PHM – Interview with Steve Stander from Synergy

PHM – Interview with Steve Stander from Synergy

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Since their birth at the end of November 2010, Synergy Music Production (SMP) has become a repeatedly-mentioned name in the music scene of Hanoi. As they say in their brief intro “Promoting evolution in the local music/arts scene by working on concept orientated events”, SMP is one of the most active independent promoters for local music and musicians, having been involved in an impressive number of over 40 events in less than 7 months since coming into being!

Pham Hoang Mien from Grapevine caught up with Steve Stander (also known as DJ Kulture), one of the founders of SMP, and listened to him talking about the passion behind the scenes:

So Steve, can you tell us how the story of SMP began?

Sure! As you know, we are very young, not even 7 months old yet. We are totally a not-for-profit oriented organization and the main aim of Synergy is to get musicians paid! This may sound weird but in the past a lot of musicians and bands even had to pay the venues in order to have a stage to perform on. And we want to change that. That is the main focus of Synergy.

And what else? I have been living in Hanoi for 7 years now. I love the city and want to contribute to the contemporary music scene here. We are currently music producers/organisers for 12 bands and musicians, and as you can see, there only three Vietnamese artists, Phuong Dang or (Dang Nam Phuong), Stephen Hoang and Gam Hershaw among them. Yes, one of our biggest difficulties now is to find more Vietnamese musicians writing original music. We have been going to a lot of local live music venues in order to find more talent but many Vietnamese bands mostly play hard rock and metal. It’s so difficult to find more varieties like blues, soft rock, or even traditional folk music. Yes, we also want to help preserve traditional music in Vietnam.


Hanoi is the capital of the country. It surely is the capital in many things. Culture? Yes. Art? Yes. Only in contemporary music, we’re still behind Ho Chi Minh City! We don’t want that. We want to make Hanoi the capital of music as well. Unlike other organizer who really do a great job bringing over international acts, our sole focus at the moment is tapping into what Hanoi has to offer.

What can you say about the current situation of SMP and how are you looking to the future?

“Northern Exposure” on 11 June

Yeah, only 6 or 7 months old and we have been involved in more than 40 music events. It has taken up a lot of our time, but we love it! Definitely we will keep growing and the number of events will increase over time.  We have also set a vision for the future. We want to build up “music with a message”. We want to have music events to support good causes such as against domestic violence, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse wherever there is need for more awareness. We have a long-term commitment to the music scene here too. I will not stay in Hanoi forever, someday I will  perhaps leave, but I don’t want SMP to be gone with me, or with Jamir (the other founder of SMP)! We want to have successive generations to continue building up SMP even when we are not here anymore.

How about difficulties? Besides finding Vietnamese musicians writing original music, any other obstacles that you have to encounter?

The quality of sound systems is always a problem. Hanoi Rock City and Green Mango have very good sound systems but other venues? Not really…

The early closing hour is another issue. Here in Hanoi, most of the venues have to be closed at midnight (while in HCMC they can stay open much later)

We also have trouble finding more sound engineers. The expats are amazing, but we want Vietnamese experts as well, and we haven’t succeeded in finding anyone that really fits the description…well not yet.

Another shock for is the difficulty finding affordable Vietnamese musicians who play traditional instruments. I really mean “affordable”! We have asked many Vietnamese folk musicians to play in our gigs and all of them are happy to, but when it comes to their required payment, most of the times we can’t afford them. Ideally my perfect dream is that every event should be free! The venues then can pay the musicians from the audience’s spending on drinks but normally most venues prefer selling tickets to pay the musicians, and we don’t want to set the ticket price too high and exclude the young Vietnamese.  That’s why we cannot afford paying the high fee asked by the Vietnamese musicians.

“Poetry Bordello” on 4 June

And of course one of the most difficult things is to find more Vietnamese artists. Vietnamese people are a bit shy when it comes to performing their own original music. They are very confident in karaoke, but the story with original music is different. We have tried hard by going to some local music schools to hand out leaflets, and put up posters in order to find more talent, but not so many effective results yet.

We know there is talent out there and we would welcome recommendations and suggestions. Who know, there may just be dozens of Phuong Dang’s out there to be discovered!

Thank you Steve! Looking forward to catching up with more events from SMP, and also more new talents in the future!


SMP describes Phuong Dang: “This amazing young female song writer is best summarised in one word….talent…. Elegant piano and power vocals. Recent performances have literally left the audience in awe of this must see talent”. You can listen to her beautiful music on SMP website

So if you are one of those Phuong Dangs that is still sitting at home, what are you waiting for? Step into the spot light and spread your talent! Contact SMP at [email protected], they’ll definitely be more than happy to hear from you!

The SMP crew:

Steve Stander and Jamir Adiong (founders)

Brady Fossenbell and Ryan Turley (later additions as partners)

SMP artists:

The Props – The Only Reggae Band – Always – Joshua Lee (or Josh Lee) – Dang Nam Phuong (or Phuong Dang) – Meeshle Moon – Jahm Adiong (or Jamir Adiong) – Mouth of the Wolf – DJ Cache – Kulture (or Steve Stander) – Vaughan – DJ Lyo

All pictures provided by SMP.

Pham Hoang Mien has been with Hanoi Grapevine for some time, mainly involved in social media and occasional translation. As an enthusiastic music lover, now she wants to challenge herself in a new role – being a columnist writing about music and musicians for the site.


  1. tôi không cho rằng SMP là một nhóm chơi nhạc đương đại, lại càng không cho rằng âm nhạc đương đại ở tp.HCM (theo cách diễn đạt của SMP và Phạm Hoàng Miên) là tốt hơn ở hanoi. Tôi đã từng đến một số show của SMP chỉ để thấy rằng các bạn chơi nhạc vui và vui vẻ, giống như một trò chơi vui với nhau mà thôi, chứ khó mà nói đó là những hoạt động âm nhạc có tính nghệ thuật và càng không thể gọi là chuyên nghiệp được. Tôi rất tiếc khi đọc những bài viết như thế này về âm nhạc trên hanoigrapevine, bởi nó cho thấy sự non kém rõ rệt của người viết về đề tài này

    • @ vũ nhật tân
      Hi Tan,
      Thanks for your comment.
      It seems to me that the main issue here is that there are different definitions of the term ‘contemporary music’, and views about the music, and about the music scenes in HN and HCMC can be quite different depending on the definition. This could be a very interesting topic to explore.

      One important point – please note that the opinions expressed in the article were not those of the reporter, Phạm Hoàng Miên. She asked the questions and reported the answers, so criticizing her for the answers is unfair.

      i hope this can develop into an interesting discussion of different points of view. I would like to encourage anyone who replies here to remember to be respectful of other points of view.
      Please take a look at our Comment Guidelines /Moderation Policy.


  2. In response to Vu Nhat Tan:

    I think what was said was “Only in contemporary music, we’re still behind Ho Chi Minh City! ” which means we are hoping to be improve the contemporary music scene in Hanoi. We are not saying Hanoi is better than HCMC ;-)

    I am also not sure why you say we play ‘happy and fun’ music like its a bad thing. Our events are varied, sometimes fun, sometimes serious, sometimes experimental, but always for the love of music and artistic expression.

  3. Thanks B, hearing from the community is important to Synergy and it is great that Hanoigrapevine offers a platform to facilitate/foster such communication.

  4. Hello…

    it is important to know the scene before making statement…
    “It surely is the capital in many things. Culture? Yes. Art? Yes. Only in contemporary music, we’re still behind Ho Chi Minh City! We don’t want that. We want to make Hanoi the capital of music as well.”

    most of the music trends, come from hanoi…HCM city, just commercial music…if SMP think that is “contemporary music”, Vu Nhat Tan maybe need to discuss with SMP for more explaination of hanoi Gangs…
    just to name a few who make their own music and leading the trends and they all from Hanoi…

    Kim Ngoc-Female electronic aritst
    Luong Hue Trinh-Female electronic aritst
    Vu Nhat Tan-Noise aritst
    Son X-Electro-acoustic experimental percussionist
    Nguyen Van Cuong-Visual Aritst/sound artist
    Nguyen Manh Hung…
    Lingh Dung…
    Ngoc Dai…
    Quoc Trung…
    Le Minh Son…
    Rhapsodie Philhamonic…
    DJ slim V…
    Huy percussion
    Thu Thuy

    Phuong Dang (never heard of her) at last, some links?

    best regards
    Tri Minh

  5. I would love to hear all the above artists (mentioned by Tri Minh). I would also love them to be pushed into my face like Synergy pushes its artists week in, week out, serious, fun, big event or small. I’ve been in Hanoi for just over one year (I’m not saying that is long) but I have not been exposed to a lot of the names above. Maybe the problem is with me — perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.

    I say get all the artists together for one massive night.


  6. Hello…Ian Paynton and all…

    you can catch some of these artists at hanoi sound stuff festival 2012 on 13th and 14th of April 2012…if you are staying that long?

    these artists are at local scene, sorry but it not gonna happen at hanoi rock city or expat communities if you are looking for it…

    and yes, a massive evening…

    best regards
    Tri Minh

  7. Dear Tri Minh,

    So you’re saying there is NOWHERE we can hear ANY of these artists until NEXT YEAR? 2012?

    Sorry anh oi, but that’s not a scene. There’s one thing making music in a studio among fellow producers and friends, and there is another thing playing that music out for the masses to hear and enjoy it.

    That’s like me saying “i’m a really good DJ (honestly) but sorry you have to wait one year to hear me”.

    Let’s have more gigs, more events, more dances, more raves, more fun — let’s have that “massive evening” once a month?

    And what’s wrong with HRC and expat communities? Who knows, people in the expat community may understand your taste in music more so than other cross-sections of Hanoian society. I don’t think we should start differentiating between local and expats, private studios and music venues. We are all people and we all love music.

    Best regards,


  8. And also anh Tri Minh, about Hanoi Soundstuff – maybe you should promote it more to the “expat community” next year? From my experience this year, it lacked a bit of atmosphere and signs of people actually enjoying the music (ie, dancing). But I did only go on the second night. Even still, if I waited another year for more of the same, I would be disappointed. But maybe that’s just me — someone that danced to electronic music all night, once a month, for ten years in the UK.

    Synergy, a question for you… why aren’t Tri Minh and other artists mentioned by him (above) on the line up for B.A.S.S this weekend? Would seem like the perfect collaboration.

    Love all round,


  9. Even newer on the scene than SMP, DepSkillz is a Saigon based collective with similar aims and goals to our Ha Noi counterparts.

    The music our artists play is certainly ‘happy & cheerful’, because that’s largely what our audiences want to listen to. Mixing genres, we encourage creativity and a lot of our regular gigs are improv based – musicians having a ‘game of fun with each other’.

    Our roster of artists mix locals with expats, but we too are pushed to find Vietnamese musicians who are not stuck in styles of rock & ballads and who can play freely with our other musicians.

    That said, we are happy to welcome a growing number of young Vietnamese artists to our collective who can freely ‘mix it up’ and get in to the groove.

    As DepSkillz continues to establish itself in the Saigon live music scene, and the fees we can demand for our artists increase, we look forward to collaboration with SMP and an exchange of musical talents from one end of the country to the other.

    You can check out our weekly gigs on our site calendar – last weekend we had 10 events in 4 days, not bad for a collective only a couple of months old!

    Please continue to support musical initiatives, regardless of the city you live in!

  10. Now thats more like it DepSkillz! You have our full support and collaboration. You guys seem to be heading in the right direction down there in Saigon.

    Music knows no boundaries and whoever is in the scene to promote evolution and exposure to music, are friends of ours ;-). Will talk soon about some plans we have.

  11. @Ian in response to your question:

    “why aren’t Tri Minh and other artists mentioned by him (above) on the line up for B.A.S.S this weekend? Would seem like the perfect collaboration”

    We are hoping to have more of the local Hanoians Tri Minh mentioned involved in future events, our door is and always will be open. Now just to try and find out where these lads and lasses perform and then we can scout and work out a concept suitable to their styles.

    For B.A.S.S this weekend we have a limited amount of time for each DJ behind the decks, also Synergy wanted to give our loyal DJ crew an opportunity to bang it out at HRC.

    @Tri Minh, I know its difficult to get hold of you on facebook, could you drop me an email with your address?

  12. @ Synergy: yes well it seems like you will have to wait until Hanoi Soundstuff next year to do your scouting mission. Unfortunately.

  13. To @all

    The problem here is *cultural differences*. I am just a beginner to Vietnamese culture, but I can see there are some huge gaps between Westerners and Vietnamese, in what they expect from music events and performers.

    Organisations like Synergy, CAMA, and DepSkillz are organising Western-style gigs – a concept which tends towards a medium-sized event space and lots of punters coming regularly to see a small roster of *new* artists.

    On the other hand, what I can see is popular on the Viet side is either huge stadium-sized gigs with thousands of people – with tried and tested artists (Tùng Dương), and ostentatious presentation – or the café culture gigs with limited setup and small audiences. Also, original music is not a priority.

    Another important thing I’ve noticed: I immediately searched for the artists you mention, @Tri Minh, and none of them appear to be visible on the internet – that is MySpace, Facebook etc. Any time I hear about music in the UK, I immediately search the internet, and have a listen to that artist. I also tried and found *a* Kim Ngoc, but as your description said ‘electronic artist’, and this certainly didn’t sound like that.

    What I want to know is _why can’t I find these artists?_ Where are they hiding?

    I’m a producer, in the old fashioned sense of being able to do arrangements, tweak songs and guide artists, and also in the modern sense of being able to work a recording studio and produce a CD. I want to get involved in the music scene in Hanoi. Where do I start to find new Vietnamese talent?

    To finish, yesterday I saw by Hoàn Kiếm a large group of people, all Vietnamese apart from one Westerner, standing around a guy playing guitar, and a famous Hanoian fiddle player. They were all singing songs together, and drawing a crowd. The audience is there for the taking if you want it, you just have to be visible.

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