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Tzusing 2 © Zeng Wu
Photography Zeng Wu

On 绿帽 Green Hat, Tzusing upturns traditional ideas of masculinity

The Malaysian-born producer talks infidelity, making music that provokes anxiety, and how Chinese folklore inspired his sophomore album

Tzusing’s sophomore album takes its name from Chinese tradition that dates back to the Tang dynasty. A green hat is an enduring symbol of infidelity, and suggests that its wearer, usually a man, is a cuckold. “It’s a huge thing in Chinese culture,” he begins. “For Asian men, if they see that someone has named their record Green Hat, they’re going to feel fear for sure.”

On 绿帽 Green Hat, the Malaysian-born artist, who lives between Shanghai and Taipei, explores ideas of masculinity, in particular China’s complicated history of patriarchal heteronormativity, and the double standards that pervade the everyday. “I’ve always been turned off by this normal idea of what it means to be a man, what it means to be strong,” he explains. Sonically, there’s a pervading sense of anxiety, where industrial riffs and relentless EBM bass are charged with a tensile strength that bubbles under the record’s surface, a tight-chested menace that’s also embodied in Tzusing’s accompanying press shots, which depict the artist standing in a tank of water with weights strapped to his body. “A lot of my music deals with fear and anxiety. It’s not a specific kind of anxiety but a general vibe,” he says. “That fear that you’re losing face, that someone you really trust has betrayed you, and how the anxiety that induces matches that feeling.” 

Tzusing first arrived on the scene in 2014, using hard-hitting techno to subvert ideas of identity, sexuality and obsession. Gaining support from Ron Morelli of L.I.E.S, he made a name for himself as one of the most adventurous and experimental techno producers on the circuit, with a distinct and discordant style that feels like it could be taken from an action-packed OST. “I'm a pretty anxious person and I somehow find listening to anxious music puts me at ease. I really enjoy being in that state,” he elaborates. Each release is built around a conceptual core: his 2017 debut 東方不敗t equally drew inspiration from Chinese folklore, taking inspiration from Dongfang Bubai, a fictional character who cuts off his penis to become the strongest person on Earth. “I like the character because it’s this idea of emasculating yourself to become the strongest person, so it fucks with this idea of the women being the weaker sex or whatever.”

The Jesse Kanda-directed music video for “偶像包袱 (Idol Baggage)” depicts drone footage of an empty megastructure. It’s an anti-flood tank, the largest in the world, built to protect Japan from natural threats such as tsunamis and typhoons. Set to a backdrop of tense string arrangements, metallic sound design and shrieks of hysterical laughter, there’s something dystopian in the structure’s vastness – in an accompanying statement, Kanda compares it to stepping inside the body of a giant. “In emptiness, there is no form. No feeling, no conception, no volition, no consciousness” flashes extracts from the Heart Sutra from the Buddhist tradition. Listening to 绿帽 Green Hat conjures a similar juxtaposition: between the cool mechanics of industrial rhythms lies a quiet vulnerability, as humanity leaks out from its machine interiors.

绿帽 Green Hat is out now via PAN. Tzusing will perform at Rewire in The Hague, taking place between April 6-9, 2023