As many of you know, diaCRITICS periodically reposts blog entries from other blog sites. We are excited to share with you an interview conducted in March 2010 by Eric Brightwell of Amoeblog who questions some important figures from the new wave scene back in the ’80s about their love of new wave, how they got into the scene, and their take on it being referred to as “Vietnamese New Wave”–the defining cultural moment for young Vietnamese in America. The music that the young Vietnamese Americans listened to can still be heard today wherever Vietnamese gather all over the world, including in Viet Nam, where stores can still be found playing definitive bands like Modern Talking.
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Last November, Keep on Music threw a New Wave + ‘80s Reunion at Bleu in Westminster. This isn’t new wave in the sense that a lot of people use the term, but rather a mix of Italo, Eurodisco and other ‘80s dance music that notably found considerable popularity with Asian-Americans in the 1980s. I was only turned onto the scene four years ago, by Ngoc Nguyen, who is a Vietnamese New Wave super fan (especially of Sandra).
Flash forward to the present and near future: May 26. On that day, Keep On Music’s having a Back to the 80’s. An International 80’s Concert/Party at the Avec Night Club in Huntington Beach. Unlike last time, I won’t miss this one and neither should you! Luckily for us newbs and the uninitiated, some key figures of the new wave scene graciously agreed to sit down with me and answer some questions about the Asian/Vietnamese new wave scene for Eric’s Blog.
Eric’s Blog: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed by Eric’s Blog. To start, would you mind introducing yourself and perhaps saying a bit about where you’re from, where you grew up and all that? Also, if you’d like to mention what you do for a living, engage in a little self-promotion, then here’s your chance.
Ian Nguyen: This is Ian Nguyen, the founder of Keep On Music and the DJ for the Reunion Party on 3/27. I came to California in November of 1980 from Houston, Texas, just in time for a fun decade :). I’ve been living here since. Besides mixing music, backpacking and skiing, I work in the advertising field as a creative director. My past clients include Toyota, State Farm, AT&T, DIRECTV, etc…
Sean Nguyen: My name is Sean Nguyen and I am from Westminster, California. I was born in Saigon, Vietnam but pretty much grew up in Southern California. I have two careers, the Clark Kent one which is an insurance broker (this one pays the bills) and the other, the Superman one, which is an owner of a synthpop/electro-pop record company in the ‘90s called Strangers Thoughts Records.
Lucy Tran: Hi! my name is Lucy Tran. I’m from Orange County. Grew up in Santa Ana most of my life. Worked in the heart of Little Saigon as a Medical Assistant/Medical Records Dept. at a little popular place called Magnolia Surgery Center. Been there for 21 years now. Practically grew up there also and consider everyone there as my second family. Doctors and staff there are great. They put up with me through all these years. What can I say? I love you guys, even with all the headaches you cause me!! …and my sister, Cecilia Tran, who pretty much was the one who turned my life around and got me into the medical field.
Jim Nguyen: My name is Jim “Linh” Nguyen. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I moved back to LA mid-2008. Prior to that, I was residing in Palo Alto — right next to “Mat Sach”/Facebook headquarters — for a couple of years. I miss my second home and friends that were my family up there! You guys know who you are! I want to especially thank Chi/Big sister Jade Luu. She let me stay with her and her family for a couple of weeks until I got my own place and got settled in the “Yay’er!” area. Heart you guys!
I have my hands tied up pretty full now. I’m launching a new startup called JimNetics as their CEO (Chief Entertaining Official) with my business partner Jeffer Fifi Pham: tattoo artist and CIO (Chief Integral OG) for JimNetics, along with directing and managing our other main branch: Tattoos By JimNetics. JimNetics originally started out as an idea and a site, my Christmas gift to myself that I can share with the world. It’s an internet site that currently has content about inspirational, philanthropic/humanitarian, art, tattoos, humor/comedy, current events, feng shui and a little Buddha Head influence to boot. We have a few major exciting things that will be additions to the JimNetics family, JimNetics Urban Wear, JimNetics MotoSports (co-directed by my brother Johnny aka “Happy” from San Fernando Valley Branch Ruff Ryders Bike Crew), JimNetics TAG (Talent Acquisition Group — co-directed by Sr. HR corporate recruiting and staffing specialist Leilani and staffed with consultants Amy Quach and Mae Barlis). We will have hand made custom jewelry by designer Nikki “Mai” Quach, who’s on board and has a home on JimNetics, and then we have Thao Ho, whom I found on Twitter as @Thaozilla (she’s friggin’ hilarious). She will have a home on JimNetics as a resident comedy humor relief specialist. Lastly, Fresh Styles, by JimNetics Hair will be directed and managed by cousin Mike Huynh, aka “Smokey like Chris Tucker Smoke Dogg from Friday,” and JimNetics AAA Medical Billing Services for doctors and their offices, family operated based out in Houston.
IN: Believe it or not, before I got addicted to new wave music, I was a heavy metal head banger, playing drums lol. The first few new wave songs that I heard were “Words” from F.R. David, Rational Youth‘s “Saturday in Silesia,” and of course, “Hey Hey Guy” from Ken Laszlo. I got hooked since, so I decided to give up my drumsticks for a pair of turntables and a mixer.
SN: I actually started listening to new wave as a whole back in 1979/80 with the pioneer bands such as Depeche Mode, OMD, Devo, The Buggles, Blondie, etc. and have actually never stopped. My first exposure to Asian New Wave is “Love in Your Eyes” by Gazebo and “Only You” by Savage. I fell in love with both songs and started collecting everything I could get my hands on.
LT: I was thirteen and in 8th grade at Carr Intermediate. I was inspired by hanging out with a group of freshman boys from Valley High who would later be known as Santa Ana Boys. I would later attend college, house parties and even clubs at the age of fourteen. Back in the day, parties were made at University halls: UCI, Cal Poly, Long Beach and Cal State Fullerton. The roller skating rink was hot also.
JM: I got exposed to new wave when I was a little kid, when my uncles migrated over to the states from Vietnam. There were seven of them, my mom’s brothers, all of whom were musical and instrumental — meaning they actually played and put together a garage rock band (only in the family though) and I was influenced listening to classics such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Scorpions, Tesla, Guns’N Roses, Metallica, White Snake and Def Leppard.
One or two of the uncles listened to other genres such as our beloved ’80s new wave music. I secretly would listen to their songs and albums because I was such a disciplined kid and didn’t want my parents to think these two uncles I am referring about were influencing me in a negative manner because some of them really lived playboy life styles! Regardless, I kept listening to classics such as Modern Talking, CC Catch and Joy.
Jeffer FiFi Pham my best friend from high school influenced me further with the new ’80s alternative music from New Order,Pet Shop Boys and Bad Boys Blue. Of course Johnny O, Stevie B, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Boy George, The Cure, OMD, Gina T and Sandra, WHAM! and George Michael were major classics I picked up on my own. Over the years I got busy with the normal hustle and bustle of life — the corporate work lifestyle — and stopped listening to them all together. I recently picked up on mainstream widely — today’s electronic dance musicians, especially trance, have big time favorites, artists such as Tiësto, Ferry Corsten, Above and Beyond (Chi/Big Sister Jade Luu influenced), Deadmau5 and Kristina Sky, to name the few of many.
EB: If you would, tell me a little about the club and party scene back in the new wave heyday as you experienced it.
JN: LOL, I never went to one since I was a little kid locked up secretly listening to ’80s new wave while the OG’s of the time, like Big brother Ian and Big sister/notorious, Luscious LOL Lucy where partying hardy. I didn’t even know how it was like or even fathom how it could have been, but seeing photos of them and hearing about their past stories sure does bring a lot of smiles.
SN: I was a teenager in the ‘80s so I didn’t get to hit all of the clubs, but I went to many house parties which were mostly a bunch of people getting together and sticking in a new wave tape or two. If we were really lucky, a person that owned two Technics record players and a mixer would come over and spin their records. Regardless, everyone just loved the music so they really didn’t care whether or not it was mixed well. I remember hearing some really bad mixes but the songs were so great, you really wouldn’t care. There were a few clubs that I remember I managed to make it to including The World in Beverly Center and Florentine Gardens. The rest is a blur, but I know I got around to a few others that were really fun. It was the ‘80s, everything was fun.
LT: Back in the day, clubs were easy to get into. We had fake IDs that were available through the check cashing places. All it took was the guys to either know security or pay them to let us in. We used to buy one ticket, open the back door and a bunch of us would run in. Boy, those were the good ol’ days.
IN: What can I say? The party scene back then was just fun – despite occasional troubles here and there. What do you expect? We were teenagers. New wave music was booming among the Asian youths; there were many college parties organized by Vietnamese Clubs from UCI, Cal State Fullerton, etc. But the most fun were the house parties (mostly held in someone’s garage with cheap disco lights from Radio Shack and home stereo speakers. We just could not get enough of new wave parties; sometimes we even drove to San Jose for a school party. New wave music was heard at every coffee shop and in every car in Orange County.
EB: Although I’ve occasionally heard of new wave being more broadly referred to as “Asian New Wave,” the core audience seems to be heavily Vietnamese and I’ve more often heard it referred to as “Vietnamese New Wave.“ It even seems that most of the cover artists, with the exception of Cally Kwong, are Vietnamese singers (e.g. Anh Thu, Bac Dzinh, Cao Lam, Đặng Thế Luẫn, Đon Hồ, Giana Nguyen, Le Anh Quan, Lien Khuc, Lynda Trang Dai, Ngoc-thu Thi Nguyen, Nguyen Thanh, Phuong Nguyen, Thu thuy, Tommy Ngo, Trizzie Phuong Trinh, Vina Uyen My, etc). What do you make of that?
LT: Trizzie was a friend of ours. I knew Linda Trang Dai before she was known. She dated my brother when she was a senior and working at South Coast Plaza. Both they and all these singers were inspired by the one band who brought new wave music to the stage in concert. That band was known and is still very popular today, as THE UPTIGHT band, whose live music and perfect English and knowledge of new wave music brought us new wave concerts we would never forget. They are our memory of the best party in the ‘80s era.
IN: I think new wave music was also really popular among the Chinese and Korean audiences in LA areas at the time (Most of the record shops that carried new wave records were in LA). As I remember, when it was later introduced to the Vietnamese audiences, it became more popular than ever, especially with the Vietnamese Night Clubs. Bands and artists such as The Uptight and Lynda Trang Dai were among the first who did cover songs. Up ’til today, Vietnamese singers are still doing new wave covers for popular concerts such as Paris by Night etc…
SN: The Vietnamese crowd heavily embraced this music. As regular new wave became a lifestyle for many people in the ‘80s, Asian New Wave became a lifestyle for many Vietnamese. We walked, talked, and acted new wave. From the hairdos to the style of dress, a lot of people were just in love this kind of music. This, of course, was also very contagious to the Vietnamese record companies and young Vietnamese singers at the time who also liked this music and saw it as something that would be great to record and sell. Other new wave singers during that time would included Thanh Mai, Tuyet Nhung, Thuy Vi, Giang Ngoc, Trung Hanh and Lilian.
JN: From what I remember I didn’t really listen to Vietnamese new wave artists because I always preferred the original Euro, Italo and American artists / groups. I did listen a few times to Lynda Trang Dai and Tommy Ngo back when then they were married along with some Đon Hồ and some Trizzie when I’d go shopping with my parents back in Chinatown and Phuc Loc Tho (Asian Garden Mall). I was like, it’s cool and everything how they are doing major cover songs paying “homage” to the OGs of Euro / Italo Americana, what us Asians more widely accepted by the Vietnamese younger youth as new wave Music. It was cool, but not what I stuck with. I got major love and respect for the famous popular Vietnamese Ca Si / Singers making the effort and attempt because they did make history in the making by helping spread new wave to the main stream.
IN: After twenty plus years, I finally saw one of my old friends, Phuong Mercedes, again. During one of the get togethers, she showed me the photo albums she kept all these years that contained many pictures of our new wave era. I also got to see other long lost friends such as Lucy (who is the true ‘80s Queen). At the same time, I had the opportunity to be the guest DJ for Limelight’s new wave night at the Shark Club. I also met many new wave fans there. Knowing that new wave and ‘80s music had made a comeback, we decided to have a small reunion for old friends. That was when the idea of “Keep On Music, A New Wave & 80’s Costume Reunion Party” came about. Word spread around fast among friends, so a big turnout showed up for the reunion party. The result was fantastic; we had a full house that night. Many came who had not partied for more than twenty years; there were even friends who flew in from other states and cities. At the beginning, this was supposed to be a one time event, but due to popular demand, Keep On Music on Facebook was born and a second reunion will take place on 3/27.
SN: The people who had grown up with this kind of music have reached a point in their lives where they want to relive some of their brilliant pasts. As mentioned, Asian New Wave was more than just music; it was a way of life.
LT: The first ‘80s reunion was just a gig to get people to a lounge to hear the new wave music. Good advertising and word of mouth ended up with an overwhelming number of RSVPs so it had to be moved to a larger venue. That event turned out very fun and memorable. A lot of people we knew from high school came out. People who would never have had come out on a normal basis were there. Friends from out of state came. People from cities as far as San Jose, San Fran, Vegas and San Diego came. The party was a great turn out. Enemies of the past became friends of the present. Friends that were present were friends from the past. This second one will be even better, because I, Lucy Tran, will be MCin’. I am the symbol of the ‘80s….haha..JK…
JN: I wasn’t there for the first reunion back in November last year. I didn’t know brother Ian back then either. While they had this going on, at the time I was having two major surgeries to remove both left and right thyroid glands and was even more home-ridden. I didn’t go out for an entire year because of these medical issues that I was going through. As of recent times, after all the surgeries and radiation treatments I started to become more active online and accidentally got on the Keep On Music Facebook fan page. I checked it out, briefly skimming, saw some old songs that I remembered liking and was thrown back in time. I don’t remember much of my childhood but once I started listening to all these old songs I remembered pretty much everything I did at that very moment as a kid… And that to me, it’s amazing, especially how I’m still recovering slowly and surely but with this music and the reaction from Keep On Music, it’s actually been very therapeutic and heartfelt — especially with all the new friends I met, including mainly brother Ian, who is just bomb with his mad DJ skills and professional sense of direction as a creative director and sister Lucy who is just so funny and lovely, she has major yolks (jokes). =o) From photos that I saw from the first event and from another good friend brother Tom Nguyen of Just One Pack. (He’s currently traveling around the world and last I checked he was just out of Chile before the earthquakes hit. By the way, my condolences to the victims of both the Chile and Haiti disasters.) This is his travel blog and he shares his pretty awesome adventures.
IN: Personally, I don’t think new wave music was ever gone. After the ‘80s, I did move on to DJing other music genres such as trance, house and techno – but new wave music has been with me all these years. I think new wave music is embedded deep in our blood. And yes, new wave and ‘80s is back, but this time around it is much more meaningful to me and others because it reminds us of our youth and good memories; everyone who lived through the ‘80s would feel the same way as I do. What surprised me the most is to see the younger audiences also sharing the same love for new wave music. Jim Nguyen, our PR person for KOM and DJ Alpha from Limelight are the two best examples. Both of them are in the early thirties, too young to know what the ‘80s was about. But both share the same experience, they were introduced to new wave music by their uncles and developed the taste for this wonderful music genre.
SN: I am not surprised because this music is very special and will withstand the test of time. From the beautiful vocals to the mesmerizing synths, if you lived through this period, it will always be a part of you. Today’s music seems so controlled and the creativity and personality of the bands and songs just get lost in the shuffle. I honestly have not met anyone from the younger generation that I feel will keep the flame alive. Even the DJs that are spinning new wave today seem to lack the feel for the music. I mean, they are playing the songs, but I don’t feel the passion and love for the music. It makes all the difference in the world.
LT: The new wave music will never die out. The ‘80s were the best era. It brings back so many memories of high school. We have so many stories to share – so many memories to make us still young at heart. The young people today may know the new wave music because of maybe their parents or maybe just hearing it at Sharks. But the only thing they lack from it is to have actually lived that era, where fun and house parties were safe. Today, no house party is safe. No fights are with fists. No group has a name that would be known… no hangout joints to meet at. Ours was Mission Control. And only I have that picture of it. Did you see it on our K.O.M. site? That picture is priceless!
JN: I was totally shocked honestly when I jumped on the Keep On Music Facebook fan page. I was like wtheo? Is this pho realz? I saw lots of people commenting and knowing me, since I’ve been living under a rock within the past year I forced myself to become social again and started commenting after some of my old time favorites. After commenting I began to know and associate myself with brother Ian and sister Lucy. I am still somewhat ill, not recovered 100% to full time physical health, but even prior KOM, my spirits have been lifted in the past three months.
After this recent visit to the family for Tet, one my good ol’ trance / club- hoppin’ / back-in-the-day best friend, chieu choi Vivacious Cyndie Vu and one of her youngest kids accompanied me to Orange County to surprise the KOM crew and affiliates. Boy, it was cool and awesome how the shoot was done, very nice and cool studio that looked very modern and hip with editing rooms and in the back, a green screen where I just walked to in the middle of their shoot where I took pictures and recorded some pre footage of the entire experience while I was there, including seeing all of Lucy’s old toys and memorabilia that her father still kept in storage. She busted out a Bob’s Big Boy like squeeze dude, ET phone home Aladdin lunch box, Smurfette lunch tray and of course our fearless leader and director, Gizmo from Gremlins.
Personally, I don’t know about anyone else in my age range that has actively been keeping the new wave music genre alive and I didn’t know I was actually going to be officially a part of this whole entire KOM group and movement, but when I came home from the video shoot for the commercial I got a call from brother Ian asking me if I’d like to be their official PR person. He gave me my own special customized Nagel girl avatar to post up as my profile picture to coincide with brother Ian’s main KOM avatar.
The cool part about all this is honoring and carrying the ’80s New Wave tradition down to the next generation being a part of history rewriting it over and over again. Sweet part for me about it is meeting some really cool old school OGs like brother Ian and sister Lucy plus also reigniting this new wave spirit within my own generation and enticing even the younger generation. Now this is just so cool! Keep On Music!!! I am determined to help spread this as a national sensation. =o) Anyone want to help me?
EB: Have you ever met any of the stars of new wave? If so, who – and do you know if they’re aware of their popularity amongst the Vietnamese Diaspora or broader Asian-American Community?
SN: I’ve been fortunate enough to meet quite a few bands. They include The Pet Shop Boys, Alphaville, Anything Box, Information Society, Cause & Effect, Red Flag, and few more. I honestly don’t believe they know that they are very popular amongst the Vietnamese Diaspora, but I’m sure they may have notice quite a few Asians in the crowd when they performed live.
IN: I had the opportunity to attend a Bad Boys Blue concert in the early ‘90s (still have the ticket and the flyer to prove it). It was held at the old Shark Club in Los Angeles. I was little disappointed knowing that the original vocalist, Trevor Taylor, was not there with other members. After the party, I had a chance to talk to the band as they were waiting for their limousine to arrive. They were both pleased to see how much the Asian audiences embraced their music.
LT: I have never met any stars of the new wave era. I missed the CC Catch concert when she came to L.A. in the ‘80s. I was still a teenager with no car. And Sandra did appear on The Soul Train. That I did see on TV. Every new wave song is my favorite jam. Not one song do I dislike.
JN: I never met any of the new wave stars. I was a young kid who was always hiding to listen to it. So I definitely wasn’t able to meet any of the stars and wasn’t even of age to go to the clubs!
EB: What are you absolute favorite new wave jams?
IN: Hmmm, so many good songs, but I have to say “Keep On Music” from Danny Keith is one of my all time favorites (that’s why I chose the song title as the name of our organization). And others such as “Help Me Through The Summer” by Neil Smith, “Diamond In the Night” by Felli, “Fantasy” by Lian Ross… Should I stop? 🙂
SN: My favorite tracks include Neil Smith’s “Help Me through the Summer,” Lisa G’s “Call My Name,”Alphaville’s “Lassie Come Home,” Hubert Kah’s “Midnight Sun” and The Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls.”
JN: My favorite new wave Euro/Italo jams are the original popular main stream ones that we all grew up to, know and love such as from Modern Talking, CC Catch, Bad Boys Blue, Joy, Gina T, Sandra, Depeche Mode, OMD, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, etc… My absolute favorite… anything mixed by brother Ian aka DJ: BPM (Beats Per Minute). Oh my friggen gosh, his stuff is just the bomb and awesome!
EB: I’m sure you have lots of memories involving the scene. Any favorites you want to share?
LT: The boys, the friends, the parties, the drinking, the trouble, the eat and run, the street fights, the curbside seats, the patrol cars, the arrests, there are way too many to really pinpoint. The newspaper and TV interviews… Our group was the most popular Asian gang in the Bolsa/Asian community… It’s all there. I still have those articles and interviews about us. I keep an ‘80s memoir.
SN: I just love watching people dress and do their hair new wave style. I used to do it all the time and remember getting trouble with my parents for having outlandish hair. They really thought I had gone off the deep end. New Wavers also dance really cool. I’ve always loved watching people dance to this kind of music. Everyone has a different style but it all flows together. That’s the beauty of it.
IN: Anything from the ‘80s are good favorite memories. Don’t know where to start…
EB: Are you still listening to new wave regularly or are you onto something else? What trips your trigger these days?
SN: I have been listening to this music since it started and have never stopped. I’m a bigger addict than ever and my goal in life is to have every single new wave song there is out there. I believe I have one of the biggest collections around, so I’m well on my way. Besides new wave, I also love the Eurodance and trance scene. This is the modern new wave.
LT: Of course I still listen to new wave and ‘80s – sometimes hip-hop, but preferably new wave.
JN: I didn’t listen to new wave at all for a long time, not until recently. I’m also into other EDM such as trance (Progressive, Melodic, Vocal or Hard — I love it all), House I’m cool with too, although I started listening a few years back only when I went to like DEEP after hours in Los Angeles. I’m actually a late bloomer in the music scene and yes, my first concert was a Tiesto one at Ruby Skye in San Francisco where he was on tour for his Asia Tour and the next concert after that was at 1015 in San Francisco where Infected Mushroom was playing; they rocked and tore down the house, literally! It was banana nut, buck wild! (Friggen Trance and Rock fusion is just badass gnarly.) I’ve seen Christopher Lawrence up close and personal at the now defunct but popular Empire Ballroom in Las Vegas once back then. I actually stopped listening to any music completely when I was struck with cancer along with no longer going out to any of the major LA club scenes, like at Spundae, Circus, RED, Giant, Vanguard and after hour clubs like Joseph’s and a few other crazy places I forgot the names of but it was like a strip club with trance out in Los Angeles similar to the former strip club out in Las Vegas calledSeamless (now known as Deja Vu). Even though I haven’t listened or partied hard in the entire past year (I said to myself Troi/Heaven and Phat/Buddha wanted it this way for me to really calm down and learn some hard lessons, which I can honestly say I have and have reformed; I have no other choice), as of recently that has changed, of course, with KOM. Now I listen to brother Ian’s new wave mixes and starting to listen again to some of my all time favorite trance artists and acts.
EB: Anything else you want to add or delve into? Educate those of us who missed out the first time around!
IN: For those who missed the first reunion party, you don’t want to miss this one! It’s rare that we get to use the time machine to go back to the ‘80s, so don’t miss the boat :). See you guys on the 27th! Keep On Music.
SN: For those who haven’t heard DJ BPM spin new wave, you’re in for a treat. He’s one of the best new wave DJs around. For those who have, we expect you back every time. This is our new scene and if you support, it will continue to be around for your enjoyment.
LT: Sorry to those who missed out on the mischievous life of the ‘80s era. But for those who did, we at Keep On Music have brought it back to life. Come join us for the fun.
JN: I wasn’t there the first time, but I had a reason, I didn’t know the event existed until now! Technically I’m not supposed to be out. Technically I’m supposed to recover comfortably, but oh hellz no, I’m not going to miss out on this event or any other events we have planned in the near future. I am now a part of Keep On Music and I will help elevate us to the next Enterprise, out of this world, warp speed, back to the future past we call new wave! Come jump in my car to join me and do the same! Let’s make this a national sensation that it deserves. New Wave shall not die! LOL!!!
EB: Finally, I just want to say thanks so much for your time, pictures, patience and graciousness! See you at the party!!!
JN: No, thank you, brother Eric -Mr. Brightwell New Wave former Viet girl lover, Mr. Awesome Amoeba Report writing Guru! Om Mani Padme Hum x3 =o)
SN: Thank you and long live new wave!
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