PLAYING MELBOURNE: Meet Vivan Vo, Host of 3RRR’s New Pan-Asian Music Program Mooncake

Photo Credit: Michelle He

Vivan Vo, aka Small FRY, is a Melbourne-based radio host and artist manager. She has a freshly minted radio show on community radio station 3RRR called Mooncake. The show is dedicated to the broad and colourful spectrum of pan-Asian music, including sounds from India to Japan, China to Korea, Cambodia to Bali. Vo began volunteering at 3RRR three years ago, filling in for shows and hosting The Graveyard Shift. Upon pitching Mooncake to the Program Manager, there was a lot of love for the idea, and it has finally manifested.

“I was born and raised in Melbourne, with a Vietnamese background,” says Vo. “I grew up listening to whatever was on commercial radio; pop, R&B and house music. Whilst I love these genres and still enjoy the nostalgia of ’90s/2000s music, my passion and exploration started when I was in my twenties. Volunteering in the music department in community radio exposed me to so many diverse genres and artists.”

Mooncake will explore music from all over Asia in addition to local Asian-Australian artists. “The show will cover genres as diverse as R&B and hip-hop, k-R&B, Chinese hip-hip, mandopop, jpop and electronica,” she says. “Music is a way to break down barriers between people and cultures. You don’t need to understand the language to enjoy a song, feel the music or to dance to it. It takes a great deal of learning in order to understand another’s background and their culture, but music could be a positive step towards that.” According to research by the University of Melbourne, about 12 per cent of Australia’s population is Asian-Australian and 82 per cent report being discriminated against, typically in the work environment or in hospitality environments.

Vo completed a communications degree in university, part of which involved a radio production course. This lead her to volunteer for five years with Melbourne’s student radio station, SYN 90.7FM. Her first paid music role was as an assistant at a management company for commercial pop artists, providing insight and experience on the business side of music and publicity.

Once she felt confident of her experience, Vo founded Small FRY to provide PR and management to independent Australian artists. She’s so far represented Melbourne-based electronic acts like neo-soul duo SAATSUMA, techno duo Kult Kyss, dark pop singer-songwriter Aeora, electro pop band Take Your Time and alt-R&B trio Huntly.

“I’m a small fry in a big industry,” she laughs, explaining the name – though hosting Mooncake, no doubt, boosts Vo’s profile considerably.

But Mooncake is about more than that, of course; it’s an answer to some of the tough questions Vo has asked of the industry for years now. In 2017, she spoke with Liminal Magazine – a publication founded in 2016 by Leah Jing McIntosh to represent the voices of Asian-Australians, showcasing artists and their work as well as providing a platform for their opinions and expression – about the meaningfulness of providing a role model for young Asian-Australians in creative jobs. “I’ve become more aware of the barriers towards Asian-Australian musicians and that we are an underrepresented group in the music industry…” she said. “So often, we’re competing against so much music and favour is given elsewhere. I’m always questioning, of these artists who are repeatedly supported, how many of them are people of colour? It’s obvious that we’re not being represented. In festival line-ups, music playlists and artist rosters, we’re still fighting for diversity; people of colour are a token.”

Vo has selected three Asian-Australian artists everyone should get to know.

Mojo Ruiz de Luzuriaga, Mo’Ju (previously Mojo Juju), is an ARIA Award-nominated Australian musician who has been outspoken on being queer, brown and opinionated. Her track “Native Tongue” is a personal ode to her ancestry, her outsider status and proves her adeptness as a singer-songwriter with superior skill in catchy, melodic pop vibes.

Sydney-based solo artist Rainbow Chan was born in Hong Kong. Classically trained in saxophone, piano and choral music, she is also a bowerbird for samples and finds unusual and clever ways to create montages of sound. The vulnerability and candidness of her storytelling is central to her music.

A little bit glitchy, quirky and imbued with Yeo‘s humorous spirit, his smooth ’90s trip hop vibes are catchy and fun. “Six Years” is a love song worth listening to on repeat.