Isolation Dispatches look at how creatives in culture scenes around the globe are coping with the effects of Covid-19.

This week we hear from China-based psych duo GONG GONG GONG 工工工 who find themselves in isolation at opposite sides of the world. JOSH FRANK and TOM NG told us about the situation in their two cities and how they are keeping creative under lockdown.

Firstly, what’s the situation with the band currently?
JF: Our situation is a little unusual because of being between countries right now. Tom was in Beijing when stuff started to get bad in China, and he left to go to Hong Kong where his family is. He’s now been there for more than two months. I’d been in New York, and came to Montreal a little more than two weeks ago to stay with my family. So we’re both stuck outside of Beijing. China isn’t letting any foreign nationals into the country at the moment (so I wouldn’t even be able to go back if I tried), and if Tom went back now he would have to be in quarantine in a government-approved facility for 14 days. A lot of our gear is in Beijing, but we have our backup instruments with us. We don’t exactly know where we will be able to meet up or perform next, so we’re trying to be ready for anything.

Our 13-day May UK/Europe tour, which we had booked pretty much entirely ourselves, got
cancelled last week. We also have a lot of Asia tour dates planned for later in the year, and
we’re waiting to see what will be possible with that. In a way, being between Asia and North
America right now gives us flexibility, but in a pandemic, everything is affected, so there’s not really any escape or shortcut.

TN: Yeah it’s an unfortunate situation but it gives me time to work on the band’s merch,
printing more shirts, work on the design for the repress of our LP, and some cassette releases that have been sold out for a while.

Can you tell us a little about what’s going on in the cities you are in – is it full lockdown or a bit more relaxed?
JF: Montreal seems relatively ok, though I was self-isolating for the past two weeks. It’s very
quiet outside. New York sounds quite intense, and I worry about all of our friends there.

TN: Hong Kong has been doing quite ok until recently when a lot of international students came back from overseas. A lot of them brought the virus back so we are experiencing the second wave of this pandemic. People are still allowed to go out but apparently it’s been a lot quieter than usual.

ISOLATION DISPATCHES: MONTREAL + HONG KONG Image

Is there anything you’ve been able to do as a band to keep active despite the disruption?
JF: A couple weeks ago I made a hand washing guide ‘music video’ which I would say is required viewing. The first verse of our song Wei Wei Wei is exactly how long you should be washing your hands with soap and hot water.

We’re continuing to plan upcoming tours and we’ll have a new tape coming out later this year. I cut a new music video for another project we’ll be announcing, and we’re both learning about recording and music software.

How have other cultural organisations in your cities reacted to the measures?
JF: In China, everything shut down very quickly, and some places started doing live streams. In the US I think it took a lot longer for people to realise the seriousness of what was happening. It’s great to see institutions/labels/bands promoting each other, but I also feel like there’s something of a content overload.

TN: I didn’t pay attention to what’s going on in Hong Kong to be honest. But I was surprised to see some bands still put on a show. I went to see Thud play who I quite like, but it was also kind of scary to cram inside a bar with a 150 mask-wearing audience.

“There’s a balance to be found between dealing with the daily necessities you might have, interacting with other people through the internet, and somewhat embracing the time alone as well.” Josh Frank, Gong Gong Gong

Can you give a few examples of what other musicians are doing in your cities to keep themselves busy and to promote themselves in these times?
JF: It sounds like everyone is lying low, pretty much. Making music at home, some people are doing live streams, but it seems less than what I’ve noticed on the Chinese internet. A lot of Chinese musicians and venues have experimented with livestream stuff.

TN: I’ve been hanging out with my friends from David Boring a lot and saw them finishing some new tunes which is pretty cool. And N.Y.P.D. just released an album which I like a lot. I’ve been in touch with them and see if we can do something together in mainland China in the near future.

How are you yourself getting through it – personally and professionally?
JF: I do freelance documentary shooting in addition to music, so between that and the touring Gong Gong Gong had planned, there isn’t really a way to do paid work in my field for a while. Thankfully I have some of my instruments with me, and video footage that I wanted to edit for personal projects. I definitely don’t feel bored, and I’m really grateful to be able to be with my family. I think there’s a balance to be found between dealing with the daily necessities you might have (work/taking care of people/getting food/etc), interacting with other people through the internet, and somewhat embracing the time alone as well.

TN: Well I guess your brain changes its way of working a little bit in a situation like this. You become more patient and time seems to pass quicker than usual. It feels strange but you also understand it’s normal to be strange. So it isn’t that difficult to get through, really. Like I’m having this new reality that I can only sit with my laptop in the living room for 10 hours per day, which is totally fine, but at the same time I know I’m reaching my limit. And I was supposed to start my new job in February and it didn’t happen, or not yet. But luckily a lot of people discovered Gong Gong Gong as they’ve been staying at home, and I managed to sell some merch to support myself in the past two months.

How do you think this will affect the cultural scene in your cities once things return to normality?
JF: I’m concerned about the financial impact it will have on DIY and underground spaces, which are already pretty precarious to begin with. I do hope that when people are able to congregate together again, that there might be more of an interest in live music and an appreciation for community spaces.

TN: I think things will flourish when it returns to normal because no one is allowed to do much in this situation.

Do you have any advice for isolated creatives at the moment?
JF: Wash your hands and pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Everything that’s happening in Europe or North America happened two months ago across China, there’s a lot that people can learn about what the likely trajectory will be, how all our lives will be impacted, and how to cope and stay positive.

TN: Do some exercise while being stuck inside. Be more understanding to yourself, to others and to the situation.

Read other Isolation Dispatches stories from across the globe here.

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