Live and loving it
Beyond Psy and K-pop, Hong Kong was blessed with visits from a plethora of cosmopolitan live acts from right across the genre spectrum, writes Adam Wright
Hong Kong was visited by giants of pop and indie music, and the city was finally blessed with a world-class festival, but the local music landscape in 2012 was ruled by a chubby thirty-something Korean man doing a ridiculous horse dance.
This year it seemed there was no escaping Gangnam Style, the annoyingly infectious dance track performed by South Korean singer/rapper Psy. During a recent visit to Central's Beijing Club, for example, it was played no less than four times. And it wasn't just Hong Kong that went Gangnam Style crazy: the accompanying music video this month became the most-watched clip on YouTube, notching up more than a billion views.
Hong Kong's Gangnam Style mania hit fever pitch in November when Psy arrived in the city to perform at the Mnet Asian Music Awards, alongside other huge South Korean stars such as Super Junior and Big Bang. This much-hyped awards ceremony was the high point of a huge year for K-pop in Hong Kong, coming after shows such as the KBS Music Bank in June, and concerts by bands T-ara and 2AM in September, SHINee in October, and just before Big Bang's Alive Tour this month.
However, while much of the city was prancing in imitation of Gangnam Style's horse dance, promoters of music that isn't designed to be a disposable commodity were hiding under tables with their hands over their ears, plotting a steady stream of concerts that offered sound alternatives for followers of more forward-thinking music.
Promoters such as Untitled Asia, Songs for Children and Your Mum (made up of the same people who organised the hugely successful Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival at West Kowloon at the start of the month), more than catered to the city's growing appetite for independent and alternative music. And while their shows obviously weren't on the same scale as Lady Gaga's four-night run at AsiaWorld-Arena in May, when it comes to music, size obviously isn't everything.
April Lam of Untitled Entertainment, which during the year brought respected acts such as The Horrors, The Vaccines and The Wedding Present to Hong Kong, says that attendance figures have been steadily on the rise since Untitled came together at the start of 2010.
"Every year is getting better and I like to think that every year we reach a new milestone," she says. "The success of concerts such as Lady Gaga wasn't exactly shocking considering her massive mainstream popularity, but I hope to see that kind of response - or something similar, at least - over the coming years for other international acts as well.
"It's been a bit challenging at times to find the proper channels to market through, especially with the types of music we bring in - very up-and-coming artists who are usually just starting to venture overseas. But it's been very rewarding to see the good turnouts - I've discovered that these bands which are often new to me have quite loyal and sometimes pretty hardcore fan bases across the region."
The Clockenflap festival was for many the musical highlight of 2012, presenting about 80 acts including Primal Scream, De La Soul, Klaxons and Alt-J across seven stages on the West Kowloon waterfront on December 1-2.
The turnout of more than 20,000 and all-round acclaim for the organisation proved that an outdoor music festival can succeed in Hong Kong, despite some notable setbacks in the past such as the 2003 Harbour Fest.
Justin Sweeting, the festival's music director, says he has witnessed many positive changes taking place in Hong Kong's music scene during the past 12 months. "More people are doing more things than ever before - be they musicians, promoters, studio owners or venue operators. Plus the media is showing more an active and supportive interest. Across the board, things are moving in positive directions.
"Across the whole musical spectrum, this year has been a very decently sized step, continuing in the right direction.
"But the main difference with 2012 is that we have seen success stories on several levels rather than just one or two," Sweeting says.
Another sound which enjoyed near unprecedented success in 2012 was electronic dance music, reflecting its explosion in popularity in the United States. Barely a weekend went by without a big name calling past one of the city's nightclubs, and standout gigs included appearances by DJ Krush, Nick Hoppner, Jamie Jones, DJ Shadow and Wolf+Lamb.
Hong Kong now has a wider array of venues for live gigs and turnouts continue to improve, but how can everyone involved help take things to the next level? Sweeting says: "More people need to take advantage of what's going on nowadays. It used to be that there never was anything happening in Hong Kong, and that's no longer the case. Now there's choice, and the only way we'll keep growing and moving forward is for more people to get out there to the shows.
"In the coming year, there'll be more acts coming through that you've heard of - and more that you haven't. I expect local bands to move up a gear too, with more opportunities as well as brand money available for more projects. I think there'll be more shows of all sizes taking place - from smaller pop-up happenings to ever-larger one-off events. There are new spaces cropping up and more of a willingness to use spaces in more interesting ways," he says.
While no large-scale K-pop concerts have been announced for the start of the year, rock fans have a couple of highly anticipated concerts to look forward to: Your Mum is presenting acclaimed Mexican couple Rodrigo y Gabriela at Grappa's Cellar in Central on January 8, and Untitled is bringing Canadian rock duo Japandroids - who made many best-of-2012 lists for the second album Celebration Rock - to the same venue on January 23.
However, the particular K-pop success story isn't over yet, according to Sweeting. "It's been the dominant force across the globe over the year and it's still got - very well-rehearsed - legs in it yet. It'll be a while before anything changes there."