Interview with Mong Tong.

Mong Tong is a Taiwanese duo consisting of the brothers Hom Yu and Jiun Chi. They describe their own music as "diàn zǐ qín music" (electronic keyboard), and their mysterious sound incorporates a variety of genres like Hokkien pop, rock, electronic music, ambient, left field, and more for an attractive style.
Their worldview draws inspiration from sci-fi, the occult, Taiwanese superstitions, and folklore, a style that can be seen in their artwork and music videos, and their domestic and international fanbase is steadily growing.

They went on a European tour with the psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo in June 2022. On November 28 of the same year, they appeared as guests at Kikagaku Moyo's last concert, which drew excitement from the packed Tokyo’s Ebisu Garden Hall. They are also quite active on the international scene, being selected for an online showcase by Taiwan Beats at SXSW in 2022.
For this interview, we sat down with the duo to learn in-depth about their careers, how the unit was formed, and their creative inspirations and ideas behind the music.

What led to
Mong Tong's formation: tracing their roots to
extreme metal!

--Could you tell us more about what went into forming Mong Tong? The two of you are brothers, correct?

Hom Yu:
That's right. We used to jam and play music together, but we were initially in separate bands before forming Mong Tong. We lived apart from each other in different cities for some time, too, making it physically and geographically difficult to create music together.

--You are also a member of Prairie WWWW,

Hom Yu:
Yes, but I'm not one of the founding members. I joined in 2018. We formed Mong Tong in 2017, so our unit actually predates that one. Prior to that, I was in the psychedelic rock band Dope Purple and several other bands. My brother was also in a thrash metal band called Mutation.

--Metal? That's surprising. It seems a bit different from what Mong Tong is doing.

Hom Yu:
About ten years ago, we both listened to a lot of metal. Above all, I liked extreme stuff, like grindcore and hardcore. But I was a student at the time with a lot of worries, so when I transferred to another university, I wanted to revamp my life with something new, so I quit listening to metal.

--So how did that lead up to forming Mong Tong?

Hom Yu:
There was no specific thing that got us started, but Jiun Chi and I grew up together, so our musical tastes were similar. Even after I stopped listening to metal, our essential hobbies and preferences were still aligned, or should I say, we were on the same wavelength in terms of aesthetic. Since 2015, I've been listening to Taiwanese experimental music like Scattered Purgatory and Prairie WWWW, and inspired by work incorporating culture unique to Taiwan. That's what led to the formation of Mong Tong.

Combining old sounds to create new music

--In our last interview, we spoke with Lilium, a band that incorporates traditional Taiwanese music in their sound. Would you say Mong Tong has elements like that?

Hom Yu:
I wouldn't say we have any traditional elements. That's because the basis for our music, as well as the instruments and equipment we use, is Western. Lin I-Shuo of Lilium has studied traditional Taiwanese music and is making Taiwanese music in the truest sense of the word. We, on the other hand, are making more what I would call "pseudo-Taiwanese music."

--There is also a kind of nostalgic or vintage sound quality.

Jiun Chi:
That's right. We prefer to use, for example, old keyboards rather than modern synthesizers. I guess you could say we are committed to producing vintage-style sounds.

Hom Yu:
We use old sounds because we like them, and they're often not hi-fi. But by combining them together, it becomes a new sort of music.

--Would you say you draw inspiration not just from music, but from Taiwanese culture as a whole?

Hom Yu:
I'm inspired by traditional Taiwanese funerals. They are very lively, with bands playing, parades, dances, and sometimes even stripteases. Also, they hire people to cry. There are people who make a living crying at funerals. We've been exposed to these "strange" customs from a young age, but Taiwanese people who live in cities tend to look askance at these as just "rural customs." Our parents had that attitude, too. But if anything, that led us to find them appealing and kind of develop an objective point of view about it. I used to listen to extreme metal, but recently I feel that Taiwan's own environment is itself "extreme."

--You also get inspiration for your music from visual media like YouTube.

Hom Yu:
Yes, we also get it from games, old movies, and the like. I want to draw inspiration from a variety of art, regardless of the medium or form of expression.

Jiun Chi:
I love Japanese samurai movies like Rashomon and Seppuku. I've also drawn influence from a lot of Western movies, ranging from The Magnificent Seven to Star Wars which were deeply inspired from Japanese samurai films as well.

Satire and irony
as a form of art.
Everything is culture,
so there's no need to
be shy about it

--It at times feels like, paired with Mong Tong's music, that dramatic sense comes across as ironic.
Hom Yu: Well, yes. We consider satire and irony to be a form of artistic expression. Some people seem to think we are ridiculing the situation when they watch our videos. Or, like the Taiwanese funeral we talked about earlier, some people may see it as putting Taiwan in a negative light. But this is the reality and everyday life of Taiwan. And everything is culture, so there's no need to be shy about it. This is something we want to convey not only through our music, but through all forms of expression.

--About that genre: you've performed live shows with Kikagaku Moyo and many see you as a sort of psychedelic band. What is your take on it?
Hom Yu: To be honest, I think we have few psychedelic elements as such. We have more aspects of world music, experimental, left field, and rock. We think that mixing these disparate elements is a uniquely Taiwanese approach. Anything goes here. (Laughs)

--What does the name Mong Tong mean? It's not a Taiwanese Chinese name, correct?
Hom Yu: If you were to try to fit this into a Chinese homophone, it could mean a variety of things. And there are surely the words "Mong" and "Tong" in other languages. We aren't really trying to convey a specific message through our music as such, so we'd prefer if people just make their own interpretations of the name. I'd venture to guess that people from English-speaking regions probably see it as a classically Chinese-sounding name.

Differences between
Taiwanese and Western audiences
seen in Europe

--You went on a European tour in June 2022. What sort of reaction did you get in cities like Paris and Berlin?
Hom Yu: On the whole, it was generally better than Taiwan. People wanted to take a selfie with us and were actively interested in our backstory and concept.

--Are Taiwanese audiences different?
Hom Yu: Taiwanese people are shy, so they often won't tell you even if they think something is good. By contrast, Europeans will even break into dancing. I don't exactly feel like this is danceable music, but that's beside the point. (Laughs) But their reactions are straightforward, so it's nice to see that they readily liked it. We felt like it gave us a better idea of what people think about our music and how they are reacting to it. In Taiwan, most people just say, "it's good." We don't mind if they want to trash the music, so we'd like to hear people's honest opinion.

--Did you feel that European audiences are interested in Taiwanese culture?

Hom Yu:
Yes, especially now that Taiwan's relationship with China is being reported globally. Almost everyone we met knew about Taiwan, and they were keenly interested. When I performed in Europe with Prairie WWWW in 2019, awareness of Taiwan was almost non-existent. The only person I met who knew about Taiwan was familiar with it because of the Taiwanese team that won the championship in the online game League of Legends. So compared to then, I think things have really changed.

--It makes sense that you would be received favorably overseas. The music and visuals feel distinctly Asian, and you have sort of homages to sci-fi and occult elements, so those queer or ominous aspects feel attractive. What do you think European audiences liked most?

Hom Yu:
I think it comes down to interacting with a fresh sort of art they haven't seen before. We got the impression that Asian artists have a chance overseas due to that.

The key is
engaging with
a variety of music and
refining one's
own style

--The playlist you made, Hom Yu, of Hokkien pop and diàn zǐ qín music, is super interesting. It really comes across how this music has inspired and informed your own.

Hom Yu: That's true, but we don't want to merely imitate or sample that music. Take cuisine in Taiwan, for example. It draws from overseas ideas but has developed into its own thing. We want to do the same with music.

--We'd be interested to hear more about how you produce your music. Is there anything in particular you focus on?

Hom Yu:
We try to use as few preset sounds as possible in our DAW, focusing on creating an original sound. We use African percussion sounds for the beats, which is a bit uncommon, right? We also don't use rides or crashes. This reduces the overall modulation to give the song a flatter tone, and then we add other sounds instead.

--How do you feel about collaborating with other artists? Your May 29, 2022 release, "Four Stories of Four Seasons", was an unusual audiobook collab featuring a variety of storytellers.

Hom Yu:
In Taiwan, artists such as Ssu-Ma Chung-Yuan and Chen Wei-Min released audiobooks about ghosts from the 80s through the 90s. That work is a tribute to that culture. Features are our family and friends, and we asked them to tell stories they'd written themselves. We first recorded their voices, then added our music. So it's more of an OST (original soundtrack) than a music album. The content is more strange than scary. It was inspired by the Japanese TV series Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari. Audiobooks are easy to consume, and we wanted to convey to people that anyone can write a story.

--Do you have any news to announce for the coming year?
Hom Yu:
First of all, our new album will be coming out, and secondly, we want to go on a world tour!

This interview took place locally in Taiwan. Our meeting location was a terrarium shop ZhongSia run by Jiun Chi. The store, which sits quietly in a back alley, has a white-based interior, with terraria of various sizes beautifully lining the space, making it look like a lab from a sci-fi film. Jiun Chi was at work quietly tending to the moss in the terraria, a scene that was striking in being a page apart from the suspicious and queer aesthetic espoused by Mong Tong.

Hom Yu later joined us, and we headed to a cafe. They both had a very gentle demeanor, were extremely friendly, and spoke about the ideas and inspiration for the music. This was contrasted by a sharp and biting irony that at times took the author by surprise. This ever-changing attitude is perhaps part of their appeal. We are looking forward to seeing what kind of art this prolific duo brings out next.

Mong Tong’s