This is a post about mid-90s Asian cinema, late-80s cyberpunk and Footwork. This is how it goes down.
Though Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express was often pilloried for its sentimentality, its true calling was as a mainline to a vision of Hong Kong beneath all the hyper-capitalism. While the idea of Tokyo as a living embodiment of Cyberpunk was pretty well established as a trope by now, it was the street level bustle of Hong Kong that nailed the feel.
Cyberpunk’s appeal was never really its science. Wetware and the Matrix were undoubtedly fucking cool but it was the characters that sprung up — as a fleshy mirror to the brutality of the trans-national corporations — that felt like the ‘big idea’. As pulp-y as they often were, the placeless, de-socialised privateers that populated Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy were the hook. For every conniving Zaibatsu there was a nihilistic punk destroying their body for love and/or profit (thus making them a terrible nihilist).
Chungking Express had plenty of this. Characters spirited away from their neighbourhoods at the whim of global corporations. Vague, disinterested and displaced people, coalescing briefly around a single place. What the film captured was just that, an unerring sense of place and that place felt like The Sprawl. A warren of memories and sounds and machinations and chance. It’s opening sequence: a nervous repetitious melody and an overcast sky couldn’t have encapsulated this better.
To Chicago and a machine assisted quest towards complexity for complexities glorious sake. Footwork could sometimes sound like dark AI’s computing the Universe but it was the street-level hacking of sound that perhaps allows it to most seamlessly slip into this patchwork. Snatches of nostalghia over something hyper-modern. Attempts to bend dancers to its will with varying degrees of success. The beauty is in the game though, the battle between the machines with their programmers and the rhythmic battles that they fuel.
Sometimes all I ever want to do is listen to Footwork.
Thug Entrancer‘s Death After Life -1 is at the heart of all this. As achingly sad and grandiose as Wong Kar Wai’s super-urban melodrama; as brutally light-footed as anything out of Chicago and as evocative of The Sprawl as I’ve heard in a long time. The reverb heavy horns are the thing, the hook, the single sound that wrenches me back to Hong Kong, back to a childhood idolising hackers and that weird brand of fin de siecle tech utopianism. The hand claps are the thing, reminder that this is dance music, that dance can be attrition and war and exhilarating.
Thug Entrancer’s latest EP, Death After Life, is out now on Laser Palace. You can pay-what-you-want here.