Bolis Pupul
Letter to Yu


3.6
great

Review

by Erwann S. STAFF
March 13th, 2024 | 12 replies


Release Date: 03/08/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A celebration of multiculturalism

I recently acquired the Belgian nationality. It ain't that huge of a deal, but it's a big deal nonetheless: I've lived there virtually my entire life, studied there from preschool to uni, got my job there, made all my friends, and found my love. I was definitely integrated within Belgian society, yet I always was the French boi living in Belgium - the kind of foreigner that isn't too estranged (no shit, I was born next door) yet still not fully part of the club. With that shiny new nationality - I felt like Magnemite gaining the steel type - I made a conscious effort to further immerse myself in Belgian culture. Of course, I knew the basics: eat Belgian fries, hate the French (who doesn't?), drink beer whose alcoholic percentage is higher than 6°, and maintain a love/hate relationship with Romelu Lukaku. What I didn't know, however, was Belgium's special relationship with electronic music.

Belgium's first steps in the international electronic music scene came through new beat - a mix of new wave and EBM, quite close to acid house, and later on a source of influence for Belgian techno and gabber. New beat was championed by the legendary R&S Records label - the one that launched Joey Beltram, Ken Ichi, Jaydee, or that lil English guy named Richard James - and soon took over the 90s. R&S closed its doors in 2000 (founder Renaat Vandepapeliere found the whole scene to be "quite shit") to better reopen them in the late 2000s to bring James Blake, Nicolas Jaar, and the UK techno revival (Lone and Blawan being the two most prominent faces of that revival). Since the mid-2010s, however, R&S lost its throne in favour of Deewee. Deewee was founded by the Dewael brothers, of Soulwax and 2 Many DJs fame, and curators of the apparently-amazing Despacio nights created alongside LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. Their brand relies on a fusion between early synthpop, electroclash, and techno and would soon take over their label's identity.

It's not entirely out of the question to what extent Deewee's identity imposes itself on the artists they sign - it's the very essence of a label to promote a unique aesthetic, but maybe they went a tad too far ahead. One of these phagocyted artists is Bolis Pupul (born Boris Zeebroek), who released his first EPs on Deewee in 2016. He came to prominence during the last couple of years, primarily thanks to 2022's Topical Dancer with his BFF Charlotte Adigery. Topical Dancer was Deewee's most significant success, showcasing the label's typical soundscape while intelligently examining xenophobia and misogyny.

These matters were highly personal, but they were more akin to Adigery than Pupul—legit, as she wrote the lyrics and vocally carried them. On his debut solo album, Pupul can now highlight his own experiences. He lost his mother, Yu Wei Wun, in 2008, but couldn't fully grasp that impact until a decade later, when he first traveled to his mother's native Hong Kong. While Pupul was there, he embraced his "new" culture and recorded snippets of urban life. Some of these snippets appear in Letter to Yu - the name being an evident homage to his late mother -, in a celebration of multiculturalism espousing both his Hong Kongese roots and his Belgian identity.

This tug-of-war between two ipseities shines on the leading single, "Completely Half". The chorus "One hundred percent fifty percent, completely half on my behalf" is a resounding line for anyone with mixed background (most of us innit). Musically, the duality between the melody's early synthpop basis and the rhythm's heavy sub-bass show how pristine the Deewee production is, especially when coupled with a DJ like Pupul, who thrives in reuniting sweet melodies and banging beats. This signature discrepancy shines on "Spicy Crab", where stammering synths battle an arpeggiated spiral of old-school electro riffs, or on the choral-led "Goodnight Mr Yi".

Pupul doesn't always intersperse hard angles with hypnotic electronica: sometimes shit just gotta go hard, like on club-ready "Kowloon" or on "Doctor Says" and its exhilaratingly danceable boom-boomism. On the contrary, he disseminates some moments of respite across the album, as the (too?) chill closer "Cosmic Rendez-Vous", or the relatively calm "Ma Tau Wai Road", the one track that most evidently carries Pupul's roots, both musically and lyrically. Far-eastern bells lay over a midtempo beat while Pupul's sister, Salah, sings about creating a new connection to their mother by simply walking through Hong Kongese streets. "Ma Tau Wai Road" might not end up as the most popular track from Letter to Yu, but it's the one that represents the artist's yearning for affiliation the most.

It's thus a very personal record that carries its message with an impeccable pace, and yet there's a sense that Letter to Yu lacks a little bit of more. Not all chill tracks appear as touching as "Ma Tau Wai Road", and the Deewee influence is still a tad too overlooking - soundscape-wise, Pupul innovated as little as he could without us nerds tearing him apart. His mastery of synths and the quality of his songwriting are apparent, but there also lies some regret that the album doesn't feature more vocals - Adigery's charisma and electricity sure helped Topical Dancer in that regard. While one may thus regret an overall slight lack of audacity, perhaps because Pupul chose to capitalize on his recent success and quickly deliver his solo record, such a spontaneous and sincere record can only be touching, especially to those who also feel the need to get in touch with another part of their identity.




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user ratings (14)
3.4
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
dedex
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2024


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6 | Sound Off

took me some time cause this ended up being more personal than i expected



now imma go to bed take care of yourself xoxo

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2024


5959 Comments


This (great) review reminds me of the time that there was a Sputnik roast thread and Jesper's contribution was simply "dedex is French" - classic!

And congrats on the nationality, dedex.



parksungjoon
March 13th 2024


47235 Comments


> What I didn't know, however, was Belgium's special relationship with electronic music.

oh man, not even lords of acid?


dedex
Staff Reviewer
March 13th 2024


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6 | Sound Off

u both baes thanks Sunny for the kind words and park for the eagle eyes



now imma REALLY go to bed xoxo take care of yourself

parksungjoon
March 14th 2024


47235 Comments


people make no sense
take me for example
i read this review and instead of my takeaway having anything to do with this album or artist i mostly just thought man i should probably take the time to comb through what came out of the 80s and early 90s belgian underground at some point

dedex
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2024


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.6 | Sound Off

that was one of the underlying goals so u do make sense :] R&S' catalog is a great entry!!

parksungjoon
March 14th 2024


47235 Comments


they put out all kinds of things over the years including dnb

https://rateyourmusic.com/release/single/wax-doctor/heat-offshore-drift/
https://rateyourmusic.com/release/single/voyager/hypersleep/

ive recommended these before on some of my lists


DoofDoof
March 14th 2024


15214 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I liked this a lot first listen.



I maybe programmed myself to enjoy it though due to the nostalgia of looking at the Hong Kong ferry seats

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
March 14th 2024


3047 Comments

Album Rating: 3.3

Psssssst oi nce review, go citizen dedex

Pikazilla
March 14th 2024


30000 Comments


pokemon simile appreciated

mkmusic1995
Contributing Reviewer
March 14th 2024


1816 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Very lovely review, dedex! I feel like this will keep climbing for me on repeated listens. It feels so special and like something that will have really good staying power. Also, congrats on the Belgian nationality :D

Hawks
March 14th 2024


89393 Comments


Gotta hear this.



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