Chinese Psywaves is a collaboration between Neocha and M-Lab by Modern Sky. Throughout the month of May, we’re going to introduce four Chinese alternative rock groups who are making waves. For them, music is a spiritual sustenance that transcends the boundaries of genre. This week, we’ve got Gong Gong Gong, a band that draws on noise, blues, and post-punk influences for a sound that’s all its own.
Gong Gong Gong is officially on a roll. The Beijing-based duo has recently been featured or reviewed on Bandcamp, Pitchfork, Aquarium Drunkard, Loud and Quiet, and even Interview magazine. Last year they played at SXSW, toured Europe and North America, and released their first LP, Phantom Rhythm. They had a lot more lined up for 2020 before the pandemic forced them to hit the pause button. Now they’re both itching to get back on tour—and back home to finish their second album.
Yet these veterans of the Beijing scene aren’t quite what they seem. For starters, their driving rhythms dispense with drums—they keep a pounding beat with only a guitar and a bass. And those angsty, howled vocals aren’t in Mandarin but Cantonese. In fact, neither member of the duo is a native of the city, or even of mainland China: Tom Ng, the guitarist and singer, hails from Hong Kong, while bassist Joshua Frank is Canadian. Together they’re redefining what it means to be a Beijing band, and their style—which draws on influences as wide-ranging as Bo Diddley and West African blues—defies easy classification.
「Chinese Psywaves」系列由摩登天空 M-Lab 和 Neocha 联合推出。整个五月，我们将为你查探四个中国区域地下摇滚乐队的独特波形。在他们的眼中，音乐不会任由形式的条框，精神的养料脱颖而出。本周，我们将为你介绍穿梭于的北京幽灵节奏制躁者，工工工乐队（Gong Gong Gong）！
最早成立于 2015 年的北京的地下人行道和 DIY 场地，工工工双人乐队便一直处在这座城市摇滚车轮的前沿。倘若你对地下音乐稍有了解，你便会对他们略有听闻，因为他们实在太特别了 —— 即使缺失了摇滚三大件之一架子鼓，但依然能持续制躁。你或许会从他们的音乐中感受到很多风格的借鉴，比如 Bo Diddley、或是非洲西部蓝调音乐、噪音朋克等等，但你依然很难用简单的词语来概括他们的音乐。
虽然自称是一支北京乐队，但两位成员并非来自北京，甚至连中国大陆都算不上。乐队主唱兼吉他手来自香港，唱腔里带着浓郁的港式风味；贝斯手 Joshua Frank 来自加拿大蒙特利尔，冷静中带有一丝温柔。这是一支真正意义上天南地北的组合。但两人拥有共同的特点 —— 一流的普通话，在整个采访过程中，Joshua 甚至全用中文回答。
2019 年对他们来说是丰收的一年，欧洲和北美巡演、西南偏南音乐节献艺、以及备受关注的乐队首张全长专辑发行，你还会在 Bandcamp、Pitchfork、Aquarium Drunkard、Loud and Quiet 等资深音乐杂志中感受广大乐迷对他们的热情。工工工乐队身上，散发出一种属于京城的急躁和艺术气息。但由于 2020 年新型冠状病毒的大范围传播，大量原计划的演出被撤档，乐队不得不按下暂停键。目前，他们正在各自家中摩拳擦掌，筹备下一张专辑的到来。
Ng and Frank met in Beijing about a decade ago. They were both regulars in the city’s underground music scene: Ng’s band The Offset: Spectacles coincided at shows with Hot & Cold, the band Frank started with his brother. After working together on different gigs, they eventually started a label called Rose Mansion Analogue. But they didn’t form Gong Gong Gong until 2013, when Frank finally moved to the city full-time. (He’d spent part of his childhood there, and his diplomat parents moved there again around the time he went off to college, so he’d long been a frequent visitor.) Soon they were crafting songs with pounding guitar rhythms and impassioned Cantonese lyrics, and playing venues all over Beijing’s scene—they’ve even performed in a pedestrian underpass.
With around 10 self-produced singles and multiple EPs to their name, Gong Gong Gong are no strangers to the recording studio. Yet Phantom Rhythm, released last year on Wharf Cat Records, is their first full-length album, and it’s raising their profile far beyond underground bars of China’s capital.
Neocha tracked them down to chat about Beijing music, their new album, and their favorite DIY venues.
大约十年前，吴卓和 Joshua 在北京相识。那时候，他们已是北京地下音乐的常客：吴卓和 Joshua 分别司职憬觀: 像同叠（The Offset: Spectacles）乐队和热冷兄弟（Hot & Cold）乐队；在舞台上，两支乐队经常过招，并展示出不尽相似的音乐胃口，而因此结缘。在一起演出的日子里，两支乐队一同建立了 Rose Mansion Analogue 模块实验音乐厂牌。而直到 2013 年，在 Joshua 搬到北京之后，工工工乐队的雏形开始展现。很快，热烈的粤语演唱和笃雅的贝斯碰撞在一起，在城市中进行大大小小的活动，演出的场地甚至也包括了人行天桥之类的地方。
之后，工工工乐队发行了超过十张单曲和作品。同时，不少 DIY 制品也相继推出，比如印有 “工工工” 字样的广东舞龙狮队服饰、类似街头小广告的海报排版设计等等，大多数都是一些普罗大众、喜闻乐见的元素。
去年，乐队在 Wharf Cat Records 发行了首张专辑《幽灵节奏（Phantom Rhythm）》，几声粤语的 “喂喂喂喂喂喂”，让世界再次认识了中国地下反常规的声音。借此机会，我们拉来了工工工乐队，和他们聊了聊创作，以及他们最爱的 DIY 话题，一起来看看！
Click here to listen to select tracks by Gong Gong Gong:
Neocha: Gong Gong Gong is a Beijing band, but neither of you is exactly a Beijinger—Tom’s from Hong Kong, and Josh is a Canadian. What drew you to Beijing, and what keeps you there? How does its music scene different from other cities’?
Tom Ng: Compared to hyper-urbanized Hong Kong, Beijing feels a lot more “country,” and that’s more to my taste. Now that I’m in Beijing I can’t go back. Hong Kong has never had many music venues, and they demand bands pay a lot to rent the space to play a show. So unlike Beijing in the past, or a lot of other cities in China now, it can’t really foster a scene. Besides, there’s generally a lot of hostility among Hong Kong bands, and they often look down on each other. I feel like in Beijing, or elsewhere in China, bands are more willing to interact or collaborate. Just because you’re not into their music doesn’t mean you can’t be friends.
Now that I’ve been in Beijing for a long time, I can no longer quite remember what I like about it. But I remember when I first got there I really liked yelling in public. People on the street wouldn’t pay attention to you at all—they wouldn’t look at you like you’re crazy, the way they would in Hong Kong. It was very freeing, very funny. I like all my friends in Beijing, and I like my electric scooter. But there’s a lot I hate about the city, too, especially the lack of good food. That’s why we’re thinking of moving to Shanghai.
Josh Frank: We’re a “Beijing band” because Tom and I started playing together in Beijing. We’re definitely in between different cultures, but I don’t think that’s incompatible with being a Beijing band. Altogether I’ve lived in Beijing longer than anywhere else, and I feel like I’m somewhere in between a local and an outsider. This unusual perspective gives me a lot of inspiration. Beijing is a really interesting contradiction. Even though it’s very familiar, it changes day by day.
Beijing doesn’t have as many places for shows as New York or Montreal, but this is also a challenge. New York’s underground scene is too big, there are too many bands, and time is limited. Everyone’s busy doing their own thing, and for me, the pace is a little too hurried. Montreal, on the other hand, feels a little too slow, so in this sense perhaps you could say that Beijing is just right. What’s sad is that in the past few years, for people who play music, most of the changes haven’t been good. It’s harder and harder for underground music and art to exist here. Food is also really a problem. Every time we go on tour and eat our first meal out in a new city, we turn to each other and ask: why is food in Beijing so bad?
Neocha: 工工工是一个北京乐队，但是你们都不算正宗的北京人，Tom 来自香港，Josh 来自加拿大。北京为什么吸引你们？相比其他城市，北京的音乐场景有什么不同？
Tom Ng: 北京跟极端城市化的香港相比还挺多“土”的元素，觉得比较适合自己，搬去北京之后就回不去了。香港的演出场地一直很少，但经常要求乐队先付非常高的租金来进行演出，所以在香港不像以前的北京或者现在国内很多城市那样能够真正形成出一个场景。另外，香港的乐队之间通常都存在很多敌意，经常互相藐视，感觉在北京或者国内的乐队更愿意互相交流或者合作，就算对对方的音乐不感兴趣也不代表不能当好朋友的。
Josh Frank: 我们就是一个北京的乐队，因为我跟 Tom 是因为北京才开始一起做音乐的。我们确实站在不同文化中间，但我并不觉得这跟做一支北京的乐队有冲突。我在北京住过的时间加起来就比所有其他城市要长，有一种站在本地人和外人的中间的感觉，这个比较不一样视角让我找很多灵感。北京就是一个很有趣的矛盾。虽然很熟悉，但它每一天都在改变。
Neocha: Critics describe your music with seemingly incompatible labels: punk, minimalism, blues, and noise, to name a few. Yet your tracks have a remarkably unified sound. How do you define your music?
Tom Ng: I think it’s best to remain open-minded and let listeners define our style for themselves. Gong Gong Gong’s music is a chemical reaction between Josh and me, an extension of our spiritual and physical selves. When we make music, we’re really spontaneous and impulsive—we don’t have a plan or blueprint, so there’s probably no genre there.
Josh Frank: Usually when people ask, I say we’re a two-man band with a bass and guitar, with no drums but lots of rhythm. Maybe because we imposed that limitation on ourselves, the sound that results has its own distinctive sense of unity. I think limitations are a fundamental starting point for creation. No matter how “experimental” our music is, it has to have rhythm. The power of rhythm is undeniable.
Neocha: Last year’s LP Phantom Rhythm has a sense of urgency, and even the lyrics are loaded with references to chases, charging ahead, and moving forward. Where does this focus on acceleration come from? How does the album “drive ahead” from your previous work?
Tom Ng: Phantom Rhythms is maybe a more serious production. The album was released abroad, so it shares in the industry’s conventions. That was a bit of a new experience. As for the “drive,” maybe that’s because the rhythm is really repetitive, so it sounds like horses or trains surging ahead. But for some songs, I really do have images in my mind. For example, “Gong Gong Gong Blues” makes me feel like I’m driving fast on a windy night with trails of light speeding past, so the lyrics I wrote have that some of that sense of speed. And because neither of us has our driver’s license, the closest we can get is by “driving” our guitars.
Josh Frank: Maybe it’s because when we’re playing it’s too easy to get excited, so our songs naturally sound like that. If the atmosphere can be felt by listeners, then that means the song is well-written, and that the recording’s not bad either.
Tom Ng: 我觉得保持着一种开放式来让听众自己去定义我们的风格才是最合适的。工工工的音乐是我和 Josh 两人之间的化学反应加上我们精神和肉体的延伸。在创作方面，我们是很自发和随意的，没有什么计算或者布局，所以应该没有什么主义在里面吧。
Josh Frank: 一般有人问的时候我就回答：两个人的乐队，有贝斯和吉他，没有鼓，但是很有节奏感。或许因为我们给自己的这些限制，出来的声音很自然有它独特的统一感。我觉得限制力一定是创造力的出发点。不管我们做的音乐有多 “试验”，它一定要有节奏，节奏的力量是无可否认的。
Neocha: 去年发行的全长专辑《幽灵节奏》给人一种急促不安的感觉，甚至歌词中也有对追逐、冲锋、前进等语境的引用。乐队的那股子 “冲劲儿” 源自哪里？和之前的作品相比，有哪些方面更向“前”了些？
Tom Ng: 《幽灵节奏》可能制作上会更认真一点，也因为是在国外发行的唱片，所以也因此参与到那边唱片行业的操作，有些新的体验。至于“冲劲儿”，可能是节奏很重复，所以听上去好像马匹或者列车在往前冲吧。不过有些歌我确实会有些画面呈现在脑里，比如说《工工工布鲁斯》，我就总觉得是自己在夜里开快车，风很大，很多光与残影，所以出来的歌词就有点速度的意思。也因为我们两个都没有驾照，所以也只能靠弹琴来模仿开车。
Josh Frank: 可能是玩音乐的时候太容易激动了，所以我们的歌自然就变成这样了。如果这种氛围可以被观众感受到，也说明歌写得、录得都还不错。
Neocha: You’ve performed everywhere from live houses to underpass tunnels. Do different venues influence your performance? What’s favorite place to play?
Tom Ng: We love to perform, so we always have fun playing, no matter what the venue. Of course, an underpass tunnel in Beijing is a very different experience from a baseball stadium in Philadelphia. Personally I get more satisfaction from putting on DIY shows like we did in 2018 in Beijing’s Bentu E6. Our show last year in Copenhagen’s Mayhem was also really good. Lots of different people were involved, helping us set up everything up. We did the soundcheck by ourselves, we went to the store to buy drinks to sell, we cleaned up and swept the floor—it was the complete experience.
Josh Frank: Playing in so many different venues lets us keep things fresh—that’s really important to me. In December we played at Nanjing’s 61 Club. Mostly it’s a place for DJs—they basically never have bands play there. There was no stage, so we just played on the dance floor. We thought we’d first play a set, take a break, and then play the second set. But the atmosphere got better and better the more we played, so we didn’t stop—we played for two hours straight. Ususally I really like to interact with the audience—breaking the wall between us and them is really cool. Smallish DIY shows like that make me feel close to the people who come out to see us play.
Neocha: Why do you sing exclusively in Cantonese? And why do you make a point of posting translated lyrics online in English and—more surprisingly—Japanese?
Tom Ng: I’m a bit more confident in my native Cantonese, compared to English and Mandarin. There are a lot of bands with better Mandarin than us, so we can just leave it to them. But we haven’t ruled out the possibility of using other languages. Every song is a little different: in there’s a subject I’m writing about, in others a scene or story and influences the lyrics, and in others I don’t know what I’m saying until I’ve finished and cleaned them up. “Wei Wei Wei” is a song I wrote while I was in Tokyo about an episode that occurred one New Year’s Eve after visiting a shrine with Honda Koshiyoshi. To show him I specially wrote this song about it, I asked Ms. Okumoto to translate the lyrics.
Josh Frank: The translation process is unbelievably tiring. Most of the lyrics are pretty abstract, and they’re written in Cantonese, so I basically have to go sentence by sentence asking Tom what he’s trying to say. Translating lyrics is especially important because when listeners see the words they’ll experience our music on a deeper level.
Neocha: 你们在形形色色的场地演出过，包括 live house 和地下通道。不同的场地会为创作带来怎样不同的灵感？你们更偏爱在哪里表演？
Tom Ng: 我们是个很喜欢演出的乐队，所以在什么场地演我们都觉得有趣，当然像北京的地下通道或者费城的棒球馆里演出都是很不一样的体验，我自己更喜欢 DIY 办演出的满足感，一八年在北京的本土一间或者去年在哥本哈根的 Mayhem 的演出也是很好，到处借功放搬东西，货拉拉拉音箱，自己调音，提前去超市买酒演出时卖，收拾场地扫地什么的都是很完整的经验。
Josh Frank: 在这么多不同的场合演出就可以保持一种新鲜感，这对我来说很重要。去年 12 月份在南京的 61 Club 演出，那边主要是邀请 DJ，基本上没有乐队在那边演，没有舞台，我们就在舞池里演了。本来想的是前面演一段，中间停一下再演第二场。后来我们演得越久，现场气氛越好，结果一直没停就演了快两个小时。平时也很喜欢跟观众有一些互动，打破乐队和观众中间的墙是很有趣的事情，这种小的比较 DIY 演出也让我觉得跟看演出的朋友很亲切。
Tom Ng: 相比英语和普通话，我对自己的广东话更自信一点，普通话比我们好的乐队多了，那个留给他们来做就可以了。不过我们也没有否定用其他语言的可能性。每首歌都不太一样，有些歌是围绕一个主题而写的，有些是因为音乐有某些画面感而歌词内容受到这个影响的，也有些是写完再整理才知道自己在说什么的。《喂喂喂》是我在东京的时候写的，关于我和本田光义某个元旦凌晨去神社后发生的闹剧，为了他知道我特意写了这么一首歌所以就请了奥元夫妇帮忙把歌词都翻译了。
Josh Frank: 这个翻译的过程实在太累了。大部分的歌词都比较抽象，而且是粤语写的，我基本上要一句一句地问 Tom 他想表达的意思。歌词的翻译特别重要，因为观众看到歌词就会加深他们对音乐的体验。
Neocha: Who’s the audience in your head—the people you’re making music for?
Tom: We make music first of all for ourselves, and we’ve never thought much about our audience. We have some fans in China, and in the US and Europe. But when we plan our next tours, I really think we owe it to the Cantonese-speaking audiences in the Pearl River Delta to put on some shows. I’ve also noticed that in the US, some second- or third-generation Asian Americans think that we can sort of represent them, as a group with one Asian and one white member.
Josh Frank: If anyone thought we represented them in any way, that’d be something to be happy about. And if we can get more people in Europe and America interested in music from other places, or get more Chinese musicians interacting more with musicians abroad, then that would be really good outcome. I think most of the people who listen to Chinese bands outside of China do so for the novelty and don’t think too much about their musical value. If we keep on touring and meeting new audiences, maybe we can slowly change their thinking and their understanding of China.
Neocha: Who would you say are your influences, and who are some of the newer musicians you like now?
Tom: The Monks and Bo Diddley have had a pretty strong influence on us. Personally I really like the music of T.O.W., with Yang Fan. They have an album coming out this year that I’m really looking forward to. Recently I’ve also really been liking Hiperson’s EP Four Seasons. For a post-punk band to suddenly come out with new songs like that is really cool. I also really admire Fazi—I’m impressed by how they put so much work into being a band. Other Chinese groups could learn a thing or two from them.
Josh Frank: Lately I’ve been listening non-stop to stuff by Sahel Sounds, a label in Portland that puts out music by contemporary Sahelian musicians, like Les Filles de Illighadad, or the guitarist Mdou Moctar, or the synth composer Hama. In electronic music, I like Buttechno’s release from last year, Minimal Cuts, and Yves Tumor’s new LP. And Jonathan Schenke, who recorded and co-produced Phantom Rhythms, has a new group called P.E., whose first album is also really good. And finally, since I’m stuck at home, I often listen to my dad play the synthesizer, and he’s really pretty good.
Tom Ng: 音乐首先都是做给我们自己听的其实。受众的话其实也没有特别考虑过，在国内或者欧美都有一些，但最近定巡演路线的时候确实觉得欠了珠三角那边的粤语系听众一些演出。另外我看在美国有些亚洲第二第三代会觉得我们一黄一白的组合也挺能代表他们的，很有意思。
Josh Frank: 如果有人觉得在某一些方面我们可以代表他们，这是很令人开心的事情。假如我们的音乐可以让更多欧美人对其他地方的音乐感兴趣，或者让国内的音乐人多跟国外的乐队交流，这都会是很好的结果。我认为在国外听中国乐队的人，很大一部分应该只是因为猎奇而已，不太会考虑它的音乐价值。我们继续到处巡演，接触到新的观众，也许可以慢慢改变他们这种想法和对 “中国” 乐队的理解。
Tom Ng: The Monks 和 Bo Diddley 对我们的影响比较深吧。我自己很欣赏 T.O.W. 的扬帆做的音乐，她们今年会有唱片出版，很期待。最近海朋森的《春夏秋冬》我也很喜欢，后朋克乐队突然做了这样的新歌实在很有趣；我也很佩服法兹他们，很羡慕他们可以这么努力的去进行乐队的事情，国内其他的乐队应该都跟他们学习一下。
Josh Frank: 最近我老在听 Sahel Sounds 发行的东西，他们是一家波特兰的厂牌，有发非洲萨赫勒地区的当代乐队，像 Mdou Moctar 和 Les Filles de Illighadad 都是吉他音乐，还有合成器的音乐人 Hama。电子乐的话，我蛮喜欢 Buttechno 去年发的 Minimal Cuts，还有 Yves Tumor 刚发的 LP。《幽灵节奏》 的录音师及联合制作人 Jonathan Schenke 的新乐队 P.E. 的第一张专辑也很好听。最后，我在家里呆着也经常听到我爸在玩合成器，还真不错。
Neocha: What’s next for Gong Gong Gong?
Tom Ng: Right now there’s too much up in the air. Our UK tour in May got canceled, and our China tour in June is also pretty iffy. Hopefully this year we’ll finish our second album, but right now we can’t even get together—I’m in Hong Kong, and Josh is in Montreal. I really miss Beijing.
Josh Frank: We’d scheduled nearly 40 concerts in Western Europe and Scandinavia, as well as China and Japan. Now it looks like we’ll have to wait and see. I just want to get back to Beijing, eat a meal at Guizhou Mansion, and really rehearse. We’ve got to get on tour again as soon as we can, and get our second album done!
Tom Ng: 目前还是太多不确定的因素了，五月的英国巡演刚取消，六月的国内巡演也很玄了，希望今年之内能完成专辑 2 的创作吧，但目前我们连聚在一起的机会都没有，我在香港，他在蒙特利尔。我非常想念北京。
Josh Frank: 本来都自己安排了将近 40 场演出了，在西欧和北欧，还有大陆和日本。现在看来只能等着看情况。我就是想先回北京，吃一顿贵州大厦，好好排练。要尽快上路巡演，尽快把第二张弄好！
Contributor: Allen Young
Photographers: Liu Zhejun, Kevin W. Condon, Tyler Gamble, Richard Perez
Chinese Translation: Pete Zhang
Images Courtesy of Gong Gong Gong