In honour of the 3rd anniversary of the untimely death of Nga Nhí, the front woman of the legendary punk band Gỗ Lim, we look back at one of the most energetic and extraordinary bands ever to emerge from Hanoi’s alternative music scene.
On 27 September 2011 the post-punk rockers that were Gỗ Lim took to the stage and caused not merely a ripple but a full on tidal wave that swept Hanoi’s underground music scene off its feet. It jumped.
For almost exactly one year four women and their drummer Nghĩa Bờm (front woman Nga Nhí’s younger brother) gave Hanoi’s alternative music lovers what they didn’t even know they were missing. They may have listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs a bit before composing their own tunes, were influenced by experimental guitarist Nguyễn Mạnh Hùng and had been hanging around with the guys from Nhà Sàn Collective; but really they just packed a lot of homegrown attitude and rocked.
The assumption that things that make you smile are not for songs one screams, was shredded with every shriek, every shout and every howl that front woman Nga Nhí belted down the microphone.
And not only did these ladies draw a crowd, they routinely packed out venues. Mostly Hanoi Rock City‘s Red Room, which was bursting at its mortar every time Gỗ Lim played this newly opened club. Hanoi Rock City was also where they practiced and honed their unique sound. They were anything but mainstream and from way way underground turned the game on its head.
Gỗ Lim wrote their own lyrics, which only heavy metal Vietnamese bands were doing at the time. They stayed away from angsty, downright depressing themes the male dominated rock scene had on offer and simply turned to everyday Hanoi for inspiration. Gỗ Lim referenced the city that bred them in songs about hungry cats and sidewalk barbers. The assumption that things that make you smile are not for songs one screams, was shredded with every shriek, every shout and every howl that front woman Nga Nhí belted down the microphone.
They made away with all the clichés about Asian women. And they showed up their popular male counterparts, by bringing – tongue firmly in cheek – an originality that no one else mustered.
Then there was the fact that there were four women rocking the stage. Between them they made away with all the clichés about Asian women. And they showed up their popular male counterparts, by bringing – tongue firmly in cheek – an originality that no one else mustered. Gỗ Lim was punk at its best. Throughout the better part of 2012 they were the band to mosh to. It all culminated at CAMA 6 in June 2012 where they gave a high energised, memorable performance just months before their last show at fellow band 18+‘s birthday party 18 September 2012.
And then – suddenly and shockingly – it was all over. On 19 October 2012 Nhí passed away after years of battling the autoimmune disease lupus. Despite her sickness the petite front woman had transformed routinely from the gentle, kind woman friends knew her as into a tornado force on stage. Her energy spoke to an incredible variety of people and she was simply irreplaceable.
Her death shocked Hanoi’s small, intimate underground music scene. For many it felt like they lost a family member. Which is perhaps most evident on Nhí’s Facebook page. It is still live today and at least two posts a month tell of friends who miss her, acquaintances who were touched and inspired and, most of all, people still in disbelief that she is gone. Both Nhí and Gỗ Lim had filled a void, and left an even bigger one behind.
And while there was the will to continue from guitarist Trang Chuối and bassist Béo My in the end they could not carry on without her. The loss of Nhí resulted in the end for Gỗ Lim. The band had been midway through recording their first album when Nhí died, but the remaining members could not bring themselves to release the tracks. Only a handful of people own a copy of their music today.
Though Hanoi band 18+ cover the song Các Bạn Đứng Nghiêm, Gỗ Lim was too short lived to really change the way music is done in Hanoi. They are missed and one need not ask long about alternative music in Hanoi to stumble across them, but they remain an anomaly. No one has come close to achieving a similar frenzy. Their style was too out there, their set up too unlikely. In the 12 months of the band’s existence they remained on the fringe. They were and continue to be as underground and eclectic as any musical endeavor can be and simply did not have time to take their project to the next level. And with the exception of a gig in Thái Nguyên did not even get the chance to play outside Hanoi.
It is anyone’s guess what Gỗ Lim would have achieved had they not come to the abrupt end they did.
The rest of the band members continue to make music, with the exception of former Gỗ Lim guitarist Ngọc Sim who had left the band just weeks before Nhí’s death. Drummer Nghĩa Bờm delved into the metal scene and recently preformed in Kim Ngoc’s experimental Hanoi New Music Festival. Guitarist Trang Chuối still loves her punk and dabbled with a couple of Hanoi bands like Machete.Sex.Mix and Kaoss In Order. She is currently working on some projects she says will sport a punky electronic vibe. Bassist Béo My returned to stage last year with Xai, one of the latest and most exciting additions to Hanoi’s musical landscape, a band which is somewhat darker but with similar levels of energy as Gỗ Lim.
It is anyone’s guess what Gỗ Lim would have achieved had they not come to the abrupt end they did. What they did was important. They were unique and they are sorely missed.