Get hyped. Beijing Psyche and Modular Rock band 工工工 are coming to town this weekend, appearing alongside ZMK and 永湿者 in Rozz-Tox on Saturday and Sunset Rollercoaster in T:Union on Sunday.
工工工 have made waves as a psychedelic and rhythmically thoughtful pairing. Their willingness to be creative and experimental in the music making process has brought about such gems as Dixia Beijing 地下北京, a live recording of a performance in Xinyuanli Underpass, and President Piano Co. Tape, in which they made use of decades old instruments.
Still, Joshua Frank and Tom Ng are perhaps more famous for their other musical projects, such as Hot & Cold, in which Joshua Frank joined forces with brother Simon Frank during the D22 heydey; The Offset: Spectacles, the Tom Ng, Ou Jian and Vince Li band which began in Hong Kong before relocating to Beijing; and the resultant Rose Mansion Analog, which saw H&C, Offset and Soviet Pop(Li Qing and Li Weisi of Snapline）join forces creatively.
They arrive on the back of the release of their second installment of Rhythm ‘n’ Drones (available of 工工工’s Bandcamp,) which has seen at least part of the old Rose Mansion Analog crew reunite to make creative drone and loop-driven guitar music.
This time Joshua’s brother Simon Frank, who was last heard from making humid techno music on his Lonely God Record Label in Taiwan, joined in on the collaboration.
I caught up with Joshua and Tom to talk about their Guangzhou gigs and their plans for a new 工工工 release this year.
Have you guys ever played in Guangzhou before?
Joshua Frank: We played in Guangzhou once before, in 2016, on our “Classic Asia Tour” with our friends Tonstartssbandht. Probably we’re most looking forward to eating in Guangzhou. The strongest memory I have of our last show there is that it was the last of a string of dates where we played Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou back-to-back with no rest, traveling and performing every day. It was exhausting, but really worthwhile—in retrospective it seems almost inhuman. We took a day off after the Guangzhou show and had good yum cha.
Tom Ng: And it was my birthday playing in Guangzhou last time!
I always want to play more in Guangzhou as all the Gong Gong Gong’s songs are written in Cantonese. I’m really curious if the Cantonese speaking audience would react differently.
What do you know about Guangzhou underground music?
JF：I don’t know of much underground music in Guangzhou, but 永湿者 and ZMK (who’s based in Shenzhen) are friends of ours. Some other bands, like our friends the Molds and Boiled Hippo, have had vinyl pressed in Guangzhou, and we’ve made cassettes nearby in Chaozhou. So, even if there aren’t a lot of local bands, it still feels like Guangdong overall is actually pretty important to the underground scene in China.
I heard Qiii Snacks Records helped to organize this one, how do you know those guys?
TN: I was invited to check out the vinyl factory in Guangzhou last year and I met Xiaoji (Howie) of Qiii Snacks and Pete (Chen) there. Since then Xiaoji has wanted to get us to play in GZ and I think we’ve been talking about it for more than 6 months. As we are opening for Sunset Rollercoaster at TU on the 18th we felt like doing another gig for more like-minded people in GZ would be good. So we got Qiii Snacks to help us putting up this last minute show at Rozz-Tox.
Xiaoji is also helping us to manufacture our first 7” with his newly setup lathe cut service (Hak Hak Manufacture – 刻刻制作.）
So, I haven’t been able to catch any of your sets yet, so I’m looking forward to seeing you guys in Rozz Tox. What is your preferred method of performing, do you like long extended jams – and what kind of mental state does playing a song for twenty minutes in front of a crowd put you in? To me there is something gnarly about that.
JF: We occasionally do special sets of more improvised material but generally we like to play pretty structured versions of our songs live, and keep it as energetic as we can. The last show we played, in Shanghai, people were really moving and dancing to the music. It’s a cool feeling to see the energy of your music reflected in people, especially when you realize it’s the power of rhythm, without any drums.
TN: I guess we react to the environment and the atmosphere a lot when playing. And yes, being able to exchange your energy with the crowd is always an interesting feeling. The more energetic it gets, the more intense we play. The more intense we play, the energy flows around even more. I think somehow our music is more physical than musical if you know what I mean.
In terms of your latest release, Rhythm n Drones 2, you got help from Simon Frank on this one. Did that make the process different in any way?
JF: Simon is my brother and we play together in the band Hot & Cold. Rhythm n Drone 2 also has Tom’s old bandmate from The Offset: Spectacles, Vince Li, playing guitar on it. Tom and I just like to play music with our friends. It’s another way of communicating and interacting. There’s not a big difference in the process, except there are more musical elements and it’s even more important to listen to each other.
TN: I am playing with Josh in 工工工. I have a Taipei based noise project called Love Research Institute with Simon and I was in The Offsets with Vince. So it feels very normal to play with them. They are the musicians I trust so I would just let them improvise all over my rhythm before I respond to what they are playing. I’m sure there is something very special about it but everything just happen naturally.
What music is currently informing your creative process? What do you watch/read/listen to find inspiration?
JF: Musically, I’m probably most inspired by weird electronic music and folk music from around the world that has great rhythm and noisy, interesting textures. I shoot documentaries for work, so I often find myself drawn to little visual details and framings. Tom has a background in design and animation, and he’s always thinking about different ways to design and print our releases and world-famous 工工工 shirts. The band isn’t just about music, it’s also a way to explore all kind of different creative ideas we have, and is an extension of our friendship.
I am interested in the process that goes into making a twenty minute song. Is there something meditative in the making of a long droning, psychedelic record? Is there a sense of spirituality to your music or is it something different there?
JF: It’s not very hard to play something for 20 minutes, all you have to do is not stop. I don’t think we’re particularly concerned about how long a recording goes, and I wouldn’t really call our music spiritual. We’re definitely drawn to the power that rhythm and repetition has, though, and how playing that kind of music or listening to it can bring you into a different state.
Usually our songs are refined down from longer jams, and we slowly give them structure. It’s a challenge to keep the relaxed, natural progression of a jam in a song after you’ve tried to reduce it down to what makes it best. That’s why some of our songs are intentionally left open-ended, because if we tried too hard to shorten or condense them, it might take away some of the feeling.
TN: When you come up with something that sounds good you just don’t want to stop playing it so there’s really no difficulty to play anything long! By repeating the same riff you also start to be really focus on all those super minor changes/differences then you would put all your energy into playing those details which are barely audible but drive the music forward.
Finally, what is the plan for 2018? Will Hot & Cold restart? Will you release any new music as 工工工?
JF: We recorded an LP’s worth of material and then some, while in New York in September and October. We plan to release our first vinyl LP later this year, as well as other smaller releases. We’d like to take the LP on tour in the US and Europe. Simon and I haven’t spent too much time on Hot & Cold specifically, but we’re playing together and working on more stuff with Tom, too.
TN: Yeah and as I said before we will be releasing a lathe cut single, 某一種惡魔 limited to 50 copies which should be available at the GZ show.
工工工 will play Rozz Tox in Guangzhou on Saturday， March 17th at 8.30pm with support provided by ZMK and 永湿者。
Tickets will be 100RMB at the door. There will be no pre-purchase sales.
Rozz Tox Address:
工工工 will also play in support of Sunset Rollercoaster in T:Union凸空间 on Sunday, March 18th. Tickets for that show have been sold out.