The TasteMaker

Edge Pamute talks dubbing, DJing and revolutionizing the face of Asian TV

Move over ZAC Efron, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lopez. Hollywood’s so-called Triple Threats (singing, dancing, acting) have a ways to go to catch up to Edge Pamute: international DJ, event promoter, music/TV /radio producer, sound architect and co- founder of Yan TV.

On a lazy Thursday afternoon, we find ourselves in the vintage hip surrounds of Maison Mikio, a tony salon that would not be out of place in Seoul, Tokyo or New York. Sipping an iced tea, Edge is making use of the huge, open space, striking rapid fire poses against the floor-to-ceiling windows, spinning around on one of the salon’s stools or playing with a handful of salon props. “Slower! Slower!” pleads the photographer, shutter clicks falling woefully behind the action. But as is so often the case, this self-proclaimed dreamer needs (or maybe takes?) no direction.

Born in the Philippines, Edge Pamute (yes, that is his real name he confirms with an enigmatic smile) found himself as an unfulfilled music-crazed teenager in the 80s amidst a music revolution fueled by the British Romantic movement led by groups like The Pale Fountains and The Smiths. Shut out of clubs, Edge started organizing his own parties in the park. “People were hungry for this type of music, but it was hard to get the records. I started organizing my own little roving clubs that came out of my dire need to play music and to hear music.” The budding DJ/event promoter found his calling, doing weddings, parties and even missing his own prom for a gig. 

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After getting a degree in Marketing and Economics, Edge found himself working for an ad agency in the early 90s when his boss took a job at the biggest TV channel in Asia, bringing Edge along as an idea man. “Edge, you have only one task here and that’s to make this a happenin’ TV channel. Not ‘happening’ but ‘happenin.’” Edge’s response was: “Buckle up and enjoy the ride.”

Would you consider that your first big break into television? 

I was 23, 25 at the time and I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought: TV! Celebrities! Wow! But commercial TV was boring. There was no depth, no art, no fullness. Thankfully, my boss said, “Let’s do something different. Let’s not do what everyone else is doing.” I thought that was cool because whatever I envisioned, these people had the willingness, money and infrastructure to do it. I remember closing down a whole street to launch [the 90s TV hit] Charmed. It was an event! We had fortune tellers and gothic bands and decorated the whole street like it was New Orleans. Nobody had done that. It wasn’t just TV. It was a 360-degree experiential approach that wasn’t there in the 90s. Now it sounds dinosaur but at the time, it was like “Wow. This is how TV should be!” 

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How did you get involved in the Vietnamese television industry? 

In 2007 when the television business was privatized in Vietnam, I was hired to set up a TV channel here. I thought it would be an easy cut-and-paste job, catering to a similar population and demographic. But when I got here, I saw TV was a challenge. They were dubbing programs with only one voice! The challenge was to find the right people. It was hard to even find a cameraman. There was only graphic design school, no school for television or film.

At the time, they still played old, “everlasting” songs. But we made it cool. We added pop ups, channel bugs (on-screen logos) and straps (graphics in the lower part of the screen). We made it edible for everyone, revolutionizing TV without alienating the viewers by taking a “modern traditionalist” approach.

Yan TV has blown up reaching 4.5 million households with over 7 million digital followers. How important is that kind of reach? 

Size matters. The reach matters. We have the power to shape the youth. You know the phrase: Do you want to be famous? Well, we can literally make anyone famous if we want to. Five or six years ago, we had a show called Hip Hop Central where we exposed people to what hip-hop was all about by featuring hip-hop artists in Vietnam and abroad. That was an important catalyst for the hip-hop scene to explode in Vietnam. This has been true with other music genres and scenes here.

Speaking of Vietnamese artists, what will it take for Vietnam to be able to export a crossover product, something along the lines of K-pop? 

It’ll take a big door to the world. Vietnamese artists need this door to open but right now it’s not yet open. I mean, there are good artists but they’re only thinking of Vietnam. I recently met some artists in Hanoi who were talented and cool. I asked them who was managing them and they said, “No one. We want to be independent, indie.” I told them: “If only you would open your mind not just about your art and your music but to what’s happening around the world, you’d be much bigger artists.” They had the look: boots, big hair, eyeliner. But it’s going stop there if they don’t work.

My project now is opening windows to the world for Vietnamese artists. I’m dealing with an aggregator that will help expose Vietnamese artists to 350 music portals around the world. Vietnamese artists can use social networking to find gigs outside of Vietnam. If they’re industrious enough, they can manage a YouTube channel under Yan. It’ll be a big thing to open up a market for them that’s not just in Vietnam.

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What does the future of Vietnamese TV look like? 

The big thing on TV now is the formats [syndicated and structured shows] like The Voice, Big Brother, American Idol… You’re going to see at least 25 different formats shown this year. Moving forward, you’ll see more Western-inspired locally produced shows. We’ll soon be launching a family channel skewed towards women. I hope it’ll be revolutionary, something like the Star World of Vietnam, but not with the usual dramas. Maybe there’ll even be a Vietnamese version of Sex in the City!

You know the song “Video Killed the Radio Star”? Is the internet going to kill TV? 

In Vietnam, the medium of choice is still TV. But media stacking is the next big thing. You watch TV while texting a friend on your phone and googling something on your tablet. MIT did a study and showed they’re complementing each other, not killing each other. What you see on the internet will be amplified. You like what the host is wearing? Snap the QR code and go to the shopping site. We’re doing everything. [In addition to Yan TV, the Yan Group is involved in events, websites and television production.] The psychology is if you want to win the young generation, you’ve got to be present wherever they are, from Coffee Bean to movie houses to bars to parking lots and even here at Maison Mikio!

You program and produce. You’re the Chief Strategic Officer of a hugely successful TV channel. You do artists and repertoire. You DJ internationally. Who is the real Edge? 

It’s funny you ask that because I’m still trying to figure that out. I sent a text message to five people close to me, asking them who they thought I was. Everyone said that I am a child trapped in a man’s body. I’m highly creative but still naïve. I think it comes from me always being a dreamer. I feel like I have two personalities. There’s the professional Edge who helped build Yan from the ground up. Then there’s the Scrambled Edge, my name when I produce music and DJ underground gigs. I try to DJ once a month in another country. It’s all about travel, some money and exposure. Different cultures, different kinds of music. That side of me is totally unrelated to Yan. But it feeds my mind, body and soul.

The entertainment field is dominated by young people. Is your age a plus or minus? 

You know, I’m like a big kid. I don’t need to cope with people. It’s the other way around ― people need to cope with me! [laughs] But I try to keep myself updated. I read a lot. I go to where the youth are, the bars, cafes and clubs they go to. I follow their websites to keep abreast with what’s happening. In the beginning, my Vietnamese staff would ask me, “Edge, are you sure about this? Vietnam may not be ready.” But I reminded them that I have 25 years’ experience. They stop and realize, “Oh shit, this guy knows what he’s doing.”

Maison Mikio is located in Garden Plaza 2 (8 Ton Dat Tien, D7). In addition to the usual hair cutting, coloring, perm and hair/scalp treatments, the spacious two-story salon also does nails, waxing and skincare, including the 90 minute galvanic face massage (VND1,000,000) enjoyed by Edge. Hair- related services are done on the cheerfully open ground level while skin treatments are cared for upstairs, in one of two VIP rooms, a massage room or a manicure/pedicure nook. Owner Mikio has more than 10 years’ experience in the industry, aiming to replicate the success of his salon in Korea. 

Images by Ngoc Tran

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