I have long vacillated between amusement, frustration, pity and downright desperation when contemplating the Hong Kong live music scene. Some of this is to do with being pretty spoiled with regard to live music opportunities for most of my life, some to do with not being “in the loop” with local musicians here initially, and then some to do with the fact that some of the bands I saw here on chance were simply awful. Hong Kong’s big shows tend to go down at Asia World Expo, which is a tremendously inconvenient arena with an unspectacular set up. The acts they get tend to be “big” like Linkin Park, Beyonce, Rod Stewart, Dionne Warwick, Greenday… Never mind. Occasionally there is a show at the Wan Chai Convention and Events Center. When I saw David Byrne there, even he had words with regard to the set up and acoustics and the “No Dancing” signs. [Still, he managed to pull off a tremendous show.] There are some people who have really put in serious effort to rectify this situation by focusing on a real grassroots approach towards generating interest in local bands (not an easy feat in a completely brand-name obsessed environment like HK, where often then name is more important than anything…) So, in some ways the two extremes of the music scene have been available: totally gigantic/mainstream/generica or totally local.
When you move somewhere far away, like across the Pacific Ocean as I did, it seems logical that you will have to work a little bit to find a musical niche that suits you. But it was a real labor of (limited) love for me at first. And as I said, I know I am spoiled as a San Francisco Bay Area native, but I kept at it. And I started to discover some bands that I really liked either for the vibe, the music, the talent, and in some cases all three. Some of my local favorites have been El Destroyo, Transnoodle, and my friend Sue Shearman. (They are all on FB too, but harder to link.)
However, over the past couple of years I have noticed a shift in the scene and a lot more energy going towards getting musicians to come here as well as organizing shows that fill that missing festival niche. I think that The Underground had a lot to do with this initially, along with some local venues like The Wanch, Backstage, The Cavern and Grappa’s being more receptive to hosting shows. One of my favorite shows took place at Grappa’s last year as a ska/rockabilly combo that included Transnoodle, El Destroyo, Go Jimmy Go and Astrophonix. Was. Totally. Awesome. The DJ scene in Hong Kong has always been pretty solid, as it is easy to fill a club and some people like Steve Aoki are always willing to come here along with a lot of other UK DJ’s who cut their teeth here back in the pre-handover days. Not too long ago Jahtari brought a pretty interesting MC here by the name of Soom T, and along with the other DJs spinning some pretty fresh dubstep, it made for a much needed booty-shaking evening.
Another thing that has really made the difference here is Clockenflap. This is an event that has helped me stop missing the festival season at home for at least a couple of days each fall. It is a music and art festival in a strange, but somehow logical, venue at Hong Kong’s CyberPort. Then to add to the joy factor, some of the interests behind The Flap collaborated with a few others and came up with The Peoples’ Party.
Can I get a Hallelujah please?
The Peoples’ Party has been bringing some bands to Hong Kong that I adore – the shows are conveniently located and well-attended. Plus they have taken a page out of the Fillmore playbook and are distributing posters at the events. Well played, gentlemen. (Now, if they would just let us keep the very pretty ticket stubs…)
Just some of the recent shows include Andrew Bird (!), just last night we were treated to OK Go, and soon The Secret Machines. Huzzah! Things are looking up. And though I am still totally perplexed about being here rather than “there” for events like Coachella, SXSW, Outside Lands, The Bridge School Benefit, Squaw Valley Music Festival, etcetera, etcetera… I am certainly feeling a little more hopeful – or maybe I just finally got in the loop. To that end… here are the first two videos I ever posted to Youtube. And clearly, I have no clue how to edit. Babysteps, yo… just like I explained above.