Gong Gong Gong – Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム)

Gong Gong Gong have released their debut full length album on Wharf Cat Records. Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム) is the product of Joshua Frank and Tom Ng’s unique position – jostling a unique existence between cultural tectonic plates.

Ng was born in Hong Kong. He sings exclusively in Cantonese. Mainland China audiences speak Mandarin. Frank was born in Montreal. Frank has shot documentaries for Vice in Brooklyn. The duo developed a niche for themselves in the Beijing underground, the city they home. The first Gong Gong Gong gigs were played in the city’s pedestrian underpasses. A direct English translation of Gong Gong Gong 工工工 could be ‘work work work’.

These swirling influences lean in and effect the music of the duo. West African guitar riffs, the gravelly Blues of Bo Diddly, the sensibility of some classical Chinese opera progressions, oh, and a little old school Country and Western (check out ‘Ride Your Horse‘) bleed together. The result is an album of avant-rock, unpretentious high art. Maybe.

Devoid of percussive instruments Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム) is structured entirely on the driven tempos of guitar and bass. Tracks are relentlessly dynamic. Two musicians with such simple tools shouldn’t be able to reach the depth and texture that’s offered up across this ten song sequence. But they do. Ng’s words, which lose all non-Cantonese speakers, also become a percussive instrument. The result is a hypnotic, otherworldly sound that resonates beneath the surface.

Translations of lyrics are offered up in print. The concerns of Gong Gong Gong are elemental. Horses feature often, and the sinew of energy tears toward action. The mind, decisions, the mist – the forces of nature coursing through us all. These are the subjects cascading from Ng’s pen.

Instrumentally, it’s easy to say this is an album that breaks music, or rock n roll down to it’s base elements, because it does. The ghost of NYC minimalist art rock bands hangs over the process. There’s no dressing here.

However, the human element – the chemistry between Ng and Frank is magical. It’s the human scale at the centre of this thing that is key. Setting tempo, dismantling process, and rebuilding patterns also speaks to something about the process of all art, and all of human compulsion. Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム) is music but it reaches something other.

Frank’s sometimes percussive, sometimes droning bass work could be isolated from other tracks and hung in white cubed rooms of Brooklyn. Ng’s lyrics could sit in sequence of Chinese poetry – reflecting the urgency of now, whilst never stooping into the mire of political or pedestrian themes.

Nothing is trivial here. Things are political, things are spiritual, but only in that Gong Gong Gong appear focused on their exploration of the universal. The music, the words, the grit of existence. To itemize or break down into constituent parts would be to enter a self-sustaining dialog that props up the status quo of authority and subjugation.

Frank and Ng point to something beyond the mundane. They illustrate freedom by modeling expression on their own terms. Informed by all the good of all the cultures they experience, they have produced something deeply rewarding, surprising and good.

And not least, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (幽霊リズム) truly fucking shreds. The music of Gong Gong Gong deserves volume, repetition and accolade in every language.


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