TRACK REVIEW: FIFI RONG – AWAKE Review by Music Musing & Such
Awake is available via:
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY:
PHOTO CREDIT: Pako Quijada
The E.P., Awake, is available from 23rd February. You can pre-order Awake via:
EVERY time I take a breath and review…
an artist; I hope, by the time I exhale, I can find loads of good things to write about. That might sound like a strange thing to say but, sometimes, there is a feeling the music will fade from my mind when I have completed. That s never the case with Fifi Rong. I have assessed her before and, each song that comes my way; there is a special burst of life and adventure that remains in the mind and compels me days/weeks down the line. I will talk about the special characteristics of Rong and what her new E.P., Awake, represents. I will move to talk about London and why the city is inspiring artists – and why the varied geography transplants into music. Then, for a bit, a bit about bringing the right personnel into music; marrying sounds from the East and West; why we need to embrace artists with more invention and colours – finishing by looking at image, striking figures and why Fifi Rong can go a very long way. Something about FiFi Rong really bursts my brain and gets into the heart. She has a way with music that blends the familiar and the strange. Awake’s eponymous lead-off single has elements of her previous work and displays the same ambitions and blends as her fans have come to know and love. What differs is the subjects and topics addressed. I will talk about Awake’s meaning later but, with each Fifi Rong song; one gets an exotic and passionate blend of notes and vocals. I can detach from my ordinary world and step into music that is a fantasy and dream. You submerge yourself in the music and let the imagination flow wild. That is not something you can do a lot in modern music. I often wonder whether artists, when writing a song, think about the experience and what the listener is getting from it all. Most seem to write from their own perspective and have their own motives. They want the song to connect, for sure, but there is little in the way of depth.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pako Quijada
Fifi Rong is a dreamer and unique songwriter who expend so much intelligence and colour into her music. She blends genres and fabrics; gets deep into human emotions and takes a new angle on subjects many others are writing about. Awake looks at waking up to the truth that you’ve hypnotised yourself and deconstructed the paradoxes of human nature. It is about subservience and subordination; pain and joy: the conflict of self-reflection and liberation. It is a deep and evocative song that signals what the E.P. will display. You never get the same sensation with a Fifi Rong song. Each movement has a fresh candour and dynamic that takes your thoughts in a new direction. I can listen to some of Rong’s earliest material and see how she has come on as a songwriter. There is more confidence and candour; there is imagination overflowing and the sound of an artist unwilling to rest and compromise. I will move on from this point but, before then, I have been thinking about artists and whether they make sufficient leaps. It is hard moving on from a sound if it is established and popular. The temptation is to stick with what you are used to and not really move on from it. You get bogged in a rut and never feel the need to evolve. Fifi Rong is someone who captured the public and critics early but, with each song/E.P., takes on new influence and pushes her music forward. I am excited to see how far she can go and, in years to come; I feel she will be a mainstream artist who can make changes and inspire other generations. She has received support from publications like The 405 and CLASH – someone who has got to the big leagues already and is not taking anything for granted. She has performed around Europe and played with some big names already.
The capital of the U.K. is somewhere many artists are moving to and being inspired by – finding it a bit daunting and expensive when they get there. Not only has London got resources and everything a musician needs right there; it is the people and landscape that provokes the mind and gets music onto the page. I have seen a lot of musicians come out of London but there are none quite as vivacious and imaginative as Fifi Rong. She seems to take from all the avenues and streets of the capital. Not only does her music look at a range of human emotions and deep issues people go through: the sounds and production notes splice genres and different feelings. This is very indicative of someone who has moved to a busy city and is trying to discover what makes it tick and understand its complex soul. As opposed to towns and ‘quieter’ parts of the globe; London is a rich and enigmatic city that can change one’s personality. It is hard adapting to a new landscape – one as broad and busy as London can exhaust and wear someone down. The city brings people in because of its openness and sense of democracy. There are varied races and religions in the same place; you can move between areas and witness something fresh and colourful. Fifi Rong knows this She has opened her arms to the city but, rather than document all the positives and surface considerations: one gets a deep look at the people and what life is really like. You can say Awake is about general human experiences and something everyone goes through. I feel those contrasts and bigger emotions are more pronounced in the city. London is supportive and caring – despite those who argue otherwise – but it is quite hard discovering who you are and finding community. No matter how much of a struggle life is; you can find a part of London where you are welcomed and improve your life – Rong assesses all the angles and nuances of the city.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pako Quijada
It is fascinating seeing Rong mix her family background and upbringing with the diversity of London. She has Asian background and, of course, is inspired by the East. I hear modern, updated versions of traditional Asian music in her Electronic sounds. One gets a real blast of Asia and the scents that make it such a blissful and fascinating continent. I have never been to Asia but I know the sounds here have inspired musicians for centuries. Maybe music of the East is not as commercial and accessible as that in the West. Blending those two worlds together can be quite a challenging thing to do. London seems like the place you can do that. Not only is there a large Asian population here; the ultra-modern, bustling city means you are exposed to the contrasts of East and West. The beat and buzz of London bring these paradoxes together in a rich and effusive tapestry. It is no wonder, with her D.N.A. and background, fusing Asian and British/American sounds together was the right thing to do. Maybe there is more of a nod to the West: one can definitely detect the charm, eccentricity and strange allure of the East. I feel London is an area that has its ups and downs. Rong has studied here and built a life among the people. She has created a career and established herself as an artist to watch. I know she drinks in the city and its rush but, like everyone, there are harder times when things can get a bit too much and hard. She takes all this into consideration and channels it into the music. Rather than present a rather ordinary and commercial viewpoint of London; you get a heightened sense of the free and complex. It is difficult breaking away from more ‘popular’ and marketable sounds at a time when the mainstream still takes over.
PHOTO CREDIT: Pako Quijada
Fifi Rong knows people can pigeonhole artists and stick with the same kind of music. She does not want to be one of those artists who repeats herself and does the same song over and over again. I know there are those who do not really transform that much between releases. That might be because they have that talent and quality right away – varying and stepping away from that might be seen as commercial suicide. Others do not have the talent and mindset to do anything new and get involved with fresh sounds. Fifi Rong has released a trio of stunning singles – Future Never Comes, The Same Road and The One – that show she never sits still and is always keen to progress. Awake is another step forward and differs from anything she has put out there. There are electronic and natural strands mixing alongside one another; those poetic lyrics and a commanding voice that gets right into the soul. Her Asian heritage means we have a much bolder and eclectic sound than, say, a western artist. Those more homogenised and limited tend to remain in my thoughts for a shorter period of time. Maybe they can get a feeling of other continents through musical exposure and research – it never seems as natural as those who have spent time there. Rong is an artist who pulls the overlooked East into the modern and over-exposed West. Rather than lazily clash them together and hope they coalesce; she digs deeper and artfully weaves something stunning together. Awake is the next phase of her career and one that seems, to me, more personal and meaningful than anything else. Not only is the title-cut bold and impassioned: the E.P. is her richest and most astonishing work yet. This upward trend and arc is the result of continued curiosity and performance. I know, before long, all her hard work and creativity will pay dividends – and she will be a permanent fixture of the British scene.
I cannot talk about Fifi Rong without looking at the image and marketing at work. She has a P.R. representative and, like any artist, there is a very set of way of doing things. I have talked about this in a feature before. The precise and planned nature of release can take away the naturalness and spontaneity of music. That said, when planning a big media attack; one needs a certain semblance of organisation and calculation. You cannot fling a song/E.P./album out there and hope people get behind it. Because of that; artists tend to have set images for each release. Look at Fifi Rong’s social media pages and you get an arsenal of arresting photos! She is one of the most vivid and alluring characters in music. Naturally, one gets a real sense of the East – from makeup and pose to the fashion on display. Rong is someone who pops and comes to life on camera. You get the feeling we have a modern-day Björk in our midst. The Icelandic legend created her own look and sound: an assortment of beguiling textures and asides; music that was/is so much more entrancing and original than anything else. Fifi Rong is not replicating Björk but, when looking at her images and the way she splices sounds – you get impressions of the legend in her work. Many artists out there have their own style and impression but there are none as immediate and intriguing as Fifi Rong. For her latest E.P.; the funding came from a source that has served her well: the crowdfunding website,PledgeMusic. There, one can pitch an idea and see it supported by backers. It is something more and more musicians are doing at this time. I think it is a fantastic way of raising funds but, more importantly, a way of getting fans involved with the process and the music itself – offering them rewards for being part of the project in addition.
I know Awake could not have happened without the dedication of Rong’s ardent fans. They have helped make it a reality and, as such, it brings the musician closer to her fans. I have stepped away from the tracks but that is one aspect of Fifi Rong that amazes me: how she brings fans into her music and makes them part of the machine. Put this together with a stunning image and the diverse music and you have a modern artist who is already ahead of her competition. She has created an identity at a time where there seem to be fewer genuine human figures. I get the sense (musicians) are keen to forge any reality and physicality and simply put out a rather bland and predictable projection. You are rarely drawn to a musician and everything they are about. That is not the case with Fifi Rong. Not only does her music inspire and motivate the listener to get more involved: the woman behind the music is equally interesting and meaningful. I am inspired to learn where she came from and how her family have impacted her music; why she studied in London and how she brings that into her music; why she writes about the subjects she does – what the future holds in store for her. It is impossible to resist the multiple sides and pleasures of Rong. She has contributed to albums by Skepta (Konnichiwa) and Yello (Toy). Not only has she been part of those albums: her impact on each has been highlighted by critics. She is appealing to other musicians and shows how adaptable she is in the process – something that helps bolster and elevate her own music. There is no denying Fifi Rong is here for a very long time to come. She is a modern artist who has managed to stand out from the crowd and inspire other musicians. There is little to stop her and, with Awake’s title-track out in the ether; we can witness the next stage of her career. She works with people like Max Dingel (who mixed the track, Awake) and Nick Ford (who co-wrote Attack). Sin City was mixed by Leandro Muñoz – who mastered the E.P. – and John Wlaysewski mixed a couple of tracks. Those incredible talents have helped make Awake what it is – Rong is the standout voice and the most impressive credit on the list!
PHOTO CREDIT: Pako Quijada
Right away; you get strident and firm electronic notes that melt into breathy and evocative sighs. The song, to me, seems to blend 1990s Dance with modern-day Electronic music. It is an effusive and compelling blend that gets you invested right from the off. Awake’s first lines talk about lights and cars on the street – people milling about and fated souls. There is rush and compaction; it is hard to sleep and stay awake. One can see the lyrics as a straight-out look at the city and how one is in a perpetual state of sleep. You are awake enough to walk the streets but worn by the rush and glare – maybe a new state that is neither sleep nor being awake. Maybe the song is a deeper look at human consciousness and the way we switch between alive and vivacious and numb. The track brings you into a new world and makes you feel every single note and ember. The beats and electronics provoke various visions and interpretations. When singing “Running and running and running don’t run and hide/There is a feeling inside that would never die”; the words breeze and trickle; there is a fantastic melody and catchiness to the delivery. Against the chorus – which is straighter and more strict – here is something more melodic and uplifting. The heroine is in a permanent state of loneliness – which she seems to like – and she paints her personality in blue. Documenting a situation of isolation and detachment could be seen as quite hard-hitting and difficult. Rong projects her words so that you feel calm, fascinated and invested – there is never any sense of bringing the mood down and looking for sympathy. There are jaded conversations that make out with the violin; there are contrasts and difficult choices. The heroine cannot push forward and finds it hard to keep going: she is unable to resist and halt her progress and sense of energy.
It is the contradictions and extremes of the human psyche that keeps coming through. The strange mystique of the city works alongside a woman’s viewpoint of modern life and reality. We are all in this perpetual mould where we are neither alert nor dimmed: like being in standby-mode all of the time. Our batteries are half-charged and we are always looking for answers. It seems Fifi Rong welcomes a degree of personal space and room to move. She has two sides to her personality but, against the bustle and hastiness of modern life – the need to get away and be by herself is evident. The song has that momentum and propulsion that means, after the first listen, it is in the head and committed to memory. Previous Fifi Rong songs have been more colourful and edgy: this is more calmed and melodic. That is a good thing, you see: repeating the same sound would wear a little thin for those who want to find an evolving and original artist. I feel, with Awake, Rong is looking at life in a different way and, rather than be the extrovert who wants to challenge the world and make her voice known – a bit of time away from the bustle and crowds is what’s needed. It is always fascinating hearing how she documents human relationships and the modern world. The phrasing and delivery is her own; the production and compositions constantly thrilling and different. It is the voice that, as always, makes the biggest impact. The way she manages to make every line sound so important and personal is a talent other songwriters could learn from. Awake is a stunning track and shows Fifi Rong is never keen to repeat herself or do what anyone else is doing at the moment. Here is an artist who has a long and bright future ahead of her – on her current single; she shows why more eyes and ears need to point themselves in her direction.
I have talked about Fifi Rong and aspects that make her one of the most sensational artists around. Awake is officially released on 23rd February but there is a pre-order release date of 16th February. You can go to her PledgeMusic link/campaign – at the top of this review – and get it a bit earlier than those on Spotify and iTunes. The eponymous single is out and gives a great representation of the E.P. and what it is all about. I am excited to see the E.P. come out and how far it can spread. Rong has already gained the ear of stations like BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6 Music – some of the biggest stations around. The music appeals to the ultra-modern and those who want something vibrant, exciting and fresh: it resonates in those who want something deeper, calmer and more emotive. I feel there will be touring dates and chances for fans to see the new material come to life. This year will be another exciting and busy one for the London-based star. Awake is one E.P. you surely need in your life – and one that stands out from her previous work. I have not encountered anyone as daring, diverse and consistent as Fifi Rong. She is an amazing artist who has taken big strides but has more to do. I know, in years to come, there will be huge festivals coming her way. Take a listen to the newest cut from Fifi Rong and compare it with her oldest work. I am stunned by her work and can imagine this year being her biggest yet! Awake is a song that grabs you by the clothing and leads you into a magical and brilliant place. A fantastic song from an artist the music industry needs…
A lot more of!
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