Tzusing – 绿帽 Green Hat (PAN 123)
During the Tang dynasty (around the 9th Century CE), traveling intellectual Li Yuanming would routinely leave home to write and debate poetry with likeminded scholars across China, isolating his wife Cifu for sometimes weeks on end. Frustrated, she found comfort in the arms of a widowed neighbor, but when Li remained at home for an unexpected stretch of time, Cifu was prompted to develop a method to signal her lover it was safe to approach. She stitched a special green hat that she handed to her husband as he was about to leave town; when Li was wearing the hat, it worked like a traffic signal – green meant go. But this didn’t last for long, during one trip Li returned home early and caught Cifu and their neighbor together, and when the local community caught wind of the story, the green hat became an enduring symbol of infidelity. On Tzusing’s sophomore album the Malaysian-born artist, who lives between Shanghai and Taipei, meditates on China’s complicated history of patriarchal heteronormativity, and how these archaic double standards continue to dominate the culture in pervasive, often invisible ways. Even in progressive circles, internalized male inadequacy and its inevitable projection of possessiveness and aggression has been brushed underneath the rug, so by addressing it head-on, Tzusing attempts to question these structures using a level of aesthetic anxiety and thematic intensity that’s hard to ignore.
Growing up between Singapore, Taiwan, China, and the USA, Tzusing was living in Chicago when his love of music turned into an obsession. After relocating to China for work, he cut his teeth DJing at The Shelter in Shanghai and began refining his personal musical signature. A slew of EBM-inspired 12″s on Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. imprint were followed by his 2017 debut album 東方不敗 that was inspired by Jin Yong’s popular 1960s wuxia novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, a story about a swordsman who castrates himself to learn a powerful fighting technique. 绿帽 Green Hat builds on that record’s themes, deconstructing a different facet of gender as it’s perceived within Chinese culture. On ‘趁人之危(Take Advantage)’, Tzusing obscures Daniel Plainview’s notorious growl from There Will Be Blood underneath a patchwork of springy percussion and electrified wails. The message is clear: Plainview’s character represents the darkness underlying American masculinity, and Tzusing is drawing a direct parallel with China. The history and mythology may be different, but the problem remains. Rhythms do the heavy lifting on ‘Muscular Theology’, interlocking and falling apart, and connecting fragments of techno, house, and club templates with disorienting FX. The dancefloor can provide an unorthodox space for outsiders to recognize the dissonance in their cultural programming, and Tzusing suggests this not by sonic fusion but by borderless cohesion that sucks the listener in before they’re completely aware of the message.
And while 绿帽 Green Hat is unashamed to lean into its layered concept, the album never loses its well-rehearsed dancefloor momentum. Tzusing has been through many metamorphoses during his career, but it’s here where sounds most eager to unify his interests and inclinations. From the ruthlessly funky hard drum inversion of ‘孝忍狠 (Filial Endure Ruthless)’ and the manic uptempo roll of ‘Exascale’, to the gurgling combination of wheezing voices and downtempo rhythms on Suda collaboration ‘Cloud Tunnel’ and the wedding party flex of epic closing track ‘Residual Stress’, there’s a sense that the producer has truly found his groove. It’s an album that underscores dance music’s often manic uneasiness, smoothly paralleling this with the frenzied stress of infidelity. Fear is a well-worn musical theme that transcends genre, but Tzusing approaches it from a fresh perspective; this isn’t blood dripping from skulls, it’s rapid-fire thoughts piercing the mind. Now that’s truly terrifying.
Mastered by Enyang Urbiks
Cover photography by Xiaopeng
Artwork by Virgile Flores