By Dennis G. Keat
Photo of Keat by Kelly Segré
Music is subjective, but there exists this collective idea of what it’s supposed to be, or how it’s supposed to sound. Every so often, however, there’s an artist that comes along and challenges that perception.
When you hear the term, “rock music,” what do you imagine? Perhaps an ensemble group with multiple instruments all playing together? There might be a couple guitars (rhythm and lead), a bass, and drums; this is how rock has been played for decades, after all. The Beijing-based duo Gong Gong Gong dares you to forget all of that.
Formed in Beijing’s underground scene in 2015, Hong Kong-born Tom Ng and Canadian Joshua Frank change what it means to be a rock band. With only two instruments, a guitar and a bass, the duo riff and groove around and off of each other to create songs that ensnare the listener. Frank’s bass dances between steady grooves and quick slaps, providing its own sort of percussive sound. Ng’s guitar riffs function in a similar fashion, as he weaves between melody and rhythm. It seems so incredibly simple, but their execution shakes the rock band dynamic in a way that might be hard to imagine otherwise.
Singing in his native Cantonese, Tom Ng’s vocals add an additional, almost rebellious layer to what the duo is doing. Mandarin is the language primarily spoken in mainland China, with Cantonese becoming increasingly displaced in the South. Playing on the literal streets of Beijing, these two know they’re outsiders, and they embrace it.
Artists and minds like those behind Gong Gong Gong challenge us, the audience, to question what we thought we knew. They dare us to ask questions about our perception: is there another way? A better way? While these two musicians are not the first to try something different, they are still innovators, and we should recognize them as such. Without innovation, nothing can change.
Gong Gong Gong and their 2019 album, Phantom Rhythm, can be found on most major music-streaming services.