THIRTY-EIGHT amateur rock bands take to the stage at Kowloon Park Piazza on Sunday, with each group thrashing out six minutes of their best music in the hope of gaining a place in the first round of the Carlsberg Pop Music Festival. This is the ninth time Tom Lee Music and Carlsberg have teamed up to give young rehearsal-room bands the opportunity to play before an audience. One group may even go on to perform in Tokyo at Music Quest 93, a competition for bands from the Asian and Oceania regions. For every one of those nine years, Tom Lee manager of music publications Irene Sit has been behind the scenes orchestrating the event. ''They are there not necessarily to win, they are there for the chance to play - they have a great time. It is not like any other competition, they all cheer each other and help each other. They're all great guys,'' she enthused. But while record company reps will be there checking out the talent, there is little chance that some band of 17-year-old schoolboys will be plucked from obscurity and signed up. They are more likely to be scouting for solo talent. ''Record companies are quite reticent about picking up and promoting bands, mainly because they are seen as more unstable. Everybody is doing karaoke and solo - no one is paying any attention to the bands,'' lamented Irene. ''One record company rang up recently and said: 'Why are you still doing this?'. Record companies are not very far-sighted.'' This is a sentiment shared by one of the leading forces behind Hongkong's growing independent music scene, Richard Cooper, who helped create Radio Free Hongkong, a weekly event for independent bands which has developed a strong following. ''After 16 years of Canto-pop, it is now a massive part of the market - it works, why rock the boat, seems to be the attitude,'' commented Cooper. ''Internationally, when you can sell one million copies of a very well-known artist's album and get a big salary at the end of the month, why would you invest in something alternative?'' ''The record companies have no need, they are not driven by creativity, they are driven by pay cheques. In Europe and the US, competition is breeding creativity. ''I'm not saying Canto-pop is bad, it's just that selection and variety is important,'' said Cooper, pointing to the UK charts where there are so many different types of music up there in the Top 10. ''We're just trying to introduce variety . . . but without the support from record companies.'' Admission to the Carlsberg Pop Music Festival auditions on Sunday, noon, is free. The first round is August 15 and the final on September 4.