LIKE AN AFFABLE version of Simon Cowell, the acid-tongued judge on Pop Idol, Andrew Featherstone has the power to bring stardom to the winners of his competition, the World Battle of the Bands. And pop stardom could be closer than ever for Hong Kong's bands. For the first time, the event's final showdown will be held in the city, at the Hard Rock Cafe in November. It's hard to know whether it's irony that persuades Featherstone, 35, that it's a good idea to wear a black cowboy shirt with large gold music notes embroidered across the chest and shoulders. On first sight it gives him the appearance of a seedy music executive, but in person he's an affable fellow and listening to him talk about his years in the business, it's not surprising he should wear his love of music so proudly. 'In a far-fetched dream sort of a way, I'd like to make a difference to the music scene,' he says. Other than the Rockit Festival, Hong Kong is known neither for original music nor for music events (excepting Canto-pop extravaganzas), so why did he decide to bring November's final here? One reason is that, to Featherstone's surprise, last year's Battle of the Bands drew large audiences - 400 people for the Hong Kong final, with The Fringe packed each of the seven nights the heats were held. There's also the fact that Featherstone has a soft spot for the place ever since playing here in 1997 when he was bassist with former band Hangar 18. Plus there are the practicalities. Following individual country heats, Hong Kong's location offers a central point between the other five competing countries of Australia, America (Los Angeles), New Zealand, the Philippines and Singapore. Featherstone founded the annual battle 14 years ago in his native New Zealand. At that time he played bass for a band that won a local event. Finding no one interested in staging it the following year, he started his own competition; it has since become an expanding business for him and a chance for unknown bands to jump-start their careers. The bands can play whatever style of music they like. The only requirement is that their 30-minute set must include at least three original songs and the band must have at least three members. Applications are open now, and with no screening process this does raise the risk of chicken-wire bands - groups so awful they need fencing to protect them from projectiles hurled by the audience. 'It would be unfair to screen them and not give them a chance,' he says of the bands that want to take part. 'Maybe they'd be judged on a bad demo because they haven't had the chance to record.' While Featherstone admits to some turkeys in the past, he says most bands are top notch and as a man with his own label - he founded Intergalactic Records in the late 1990s - the competition gives him an edge when it comes to spotting new groups. 'We had 400 bands take part last year, so by the time you get to the last few bands they're pretty good,' he says, pointing to Jaggedy Ann, winners of last year's Los Angeles heat, who he is in the process of signing. Last year's Hong Kong heat winners were indie band Audiotraffic, who went to compete in the Auckland finals where Kiwi rockers Chuganaut won. But he points out that just because the final is held in a particular country, it shouldn't count against their competitors. As well as cash vouchers for equipment, the top prize is the chance to record a single with Featherstone's label, which now manages four rock acts, including heavy metallers 8 Foot Sativa. Featherstone is keen to promote the best bands through his worldwide contacts built up during years of trying to persuade overseas promoters that there's more to the New Zealand scene than successful yet anodyne bands like Crowded House. The experience of door-knocking and trying to get music executives to return his calls has made him a battler, and his intention to support acts that do well at the Battle of the Bands might just be the biggest prize on offer. 'I want to do something more important than saying: 'Here's some new gear, a couple of press articles and now go back to where you were before',' he says. 'I'm looking to build up opportunities for the winning band. My ultimate goal is that the winners' records are released in multiple territories and that they have the chance to go on multi-country tours.' Last year, Audiotraffic qualified for a set at Rockit - which is also a prize in this year's event. Featherstone has also been talking to the organisers of the Glastonbury music festival in the hope they'll give a slot to the World Battle of the Bands winner. If he pulls it off it would be a considerable achievement given that the event is the world's largest greenfield music festival and could be the break hungry young bands are looking for.