and by a stroke of fortune, even managed to get financial support from the German Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. Thus, the very first edition of Heart Beat went down, with a strong turnout of about 400 people.

Despite its popularity in Europe, techno music did not receive much attention and have enjoy significant visibility in Southeast Asia, let alone in Vietnam. According to Bach Tran Huu Tuan, better known by his alias B.A.X, it was still very new to everyone here. That, however, did not stop him from diving right into attempting to produce his own tracks. A music composer by profession, B.A.X has been providing the soundtracks for films and jingles for commercials but this was a whole new kettle of fish for him.

As Heart Beat progressed onto its second, third and fourth show, it also started attracting more curious spectators and other equally interested audiophiles. Due to their ability to score sponsorship deals with various companies, they managed to incorporate foreign guest DJs who were big names in the international underground circuit such as Henning Baer, Heiko Laux and Amelie Lens.

Heart Beat’s focus has always been on hard driving techno music but there was always a demand for a more melodic, light-hearted and house-inspired variant of the genre. Therefore, a sister label, HRBR, was formed.

With B.A.X and fellow DJ Laurent Godet, who also goes by the moniker DJ Ouch!, HRBR has focused on not just promoting a “lighter” form of techno, but also developing talent locally. They made use of social media by livestreaming HRBR shows and putting up a regular podcast with guest DJs to attract a new generation of Vietnamese DJs such as Huy Truong and Max Cleo.

The Heart Beat crew have recently announced the formation of a new record label dedicated to promoting local techno music, called Pink Room Records while HRBR has recently announced its first show outside Vietnam in nearby Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Now into its 33rd edition, Heart Beat is not only setting new frontiers for underground techno in Vietnam, it’s also most likely one of the strongest and fastest-growing underground techno communities you can find in Southeast Asia right now.

Listen to the founders of Heart Beat's story through the first episode of Saigon Electronica below:

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