Suede’s fervent Hong Kong fans lure band back for their sixth concert in city
Bassist Mat Osman says band members are inspired by the reaction their music receives from Hongkongers
Few international bands can claim Hong Kong as a spiritual home the way that Suede can.
The indie front runners of the UK Brit-pop scene have performed live in the city five times and will be returning for a sixth concert on August 16.
And it’s all thanks to the fans. Suede’s Hong Kong contingent are among the band’s most ardent followers, says bassist Mat Osman.
“When we first went, we were told the crowd would be full of expats – bankers,’’ says Osman over the phone from London. “What was amazing was going there and seeing local faces. They really have our music in their bones – it’s really inspiring to have all your ideas about music and art confirmed to you.”
Osman says the upcoming show at AsiaWorld-Expo will be a a highlight of a summer dominated by festival shows in Europe for the five-piece band, led by flamboyant singer Brett Anderson.
“Hong Kong has always been amazing for us,’’ he explains. “One of the things that happened early on for us was that people said we were a ‘London band’. But we were more than that. We’ve always been unusual, a band about big emotions. And I think the fans in Hong Kong were big on that idea.”
The cavernous AsiaWorld-Expo is a far cry from the relatively confined surroundings of Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai that hosted Suede for the first time in 1995. They last played in Hong Kong in 2013.
Then, the band’s future was under a cloud. Despite having blazed a trail for the likes of Blur and Oasis after breaking out in 1993 with tracks such as Animal Nitrate, and taking indie to the top of the charts, Suede were on a downer.
They’d recently suffered the departure of their gifted guitarist and tunesmith, Bernard Butler, amid much acrimony. Not only that, they’ replaced him with Richard Oakes, a 16-year-old super fan they’d plucked from obscurity, and school. And on top of that, the suspicion of drug abuse that had hovered around them since their very early days had started to take on a darker note: was Brett a heroin addict or not?
By the time they next played the city – at the Convention Centre in 1996 – they’d confounded the naysayers with “Coming Up”, their first post-Butler album, which had become a worldwide hit. But success proved fleeting and the band, whose second chance seemed built on the flimsy hope that Butler would return, finally imploded in 2003.
“We split because were weren’t making good music any more,” explains Osman of the period after the release of the poorly received Head Music. “We completely lost our way. We got so hung up on the idea of what we were that we didn’t have time to consider what it was we actually did.”
This existential crisis wasn’t helped by what had been rumours of Anderson’s hard drug use becoming tabloid fodder. Added to that, the Britpop scene they’d created and that had carried them along, had derailed amid a blizzard of cocaine, excessive living and sometimes awful music. Nobody wanted songs about London geezers out on the booze when New York band the Strokes were reminding everyone how visceral, stripped-down garage rock had made people feel during the punk years.
“We’d never done anything else and in a way it had become boring,” Osman explains, admitting to a feeling of shame for saying so. “It’s a ridiculous thing to say, because being in a fairly big band can be the most opulent thing in the world, a spectacularly good way to spend your time.”
But no end of luxury living could make up for the breakdown within the band, both artistically and personally. “When it was first suggested that we split, there was a lot of relief on a lot of faces – Suede needed to be put out of their misery.”
Fast forward a decade and the air was thick with rumours about Suede again. But this time the rumours were about a reunion. When a 2010 gig at the London Royal Albert Hall was announced, the first by the band since their 2003 farewell in the city’s now-demolished Astoria, it proved to be the start of a successful new chapter for the band.
“Most bands reunite for nostalgic or financial reasons – we got back together because we wanted to rewrite history,” says Osman in a manner that recalls the early Suede of bold pronouncements and self-reverence. “It’s not a hobby. We had unfinished business.”
The result has been a slew of sold-out tours, headlining positions at the world’s biggest festivals and, most significantly, new records. In 2014 came Bloodsports, an album hailed as a return to form and a departure from the largely awful new releases of other recently reformed giants of the indie world, such as the Pixies.
This year saw Suede Version 3.0’s second release, Night Thoughts, a less poppy album that won even more rave reviews for its experimental flavour.
In a demonstration of the band’s attempts to keep pushing the limits of pop, they eschewed any videos and instead released the album with an accompanying short film directed by legendary rock photographer Roger Sergant.
“It’s really been an eye-opening process,’’ Osman says of the recording. “We had this idea of making one long piece of music and when we started working on it we realised it was going to be an uncompromising record. But this is the way we make albums now.”
Dark and brooding, it touches on common Suede themes – sex and alienation – and in some quarters was described as their best work yet. “We don’t do comfort and joy,” Osman laughs. “We decided let’s not make a modern record. Let’s make something you have to immerse yourself in, something you get sucked into.”
Unfortunately, its release in January was knocked off the news headlines by the death of Anderson idol David Bowie. If that dented sales, the band was unfazed. “This one is for us and we don’t care if we don’t get anything back from it. It’s given us a hunger to take things to the extreme. There’s nothing we cannot do.”
Suede, Aug 16, 8pm, AsiaWorld-Expo, Hong Kong International Airport, Lantau, HK$580, HK$780, www.hkticketing.com