Lifting the veil from Brussels' latest pop-synth enigma
While the name may be unfamiliar to some, Gong Gong Gong 工工工 have been on the Beijing music scene for quite some time. Their blend of psychedelic and Krautrock influences sounds at once hypnotic and raw with their songs having an improvised and live feeling. Despite this, the duo take pride in taking the time to develop their music, a sound that they have been working on for many years. Having recently wrapped a two-part tour of the US we caught up with the band in New York before they begin their European invasion to chat about their songwriting process, the Beijing music scene and the origins of the band.
Interview by Sasha Ermakov
Photos shot by Richard Perez in New York City, USA
So much stuff takes place on the internet now, no one would move to Beijing to be a part of the scene any more
How did you guys start playing together?
Josh: Everything my previous band did was either recorded by Tom, or he did the mixing. So we’ve known each other for a long time, and used to play music together and hang out. When I was thinking of moving back to Beijing, Tom’s previous band had stopped playing and we were always talking about how we should do something together, and try to play. So in 2013 we started working on stuff, and then gradually we started to have a couple of songs. The first show we played was decided on the day of. We were practicing at my apartment and it felt good, and there happened to be a big show happening at this bar that hosted a lot of experimental music and weird rock stuff and it was their closing party, as they were shut down. I messaged my friend asking if we could play and he said sure, ’cause people knew our previous two bands and had never seen us play before. So we got on a scooter and brought our guitars to the venue and that was our first show.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Josh: There’s space to feel it out, but there are just these different cycles and repetitions going on so it’s always very locked in. It’s not formalist jamming. It’s quite structured, we have to know where we are at each point. And that’s how you’re able to bring out things that aren’t there.
What’s the music scene like in Beijing?
Tom: It’s changed quite a lot. When I moved to Beijing in 2009, I was lucky enough to arrive at the best time of the music scene there. There were a lot of good bands playing regularly in five different venues in the city, with a large audience. And then, people started getting old, and a lot of people in the bands got more stable jobs, so they stopped playing. And that was 2011. And then the main venue, called D22, closed as well, so it feels like all of a sudden everything just stopped.
Josh: Around 2005, 2006 there was kind of this explosion of bands forming, doing a lot of pretty interesting and exciting stuff. It was very raw, and it was in that scene that I started to play music. Up until that time if you wanted to do anything in art and culture, you had to move to Beijing. Over the past five or six years, all of the people who were part of that wave of music happening, which we were also a part of in our own way, mostly kept doing the same stuff, and there weren’t that many new people coming on to the scene. It became very stagnant. Now you don’t really need to be in Beijing to be in a band and do cool stuff because you can just record yourself. So much stuff takes place on the internet now, no one would move to Beijing to be a part of the scene any more.
In Cantonese you can’t really change the tone of any word you say. You have to speak with the exact tone in order for it to make sense
Tom, what was your process for writing lyrics on your song Siren?
Tom: Because I’m singing in Cantonese you can’t really change the tone of any word you say. You have to speak with the exact tone in order for it to make sense. The melody was already fixed, so I had to find the right word with the right meaning and the right sound to fit with it. The way you write lyrics in Cantonese and Chinese is by making rhymes between the sentences, so if you read the lyrics separately it almost feels like a poem. It’s hard to fit in the right sounding words while having the right meaning, so sometimes it has to be fragmented, I can only fit certain vocabulary in the lyrics to make it meaningful.
Are you guys beginning to bloom?
Josh: We’ve known each other for a long time, we’ve been playing music together for a long time, we’ve been existing in the Chinese music scene and releasing our own stuff, organising our own tours. There’s a bit of a weird feeling of two worlds going on. On the one hand in a Chinese context we’ve established ourselves aesthetically and in terms of our goals, but for Europe or America it’s as if we just appeared out of thin air, which is an interesting state to be in, to feel on the one hand totally solid or already open to the world, and then on the other side it seems like it’s just starting but there’s all this stuff that precedes it.
Gong Gong Gong
12 Feb – Botanique, Brussels
19:30 – €19 – free for members