The other side of the tracks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 1993, 12:00am

FLIPPING through the letters and music pages of Hong Kong's press recently you would have noticed a drastic change in the tastes of the territory's live music lovers.

Forget imported cover bands from the US and Philippines and the Friday night frolics of expats working in the territory. Hong Kong's indie bands are now hauling in the crowds by the truck-load.

Underground outfits writing their own material played in their own original style are now so popular they are releasing their own independent albums and selling them to markets that record industry hierarchies seem to think don't even exist.

Well they do, and the proof is in the huge turnouts for indie bands such as Hot Sauce, Mothership, Heresy and Private Pills, just to name a few, who have come out of the closet to share their own serious music.

But wait a minute! This is Hong Kong, and serious music is the last thing on people's minds - unless, of course, they can make a million bucks out of it.

So what's the attraction of the independent bands now crawling out of the woodwork? They are loud, ugly and write their own material, defying every musical aspect that is accepted here - sex, idol worship and money making.

Let's face it, some of these bands are U-G-L-Y. No pretty boys in suits and ties or gals in bicycle tights. And worst of all, they make virtually no money.

And it is this which is appealing to the audiences. The fact that these bands play what they want, ignoring harassment from bored, impatient crowds and money-minded bar managers, is finally winning support from many followers.

These regulars have also discovered that the bands are not talent-free sex objects or musical technicians who play to show how good they are, but maverick artists who play what they feel from the gut regardless of what happens to be ''in''.

There are now so many indie bands emerging they are all scrambling for the few venues that will accept them for a night's gig.

Itching to see one of Hong Kong's own indie bands in action? Radio Free Hong Kong which is now held every Thursday at DDII, Lan Kwai Fong, is the most popular indie playground with just about every band from the territory's underground playing there in the past 12 months. They put together 50-to 60-minute sets, which allow for three to four bands to appear on one night's bill.

Other venues such as The Wanch, Amoeba and the Jazz Club also invite the better-known groups (who guarantee a crowd) on to their stages .

But are they worth seeing? Are they just children of the grunge fad that has swept the western world by storm? The fad that includes anybody who can thrash an un-tuned guitar and scream until they're blue in the face? The more popular including the Sisters of Sharon, whose sound centres around their grungy guitars and blood-curdling screams, the outrageous political theatrics and lyrics of PNS and ..HUH?! with their aggressive guitar-driven melodies, prove that you don't have to have Doc Marten boots and a goatee beard to be ''indie''. They are all considered individual in their own right.

And judging from the ever-increasing crowds thrashing, head-banging and slam-dancing away at their gigs, indie bands are finally (albeit slowly) proving to bar-goers that their mysterious music is anything but noise pollution.