by Josh Feola
Selected track：Simon Frank - “Good Taste is Worthless”
入耳 In My Ears is a weekly music column by Josh Feola 赵识, Beijing-based writer and musician and founder of pangbianr.com
The Frank brothers have been a near-constant in my ears for the entire time I’ve been in Beijing. On my very first visit here, in December 2007, I went to D-22 on the recommendation of a friend. I remember it well. Hot & Cold — the duo of brothers Joshua and Simon Frank — opened, playing a rough, No Wave-y noise set interspersed with samples of tangchao lizi street vendors. They were followed by a particularly unhinged set by harsh noise crew Mafeisan, whose leader Yangyang I vividly remember staggering around D-22’s stage as if he was being electrocuted, wearing blue spandex pants and googley-eye glasses.
Hot & Cold at D-22
After moving to Beijing in 2009, D-22 quickly became my second home, thanks in part to this fascinating first experience. I was sucked into the Beijing music scene for good by Rose Mansion Analog, a short-lived collective/cassette label that was co-operated by Hot & Cold, Soviet Pop (Li Qing and Li Weisi of Snapline/original Carsick Cars), and the Offset: Spectacles, a trio of Hong Kong transplants attracted to Beijing by the promise of grayer, grittier creative possibilities. This was a golden age of Beijing music for me, the early days of Zhu Wenbo’s Zoomin’ Night when every Tuesday promised a mind-expanding new combination of people, instruments, sounds and ideas. During this time I became a true blue Hot & Cold fan, especially of their sound as enshrined on their 2010 Rose Mansion cassette Conclusion/Introduction. Their song “Uighur Pop” was kind of the soundtrack to my mid-20s.
But that’s all ancient history, in Beijing time. Rose Mansion faded away like so much cassette-tape sizzle after barely over a year of activity. Zoomin’ Night isn’t a gig series anymore, D-22 is long dead and its successor XP closed almost exactly two years ago. Those golden days now feel to me like they’ve definitively ended. I have enough memories of them to fill a book, which I’ll probably do one day. But for now let’s train our attention on what the Frank brothers have been up to more recently.
Anyone who’s kept tabs on the post-XP diaspora in Beijing knows that most of its refugees have washed up at fRUITYSPACE. And of all the bands and artists and long, slow, minimal-feedback-obsessed projects that have evolved since Zoomin’ Night stopped being a weekly show, my favorite to emerge has been 工工工, a kind of Rose Mansion legacy project featuring Hot & Cold’s Josh Frank on bass and Offset: Spectacles’ Tom Ng on guitar. These two are minimalists in their way, but also craftsmen, experts at carving a fully fleshed tune from the simplest of inputs. They’re probably my favorite Beijing band formed in the last few years, since their style is all their own and they don’t cater to the prevailing tastes of Beijing’s underground rock or experimental scenes. Their most immediate influences are their own members’ previous projects: since I loved Hot & Cold and the Offsets, it’s not a big surprise I dig the distilled elements of some of the best parts of both.
工工工 photo by Da Shu
While Josh Frank has been solidly Beijing-based for years now, his brother Simon has been more of a floating presence. After some time spent in the UK he recently settled in Taipei, and has been digging into the local scene there. He just released Humid Music, which has immediately become my summer soundtrack, both because it’s fucking humid this summer and because it, like 工工工’s President Piano Co. Tape from last December, rings the right nostalgic bells for me while also indicating a clear direction, a maturation and evolution of an artist I’ve been following for almost a decade now.
Simon's Humid Music
工工工's President Piano Co. Tape
Parallel to Hot & Cold, I’ve always enjoyed Simon’s solo work, and on this new cassette (these guys really love cassettes) he’s absorbed just enough from the global electronic music vanguard to make these songs polished and propulsive, somehow more grown-up, but no less jagged or lo-fi. This is music to sweat to but not necessarily dance to, kind of my ideal genre as I turn 31.
Cassette of Humid Music
Enjoy the selected track, “Good Taste is Worthless”, which features a sample of Tom grunting at a 工工工 show. If you want to delve deeper into the modern-day Frank-o-sphere, check out Love Theme, a trio Simon recently formed with Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches). And if you want to explore more of what’s happening on the subterranean level in Taipei, poke around the Bandcamp of Lonely God Records, which put out Simon’s latest and has a few releases by experimental electronic-leaning Taiwanese artists scheduled for later in the year.
工工工 photo by Tang Ting
Simon Frank - “Humid Music”
Lonely God Records
Rose Mansion Analog
About the author
Josh Feola is a writer and musician based in Beijing. He’s organized music, art, and film events in the city since 2010, via his label pangbianr and as booking manager of live music venues D-22 and XP. His ongoing event series include the Sally Can’t Dance experimental music festival and the Beijing Electronic Music Encounter (BEME). He has written about music and art for publications including The Wire, LEAP, Sixth Tone, and Tiny Mix Tapes. He also co-authors the Gulou View opinion column for the New York Observer. As a musician, he formerly played drums in Beijing band Chui Wan, recording on and touring behind their debut album, White Night. He currently plays drums in SUBS and Vagus Nerve, and also records and performs under the name Charm.