Beyond congested streets saturated with remnants of Vietnam’s colonial past, glittering skyscrapers and a cacophony of traffic noise (mainly owing to a plethora of motorbikes), a growing collective of hungry creatives are carving out a new identity for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s business epicentre or Saigon as many locals affectionately call it, after its original name.
Over the last decade, Vietnam’s economic opening saw the cityscape transform into a swanky metropolis flanked with skyscrapers, developing projects and an influx of foreign influence and brands. Furthermore, in the early 2000s, the official Vietnamese government discourse towards Overseas Vietnamese (or Viet Kieu i.e. people of Vietnamese descent that are of another nationality, usually born overseas.) became one of welcome, centred around the notion of ‘homeland’. This saw as many as 500,000 Viet Kieus returning annually to make their mark and harness the chaos of a polarised city left behind after decades of historical dissolution and violence to form an exciting future.
One such individual is Levi Doan or more commonly known as Levi Oi, a Vietnamese DJ born and raised in Germany who returned to Ho Chi Minh City in 2018 to rediscover her roots and has since been enjoying the city’s renaissance of art, fashion and food. When Levi arrived, she quickly realized a gap in the music scene. Noticing a lack of international headliners and global influence within Vietnam’s emerging arts and culture scene, she jumped at the opportunity to inject her repertoire of fresh, eclectic and playful house cum techno beats. Unsurprisingly, sweeping bans on overseas travel, too, left young artists with few options other than to collaborate locally and celebrate homegrown talent.
In less than five months, Levi made her debut into the local music scene and spun the decks at her first Boiler Room set in Saigon. Her ability to veer seamlessly between heart-pumping techno and vibrant house beats enabled her to easily win the hearts (and ears) of young Vietnamese around the country. Her style is characterized by deeply infectious melodic tunes underpinned by a strong baseline and just a cheeky sprinkle of techno. However, Levi’s music identity did not come naturally to her at the beginning admits the petite 29-year-old.
“Moving to Vietnam made me much more open to different music styles. In Berlin, I was focusing a lot on techno, whereas in Saigon, I listen to the craziest mash ups: trap and hip-hop mixed with garage and house (Minoto and Larria), or Vinahouse mixed with techno (An Phi and Nodey). I love that it is very experimental. There’s pop (Wren Evans, My Anh), electronic (Dustin Ngo), and in terms of rap crews, I really respect Hustlang,” says Levi about how she adapted her music repertoire and genre to suit the local Vietnamese market.
Not long after, Levi found herself at the forefront of Vietnam’s coming-of-age creative underground scene. Her Boiler Room set catalysed a series of collaborations with leading global fashion labels, top influencers and media attention including the likes of Vice and Vietnam News, which named the young performer one of Saigon’s most influential underground personalities - a nod to her skills as a DJ but also her active involvement in the evolution of the local arts scene. Levi has organised many electronic music events in Vietnam and was also the tour manager of Red Axes and local guide for their EP “Trips in Vietnam”.
Beyond music, Levi Oi has deep roots in the fashion industry and has worked with international brands such as Gucci. Today, she divides her time between Vietnam and Germany.
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