Coming from a culture where industrialism and manufacture hold court, it can be easy to understand why Tzusing’s parents may not have intially bought his DJ and production dream.
Tzusing spent his formative years in Singapore, Taichung and studying in Chicago, yet the Malaysian born DJ and producer now finds himself based between Shanghai and Tapei, making music that exists in a condition of dislocation forged at the intersection of personal, social and national identity. A typical (if you can call it that) Tzusing set focuses razor sharp techno and rugged industrial club soundscapes occasionally juxtaposed against sugar sweet Asian pop.
As far as his productions go, Tzusing works reed instrument-like synths alongside robust cathartic percussion, taking inspiration from his upbringing and cultural experiences. All of this cultivates a theme of power, obsession, sexuality, identity and its obliteration. His career has remained cult, stringing together a trilogy of releases on Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S back in 2014 (later releasing his first LP 東方不敗 with the label in 2017), as well as appearing on Cititrax and Public Possession.
We’ve heard that your time in the U.S.A was musically formative. But you were born in Malaysia and have also lived in Singapore, Taiwan and Shanghai. What about the whole journey? How has that influenced your music?
Those countries mentioned didn’t have much of an “underground/indie” scene during the 90’s so I was mostly following stuff from western magazines and the internet. I was consuming the pop music/culture from Taiwan/HK of course. I don’t know if you can hear direct traces of it in my music but I reference these things in other ways. Being this transient in different scenes I couldn’t really tie myself to a scene/genre. And I guess ultimately I didn’t need to.
The most noticeable thing when listening to your sets and productions is the mix of culture and genre. Has it always been natural for you to break the status quo?
I don’t think I set out to break status quo as much as I set out to play what would be fun for me to listen to. I’m just doing what is obvious to me. Just playing a collection of tracks that I have been listening to. 2manydjs did this in the late 90’s, not to mention Diplo and Girl Talk. We have kind of stripped the irony and kitsch away from Mashups, but being tired of genre restrictions has been around.
Would you ever change your sets to fit a crowd? They say you drop pop and hip-hop no matter the night.
I do play slightly differently in Asia VS Europe. I do actually try to play smoother and more straight in Europe because of the difference in club culture. In Asia, because people don’t expect you to play straight, I can get away with more. I can obviously also drop Taiwanese pop songs that would mean something to a Taiwanese crowd that I couldn’t in Europe. But yes, I won’t turn into a straight techno DJ if I feel this is what the crowd wants. I will fight them and maybe we will have a horrible time. But if I’m not letting it be known that I’m not playing straight sets, I will forever be stuck in a cycle. I might lose the crowd but I might also gain a new one. If I don’t keep growing and “following my gut” this will become just a job and will get old super fast.
The trick is to be selective with the bookings so I don’t find myself in the situation and we don’t waste each others time. I have had a cancelled gig after the recording of my Lente Kabinet set came out and that’s good. It would have been awkward for me to fly to the gig and have a very disappointed promoter.
You’ve said your music explores “power, obsession, sexuality, identity and its obliteration”. Why do you lean towards these themes? Where do they come from?
But who doesn’t think about things things? Haha. They come from reading about and dealing with the world/society.
Your music seems to hold a lot of frustration that slightly verges on anger. Are there specific emotions you have in mind when you produce? Are they connected to your personal experiences or the wider world?
Absolutely. I think I would be a very maladjusted person if I didn’t have music that spoke to the anxiety and anger I feel. My music is like a child throwing a tantrum but in musical form. The root comes from both personal experiences and the wider world.
Reading your RA feature, it seems your parents weren’t the most supportive of your initial ambitions. You moved back to Shanghai and started a bike parts business. Do they feel different now, after you’ve been catapulted into the spotlight?
For my mum, yes. For my dad, a guy that came from a tough background to becoming a successful businessman, this type of thing doesn’t fit into what he knows and understands. Society and values in this part of the world has changed too much and too fast.
Do you think your five-year hiatus helped your creativity when you came back to DJing and producing?
Yes, in a very big way. I was much more focused and my direction very clear when I came back to do music.
With Dekmantel and festival season coming up, you’re playing in Europe a lot more. Do you think you’ll move, or are you set to stay in Shanghai?
I’m set to stay in Asia in both Shanghai and Taipei. The music scene here is finally developing into something more recognisable. And it’s finally reaching outside of our group of friends and building into a critical mass. Other Asian cities are reaching out to us and it’s also inspiring their local scene. It took us a long time but is now starting to feel rewarding. Yuh!
Tzusing plays Dekmantel Festival 31st July – 4th August, 2019.
Featured Image: Nacho G Riaza