Gong Gong Gong 工工工 Filter Their Psych Odysseys Through China's Ravenous Electronic Scene on 'Phantom Rhythm Remixed 幽靈節奏'
Published Jun 21, 2021Montréal-Beijing duo Gong Gong Gong 工工工 transcend geographical and musical borders with psychedelic rock odysseys through West African desert blues and New York no wave. Tom Ng sings in Cantonese while driving the rhythm on guitar. The alchemy between his coarse strokes and Joshua Frank's parched bass lines creates illusory percussion, hence the name of Gong Gong Gong's 2019 full-length debut, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏.
For Gong Gong Gong's latest album, Phantom Rhythm Remixed 幽靈節奏, Frank and Ng have invited 10 electronic producers to reinterpret the band's entrancing, minimalist compositions; even the original track order has been shuffled. All the guests share a connection to China, either by birth, residence, or their work history. Many of them have also collaborated with Gong Gong Gong in the past, including: Frank's brother Simon, who's based in Beijing; Copenhagen's Angel Wei, who improvised alongside Gong Gong Gong on their 2020 Rytme og Drone III tape; and Kaifeng-born, Vancouver-based Yu Su, whose debut album Yellow River Blue features bass contributions from Frank.
Each contributor takes the resourceful duo's music in wildly unique directions. Jonathan Schenke of P.E. blows up "Ride Your Horse 騎你的馬" into a roaming free-jazz chariot ride through resonant piano chords that dangle over snapping percussion. Knopha deconstructs the wind tunnel gust of "Sound of Love 愛歌" into squeaky, skittering, skeletal techno; in this form, the song could pass as a Liquid Liquid demo, minus the influential dance-punks' clanging drums, cowbells, and tambourines. Beijing's Howie Lee defies expectations as always, diving headlong into heavy rock by applying real drums slathered with buckets of industrial sludge to "Gong Gong Gong Blues 工工工 布魯斯."
Speaking of industrial, Chinese producers like those of Shanghai label SVBKVLT are making some of the most riveting dark techno today. Beijing group and SVBKVLT alumni Zaliva-D bring some of this darkness to Phantom Rhythm Remixed with their reworking of "Inner Reaches III 慾望的暗角三." Their version bellows. Its prowling beat swings like a pendulum as it advances. Ng's vocals cut out abruptly, exacerbating the unsettling mood. But the most haunting track comes from Taipei's masters of tension, Scattered Purgatory 破地獄. Though they don't alter the chiming "Hotpot (Chongqing) 火鍋 （重慶)" much, they downshift it and add discordant, reverberating effects.
The thrusting "Notes Underground 地下日記" becomes a sedated drawl in the hands of psychedelic brother duo Mong Tong 夢東, also from Taipei. The original riff now sputters like a broken siren. Likewise, Ng's vocals are choppy and slurred. Underneath it all, clinking metal, samples of punching and kicking sounds from classic kung fu films, and subterranean drums churn. On the other end of the spectrum, Chengdu's Wu Zhuoling builds "Wei Wei Wei 喂喂喂" into the most kinetic and instantly catchy track on Phantom Rhythm Remixed. Ng sounds like he's rapping to keep up with her added breakbeats. She shifts the pitch of his voice, accentuating the track's deep club vibe. But it's Yu Su who lightens the mood more than anyone else with "Some Kind of Demon 某一種惡魔." Fuelled by a drum machine and synth, the track rises like hot air. It's heavenly respite from the rest of the album's intensity.
Cultural censorship accelerates Chinese club-goers' appetite for new sounds. Listeners rapidly absorb whatever filters through (often via VPNs), leading to a high turnover in trends. But this insularity also allows the country's underground music to evolve in unique ways. With Phantom Rhythm Remixed, Gong Gong Gong add another link to that evolutionary chain as they continue to fold musical styles across borders of every kind. (Wharf Cat/bié)