Return to Indie City

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 October, 2010, 12:00am

Time was that Hong Kong's standing as a cosmopolitan world city would be laudable, but for the notable absence of a bona fide, sustainable alternative to Canto-pop.

However, times have changed, and what was once just a sporadically inspired local independent scene has developed signs of true staying power.

'Indie music has somehow been reborn lately,' says Gary Chan, associate publisher of Re:spect music magazine. 'There are more commercial opportunities for bands now. University shows combine mainstream and indie acts, introducing the alternative acts to new, younger audiences.

'Brands are more open to sponsoring indie events as well,' Chan says.

Yuen Chi-chung, music critic and founder of influential music platform MCB, agrees. 'Now everything is exciting again. The original local indie boom came in the mid-90s with the success of bands like Anodize, AMK and Huh?! breaking into the mainstream,' he says.

During this period, major media such as Commercial Radio 2 carved a sizeable niche by promoting independent local releases, and it wasn't unusual for heavier artists such as N.T. and Screw to be playing the Coliseum to sizeable crowds. However, the mass media soon associated such events with aggression and anarchy, and mainstream interest in the alternative scene plummeted.

It has yet to reach the same heights again.

It wasn't until the turn of the millennium with falling costs of self-financing releases and the distribution potential of the internet that homegrown indie labels including Harbour Records, Far East Records and 89268 started building again from the ground up. 'This was the real DIY generation of HK indie music,' says Yuen.

Healthy cult followings developed around the likes of Uncle Joe and False Alarm, while artists such as My Little Airport and The Pancakes started spreading Hong Kong's indie music beyond the city's borders.

The scene was still small though, and characterised as niche pockets of activity. But over the years, the collective sum of these clusters has multiplied as more quality bands emerged, covering more of the musical spectrum.

'I remember in 2003 there were only two main genres in the scene: hardcore and nu-metal,' says Chan. 'Now indie musicians are exploring all kinds of avenues.'

While still a limited market, the development of the live scene has gone hand in hand with the more sustained presence of quality artists. Rhys Adams, marketing director of live venue Grappa's Cellar, says: 'To the people who say Hong Kong has no cultural soul, go out any night of the week now and there's a top-class gig to be found.

'I think there has been a change in the perception of what can be accomplished with music in Hong Kong. You can see it in the number of people now opening their own music studios, and the number of bands now producing some pretty good albums.'

With multiple show listings each week, often on the same night, and the Global Battle of the Bands heats now in full swing, there are plenty of opportunities to watch some ever-improving local talent.

As John Prymmer, owner of The Wanch, sums up: 'People need to branch out, support the scene and really see what it is all about.'


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