Sui Zhen transformed Howler into a cathartic, dreamlike haze

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Sui Zhen transformed Howler into a cathartic, dreamlike haze

Words by Kate Streader

It was an emotional performance from the beloved local artist.

As we hurtle towards a culture in which the distinction between our online lives and reality is almost undecipherable, our smartphones practically fused to our hands, we all possess a digital ghost. Becky “Sui Zhen” Freeman calls hers Linda.

For all intents and purposes, Linda is a mirror image of Sui Zhen. Only, there is something unnerving about her. She isn’t quite whole; there’s no depth behind her blank stare and unmoving expression.

When Sui Zhen set out to write her new album, her world was shattered by her mother’s cancer diagnosis. It sent her down a rabbit hole as she grappled with the idea of leaving behind an eternal, digital self after we die.

And so came Losing, Linda, a record reflecting on loss, mortality and the fragments of ourselves that exist in the digital ether.

It’s only fitting that Linda is here tonight, at the album’s launch at Howler. She hovers at the front of the stage, facing the crowd and wandering within it, before climbing onstage to watch over Sui Zhen’s shoulder.

The prosthetic silicone mask of Sui Zhen’s face which adorns this come-to-life Linda is also present in the film being projected onto the back wall of the stage – a series of eerie, dreamlike scenes that are somehow ominous and beautiful all at once.

For those who had wondered how such a textural, atmospheric album would translate onto the stage, any doubts dissipate the moment the stuttered, echoing tones of opener ‘Another Life’ begin to seep through the speakers.

Sui Zhen, joined by Casey Harnett and Andrew Noble crafting beats and Liv Jansz (aka Punko) on bass, has the audience swaddled in a thick layer of swirling synth within moments. She’s melted our knees and we’re now but a sea of Lindas, only our vacant stares are the product of having our minds completely zombie-fied by the music.

It’s a sensory assault from every which angle, and we can’t help but get swept away in it all.

Metallic tings slice through hazy synths as Sui Zhen, in full concentration mode, braids vocal loops together. Her hands are constantly moving across her station, twisting knobs and plonking on keys.

Though the setlist mostly rests on material from Losing, Linda, older tracks such as ‘I Could Be There’ rear their head, as well as a groove-filled remix of ‘Being A Woman’. When the set reaches its tail end, Sui Zhen even pulls out a few new workings to test on the crowd.

But it’s the elongated rendering of ‘Perfect Place’ that has the entire room dancing, Sui Zhen included. She abandons her instruments and climbs down from the stage, Linda in tow, snaking through the audience and ought of sight as her band plays on.

Eventually, she returns, this time crawling and dancing around stage in unison with Linda. Perhaps we can find some slither of ourselves within our digital ghosts.

Highlight: Getting a glimpse of new material.

Lowlight: Not being able to go home and listen to said new material.

Crowd favourite: ‘Perfect Place’.