SACCHARINE strains of Canto-pop are beginning to be drowned out by a heavier beat: Beijing rock. When 6,000 music fans crowded into the Coliseum on a Saturday night last month for the All-Chinese Band Showcase, it proved at last that Canto-pop was not the only act that could fill auditoriums in Hong Kong. The four cult acts - Tang Dynasty, He Yong, Zhang Chu and Dou Wei - played to a rapturous audience. That northern sound began to make an impression after Hong Kong deejays started featuring them on the radio stations and Channel V played videos of hits such as Dou's High Animal and Zhang's Ashamed Of Being Alone. Even so, the Showcase was unprecedented, the largest concert of mainland rock ever staged here. The organisers, all with a professional interest in propelling Beijing rock into the commercial mainstream, had no idea until the night how well the concert would be received. 'It was packed, we were astonished,' said Brian Leung Siu-fai, a deejay with Commercial Radio 2, who co-organised the event with Taiwan's innovative record labels Rock Records and Magic Stone. The audience comprised the same Giordano-clad, clean-cut youth seen at Canto-pop concerts, but this time they were singing along to sarcastic punk lyrics and heavy metal anthems. The organisers took a big risk in hiring the territory's biggest indoor concert venue: they had to fill 6,000 seats with four acts who only had a cult following even in their native Beijing. 'We wanted to make a point, to show local bands this kind of music can be successful,' Leung said. Tang Dynasty, a heavy metal act who hit the headlines in 1991 with their ironic version of the communist anthem, The Internationale, took top billing. Last year their video, Dream Of A Return To Tang Dynasty, represented China in the international MTV video awards in Los Angeles. Second spot was filled by He Yong, a prickly punk figure who titled his first album Garbage Dump. He also attracted attention from abroad, having played in London and been written about in Spin and Newsweek. Zhang, dubbed the Chinese Bob Dylan, and Dou were the remainder of the line-up. Zhang is known for his plaintive chengshi minyao (urban folk songs), which have been a hit in campuses across China, while Dou is the former lead singer with heavy metal outfit Hei Bao and now gone solo. In Hong Kong, though, Dou is probably just as well known for being funky Canto-princess Faye Wong Ching-man's boyfriend. It was a made-in-China concert in more than one way: the roadies and some of the equipment were imported from the mainland too - another first. But the performance was as slickly managed as any Canto-king's love-in, perhaps another reason why the concert went so well. In the past, the Beijing rockers were heavy on lyrical depth and innovative sounds but weak on packaging compared to glossy Hong Kong. Record deals and trips abroad have smartened up their acts. Thankfully there were no tightly choreographed dance routines or soppy love songs in their Hong Kong show. It did have, however, a flawless light show and the expected loud guitars, strutting, and smoke and mayhem, with He Yong stealing the show by having to be carried on by his band members for a final bow - and little idiosyncracies such as a spot of Beijing opera and a solo on the sanxian, a three-stringed lute. But the foundations of the concert were laid much earlier by organisers Elvin Wong Chi-chung and Leung. Musical pioneers, the pair have been struggling against the flood of Canto-pop for years by playing Western indie music on Commercial Radio, where they are deejays. They laid the ground work when they started a section Rock Over China three months ago on their indie music Quote Zone show on Commercial Radio 2 on Saturday nights. 'We found a lot of new bands came from Beijing, and originally we planned a small concert, to let people know there is an alternative to Canto-pop,' Leung said. Rock Over China, Wong added, was intended to give local listeners a taste of something different, from Chinese musicians. 'We didn't want to give the audience the impression we don't play Chinese music; and seeing Chinese musicians like these can be a stimulus, a catalyst for local musicians. Originality is a very basic step, but not in Hong Kong.' For Wong, who is a musician as well as a deejay, mainland rock has a lot to teach Hong Kong music. 'It is about time for Hong Kong to find out about roots. Canto-pop doesn't deal with roots or Chinese culture, it is so shallow. We can tap this in Beijing music. Leon Lai Ming is not Hong Kong, he is bubble gum. This [concert] has an opening effect for Hong Kong.' The evening's show stealer, He Yong, epitomised Beijing rock's magpie approach to music. As well as African rhythms and a soul brass section, he brought on his father, a sanxian master, to perform classical Chinese airs and then jam along with the rest of the band. An energetic performer, He Yong galloped across the stage, posed in columns of dry ice, and kept cool by drenching himself with bottles of water. Leung thinks He Yong was the most popular act not just because of his acrobatic and aggressive style - being outspoken helped. 'He told Hong Kong reporters he thought the Canto-kings were clowns, so a lot of the audience liked him,' Leung said. Concert-goer Oli Kwok, 25, agreed. 'I had read that He Yong had called the Canto-kings clowns, and this aroused my curiosity.' She had the more mainstream Cantonese music, she said, but drew the line at going to an Aaron Kwok Fu-shing concert. 'I am too old, but I would go to another mainland concert.' He Yong has been rewarded for his controversial comments by rising record sales. Rock Records sold more than 100 copies of his album in the three days after the concert. 'Before the concert, Dou Wei was the most popular,' says Maria Yuen Oi-chun of Rock Records. 'Afterwards He Yong was out-selling all the others.' Leung feels Hong Kong rock has a long way to go before it can catch up with the quality of mainland acts. 'Local bands are very green,' said Leung who also hosted this year's Carlsberg Rock Festival, which he described as 'disappointing'. But he added: 'We can't expect mainland acts to start a musical revolution for us.' Wong also refuses to put Beijing rockers on a pedestal. 'Some say Beijing rock has a special quality, that it is very dignified. Beijing is the centre of the whole nation, and Beijing artists have a strong feeling, sometimes even arrogant, but a good impetus to creativity. 'But I say don't [make myths of] them just because they are from Beijing. Remember we got the best, there are 20 terrible bands from Beijing too. The Beijing scene has been developing since 1986; we only saw the best result in one night.' The record companies and Commercial Radio are keen to organise further concerts of mainland acts, perhaps next time showcasing Guangzhou and Shenzhen bands such as Pagan and Mangliu. The biggest problem would be getting passports and exit visas for the bands from the Chinese authorities. In 1993, He Yong was stopped at Beijing airport on his way to a concert in London. This time Rock Records spent more than a month negotiating the correct papers for the bands. But while the paperwork has to be sorted out for any more concerts, fans who want to recapture three hours of the Beijing band sound can buy a laser disc of the concert to be released by Rock Records later this month.