The Yours, one of Hong Kong's top indie talents, have a meet-cute story right out of a teen novel.
Childhood friends Nicholas Wong and Leung Pak-ting reconnected as teenagers, after years apart, over a shared love of alternative music from the 1990s — an era they were both too young to have experienced first-hand. They listed their favourite bands on their ICQ profiles ("a chit-chat messenger" Leung calls it), and found themselves unexpectedly recruiting two eager members to form a new band. The Yours was born. "We loved that Joy Division kind of stuff," says Leung. "And we knew nothing. I didn't even know how to play guitar. It's not really difficult to play punk and post-punk, so we started with that."
It's the perfect story for a band that is self-professedly obsessed with "teen spirit" — not the seminal 1991 Nirvana song, but the actual feeling itself, an effusion of youthful intransigence and hope, irreverence and rebellion. In 2012, after years of growing popularity and a celebrated EP, The Yours released their first full-length album, The Way We Were, to local critical acclaim. The album is both raucous and melodic and tinged with youthful, bittersweet undertones, like the end of a summer holiday. The arrangements are deft, drawing influence from shoegaze, psychedelic rock, punk and post-rock. But The Yours like to call their own sound simply "noise pop."
Two years later, the band is back, with a sophomore album appropriately titled Teenagarten. A mix of kindergarten and teenage sensibilities perhaps, plus the whimsical association of a "tiergarten" — in German, literally animal garden, or zoo.
The line-up has changed to include Wong and Leung alongside guitarist Tim Ng and sometimes vocalist Gwyneth Tang. "She's not playing anything," says Leung of Tang. "She's kind of like our muse."
On the new album, which will be released on July 19 with a gig at Hidden Agenda in Kwun Tong, the band embraces a new sound. On their official website they have a humorous description of the changes. "The Yours' sophomore release sees another linear step in their evolution; nevertheless, Teenagarten is by no means a progressive, sophisticated album. As the title suggests, the 11 tracks are meant to horrify adults and please teenagers. It is still very much a lo-fi collage dedicated to youth culture."
Wong says the band shifted their sound after a tour of mainland China to be "harder and faster … more energetic and also angrier", like the punk rock they saw performed over the border. "We found that their performances were incredibly energetic and powerful," says Wong. "We decided to change our direction immediately. The Way We Were had more melodic rock songs. For this album, our approach was rawer and more hardcore, more like underground noise and punk."
So, a change of vantage point, but still the same view. This album, like their last, is dedicated to celebrating teen angst. "We never tried to make it a concept album and we never directly talk about teenagers," says Wong. But once they wrote the title song they knew their subject was the same. The lyrics aren't necessarily explicit about teenage life, but "you can tell from the melodies and structures — the whole picture is about teenagers. It's the most important part of everyone's life, the most beautiful, the shortest."
They also returned to the '90s for inspiration. One song is called Winona's Tattoo, a tribute to the actress Winona Ryder's break up with Johnny Depp. The title song has a raging '90s underground vibe; it is reminiscent of the fictional band Mystik Spiral in MTV's '90s teen cartoon, Daria.
The album's best track is Valley Kids, which, from the opening chords, is immensely indebted to the Smashing Pumpkins' 1996 hit, 1979. Behind The Yours' tough and angry guitar arrangements float wistful vocals, enhanced by the lyrics, which are clearer here than elsewhere in the album. Winona's Tattoo is also a winner, especially when it devolves into ethereal, post-rock instrumentals.
Since the '80s, Beijing has fostered a tough and gutsy underground rock scene (dubbed "red rock" by author and academic Jonathan Campbell), driven, as counterculture music often is, by the political and social dissatisfaction of the nation's youth. Beijing's punk rock scene is experiencing a golden moment, led by talented young bands such as Carsick Cars.
This is the scene that drives The Yours to dig deeper and experiment, testing their boundaries. Before the recording of Teenagarten, Leung went to Beijing and met Zhang Shouwang, the frontman of Carsick Cars and a good friend. The Yours were all set to record in Hong Kong, but Zhang convinced them to sign with sought-after producer and musician Yang Haisong and record in Beijing.
"We changed our plan immediately and recorded the album in six days — it was really tough," says Leung. "It was cold — we were each wearing two jackets and two pairs of jeans. Every day after recording, we felt completely dead. There was no proper toilet. Once I had to s*** in a plastic bag. It was really kind of gross, but it was also the most beautiful experience. It changed our band."
The Yours, July 19, 8pm, Hidden Agenda, 2A Wing Fu Industrial Building, 15-17 Tai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, HK$180. Inquiries: 9088 8950