Meet CÚT LỘN — The Pikachu Costume-Wearing Hanoi-Based Crossover Thrash Band
From Hanoi, Vietnam, CÚT LỘN are a self-proclaimed “stupid band wearing stupid costumes playing stupid music (thrash/hardcore punk to be precise).” Self-deprecation is of course common in punk and hardcore, though this four-man band, who are known visually for sometimes wearing Pikachu masks on stage, have more going on than initially meets the eye. A band of the people, CÚT LỘN, like say Tubero from the Philippines, craft songs reflecting the comedy and tragedy of daily life in Vietnam.
The band come together in 2018, with the members getting to know each other through the Hanoi underground scene. “The original idea was pretty broad,” says drummer Sergey Bochenkov, “I guess we wanted to play hardcore music, but with more like metal style guitars, something in the ‘90s new school hardcore vibe, but after a few jams what came out was closer to thrash metal riffs with hardcore punk style drumming behind them. Then I guess we wanted to have this kind of fun and childish vibe to the band and crossover thrash style also worked pretty well with that.”
The band is known, through most promo photos and articles written about them, for wearing crude Pikachu costumes. However, this is not what the band is fully about and not what they wear for every concert and music video.
“The story with Pikachu is that at one of our first shows we got those full body animal costumes on Shopee and one of them was a Pikachu one and it came with that ugly looking knitted face mask,” says Bochenkov. “We played a couple of shows in those costumes and people started to recognize us by that mask look, so then we added the Pikachu guy as a character in our first music video and that brought even more attention to the thing, so it sort of became our signature.”
The band will wear something completely different, depending on the occasion, “For example, one of our last shows we all played in chili pepper costumes since it was a release party for a new single called “CAY!” (which means “spicy” in Vietnamese) or that other time few months back we did a small tour around the seaside part of Vietnam and for that we all dressed like scuba divers. We couldn’t afford getting the real scuba diving costumes, of course, so we just bought full body latex costumes that people use in BDSM from a local sex shop, added flippers, swimming goggles and the result looked good enough to go!”
With this instantly recognizable look, one would think that Hanoi’s Pokémon fans would be piling into CÚT LỘN’s concerts snapping photos like its Pokémon Snap.
“Not really. There’s a bunch of bands in the Saigon scene that played shows at local comic-cons or anime festivals, including quite heavy hardcore bands, but we’ve never really been connected to any of those groups,” says Bochenkov. “I mean, look at our masks! I don’t think if you’re a true fan of Pikachu, you would like the appearance (laughs). It’s more like taking the piss out of Pikachu rather than actually seriously being one.”
Aside from the obvious visual element to the band, the band also has the concept of writing lyrics through the eyes of a seven-year-old. Bochenkov says “It’s not that any of us have kids, but more like the role that the family and taking care of your kids play in Vietnamese society, I guess. Also, the humor in Vietnam is pretty childish – not in a vulgar sense, but more in a cute sense. It just makes a lot of sense to sing about things like that if you’re a Vietnamese crossover thrash band. Would definitely be weird if we were singing about brain-eating zombies and smoking crack through a beer can kind of stuff.”
Now that we have the visual and lyrical style covered, just what does CÚT LỘN actually mean, though? If pronounced like “Cứt Lồn”, it would mean “shit cunt” (and it also happens to be the most common mispronunciation by foreigners). Other ways you can mispronounce the band’s name would yield things like: “pig shit”, “cut the vagina”, “big (hand or leg) amputee” etc.
Bochenkov says”If you pronounce CÚT LỘN correctly, it just means “quail balut egg” – it is our region specialty common in Vietnam and Philippines, fertilized quail eggs, incubated for two-three weeks, that are boiled, steamed, and eaten directly from the shell or marinated in the tamarind sauce. Very yummy!”
This isn’t the end of food and drink references being juggled with chainsaws. Xào Ke is the band’s first album. “The most famous Vietnamese dish with cút lộn is called “cút lộn xào me”, which means “quail balut eggs stir fried in tamarind sauce” and “ke” is a Vietnamese slang word that is often used to address drugs (namely, ketamine). So, it’s sort of like cút lộn stir fried in ketamine,” explains Bochenkov.
“But it shouldn’t be taken literally, I think,” he adds, “It’s more of a childish way to fuck up a few letters in a phrase to make it sound funny and doesn’t really have to do much with drugs, (laughs).”
With songs about relatable topics like debts, taking out the trash, going to school and so on, the locals of Hanoi (unlike Pokémon fans) have found a connection with CÚT LỘN. Bochenkov says of the lyrics, “We actually have lots of people outside the scene who enjoy our band just because they can relate to the lyrics. It’s hard to hear them clearly on the records though, because the music is so fast, but we put subtitles in! The Vietnamese language has so many dialects that even people from different provinces could sometimes find it hard to understand each other, so yeah, PRO tip – put subtitles in your MVs if you sing in Vietnamese!”
Their videos offer a glimpse into the humorous and absurd, with subtitles available to let English-speaking listeners get a grasp on what the band is all about and at times, what life in Vietnam is like.
Bochenkov says of them, “I think we always thought about ourselves as a Vietnamese band and all our songs are about things that you experience living in Vietnam. We also try to keep it fun; I think you can compare it to bands like Red Fang or Municipal Waste or maybe some of the Turbonegro music videos – they all have that similar appeal and I guess the fun part is more important than being a truthful Vietnam life representation.”
Their “CAY!” single (accompanied by chili pepper costumes) is on the horizon as well as an upcoming 10-song album featuring unreleased songs that the band already regularly play live. “More touring as well, I hope. If you’re in Asia and see our show around the area, please come! It’s fun!”