In an exclusive interview with Hive Life, self-taught DJ and photographer Teddy Chilla sheds light on Vietnam’s growing creative scene.

Growing up in Lam Dong, Bao Loc city, in the Highland area of Vietnam, Teddy Chilla never imagined that making a living as a DJ might possibly be something he could do. Encouraged by his parents, he set out at first on a traditional path, studying accounting in the hopes of securing a steady job. In 2014, however, Teddy discovered music, and from that moment onwards, everything changed.
Teddy Chilla
Entirely self taught, Nguyen Duc Trung Tuan (popularly known as Teddy) now makes and plays music for a living, DJing at some of Vietnam’s biggest venues to his growing list of fans. Indulging in his passion for photography on the side, he has forged a life and career as a creative and is now passionate about helping others do the same. Here, he talks to us about how he pulled it all off.

Can you share with us how it all began?

The idea of being a DJ first came to me in 2014. After spending a lot of time watching my favorite producers and musicians on Boilerroom, I thought to myself: “If they do it, so can I. Why not give it a shot!” I had to learn everything through online tutorials. By chance, a friend told me about Ableton, an audio workstation in Saigon where I spent 2 weeks learning how to create music. Soon, another friend invited me to play for an event, and that’s how I got my first DJ set at 3A Station, an old music venue in Saigon. The gig was a success, and soon after I played at other venues such as Piu Piu and Lush. My first big stage performance was for a show called Come to Daddy at one of Vietnam’s most famous music venues The Cube in 2016.

Did you encounter any difficulties?

I started out knowing nothing absolutely nothing so I read a lot of information and studied tutorials online, learning everything from analysing music sheets to composing songs to visualising the sound. At that time, there weren’t many videos that showed you how to do those things, and to be honest, I’m a bit slow when it comes to learning! So, if someone like me can do it, anyone can. The key to success is continuous effort. If you put a lot of time and determination into it, you will be amazed by what you are capable of.

What’s different about your music?

I love to incorporate traditional Vietnamese elements into my songs. In the world of DJing, personal touches help you stand out from the crowd. Most beginners will choose the easy way and copy popular beats without using much creativity to make them sound different, but I value originality. And the feeling of playing your melody and seeing other people enjoy and relate to it is freaking awesome!

What do you think about the music scene in Vietnam nowadays?

The music scene in Vietnam has changed a lot. Production quality is growing strong in electronic music, and now we have a lot more access to different methods of producing with the help of Google and YouTube and hundreds of apps that can teach us. I think the music scene is taking off in this new era and I hope to see more Vietnamese artists gain acknowledgement for their work on a global scale.

How did you develop your passion for photography?

I first started taking photos 2 years ago. Music is my main career, but coming up with new ideas can be stressful and photography helps me relax. I’m inspired a lot by Ta-ku, an Australian music producer who is also an excellent photographer. Sometimes I spend 3 to 5 hours a day just wandering the streets and taking photos of random things; an old street vendor eating her lunch on the pavements, an old man taking a nap on his motorcycle. I have set out on a mission to capture the sounds and sights of life. I believe that the beauty of life comes from nowhere else but your own perception of it.

Do you think judgements are made on young adults following the same path you do?

Just like most Vietnamese mothers, mine wanted me to have a traditional career with a stable income. Now, she has become more supportive because she can see that what I do brings me happiness. I think Vietnamese culture has changed a lot in recent years. People are a lot more open-minded, and most I know are more than happy to allow their children to freely do what they love.

Can you recommend some names that you’ve admired in both fields? Is there anyone in Vietnam?

There are a lot of musicians and photographers that I admire, both in Vietnam and internationally. To be more specific, in music, I usually listen to Mr. Carmack (a Hawaii-based DJ), Hucci (a Brighton-based trap producer), Ta-ku (an Australian DJ), and Sam G. In Vietnam particularly, I really like DJ Jase, DJ Jin, Astronomous, Chjuljnh, and Marzuz. In photography, I really admire Louis Dazy, Edie Sunday, and my local photographer friend Khoa Tô.

Is there an identifiable group of artists like you growing in Vietnam and what advice do you have for aspiring young musicians?

The existing art community here is very dynamic. We know each other from many different walks of life, we go to each other’s events and support each other and afterwards, we all gather together to talk and have fun. It’s how the community of Saigon artists grows. If you need help, don’t hesitate to ask. Believe it or not, you are not as alone as you think. There is always a like-minded community out there which will guide and support you. Your job is to find them and connect with them.

Lastly, can you recommend some of your favourite hangout spots in Saigon?

1. Cheo Leo coffee: This is the place where I usually spend time with my friends. I love this place because of their traditional “ca phe sua da” (iced milk coffee), made in the traditional Indonesian way.
2. Darkroom coffee: similar to Cheo Leo, this place is where I frequently bring my film rolls to get them scanned. I it because the lighting and music create a calm and tranquil atmosphere, which is perfect for deep thoughts and brainstorming ideas.
3. The streets: I like wandering out on the streets. Most of my best and favorite photos are taken then. I take the time to discover new things, capture strange beauties, and either think about what I’m going to do in my next gig or, most of the time, just to relax.