On Neo Punggol

review

Written by JX Soo

Published on September 18, 2020

On Neo Punggol

review

Written by JX Soo

Published on September 18, 2020

The lead single from the Singaporean sound artist’s return is a thrilling audiovisual collage that serves as commentary for the global information war we live in – a manic reflection of our over-saturated world.

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Active since the late nineties, George Chua is nothing short of a pioneer in Singapore’s experimental music landscape. Upholding an uncompromising, genreless approach to his experiments, Chua has dedicated himself to psychedelic exercises in sound for over 20 years, producing an oeuvre spanning from glistening, progressive ambient to aggressive post-techno beatwork. Accompanying his gradual return to live sets, we find ourselves with Smokescreen, his first release coming off a near-decade absence in original material – of which Neo Punggol serves as its first salvo.

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Chua proclaims his work as “contemplative prayers”; Smokescreen’s prayers are those for a burning world, baptised via visceral sonic assault. In many ways, the album is a mighty return to form, full of blistering noise and abstract beatscapes that synthesize into a powerful statement for troubled times. On Neo Punggol, they come in the form of punishing, rhythmic grids – a slice of no-wave nihilism, channeled through modular synth intensity.

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George Chua & Yeyoon Avis Ann

George Chua & Yeyoon Avis Ann. Photo: Ujikaji Records.

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On Chua’s Bandcamp page, a manifesto-like footnote reads: “no genre, no commercial potential, military use only.” Indeed, a martial atmosphere radiates throughout Neo Punggol. Paired with a spellbinding video directed by mixed media artist Yeyoon Avis Ann, the track anchors itself contextually in the language of violence.With its abrupt shifts in tempo, its rhythms pulsate and spill over one another – much like the information war it reflects, its audiovisual density creates a sense of relentless overload, grinding down on the listener.

Video: Yeyoon Avis Ann

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Opening with a diptych of virtual, in-game violence, Avis Ann superimposes these conflicts with scenes of social unrest; Korea, Hong Kong, America. As they kick in, a choir of sampled voices enter the spectrum; and as their demonstrations intensify, samples modulating and intertwining with Chua’s frantic rhythms, the cityscapes close in on the people. Suddenly, a monochrome, seemingly utopian construction of reality emerges. Full of pristine corporate visions, the frequencies also begin to purify – into single, insistent pulses.

But just as utopia seemingly establishes itself, the floodgates to chaos reopen. As high frequencies modulate and slice through the mix, the rhythms fragment into abrasive shards of white noise. As the track accelerates, the visuals distort and artefact relentlessly, cutting with monochrome grain. Eventually, as samples and beats percolate into one another, the frequencies dissipate again, stripping down to a hypnotic kick drum. Yet like a lull in a storm’s eye, the pause is deceiving. With a dramatic visual collapse, conflict returns, and like machine guns the track falls apart again, as Ann’s found footage collides into a new maelstrom of sound, mobs enraged and unleashed eventually dissolving the track into an amorphous whole. With each cycle towards utopia comes more tension preparing to boil over, waiting for the correct moment to attack.

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George Chua

George Chua in performance. Photo: Discogs

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But who are the enemies that Neo Punggol’s voices rage against? Chua’s fragmented voices try to tell the tale. “Listen,” one voice calls out; “Everything,” says another. Perhaps everything is the answer – lying not in the details, but its form, as an overwhelming audiovisual mass. Juxtaposed with Ann’s clashing visions of utopian fantasy and dystopian chaos, Chua’s fixations with Paul Virilio’s writings seemingly ring through Neo Punggol’s structure. As Chua’s sonics break down and reconstruct in cycles of violent disintegration, the repeating structure and cycle becomes Neo Punggol’s subject itself: with advancement necessarily comes potential for derailment – success coexisting with struggle, peace coexisting with pain, virtue coexisting with violence. It’s a fitting metaphor for Asia’s path – having begun with social demonstration and militaristic violence, to reaching towards futuristic metropolises and information overload. Under a global information war, the excess never ends.

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Lowering the curtain on the dizzying beatscapes, Chua closes the album with “Empathy” – a beatless harsh noise blowout. It’s metaphoric – for the listener, it’s a violent palette cleanser, obliterating previous conceptions through brute force; for Chua’s voices on Smokescreen, the noise renders them formless and opaque, their concerns and enemies alike. Forcibly shut down by overwhelming forces, the mob’s rage evaporates into senseless mist, ostensibly for the sake of a better world. Constructing our utopias, is violence ultimately inescapable?

Chua gives no answers – only smokescreens. Grinding to a halt, Neo Punggol’s final scene gives just mere glimpses at what lies beyond: more information, and the scene of an impending kill.

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Neo Punggol is the lead single from Smokescreen, out now on Ujikaji Records. Along with its digital release, the album will be issued on limited vinyl, packaged with a deluxe spot UV cover. Buy it over at their Bandcamp page.

Listen to Smokescreen here:

Watch the video for Neo Punggol here.

Follow Ujikaji Records on Instagram here and drop them a like on Facebook here.


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