Tzusing – 绿帽 Green Hat
Speaking to Resident Advisor in 2017, Malaysian born producer Tzusing confessed, “I feel like I’m culturally appropriating my own culture because I don’t know it that well. It’s my background, but I’m getting it from [a] corny Hong Kong movie.” It’s the sort of sentiment that likely resonates with anyone coming from a cultural diaspora, a life lived belonging between two worlds. In Tzusing’s case, this is compounded by the fact that the music he creates – razor sharp, futuristic club informed by EMB and industrial techno – has found its most prominent audience in the West. But all this has afforded Tzusing a sort of distance from which to examine parts of his culture objectively, his work evolving into a distinct dissection of manhood and gender politics in the Chinese cultural context. This distance allows Tzusing to launch inquisitions often too taboo for those closest to the source to ask themselves, necessary truth bombs on the effects of patriarchy and masculine privilege. In particular, Tzusing seems invested in exploding masculinity as a concept, subverting that which is considered shameful and exposing masculinity’s inherent fragility in the process. His first album was named after a fictional character who castrates himself in order to become a martial arts master; a rejection of the earthly, superfluous idea of manhood in order to achieve the divine. On his sophomore effort, 绿帽 Green Hat, Tzusing again pulls from the iconography and superstitions of his culture to make blunt, yet poignant, statements on the baselessness of manhood in its traditional, patriarchal context, posing an argument that has reach far beyond gender politics.
A green hat, it turns out, is the ultimate symbol of masculine shame in Chinese culture. As the story goes, a philosopher during the Tang dynasty would often leave his wife to travel, and she in turn began an affair with their neighbour. She stitched the philosopher a green hat to wear every time he left home on one of his journeys, to signal to the neighbour that she was alone and available to hook up. Thus, the green hat became the signifier of a cuckold. For non-Chinese ears, this is all explained by a cyborg field guide reading this article through layers of glitchy atmospherics on 绿帽 Green Hat’s evocative Introduction, which also serves as commentary on the juxtaposition between Tzusing’s Eastern roots and Western appeal. It’s this juxtaposition that becomes 绿帽 Green Hat’s true core conflict, imbuing the album with a sense of alienation and disquietude that makes for some seriously tense club bangers. While nothing is ever really at odds with each other here, Tzusing’s production works in fragments overlapping at agitated angles, interlocking but never colliding so that 绿帽 Green Hat is often disorientating, but never incoherent. This juxtaposition also suggests that 绿帽 Green Hat’s overarching concept is to draw parallels between the Western and Eastern preconceptions of masculinity and manhood, explored mostly by way of Tzusing’s sample choices. 趁人之危(Take Advantage) samples Daniel Day Lewis as the terrifyingly ruthless Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood, a character whose obsession with dominance and power at whatever cost is synonymous with the darkest parts of masculine privilege. The appearance of Lewis’s speech here undoubtedly highlights the sort of issues Tzusing sees as a symptom of patriarchal dominance, but the actual presence of Lewis is a snarky touch of camp that avoids 趁人之危(Take Advantage) coming off verbose, feeling instead like a wry touch of brilliance. Clout Tunnel looks toward the violence of video games to weave the sound of gunshots from the mercenary game Apex Legends into aggressively hard and confrontational breakbeats, followed immediately by the gabber nuclear explosion of Exascale. The terror of this male gaze warranted destruction is touched upon on tracks like Muscular Theology, on which sirens and snatches of shrieks embellish a taught drum beat deployed with army precision. Then, on the incredibly tense 偶像包袱 (Idol Baggage), a sample of a woman laughing is contorted into warped wails and heaving sobs, scattered across insectoid strings and snatches of the Ha Dance to create a dizzying melange that remains pointedly on edge.
The styles Tzusing visits are satisfyingly diverse, and executed with such clear intent that they never feel incohesive together. They’re styles that align to 绿帽 Green Hat’s concept, from the youthful agitation of Balkanize’s gqom to the broishness of nu-metal on 孝忍狠 (Filial Endure Ruthless), all linked by Tzusing’s commentary on manhood. In this sense, 绿帽 Green Hat succeeds as both concept album (per se) and dancefloor weapon, intelligently weaving its headier questions into its club-ready design through smart, subtle choices rather than rampant shouts. This gives you the scope to not only dance, but to think a bit about what you’re dancing to exactly. The argument Tzusing proposes on 绿帽 Green Hat is simple, but intensely multifaceted. His simple acknowledgement of the parallels between Eastern and Western patriarchy evolve the conversation beyond gender. These questions bleed into realms such as politics, international affairs, and business, touching on everything from military intervention to corporate greed. Ultimately, 绿帽 Green Hat is as much a portrait of The Man as it is an interrogation of the world he’s responsible for creating, and now destroying.
Listen to 趁人之危(Take Advantage) from Green Hat below.