From butter Scotch to bubblegum pop

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 September, 2005, 12:00am

Hardcore rock may seem to be one of the most prolific movements in the indie scene, but the style that's had the greatest staying power is also the sweetest. 'Cutesy' pop - so called because of the sweet image of the bands and the music they play - has been around for years and shows no sign of waning.

The woman often credited with starting the movement locally is Dejay Choi. Although Choi, 27, recently formed the band Salty Soggy Sour, she's best known as solo artist the Pancakes. As the Pancakes, Choi won best original movie song at this year's Hong Kong film awards for Gum Gum Gum, from the animated movie McDull, Prince de la Bun. This month, she'll release her ninth album and will perform a series of live shows.

In her new incarnation as vocalist for the Salty Soggy Sour quartet (who have only played together once before), Choi is breaking from her solo past. She may be considered cute, but her motives are businesslike.

'We want to earn money and play music we like at the same time,' she says. 'We don't want to follow the tradition of playing indie music and not earning any money. It's not fair.'

Still, it's amity rather than dollars that's behind Choi's latest venture, the Friends from Faraway concert tomorrow, at which she hopes to showcase a crop of cute bands, many of whom are friends. Choi has enlisted Hong Kong cutesy faves The Marshmallow Kisses, who fuse male/female duets with analogue keyboards, lo-fi recordings, bossa nova guitars and drum machines, and A Company. Making their Hong Kong debut are Bad Daughter from Taiwan and Miniskirt from Japan. Although Choi hasn't played with all of the acts, each of the bands knows at least one of the others.

'It's going to be a really happy night because the bands know each other and when that happens you get a good atmosphere,' says Choi.

As for clues about the sound of Salty Soggy Sour, she says it's 'like a baby, we still don't have a rigid direction for the music'.

The cutesy movement (or, as Choi prefers to refer to it, indie pop) grew out of the jangly guitar sounds of Scottish bands such as The Pastels in the 1980s and Belle and Sebastian 10 years later. Proponents of the style were known for composing gentle melodic tunes that focused on the vagaries of love. In the mid-90s the sound caught on in a big way in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

'Tokyo has, maybe, the best indie scene in the world,' says Miniskirt lead vocalist Edgar Franz, 34, who admits to having all of the Pancakes records. 'There are live shows every night and a lot of bands are playing cute pop, with female vocals, whispering voices and very simple cute lyrics.'

Franz is from Germany, and his five Miniskirt bandmates are Japanese. German label Marsh Marigold Records released their debut album, Woody Allen Likes Guitar Pop, last year and the band are now juggling their day jobs - from fashion to computing and teaching - while working on their second album, which will include their trademark flute and toy accordion.

The name Bad Daughter conjures up images of snarling rockers with big hair, but their album titles Teddy Bear Without Hair and Little Sun indicate their cutesy roots. Formed in 1997, Bad Daughter - who played with Miniskirt in Shibuya last summer and are fans of The Marshmallow Kisses - promise an unusual set.

'I can't find the words to describe the weird sounds and experimental techniques we use,' says female bassist Sky Tai Shing-fang. 'It's in the way we use the synthesiser, drum machine and keyboards. We want to fuse all kinds of sounds.'

Friends from Faraway, tomorrow, 10pm, Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd, Central, $120 (Fringe Club, Monitor Records). Inquiries: 6197 4588 (English), 9499 0876 (Cantonese)