Ouissam Mokretar Talks Hong Kong's Underground Music Scene
The co-founder of party promoter, booking agency and production label Cliché Records celebrates his project's fourth birthday.
What was the Hong Kong underground music scene like when you first started Cliché? When I arrived here five years ago, the underground music scene wasn’t that good for me. There was a little bit of a techno scene, but I was frustrated with staying in the city that I liked, but wanting to leave because of the non-existent music underground scene. That’s why Cliché was created. It was trying to connect people who were into groove, house and disco music. The goal was not to fill a club, it was getting the right people for a night and just having some fun.
Has it been hard establishing and maintaining the label for the past four years? Today, we’re celebrating four years and I’m so far from my old daytime job—I’m in my little world and I do what I love—but socially, it’s different. You feel a bit disconnected from the real world, from daytime jobs and holidays—Tuesdays are our days off. It’s hard to handle the career as well as relationships, because it’s mostly nightlife. I can make a living but I can’t plan too much and I don’t know where I’m going. But I still love it. I feel alive every day and it’s so good to do what you love, meeting others who share the same passion as you.
Has the direction of Cliché’s music changed? We’ve still got the same roots, which is disco groove, but the sound has become mature. In the past we’ve booked acts that were good for us four years ago, but looking back, it would be weird to book them again. We found ourselves, we feel complete and we definitely know what we want and where we’re going, so we’re also taking more risks to do what we want to do.
What is the Cliché image today? If you think about Cliché or the Cliché parties, it’s more an afternoon, evening vibe. It’s a lot of smiles and happiness, people dancing and get-togethers. It’s cozy, intimate.
What’s the idea behind your music label Fragrant Harbour and the sub-label HomeSick? Fragrant Harbour Soundsystem is mostly house and techno, all electronic sounds, which is more 2016. HomeSick is older, 80s and 90s, house, disco and groovy tracks—we call it HomeSick because we take old tracks and we play them again, in our own music. For Fragrant Harbour, we make it so that when you buy the vinyl it’s all in Chinese. There’s no English information on it, to show the local scene that they can be proud of this label. We really want to push Hong Kong on the [international] music scene, because Hong Kong has huge significance for our team. People in Europe or Asia who discover the label will know that it’s from Hong Kong and they won’t think it’s done by four expats. It’s not the expats who build the scene. The vinyl has to represent Hong Kong, and the people who work with us have to understand what Hong Kong is.
You’re working on a Cliché-owned club in Hanoi—what’s the deal? We’ve had an idea for a club for several years: We ended up with Hanoi because the rent is cheap and it’s close to Hong Kong. It’s our venue where we can share our experiences from Europe, especially from Berlin, and we’ll be throwing two parties a week. The opening will be in June. It would be amazing to open a venue here, but it’s always the same problem: rent. I don’t want to be in this situation. It’s a tough decision but I don’t feel ready yet. Maybe in two or three years.