Out of the silence comes a rising tide of noise, erupting into an intricate drum rhythm, buzzing bass and a thoughtful yet intense melody tapped out on guitar. The music swells once more with a progressive, toe-tapping beat and a mind-rending call and response from both guitar and percussion that is simultaneously dizzying and breathtaking. Welcome to the opening of Zoi, the sophomore album from outstanding local post- rock act TFVSJS.
Composed of five members – founding guitarist Adonian Chan, rhythm guitarist Milk Tsang, bassist Sean Yuen and drummers Chapman So and Antonio Fung – TFVSJS began life as a hardcore group. As time passed and members came and went, the current lineup came to identify itself as an instrumental group with math-rock leanings. The band’s name may sound like an impenetrable string of consonants, but there’s meaning behind the madness. TFVSJS is actually the initials of the Cantonese phrases «頹廢» (teoi fai) and «精神» (jing san) with VS (versus) slapped in the middle. A rough translation would be ‘decadence versus spirit’.
“It’s a phrase I’ve often used with friends and it describes the philosophy of the band,” says Chan, a man obsessed with the deeper meaning of Chinese characters. A graphic designer when not tied down with guitar duties, Chan’s passion for words is exemplified with Zoi. Full of meaning, ‘zoi’ essentially means ‘existing here in the present’. Released by White Noise Records just a few weeks ago, the new LP shows a band taking a brave step forward musically and thematically with a much more sonically cohesive album. It’s a more mature creation than the band’s debut album, 2013’s Equals Unequals to Equal, which was a ragtag collection of self-contained songs cobbled together over a number of years. The band will present the new material to fans at an album release show at KITEC this fortnight.
“I really like the word ‘zoi’ in Chinese,” muses Chan. “It can be used to create many other meaningful words.” The band even designed the album’s cover to show the Chinese character for zoi (在) as three separate elements: a radical, a plus sign and a minus sign. “The plus represents the future and the minus represents the past,” Chan explains. “Zoi brings these concepts together. We’re a combination of the two existing here in the present.”
To bring this idea to life musically, TFVSJS decided to write pieces twith linear narratives that demonstrate this philosophy of flowing through the present. As a post-rock band, rather than having lyrics that explain this theme, the individual song titles are what allow the band to share their thoughts.
“The first two songs have a pretty clear message. They’re meant to be played in sequence,” Chan says. Run together, these tracks ask listeners to ‘burn all flags and paint our pupils with the ashes’, which reflects a desire for less divisiveness in the current political climate in favour of unity and enlightenment. Chan explains how ‘burning flags’ refers to removing barriers that separate people, while ‘painting pupils’ is a reference to the eye-dotting ceremonies ubiquitous with lion dancing. “It’s our retort to those in society who only focus on what makes us different,” Chan tells us. “In the end, we’re really all the same. And in Chinese culture, eye-dotting is like giving someone sight. It’s an ability of vision.”
The band’s wish is to foster hope in Hongkongers after the divisions raised by the Umbrella Revolution. It’s recent events like these that have lent the new album its intentionally heavier tone. “It’s a reflection of what the band and society have been going through,” confides Chan. “The first two songs are constructed with that same sense of struggle, yet end with a glimpse of hope.” The guitarist insists that last word is key. “Our new album may be darker but it’s very much an album about hope,” Chan continues. “There are many things we cannot change, but we can put our hands on one or two things and try to make a little bit of difference.” David Bates
TFVSJS Wed Aug 31, 8pm, Music Zone@E-Max, KITEC, Kowloon Bay. Tickets: $200 (adv), $250 (door); available in advance from White Noise Records.