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03.01.2020 | Words by: Susanna Li

A slightly hungover and “discombobulated” Tzusing answered the phone on a Sunday afternoon, perched in Taipei after a night out in Pawnshop, a club that opened in Taipei just last month. Based in both Taipei and Shanghai, his interest in techno was sparked by a school friend showing him Higher State of Consciousness by Josh Wink. For the past few years, he’s released EBM-leaning techno on labels such as L.I.E.S. and SVBKVLT, and gained traction as a DJ who skillfully and restlessly solders together as much gritty techno as old school rap and spluttering electronica. In 2020, Tzusing has new projects on the horizon, including starting Sea Cucumber, a label that focuses on music for the dance floor, but “not all that genre stuff, like house and techno”. The first release will feature Async Figure (MM and Suda), and the music to follow will seek to bridge the experimental and progressive with function.

Q: Your sets are known for the breadth of music they cover, often not directly made for the dance floor. Is there anything you wouldn’t play?

A: Sure, a track could be kickless, but still really grip you. Of course it depends on if it’s played at the right time, say for two or three minutes, after a really intense track. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t play, as long as it’s an interesting enough sound, or song. It’s a dosage thing, and it depends on the city and crowd.

I have this way of filtering out music. I’ll take the tracks, then go skateboard. If it works when I skate, then it’ll work then. I do have an agenda of wanting to play stuff that is newer, rather than wallowing in retro-ness. I feel it’s important that culture should keep moving forward. I’ll still weave in some old school, but I don’t want the set to just be that.

Q: Do expectations impact how you play or how you are received?

You can get away with much more if people have an idea of what you’re going to do, if you’re expected to take certain risks. I remember seeing Theo Parrish, who I love, in Chicago. He just played some jazz record in the middle of his set and everyone just stayed on the dance floor completely still, for 10 minutes. We were all super into it, and I was blown away. If you know people will stick with you, you can take these chances. Although I did recently clear the floor when I played this SPK track that I thought was going to work in my head. It still worries me if I clear the floor, now more than ever.

Q: You’ve also gained quite a following in the past couple of years, and a notoriety for risk taking, and you’ve also mentioned before that you like how in the West people don’t idolise the artist.

A: If the artist is seen as just another person, it makes what they’re doing seem attainable. The audience thinks that they too can buy a laptop, get Ableton and make a beat. Idolising them makes the barrier to entry higher. You need something like this for the culture to flourish, but maybe this culture flourishing isn’t necessarily what we want. The underground is such a corny term at this point, but I’m still referring to something. Something that’s better left undefined, and hopefully, where artists still take chances. There isn’t this giant industry behind it, and there’s still surprises. Some artists that come to mind are Total Freedom, M.E.S.H. and the Janus crew in Berlin.

Q: You mention in your interview with RA that you’re wary of leaning on your identity too much, but some of your releases have Chinese names or covers, and you rap in mandarin in your remix of Yen Tech’s Armored Core. What do you mean by this?

A: I think my biggest question is: how much of it is about music? At one of my first gigs in the US after my album came out, I overheard someone say, “I’ve never seen this many Chinese people in the club before.” It felt great, but at the same time I’m worried that people aren’t there for the music, people are there to root for their team. It turns into a sort of tribalism.

Identity politics have been developed in the US and Europe and addresses the issues that marginalised people face there. But each country has its own issues and history. The most obvious being that Chinese people are a majority not a minority so the term minority doesn't even apply to Chinese people. Everyone is very aware of what the European or American media want, the causes you have to get behind to gain media attention. I’m afraid of looking opportunistic. I’m definitely political and proud that Chinese people are getting represented in European or American music culture, but I’m afraid of seeming or looking like a gimmick.

Q: I remember listening to a mix of yours which started with 3rd World by Immortal Technique, which is quite political. It’s difficult to capture something as ephemeral as a DJ set in a few words, but is there something you’re seeking to evoke or provoke?

A: It depends on what I’m finding that month, but generally I like my sets to feel uneasy, and a bit cathartic. I don’t think people are being provocative enough. We’re not necessarily changing people, but you should walk away from a night and feel that it was a life-affirming experience. It’s like good food, it makes life worth living.

Tzusing plays tomorrow night alongside DJ Marcelle and Tutu. Tickets are still available online and at the door.
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