Punk up the volume

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2005, 12:00am

Half the audience stood transfixed; the other half fled. Psychedelic, post-punk rockers Elf Fatima have that effect on audiences.

Their show at the Fringe Club three weeks ago was the loudest that's ever shaken the small venue's walls. It was a performance that intrigued those who withstood the volume, and the band's hypnotic grooves and lengthy improvisational jams singled them out as one of the city's most original acts.

Elf Fatima say they're starting all over again this year - eight years after they formed. Their name - inspired by the Japanese manga series Fatima by Mamoru Nagano - may be familiar to many Hong Kong music fans as the band supported the equally loud Glasgow band, Mogwai, last October.

They've just released a self-titled, second album - recorded and produced in their Kwun Tong studio. It's a darkly psychedelic work of pure post-rock.

'We want to see this as a new start, a new beginning,' says guitarist Eddie Hui when we meet at the Kwun Tong MTR station. He's just back from a trip to Shanghai and has a mandolin and a traditional Chinese gui zheng slung over his shoulders.

The band's studio is in a factory that houses other bands such as King Ly Chee. The Fatima Factory is on the top floor: purple walls, drapes hanging from the ceiling, Pink Floyd posters and Hindu deities. Jimi Hendrix plays Purple Haze on the TV and the PA system oozes the sounds of the gui zheng.

'We think oriental music is already quite psychedelic,' Hui says. 'So, we're using it to explore more ethnic music and culture.'

Bass player Voodoobee was impressive during the live show with his funky basslines. 'My technique isn't good,' he says. 'But I can play a little bit groovy. Not professional, but strange patterns. Like from Jefferson Airplane.'

He starts up a bizarre tune on the gui zheng that winds throughout the interview. Voodoobee used to be known as Phoenix Yeung when he, Hui and drummer Dave Yip were in a so-called doom metal band called Heresy.

'We thought doom metal had too many limits,' Hui says. 'We were getting older and wanted something more spiritual.'

So, the band reinvented themselves as Elf Fatima in 1997. They took on a new vocalist, known as Elf, who Voodoobee met at a music shop.

'He called me and asked me to join the band,' says Elf. 'I'd never played in a band before.'

Yip says she had a major impact. 'Our style became quite different with Elf,' he adds. 'Before, when we played metal, it was too powerful - and some would say too violent.'

At the Fringe gig, Elf was dressed in net stockings and stilettos with a Gibson guitar slung around her neck. She had a powerful voice - at odds with her shyness when speaking.

Nonetheless, she seems to lord it over the men. This unusual match of strong, edgy frontwoman and powerful, live jamming band make Elf Fatima an unusual force. Their music is dark and hypnotic - like a mixture of Spiritualized, DJ Shadow and Sonic Youth, yet with a distinctive Hong Kong flavour, as Elf's vocals border on Peking opera.

Elf Fatima say they haven't yet found a local label they identify with. Since the Mogwai gig, they say they seem to appeal more to expats than locals.

It's not hard to imagine this foursome breaking through to the global scene. But even if they don't, they won't stop reinventing themselves. 'That's why we're learning the erhu and gui zheng,' says Hui. 'When we're old, there's always Temple Street.'

Play with the Madness, featuring Elf Fatima, Ghost Style, Howler, SIQ, Nothing None, Zoundz and more, Sat, 6pm, Kwai Chung IVE Hall, 20 Hing Shing Rd, Kwai Chung, $40, $50, $60. Inquiries: 9750 3936