VISITORS TO LAST November's Rockit Festival who were disappointed by the 11th-hour withdrawal of US rockers Brian Jonestown Massacre were amply compensated with a wealth of Hong Kong talent.
Chief among the impressive local lineup were a band turning as many heads for their imposing stage performance as for their rambunctious rock. Call them S-I-Q or call them 'sick', SiQ should one day be called stars.
Taking to the stage with a look that can best be described as (Red Indian) brave - pyjama bottoms and garish face and body paint, reminiscent of Irish oddballs Virgin Prunes, but fun instead of glum - the band appeared to win over all who witnessed their funk-punk-fuelled set.
Consisting of Ting (26, bass), Bao Zha (almost 30, guitar), Gary (30s, drummer) and, at 21 the baby of the band, vocalist Shum (it's first names and informality with these lads), SiQ have been together for three years. 'But actually doing stuff, it's been only a year or a year and a half,' says Shum.
I'm sitting in the plush surrounds of Langham Place, talking with three of the SiQ boys (Gary has work commitments, a recurring obstacle where rehearsals and gigs are concerned) and Brandon Ho (aka MC Ghost Style), the producer of the album they're in the process of recording and head of Rebel Studio, the label on which it will be released.
'Gary and Ting have been together for years,' says Shum. 'They were in other bands before. They decided to start another thing and I got to know them through the internet. We started looking for a guitarist and had this guy called Tony for a while, but that didn't work because of work commitments.' After trying a few other six-stringers, the band took in Bao Zha, a friend of Gary and Ting.
'It's not my first band, but it's my most serious,' says Bao Zha.
Musically, the band claim a wide range of influences. 'Each of us listens to really different stuff,' says Shum. '[Ting] loves Victor Wooten, this really crazy bassist. Three of us are going to the [Icelandic post-rockers] Sigur Ros concert next month [at the HKCEC]. Gary listens to electronica and all that.' Bao Zha claims just one: 'Led Zeppelin.'
'When we write songs, sometimes Ting comes up with a riff and then we jam [around it],' says Shum. 'There's no set way, though.'
'We just do what we like,' says Bao Zha.
'Most of our lyrics are in English,' says Shum. 'We do have some in Chinese - but when I sing, it just comes out as gibberish anyway.
'We started [applying body paint] because we've got this friend - AC the artist, she does fliers and stuff for us - who wanted to do us up. We agreed, and now we feel like it's a way to promote our art. First, it was just me. Then they all joined in. Once we did it together, it just clicked.'
'She'll be doing the artwork for our album', which is due out this summer.
What about the name? 'Well, it's partly random,' says Shum. 'Apparently it's the name of a holy path in Jordan - we have world music influences, as well. We have a song called The SiQ'. The band's celebrity appears to be rising in tandem with grass-roots live rock music in Hong Kong. Although Ting, who also plays in An Id Signal, says there's always been a healthy scene at certain levels, Ho says 'it's like a wave thing. Right now there's more exposure. There's a TVB show that has some indie bands on it and then there's the internet. There's more awareness [of local music].'
'There's a great deal of the do-it-yourself element,' says Shum. 'You see a lot of bands organising gigs themselves. Bands today are really active.'
Ting agrees. 'Most bands now rent their own places monthly [unlike SiQ, who are forever grabbing the odd rehearsal here and there]. It seems that way people are more serious about it.'
Enthusiasm ran wild at the Fringe last month, when SiQ joined Macanese pretty boys Soler and local punks Hardpack on a bill put together by HK Magazine. Many fans had to be turned away after tickets sold out in hours. 'That's because Soler were there,' says Shum.
'The audience were all young Chinese girls,' says Bao Zha with a laugh.
It remains to be seen what kind of crowd turns up at the Cattle Depot Artist Village on Saturday, when SiQ join King Ly Chee and four other local bands on stage. The event has been organised by Chisel My Movement, a loose internet-based group 'promoting local alternative music to the new generations'.
People should attend simply because 'the Cattle Depot is an interesting venue in its own right', says a self-deprecating Shum.
SiQ have ventured further afield, having played a handful of concerts across the border - shows organised through contacts Ting has established in the course of his music career. The band were also invited to play at a festival in Taiwan last year. 'We took our instruments to the airport, but got no further,' says Bao Zha. Shum's Singaporean passport prevented him from travelling to Taipei.
Chisel the First Wall, featuring SiQ, King Ly Chee, Engrave Thy Heart, Hard Candy, An Id Signal and False Alarm. Sat, 6pm, Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Rd, To Kwa Wan, $65. Inquiries: 9870 0394