Will Hanoi be the next music capital of Asia?

Story highlights

With an influx of new festivals and international flights, Hanoi has the potential to become a festival capital of Asia.

Stalwart festivals such as Quest and Monsoon Music will return again this autumn.

CNN  — 

On the shores of Dong Mo Lake, about 40 kilometers east of Hanoi, sequined dancers twirl with ribbons, while guitarists perform intimate concerts on rafts.

There’s camping, yoga and swimming – not to mention 40 hours of non-stop live music.

It might sound like Glastonbury but this, in fact, is Quest, a lifestyle festival now in its fifth year.

It’s not alone. Hanoi, which has long been the country’s creative heart, is challenging regional powerhouses such as Tokyo, Singapore and Seoul for the festival capital of Asia title.

“Hanoi absolutely has potential to become a music hub in Asia – there’s a strong cultural underpinning to work with,” Jeremy Wellard, co-founder of Quest, tells CNN.

“As Vietnam’s economy keeps growing, and as social structures change, we are going to see the country become a player in the arts and culture scene.”

A new beat

Hanoi’s 7.5 million inhabitants famously buzz around in an impenetrable, deafening sea of motorbikes.

Despite this, the city retains a quaint, historic feel with its low-rise colonial architecture and leafy promenades.

It was this romantic vibe that inspired Wellard to relocate to Hanoi from Australia, where he’d helped organize music events such as Brisbane’s hip-hop festival Stylin’Up and the G20 Cultural Celebrations, a citywide arts and culture festival.

In 2011, Wellard and a few friends spent a weekend at Son Tinh Camp, at Dong Mo.

A freshwater lake, forests, tents for rent … they quickly saw its potential.

“We wanted to bring that festival atmosphere to Hanoi, at a place that felt like an escape, without the city bearing down on us,” he says.

A performance at Quest.

In 2013, Quest launched as a “really DIY project,” with roughly 250 festival-goers. This year, it’ll be 20 times that size, with five stages and about 5,000 guests between November 10 and 12.

English pioneers of ambient house The Orb are on the line-up, alongside gypsy-electro-nu-rave act Slamboree Sound System, Hanoi’s own house and techno artist DJ Tùng Tím and dreamy Indonesian pop act Stars and Rabbit.

“We were lucky to be around at a time when Hanoi really started to open up to the outside world and the tastes of Vietnamese were opening up,” says Wellard.

Please don’t stop the music

Quest isn’t an anomaly.

This April, house and techno festival Equation joined Hanoi’s festival scene, at the same camp site as Quest at Dong Mo Lake.

Equation festival debuted in April.

Its founders – the team behind Cliche Records, a Hong Kong-based music label, booking and promotion agency – tell CNN that Hanoi was the obvious choice for their event.

“Hong Kong was saturated and too hard to pull off,” Ouissam Mokretar, one of the festival’s co-founders, tells CNN. “Seoul and Japan have the same problem, with space and pricing.

“China, Manila and Bangkok are so hard with the politics and the laws. But Vietnam is still emerging. Travelers are coming and falling in love with the country and local kids want to experience new things.”

Equation revolves around two main stages, with a third platform in the wings for yoga, film screenings and craft workshops.

More than 30 acts performed over three days, including American electronic musician DJ Shlomo, Alex from Tokyo (now based in Berlin), and Norwegian act Telephones.

Meanwhile, Monsoon Music Festival – which has hosted Grammy-winner Joss Stone and German rock band the Scorpions – returns for the third time this autumn, with thousands of guests expected at the Citadel of Thang Long, a historic fort south of West Lake.

A city on the move

Mokretar says Hanoi’s expanding festival scene is thanks, in part, to the city’s growing network of budget flights.

In the past year, VietJet has launched direct routes from Hanoi to Yangon, Seoul, Busan, and Siem Reap – with a link to Kuala Lumpur to follow this September.

Fellow low-cost carrier Jetstar Pacific Airlines also introduced affordable, direct flights to Osaka earlier this year.

“(Hanoi is) much more connected now than just a year ago – the difference from 2016 is crazy,” recalls Mokretar.

“Tickets are almost 50% cheaper. Last year, flying between Taipei and Hanoi cost around $400, but now VietJet opened a route and it’s only $150.”

The relative affordability of attending a festival in Hanoi, compared with Hong Kong or Tokyo, also has an impact.

Tickets to Quest, for example, cost $57 for the three-day weekend, compared with $208 for a three-day ticket to Hong Kong’s annual Clockenflap festival.

An appetite for music

Nana Nguyen, a 27-year-old Vietnamese woman who has attended Quest for the past four years, says it has an open-minded, “free love” mentality – much like what you might expect to find at European or American festivals.

“The (countryside) festival location might be a little inconvenient, but once you’re there in nature, you feel really refreshed, relaxed and free,” Nguyen tells CNN.

“It’s good to have that break from the city. We’re all working all the time, and there you can feel like there’s another side of Hanoi.”

She also put Quest’s success down to a voracious appetite for new music in Vietnam.

“This generation, they are really into entertainment – much more than before. They want to be modern, up on all the new fashion and music trends,” says Nguyen.

“I think now the music scene in Hanoi is changing and improving, but people are looking for more – whether it’s live music or more festivals. Everything is welcome here.”