Bolis Pupul 2024
Photo: Bieke Depoorter (Magnum Photography) / Grandstand Media

Bolis Pupul Offers Electronic Fusion for the Dancefloor

Bolis Pupul’s Chinese touches on Western dance beats are enticing. He belongs to both worlds and appreciates the connections and juxtapositions between them.

Letter to Yu
Bolis Pupul
8 March 2024

Bolis Pupul grew up in Ghent, Belgium, with a Belgian father and a Chinese mother. The “Yu” to whom Pupul’s solo debut LP, Letter to Yu, refers in the title is his mother. The musician said he did not pay much attention to his mother’s cultural heritage as a kid, but since she died in a traffic accident in 2008, he has rediscovered his Chinese roots. He has formally studied the language, traveled to Hong Kong, and familiarized himself with the food. Pupul combines Asian and Western themes into sonic collages.

The results are deeply emotional (after all, this is a letter to his mother) without being cloying, observational without striving for objectivity, experiential without losing connection to what has come before. Listening can be compared with smelling a strange new flower. One has smelled other flowers to which one can compare the experience, but the novelty of the stimuli possesses its own reaction. It reminds one of past scents and memories. It smells distinctly different and is connected to a new memory.

Or maybe describing the songs as a bouquet of flowers would be more accurate because each track has its separate style and identity connected by its Chinese/Western synthesis. This is frequently manifested by field recordings from the streets of Hong Kong mixed with bouncy pop rhythms and tempos. Songs like “Goodnight Mr. Yi”, “Cantonese”, and “Completely Half” share a common locomotion—one is constantly moving forward—but suggest one is traveling down different tracks, streets, or walkable avenues. Are we on a train or waiting for one, crossing at a light, or stuck in a crowd? The constant movement doesn’t necessarily mean one is going anywhere.

There are lots of voices both in the background and the foreground. Bolis Pupul sings in different voices and uses field recordings to capture the sounds of other places and times—including that of “Frogs”. This gives Letter to Yu a naturalistic feel, even when artificial noises are weaved into the track vis a vis heavy percussive beats and off-kilter effects. This also adds a light touch to the proceedings, as on “Frogs”, when the deep bass croaking of electronics overwhelms and out-funks the actual amphibians.

Other songs, such as “Spicy Crab” and “Cantonese”, use different strategies to garner attention. They use longer lines of repetition to create an aura of mystery. Think of Philip Glass-type structures where one waits for something to happen. Things build and achieve stasis before evaporating. This is dance music, but what seems solid doesn’t last because something else is coming up right behind. That’s the point. This, too, will pass, whatever this happens to be. Keep on moving.

Letter to Yu can be abrasive, like the buzzsaw lead on “Kowloon”, but mostly it gently persuades one to get in the groove. Something is inviting about the Chinese touches on Western dance floor beats. Bolis Pupul belongs to both worlds and invites one to appreciate the connections and juxtapositions between them. One doesn’t have to be Sigmund Freud to understand the psychoanalytic connections. We all want to dance with our mothers—dead or alive.

RATING 8 / 10