The Benevolent Brutalism of Tzusing and Jesse Kanda

The Benevolent Brutalism of Tzusing and Jesse Kanda

Having been born in Malaysia, raised in Singapore and Taiwan, studied abroad in Chicago and now living between Taipei and Shanghai, DJ and producer Tzusing's well-traveled upbringing has formed the basis of his multifaceted exploration of identity in his music. Interrogating notions of what constitutes "authentic culture" and how that intersects on a personal, social and larger cultural level, the artist incorporates everything from classic Asian pop to industrial techno beats into his music, putting forth the dancefloor as a space to contemplate these complex ideas in a visceral way of engaging with the material.

On his debut album 東方不敗, Tzusing looked to Jin Yong’s The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, a '60s wuxia novel about a swordsman that castrates himself in order to learn a powerful fighting technique, as a way to tackle culturally ingrained notions of masculinity in a flurry aggressive techno, house and club rhythms. Tzusing's new album 绿帽 Green Hat explores the intersection between gender and cultural expectation in a similar manner. It takes inspiration from the story of traveling intellectual Li Yuanming who, during the Tang Dynasty, would routinely leave his wife Cifu alone at home for long stretches of time, inadvertently driving her into the arms of her widowed neighbor, devising a method involving a green hat she stitched for Li that functioned as a green light for her lover to come over.

In the same way that Hawthorne's titular scarlet letter functioned as a visual stand-in for infidelity, the green hat calls into question China's complicated history of patriarchal heteronormativity and how feelings of internalized male inadequacy manifest and persist throughout society. This presents itself as a stampede of thunderous drums, menacing synths and guttural chants dripping in testosterone while twinges of fear and anxiety creep their way in from the corners.

The second single off the forthcoming album, "偶像包袱(Idol Baggage)," sees Tzusing put this conceptual mindset into practice, with clacking drumsticks and expansive bass marching through a dizzying swirl of dancing strings and manic laughter, ratcheting up the tension as he creates a pervading aura of impending doom throughout the track.

"偶像包袱(Idol Baggage)" arrives alongside a new music video directed by Jesse Kanda that sees the Arca and Björk collaborator dramatize this liminal sense of terror and foreboding through a visual exploration of an empty anti-flood container.

"This anti-flood tank is the largest in the world of its kind and protects Japan from its colossal vulnerabilities — tsunami and typhoon," Kanda explains. "When inside, it's like being inside the body of a giant. The textures and shapes of the columns and walls are like elegant muscles, garnished with fluid and solid residue. Innocently and most primarily, I wanted to show the beauty of this structure by itself."

Passing over vast swaths of concrete bathed in a warm incandescent hue, the visual captures the same looming sense of dread that runs through the track as it takes the viewer down a disorienting journey, contrasting the structure's hard, imposing presence with a warm, inviting palette that comes across as a sort of benevolent brutalism.

"Personally, the narrative of the video is of emotion and its direct relationship with the body in the process of dissolving separation," Kanda says. "Relentlessly looking into direct experience — with patience, with love. The typography that is arranged over the video is the Heart Sutra from the Buddhist tradition which correlates to this process."

Check out the official Jesse Kanda-directed music video for "偶像包袱(Idol Baggage)" below off Tzusing's forthcoming album 绿帽 Green Hat, out March 31 via PAN.

Director and editor: Jesse Kanda
Producer: Kana Fujimaki
Cinematographer: Timothée Lambrecq
Drones and photography: Steve Gaudin
Transport, health and safety: Tomo Takahashi

Photography: Zeng Wu


Coolest Person in the Room: Hannah Traore

Story by Andrew Nguyen / Photography by Diego Villagra Motta / Styling by Angelina Cantú