Photo by Nick Sells

Up-and-coming UK indie act Melodramas took the audience by storm at Darlin’ Darlin’ Lounge in Phnom Penh on Aug. 26. Performing at the inaugural Tiger Beer Translate event, the four-man crew brought some much needed rock to the Penh before they head to HCM City for a pair of shows at the Hard Rock Cafe on September 2 and Apocalypse Now on September 4.

Clad in skinny jeans and donning long hairdos, twenty-somethings Matt, Greg, Rob, and Sam, treated the crowd to two sets of original indie-cum-pop rock tunes, making the upper class club sound like a bar in London’s Camden Town.

Describing their approach to music as DIY, frontman Matt says the four friends first started playing in a backyard garage, recording seven tunes on a portable eight-track.

“We did it on a budget of forty quid,” he says. “Then we put the songs on myspace and started attracting a bit of local interest.”

That was almost two years ago. Since then, interest has only increased and Melodramas have shared the stage with some real industry heavyweights, including supporting the New York Dolls on their UK tour in 2009.

Taylor Hawkins, the Foo Fighters’ drummer, has described them as “one of the best supporting bands I’ve had” after the group joined his other band, Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders, on tour.

Now on a 23-day Asia and Australia tour, the band is broadening its fan base away from the over-crowded British indie scene. So far, it’s been a positive experience.

“Everyone in Asia seems to be a lot more enthusiastic, people seem to get into [the music] a lot more,” says Sam.

Cambodia, where the band will play a total of three gigs, has proved particularly welcoming.
“It is probably our favourite place so far, people seem so friendly and approachable,” says Greg. “That really makes a difference when you’re playing a show.”

With influences from The Coral, Blur, and Supergrass, the band has a distinct indie feel, though Matt likes to think of the group as a pop band.

“My mission statement is to try to reclaim pop,” he says. “The Beatles were a pop band and they were one of the best bands of all time. Just because you’ve got X Factor and so on now, they should not be allowed to hijack the term pop.”

On stage, the band forms a solid, dynamic unit, with Matt’s distinct vocals and rock ‘n’ roll swagger leading the way. The group’s name reflects both its sound and stage presence.

“Melodramas are old theatrical productions, over-emphasised, histrionic,” Matt says. “We think that is a fair representation of what we do as a band musically, and on stage live as well.”

The band’s current tour is set to finish at festivals in Australia, though there is talk of a potential return to Southeast Asia before November. Then Melodramas will hit the studio to record their debut album with producer Sam Williams, known for having worked with Supergrass, Noisettes, and Plan B.

Melodramas will play at Spark in Phnom Penh on Aug. 28 at 9pm, and in Ho Chi Minh City on Sep.2 at Hard Rock Café and Sep. 4 at Apocalypse Now (tbc).

To find out more about the band, visit www.myspace.com/melodramastheband

Contributed by Nora Lindstrom, photos by Nick Sells (www.nicksellsphotography.com).

Beginning this Thursday, July 8, Galerie Quynh will present The Complex of the Glass Frog – an exhibition of new work by Sandrine Llouquet. Llouquet’s third solo exhibition at the gallery will feature ambitious installation-based work derived from her drawing practice. The large-scale works are inspired by the more formal elements of line and color that define her minimal drawings of curiously winsome and violent subjects.

For this exhibition, Llouquet eschews her usual paper support and takes her drawings into three dimensions. Klee described drawing as taking a line for a walk; Llouquet’s lines become active subjects following an intuitive journey that twists, winds and entangles.

Of Vietnamese descent, Sandrine Llouquet was born in 1975 in Montpellier, France. She graduated from École Pilote Internationale d’Art et de Recherche – Villa Arson following a years’ study at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Art. She has spent the last five years living and working in Ho Chi Minh City. An active contributor to the development of the art scene in Vietnam, she is co-founder of Wonderful District, a project that promotes contemporary art through exhibitions, concerts and theater pieces, as well as a member of Mogas Station, a Vietnam-based artist collective. Llouquet’s work has been exhibited in numerous venues including the Palais de Tokyo, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and most recently at the Tate Modern (presented by San Art in No Soul for Sale). She has also participated in a number of biennales with Mogas Station such as the Shenzhen Biennale (2007), the Singapore Biennale (2006) and in Migration Addicts – a collateral event of the 52nd Venice Biennale.

Opening reception: Thursday, July 8 from 6 – 8pm

Exhibition dates: July 9 – August 21, 2010

Location: Galerie Quynh, 65 De Tham Street, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam

Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm, Closed on Sundays and Mondays

Contact information: Thu Vu (English); Huynh Kim Yen (Vietnamese), info@galeriequynh.com, +84 (8) 3836 8019

Update: This exhibit has been extended through May 1.

If you haven’t yet stopped by Galerie Quynh to see the current exhibit, Static Motion, you’ve got one more week to do so before the show closes.

And you certainly should. The pairing of these almost monochromatic series might seem like an odd choice, but once you step into the space, even before you engage with the individual pieces, the title of the exhibit makes immediate sense. By showing George Papadimas’ geometric sculptures and Nguyen  Thanh Truc’s collage-esque paintings together, gallery owner Quynh Pham has created a space the seems alive with an electronic buzz. At a certain depth of field, Nguyen’s paintings, anchored by Papadimas’ sculptures, seem to have the blizzard-like entropy of dropped broadcast flickering on your television screen:

Individually, the artists’ works capture the relationship between stasis and movement, as well.

There is something irresistible about Papadimas’ sculpture. You can’t help but walk circles around them, attempting to divine meaning in their vertices, watching as they seem to morph as you move. Papadimas often employs algorithms in his construction, and here he focuses on “the oppositional nature of the numbers 0-9.”  In the exhibit literature, Pham writes that the sculptures “allude to an order that goes beyond societal and cultural appropriations.” Perhaps that’s why you feel like you could obsess over the objects for hours; they seem to reflect something essential and unknowable, the tantalizing gap between the potential of mathematics to reveal mysteries of the natural order and our ability to actually conceptualize the answers.

If Papadimas’ sculptures exist askew of society, Nguyen Thanh Truc’s paintings provide a sort of visual expression of its ability to consume us and our attempts to impose order on the flood of information that assails us today. Nguyen adheres strips of newspapers and magazines to canvas, clips of the information stream that shape our reality. Visualized this way, one of our meaning making systems–the media–seems almost like an assault on our senses. As a magazine writer and rabid consumer of media, I find Nguyen’s work extremely potent. It has the ability to simultaneously express the sense of duty news consumers feel to utilize all of the information available via print, broadcast and Internet, the futility of that project and the guilt associated with the project’s failure. I cannot speak to the engagement with Vietnamese society, politics and culture expressed in the headlines, but I think Nguyen’s paintings transcend Vietnam in some ways.

The show runs through Saturday, April 24. Head down to Galerie Quynh at 65 De Tham in District 1. Open Tuesday through Saturday 10am to 6pm.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Syntax and Diction @ San Art

In this month’s cover story, “Work in Progress”AsiaLIFE looked at the state of contemporary art in Saigon. If you want to know more, head over to San Art (3 Me Linh, Binh Thanh District) this Thursday the 15th at 6pm for a pair of artist talks with the space’s co-founders, Dinh Q. Lê and Tuan Andrew Nguyen, who were both featured in the article. The talks are in conjunction with the current exhibit, “Syntax & Diction,” which features a number of art works crafted from found objects and conveys the singularity of a Vietnamese aesthetic. Lê and Nguyen will discuss the pieces they contributed to “Syntax and Diction”, and give a brief overview of their overall artistic practice.

Check out more about the artists below.

Dinh Q Le
Dinh Q. Lê was born in Ha-Tien, Vietnam in 1968.  He received his BA in Art studio at UC Santa Barbara in 1989 and his MFA in Photography and Related Media at The School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1992.  In 1993, Lê returned to Vietnam and settled in Ho Chi Minh City. Much of Le’s art focuses on the history and experience of war, examining its affect on ideas of cultural memory and loss. His work has been exhibited world wide and is included in major public collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and The Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In June 2010, his work ‘The Farmers and the Helicopters’ will premiere at MoMA, New York. Dinh Q Le is co-founder of the Vietnam Foundation for the Arts and San Art.

Tuan Andrew Nguyen
Tuan Andrew Nguyen was born in Ho Chi Minh City in 1976.  He returned to Ho Chi Minh City in 2004 after completing a Bachelor of Arts, from the University of California, Irvine, USA and a Master of Fine Art, from the California Institute of the Arts, USA. Examining the domination and usurpation of public space and popular symbol or stereotype, Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s conceptual art practice provokes the cultural mindset of contemporary Vietnam. In 2005, Nguyen and fellow artist Phù Nam Thúc Hà co-founded The Propeller Group, a creative development artistic agency specializing in experimental film, music video and original television content. Nguyen’s individual and collaborative art practice has been showcased worldwide, recent projects include ‘Porcelain’ a collaborative film project with Danish collective Superflex, and inclusion of new performative/graphic work in ‘Art Paris and Guest’, France. Tuan Andrew Nguyen is also co-founder of San Art.

Back in September, contributing editor Thomas Maresca wrote a story called “Game On” (vol. 17) that looked at the growing legions of gamers taking to Internet cafes and working their fingers into a frenzy playing massively multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs in nerd speak). It turns out it’s become a big enough phenomenon to attract the attention of international consulting firms. This story popped up in our inboxes  yesterday. It forecasts that there will be 25 million gamers in Vietnam and India by 2014.

Which means if the world were a high school and Vietnam and India were students, they’d be trading cheat codes and speculating on vaporware in a lonely corner of the cafeteria.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

Music reviewer and contributor John Thornton seems to have his finger on the pulse. Just two weeks after he shouted out Charlie Brooker for his incisive criticisms of media and pop culture in AsiaLIFE‘s Endorsed column (vol. 23), the U.K.’s Metro reported that Brooker’s Newswipe special “How to Report the News” became YouTube’s top-rated video. Check it out below:

Mamma Mia Meets Vietnam

January 30, 2010

Spontaneous song-and-dance numbers. A sunny, seaside resort locale. Boy meets girl. On the surface, it certainly looks like Mamma Mia! (which would make sense in ABBA-obsessed Vietnam).

If this is your first Tet in Vietnam, you might be surprised to find that cinemas are beginning to screen a bevy of homegrown movies. One of the film’s released this weekend is–to our knowledge–the first film musical made in Vietnam: Nhung Nu Hon Ruc Ro (Glamorous Kisses). Contributing Editor Thomas Maresca first teased it in the September cover story, “Vietnamese Film Gets Focused,” and we recently found the trailer while compiling the Box Office section for the February issue of AsiaLIFE.

Directed by Nguyen Quang Dung, whose last two movies both broke the country’s box office records, the film follows the exploits of a non-traditional hotel heiress who decides to put on a music show to save her family’s Nha Trang resort from bankruptcy. It took a bit of digging to find that information, which is not to say we didn’t enjoy the following English translations of the plot summaries on cinema websites:

Lam is a rich lady but she is a perverse and haughty person. Beside, she was inherited beauty resort in Nha Trang by her family – Galaxy Cinema

Lam is a naughty dreaming girl who has a big heritage from her parents. She always dreams of being a singer and because of luxurious lifestyle, she faces off bankrupt problem. To save her situation, she helplessly plans a musical liveshow – Megastar

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher