In 2018, the members of the Rắn Cạp Đuôi collective invited musicians to come and improvise with them for 48 hours nonstop. Since they’re virtually the only experimental act in Ho Chi Minh City, the event served as a way to connect with others and create new music. This durational exercise was akin to how the group, which currently consists of Phạm Thế Vũ, Đỗ Tấn Sĩ, and Zach Sch, makes music: In a tiny shack located in the mountains, the players record countless hours of material that Sch later edits and stitches together.
Historically, Vietnam hasn’t ever had a sizable number of active avant-garde musicians, and those in the 21st century—from Đại Lâm Linh to Sound Awakener to the late Vu Nhat Tan—were never as internet-minded as the self-proclaimed “meme club” that is Rắn Cạp Đuôi, who favor titles like “linus tech tips (ω^).” Their influences include artists with largely “online” fanbases, from hyperpop to James Ferraro, but they’ve also cited the importance of Chino Amobi, a producer whose industrial post-club fantasias mirror the kaleidoscopic collages on Rắn Cạp Đuôi’s official debut album, Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế.
In its best moments, the album delivers a breakneck onslaught of wonders. “Eri Eri Eri Eri Eri Rema Rema Rema Rema Rema” repeatedly stops and starts, its cavalcade of warped vocal samples and head-spinning sound effects echoing the plunderphonic madness of Giant Claw. That it traverses so many moods—spectral terror, fluttering power ambient, funhouse beat flagellations—without losing steam points to the group’s astute sense of pacing. “Distant People” has a similarly large number of tonal shifts, but it can be hard to register everything that happens, given its sensory evolution. The song starts with lo-fi aquatics before displacing its calm into a flurry of electronic twinkles. As a faint SOPHIE-like synth conjures a brooding atmosphere, the whole thing collapses into a looping beat adorned with frenetic synths. The through line is the track’s introspective nature, which is akin to feeling serenity amid whirlwinding chaos. This juxtaposition is at the heart of Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế, whose title proves especially apt: It translates to “sleeping through the apocalypse.”
Until this point, such thrillingly haphazard music was never the defining feature of Rắn Cạp Đuôi’s work. Throughout the past half-decade, they’ve released a multitude of albums and one-off tracks, both together and solo, all highly varied in sound. There’ve been no-wave freak-outs and post-Mark McGuire guitar epics, vocal-based ambience and electroacoustic curios. The concrete and amalgamated vision that defines Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế, realized in part with Berlin producer Ziúr, marks a new beginning for the group, and that this record is billed as the trio’s debut is an understandable maneuver. Such a proclivity for reinvention feels like a central tenet of the collective, and is even represented in their name: Rắn Cạp Đuôi translates literally to “snake bites tail,” a visual depiction of the ouroboros, a symbol of renewal.
Like other contemporary experimental acts from Asia, including Senyawa, Gabber Modus Operandi, and Otay:onii, Rắn Cạp Đuôi incorporate aspects of traditional culture into their music. On “Mực nang,” triumphant percussion and chanting lead into an all-consuming drone. The sound of a ghastly voice hovers above it, though, as if telegraphing that the spirit of such music permeates the band’s contemporary practices. When I hear that, and the manipulated Viet-pop on crystalline standout “Aztec Glue,” and then the Vietnamese voices on radiant industrial closer “Đme giựt mồng,” I’m filled with a nourishing sense of possibility for what “Asian music” can mean. Westerners have often described certain acts to me as “Asian” only when they…