When I’m on stage, everything inside blows out, and it feels really good expressing our thoughts and anger and our music is just simple as life. It attracts introverts but with each other we are extroverts…
This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. In episode 4 we’re talking to Duong Bui.
Duong is the tiny tiny front woman who utters screams from hell and sings like an angel in Hanoi’s metalcore band Windrunner. At 22 years old, she has a number of roles to play to keep life at the equilibrium: a bank internship keeps her Father happy, the band keeps her soul happy, and frequent ritual practice keeps her ancestors happy.
We talk to her about Hanoi’s metal scene and screaming, expectations and her grandmother’s bones.
PART 1: Screaming & Music
My name is Duong Bui. I am from Vietnam
On one of Hanoi’s coldest days in eight years I caught up with Duong at The School of Mosh hardcore music festival which she was involved in organising.
Right now I play in a metalcore band.
We met in the urban bar around the corner for green tea, whilst a group of men next to us were having their lunch time vodka. Before this goes any further I needed to know how someone this soft spoken can scream like she does.
You have just been sound singing, I was expecting you to come back and like find it really hard to speak to me, but you seem like completely fine
Put a chopstick into your mouth like this, and then you breathe out, and then you change the direction of the air, breathing out inside… When I’m practising it looks like I’m just breathing. I think I manage that technique well so I don’t damage my throat or anything inside.
Did you just practice in your bedroom?
I don’t even have a bedroom you know…typical Vietnamese house, very small spaces and no privacy at all. The music studio is the only place I can scream.
The music studio, all the stages of course. Which is where she has to go straight after this.
I invited Duong to my house a couple of weeks later to find out how she thought the music festival went.
[In Vietnamese] My room is here.
I guess we can sit here if you want.
Yeah, I know, I know.
How do you think it went? The festival?
This is the first time this kind of heavy music festival was held in Hanoi… Hanoi people (the majority) they’re not really into heavy music.. this was kinda a big success for us as a first step.. but it was so cold, because of that I was so grateful for people who showed up. And I really hope that this scene will be stronger and the artists somehow, someday can make a living out of making music.
I wondered if they had had any trouble with the police that day, being the first hardcore festival in Hanoi,
There were 5 police, at first they wear their uniforms and go in and out in and out, I even told them a joke: ‘Hey, where’s your ticket?’ and they just smiled really friendly. And after that they wear casual clothes and came in and saw the mosh pit and they see people doing stage dive, screaming and jumping like crazy and they smiled, it’s like the first time they have ever seen something that passionate.
So that’s them going home listening to metal for sure, but when was the first time Duong felt the passion of metal? She said she started getting into music in her late teenage years with R&B and pop, then moved onto mainstream metal like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers…
[DUONG sings Californication by RHCP]
My Mum even remembered the melody and she sang it in the bathroom… And I find it so cute…
But then a key turning point: a friend introduced her to METAL. Many people don’t understand how to enjoy metal. Duong has some persuasive arguments for this.
For the young generation.. there are many people like me, we have strong belief and expression, but we can’t just yell at people or do something normal to relieve. So heavy music is really one of the best methods.
We can dance, hardcore dance and scream, and people around do the same crazy stuff as us… so it’s like hey I’ve found my community! And we feel like we can be accepted.
We can be anything we want deep inside on the stage. It is art. It has great melody, great structure, and amazing artists playing it much better into noisy music… than going drug addiction or alcohol right? It’s really healthy.
PART 2: Expectations and Opportunities for the renovation generation
Duong’s current Facebook profile picture is her posing in a traditional Vietnamese ao dai for her graduation. She has long dark hair, pink lipstick, there’s something slightly gothic about it comparing to the girl I met wearing straight black jeans, a black band shirt, puffy yellow coat, gave me a first glimpse into her ability to split her ‘self’ into many different ’selves’…
But how does the regular life and the music life cross over? What happens when the kid brings the music life home?
Most of Vietnamese young people have to divide into parts: a part for parents’ expectation, a part for self, a part for society, we have lots of pressure… We all have a music life and a regular life.
To begin with, her parents banned her from playing music, but then her mother saw that it was unfair. Duong was working hard in her finance degree so she should be allowed to play music too.
She’s kinda proud of me. ‘My daughter can write this music, she can… you know she can sing, she can record and stuff. My Dad finally finally stops preventing me doing the music. I know he’s sad, he’s really sad, when he saw me always going out practising and went home at like 11pm. But I think somehow it kinda works.
So in Vietnam, as in every society, types of generation gap exists. I wanted Duongs perspective on what’s happened since 1986.
The most significant thing is people before 86 they believe in the communism, and the president that run this country. The economy is really poor, and people have to stand up together and are really united, they believe in the value of a united nation, they believe in the value of family, they really don’t wanna stand out, because everybody is equal, equally poor. But after 86 the economy is growing, and we have much more facilities, to do what we want to do, we have internet in 97, we know about other cultures across the universe.
How has that shaped the renovation generation?
We want to claim ourselves, I am me, I’m different I can do this and that, I got talent. Each of us has different kinds of abilities and I think that’s a good thing, because that can exploit everyone’s best quality and help build up this country.
This kind of individualistic attitude chars with government philosophy, which is based on Confucius values. I wondered how politics interfered with her life today. Turns out someone else had asked the question already and she wasn’t much interested in talking about it.
I got an interview with BBC, and they asked something about politics.
Congress? What Congress? Hanoi Creative City – an old government turned off his block now turned it into a funky experimental art space
But at that time I don’t wanna talk about politics, but the guy kept talking about the congress meeting… I don’t want to have a secret agent following me… in a group of friends we sometimes talk about politics, but even if we have ideas and stuff to help build up, the Congress and things are really hard to reach to. So meh, we mainly talk about music.
Her spiritually and ancestors play a much bigger role in her everyday life than politics.
PART 3: Ancestors
Duong always calls on her ancestors for support, especially on important gig days, when she always prays before the altar.
“Please protect me today I have a really big festival and I want it to be successful. Please give me strength to do this.”
I believe that when I die my spirits are around and I’m watching my kids and protect them and stuff, just like my grandparents are doing it. When I do that kind of praying and that ritua,l it always works. I think my ancients are looking down and protect me and help me through.
One of the most significant and extraordinary days of Duong’s life was when her grandma’s coffin was lifted from the ground five years after she had died.
Oh my god it was really hard at that time and it rained so hard. Once the coffin was up, the rain stopped.
This is a traditional ritual in order to clean the bones with special herbs.
We put the bones to a smaller coffin, and then we build it into a strong tomb so she can rest in peace. After that all of us is sick. One of the things I will not have a chance to see anymore because people right now they prefer burning (the dead bodies).
This is because it’s more hygienic and easier. To give an idea of how difficult it is: the specialist bone cleaners have to be so careful with the skull, if anything goes wrong, her grandma could have a headache for all of eternity. Did she feel scared on this day?
I just can’t think of anything but like, hey, that’s my grandma, I haven’t seen her in five years and this is the closest form of her. I don’t feel scared. That’s my grandma, she loves me. Hey, grandma, this is the last time I saw you bones to bones and clothes..because she’s all bones now.. her bones are nice and small.. she was a small lady..
Would experiences like this make it into Duongs lyrics?
I will definitely write songs about death – it’s not something we should be scared of.. I think death always opens our eyes to different aspects of life.. people think heavy music is angry, and you have to write about something really scary like death and darkness and stuff.. but in our music we write songs about love, life, brotherhood, betraying and stuff. So it’s very normal everyday life, no scary things at all..
This is Vietnam’s Renovation Generation. It was produced by Fabiola Buchele, Trang Nghiem and me, Eliza Lomas. On the next episode, we’ll hear from Uyen – an art curator and political thinker.
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