Bathed in pink lights that glitter on a wall of mirrors behind the DJ booth, Teddy Chilla juggles a mix of rap and bass music, dutifully blending 140 BPM trap cuts into UK club tracks and reggae chunes. He’s playing on the rooftop of Piu Piu in Saigon, which is usually reserved for rap parties, but they’ve loosened up the format tonight for a wider mix of sounds.
Chilla, who’s been a fixture on the scene here for over a decade now, usually spins in the Red Room downstairs when he’s at Piu Piu. That space, with its basement-type vibes, is where the venue usually focuses on underground dance music. So he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to introduce sounds to a crowd that might not usually be exposed to them. “When I mix rap with a heavy drop after into in my sets, it accustoms people to new sounds,” he says. “And if someone hears a new type of music from a DJ they like, they might go and look into it.”
“When I play my regular sets, the crowd is made up of mostly Vietnamese people and a lot of them are my friends,” Chilla says. “The rooftop is usually a mix of older foreigners and a different set of locals.” It used to be the other way around though, with older Viet party people gravitating to rap music while expats sought out dance music. And he credits today’s local kids for making the scene interesting by seeking out fresh sounds. “They’re really open to more adventurous stuff. A lot of the friends I started with have stopped clubbing, but the younger crowd want to listen to something new.”
Chilla got his start producing about ten years ago, which arguably makes him an old head in Vietnam. He learned through YouTube tutorials, quietly but dutifully working on his skills in between work and university. “I’d sit at the back of the class working on FL Studio, pretending to listen to the professor,” he laughs. He found inspiration on SoundCloud, which opened up weird and new sounds from all over the world that he’d collect and play for friends.
He got his first chance to play in front of a crowd at an exhibition with local shops in 2015. He blended trap, UK styles, minimal, and dark stuff, which was all organized ahead of time for a set played on Ableton with a big-ass MPD24 controller. Although there was a strong dub and reggae scene in the city then and vinahouse was already popular, the lack of recognizable songs, lyrics, or Vietnamese references proved a bit too outlandish for the time. “They didn’t understand what I was playing, it was too different for them.” It would take a while to people to catch on, but he made his mark pretty soon after and he’s been something of a household name since.
Chilla plies his beatsmithing trade as a private Abelton teacher, where he has four or five students in a class two hours a day, two days a week, for three months. He’s been doing it for two years now and has had some well-known students like the vocalist from Viet band Chillies and a clothing designer who’s made stuff for Lil Uzi and Lil Baby. “Some of my students make a living of music after taking my class,” he says proudly.
While Chilla’s main focus is dance music, he’s always crossed over with the rap scene and was making beats for artists before he even started DJing. He’s collaborated with some of the country’s best-known artists like Wean, Binh Gold, Đen Vâu, and Suboi. And his new label, Kougen Records, will feature rap artists alongside dance music releases. (If the label’s first artist, Kohi—who dropped an EP of very glossy and dynamic instrumental beats—is an example of the quality of future releases, we can expect good things.) Like many of the scenes in Vietnam, the rap scene has grown very quickly since Chilla got his start. “About five years ago, there were only a few local songs that young people listened to. But now, even old people know about rap artists,” he laughs. “My mom can even name some of them!”
Reflecting on the growth of the scenes across Vietnam, Chilla is happy to see so many new genres being embraced. “The scene these days has many more communities. I never expected this much diversity,” he says happily. “But I hope all the communities become more united. It would be great to see people going to more styles of events, I usually see the same group of people at certain parties. It will happen though. It’s just a matter of time. If someone really loves music, they’ll keep searching for new types of sounds.”