One week ago, Gao The Arsonist released a track titled BLEED that delves deep into misapprehensions surrounding the semantic fields of work ethic and achievement that we are socialised into believing, as a byproduct of capitalism. SOuthside broke down with Gao the song’s reality-questioning lyrics, and an interesting use of a particular sample.
BLEED is a track that is self-produced by Gao The Arsonist that starts with the words “you’re worthless”. Through many phases of a short track, Gao experiments with various sounds and tempos, the reason behind which can only truly be understood once listened to. In a discussion with SOuthside, Gao describes the track to attack four main principles: those of fulfilment, worth, suffering, and capitalism as an attitude.
Gao honours his stage name, which means ‘to tell’ in Mandarin, in verbalising the first of the four facets in BLEED - that of fulfilment. Gao told SOuthside that he believes the workaholic archetype is “strangely normalised”, explaining that his upbringing around adults who worked in the corporate world part-informed this track. Lines such as Baby you ain’t smiling / have you tried typing til the blisters on your fingertips burst?, and Haven’t shut my eyes in over three days and it feels great question the obsession modern people have with working til it damages them, with what he describes as “unsettling irony”.
With no loyalties to any one geographical location, Gao is free to absorb global influences and it is evidenced in his music. Amongst a mix of noises inducing a unnerving psychedelic aura, much like Earl Sweatshirt or even some examples of the likes of Mr Traumatik, is a sample of Rihanna’s 2016 song Work - an intriguing and ironic sample to make use of for the BLEED instrumental. The second idea Gao The Arsonist attacks is that of worth. Hard-hitting bars like Barren wombs are cut out of the stomachs / don’t mix living up with worth, in Gao’s words, are a “blatant rejection of the belief that human life is inherently valuable” - pointing out those people who are perceived to not be contributing to society are dehumanised and demonised.
Thirdly is the idea of suffering. It is true that we have been taught, from as early scriptures as the bible, that there can only be good if there is bad - and, in particular, the amount of suffering we go through correlates with the amount of reward we deserve. Gao likens this to the mantras of delayed gratification and ‘no pain, no gain’. “This almost masochistic attitude causes so many to feel that they only deserve to be kind to themselves after they've earned it through either glorious achievement or suffering”, Gao explained to SOuthside. He described some of his lines as depictions of somebody “flexing their sacrifices and fetishizing their suffering”, as we can probably all think of examples for right now.
Having grown up in the UK under conservative Jamaican parents, and moving to Communist China as a teenager, Gao has been through different economic systems and seen both sides of the coin. In BLEED, Gao challenges the heartlessness of meritocracy with lines such as Don't you know that your human value is rooted in what you produce for demand?, which are designed to emulate the commonly held belief that those who can’t afford to live do not deserve life. Gao told to SOuthside: “the idea that people shouldn't have to pay for things that they need to not die is somehow a radical political belief...It's so easy to feed into these ideas because for so much of our lives we receive validation only when we achieve.”
“This intense but vague ambition to achieve as an artist left me constantly feeling as though I wasn't doing enough”
Gao isn’t exempt from the workaholic mindset ingrained in Western culture, though. “For me, this intense but vague ambition to ‘achieve’ as an artist left me constantly feeling as though I wasn't doing enough,” he explained. “This mantra of aimless productivity was like trying to catch smoke and it manifested as some pretty intense anxiety. I'm much better now after unpacking all of this and forcing myself to unlearn these attitudes. Anxiety still sometimes creeps in for a second before I shut it out.”
Gao is soon to start university in Warwick, and hopes to blow up some live shows there. Be sure to add Gao on social media to keep up to date with Gao The Arsonist releases, live shows, and other content in the pipeline.