A Rookie Approach to Creativity: Hustle, Collaboration, and Originality

Stories A Rookie Approach to Creativity: Hustle, Collaboration, and Originality

Interview by: Cort Cunningham
Foto's: Thomas Nolf 10 Sep 2019

A Rookie Approach to Creativity: Hustle, Collaboration, and Originality

Benoit Do Quang, aka Asian Rocky, is a video maker and musician who calls himself a "creative rookie". He devised this term to capture his approach to creativity—through the eyes of a beginner with a lot to learn and a willingness to break convention because he doesn’t know all the rules. In addition to touring with Belgian rapper Roméo Elvis and producing his music videos, Benoit is working on an episodic content series created specifically for the Instagram format. On the move across the city of Brussels multiple times of day, Cowboy has given Benoit the freedom of mind and the space he needs to keep creating.

"Do-it-yourself is my mindset. I never felt like I couldn't do something."

Am I catching you in Brussels right now? Yup, I’m in Brussels.

How long have you lived there? I think it must be nine years now. I moved to Brussels for my studies. Then afterwards I stayed because I really loved the city. My friends and my professional network are centered here in Brussels. So that’s why I decided to stay.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

What do you love about Brussels? What keeps you there? The diversity of cultures and all that's possible to do here. I work in art, music, and video. It's a great platform to be in here because in the last few years I’ve met different and interesting people. So yeah, the main point is the facility to meet people and to collaborate with people. In Brussels, there's a good feeling between people. There's a really great vibe in the music and creative industries. Everyone is able to work with each other and I don't feel there’s much of a competition here.

Do you feel it’s more experimental compared to other cities with perhaps a more established music scene? Yeah. In Brussels, it's like a capital that sometimes feels like a village because in the creative and music communities, you quickly get to know all the main actors. People are really friendly, they’re always happy to hear about your projects. And the fact that it's smaller than other cities makes it easier to reach people, even if the rap and hip-hop scene here has become quite famous. You can always meet people in the street or in a cafe and they will always be willing to talk to you. There's no...I don't know how to explain. There are no walls between people here. It’s the Belgian way of doing, I think.

You describe yourself as a “creative rookie”. How long have you been a rookie? Yeah, I just invented that term a few years ago. It's the way I try to keep my mind when I work. I always try to see things as if I'm a beginner. I try to get more and more confident in what I'm doing. For example, I mostly direct music videos for musicians. Even though I’ve done about 15 music videos with big artists in Brussels, I still have a lot to learn. I always try to keep this mindset because if you forget that you always have things to learn, then you lose creativity and motivation. So I always try to find new ways to learn and to get in touch with new artists who give me some kind of new inspiration. So it's more of a mindset to me. To feel like a rookie even though it's been a few years that I've been working in this industry.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

Being in the creative field, I can relate. There’s always pressure to be on the cusp of what’s next. Yeah, exactly. I've learned a lot on the internet, just watching tutorials on YouTube, getting on forums, and just chatting with other people. I think that's the best way to learn and I really feel that's how I learned a lot of stuff.

That’s good, using it as a knowledge source. How do you approach gaining that knowledge yet staying fresh and doing it your way? It's hard to tell, honestly. But I think most of the creative I did was more related to having no budget actually. At the beginning of the new wave of hip hop artists, we had to find ways to make videos look good even though we didn't have any money. It forces you to be creative because you cannot afford renting all the high-end materials or that incredible location. In another way, it forces you into a do-it-yourself mindset which is really important to me. I didn't go to film school. Sometimes when I talk to people who studied cinema, they have a real canvas of how to do things that I don't have. So I just approach it like, "Okay. I want to do that. I'll just find a way and I don't care how it's supposed to be done." Sometimes not knowing the rules helps me be more creative and not be stifled by convention.

So when you say you’ve done music videos, it’s directing, filming, producing? Oh yeah, everything. Also editing. It’s more like I’m a video maker now trying to focus more on directing. It's not easy because I used to do everything on my own and now I have to learn how to direct people to get the results that I have in my mind. But it's really interesting and helps me get further than what I could do when I was alone.

What are you working on right now? Anything you can share? At the moment, for the last year or so I've been touring with one of the biggest rappers here in Belgium, Roméo Elvis.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

Oh cool. I’ll check him out. I started by doing his music video three years ago. We became friends and now I'm his DJ and playing the guitar with him. I've done four different music videos for him. It's really interesting for me to be able to work on various aspects of my music career, so playing on stage and also directing videos. I feel like in Brussels I'm able to work in both areas without feeling a lack of confidence in either of them.

After your studies, what was that spark that sent you into film and music? Actually, I've always been interested in creative stuff. When I was a child, I used to use my father's camcorder to film stupid stuff and try to edit them. I did communication studies with an aim toward advertising and journalism, but what interested me more was artistic stuff. And I've always been really passionate about music. Music videos were the best way to mix my passion for music and visual matter. I’m really passionate about the kind of magic that happens when you put music to video because it gives it new meaning. So that's why.

“Sometimes not knowing the rules helps me be more creative and not be stifled by convention."

I’d love to hear about your relationship with Cowboy. What sparked your interest in the bike? I'd heard about it for a few months. I'm interested in taking the streets here in Brussels. In one or two years, there's a lot of things that changed here in Brussels with all the mobility technology. Before that, there was no innovative way to move around the city. So I was forced to use transit buses and I was really tired of that. I started to try different electric bikes. Besides that, Brussels is kind of narrow. It's really easy and comfortable to move around with an electric bike. That's how I came across Cowboy, and how I tried them for the first time. To me, mobility is fundamental to the evolution of a city, so that's why.

How do you think Cowboy compares to other electric bikes out there? It just feels natural to ride it. And the design is really, really nice. The minimalist look, I find really appealing. I think that’s the main point of the bike because most electric bikes just don't have really cool designs. Cowboy is the first electric bike I saw that was really well designed and yeah, just a modern bike.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

Tell me about your daily life and how you’re moving about the city. The thing is, I work as a freelancer. I'm working in a coworking space, but I have to move a lot because I always have to meet people around town. I’m always on the move at least three times a day. I also often do sports and go to see friends. So mobility is at the center of my life, I'd say. Driving [a car] in Brussels is a real hassle. I always get nervous when I have to drive because there are so many cars in Brussels. The traffic is really bad, so it's a relief to be able to avoid that. I only use the car when I have to carry shooting materials or stuff like that. If I start my day by driving it's ruined because I'm going to get stressed and I really don't like that. Cowboy is freedom of mind, and a relief.

Could you tell me when in your life you’ve felt the most cowboy? When I decided that I wanted to do music videos, without any background or knowledge I decided to just go for it. I was listening to artists here in Brussels that were starting to get some attention and one time I just met one of them in the tram. I talked to him briefly, just told him that I liked what he was doing, but we didn't really talk more than that. That night, I sent him a message on Facebook to tell him that I wanted to work with him and to do a music video for him.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

But it was only my second music video. I hadn't done any other videos before it and I didn't know how to direct people or how to really do it, but I just thought to myself, "It has to happen now. And you'll have to find a way how to do it." And that was the starting point of how I got my name out there. I was just thinking it has to start somewhere and I have to start now. And if I fail, whatever. But it worked. So I think it was the best decision I have ever made.

I really appreciate you just went for it. To just introduce yourself and then say, "I can do this." That's cool. Yeah, that's how I always try to work because when I get an opportunity in life, if it seems interesting I don't think twice about it. I just accept it and with the time that I have, I try to do the best I can. Most of the time, it’s been a good decision.

Have you always been this way? Yeah, I think so. Do it yourself is my mindset. I never felt like I couldn't do something.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy

Lastly, of course, you're talking about touring and your music video work, what's your next cowboy move? I'm not sure yet. I'm actually working on a new project. I'm developing a series of portraits about people leaving their countries to live in Belgium, with all the episodes only on Instagram. And actually, it started with the story of my parents who left Vietnam after the war and everything. They left with no money, just to find a better place to live. They arrived in Belgium almost homeless. I want to tell the story about my parents but also other people’s stories because as I said, in Brussels there's a lot of people who are not from here and who have really interesting stories. My goal is to tell these stories and to adapt them to a format that is aimed to be modern in the ways of viewing content. It's a challenge because I've looked for references of other series that took place on Instagram and I didn’t find a lot. It's also a challenge to be able to captivate people's attention on such a short and small format. So I think it's a constraint but also a way to be creative. So that's my big project for the next few months.

That’s awesome. You’re certainly touching on something quite topical and universal. Exactly.

Well, with what’s happening around the world, the more these kinds of stories can be told, the better. I’m glad you’re doing this. Thanks a lot.

Benoit Do Quang
— Photo Credit: Cowboy