Wow and Flutter wants to be more than just another summer music event for Hong Kong
This new indie festival is about more than just the music, says its organiser – it’s also about creating a sense of community and rejuvenating local live performance
On the surface, a new two-day outdoor festival headlined by some of Hong Kong’s biggest home-grown independent bands might appear to be just another summer music event. But to the organisers and some of the participating artists, the Wow and Flutter Weekend is an opportunity to review the city’s cultural position and recreate a sense of community that has disappeared into the past.
“I did not just want to stage a music event – I wanted to organise an event that could bring Hong Kong people together, an event that would help build a small community,” says Hong Ka-chun, a Hong Kong indie music veteran and the man behind the Wow and Flutter Weekend, which makes its debut in West Kowloon Cultural District on August 13 and 14.
While Clockenflap features a mix of global and local acts geared more towards an international audience, the two-day outdoor festival is a stocktaking of Hong Kong’s indie music scene of the past 20 years – what could be called the post-Beyond era, the years following the breakthrough success of the trailblazing Hong Kong rock band who emerged in 1987.
More than 50 acts from big indie names to rising stars will be out in full force spread over three stages. Veteran acts LMF and King Ly Chee will be joined by other popular acts including Chochukmo, Rubberband, Supper Moment and Killersoap on the Hong Kong stage. The Kowloon stage, curated by veteran music critic Yuen Chi-chung, will feature a range of rising indie stars such as Jing Wong, Life Was All Silence and Teenage Riot. Young acts hand picked by StreetVoice Hong Kong’s music director Oliver Ching such as David Boring, Underklot and Mr Rocket Head will lead the New Territories Stage.
Riz Farooqi, frontman of hardcore band King Ly Chee who have been around for 17 years, observes a gradual change in Hong Kong’s attitude towards music over the past two decades.
“The days of the so-called Canto-pop stars playing 30 days straight at Hung Hom Coliseum are long gone because people now get to watch international acts performing in Hong Kong all the time, so they can see a huge discrepancy in quality and talent,” says Farooqi.
“So bands in Hong Kong have to be better, singers actually have to be able to sing – for the longest time, that wasn’t the case here. You didn’t have to be able to sing or dance. The major label machine could still make you successful.”
However, the Wow and Flutter Weekend may not be enough to take Hong Kong’s music scene to a new level. Farooqi says the city does not offer enough room for live music to flourish. Besides the notoriously high rent, which makes it almost impossible for aspiring musicians to develop a full-time music career and kills venues that offer indie musicians a platform to perform, the lack of a supportive audience is another major issue.
Although the success of Clockenflap has led to increased interest in live music, a lot of the attendees aren’t regulars at local music events, Farooqi says.
“If people only show up to shows twice a year, that’s a huge problem,” he says. “So our hope is that with Wow and Flutter Weekend putting an emphasis on local acts, there will be conversation about people leaving the festival eager to find out when the next show these bands are playing. That way bands can continue and most importantly venues can survive by being able to pay exorbitant rents here.”
Jing Wong, one of the fastest-rising stars in Hong Kong’s independent music scene, has a background in busking, and says there have been positive changes in the city’s music scene in general, in particular its diversity. Despite the decline of traditional media such as TV and radio, the internet has contributed a great deal to the growth, he says.
“There was a time that everyone liked Beyond, and people around me were playing a watered-down version of Beyond. But during the past decade, you see greater musical variety among the bands,” Wong says.
“Spotify, YouTube and even KKBOX have made music more accessible. And over the past five to six years there’s been an emergence of many bands playing post-rock – no one played this music back in the day.”
Busking has also been integrated into Hong Kong’s street life in recent years. Wong recalls eight years ago when he began playing music in the streets, he was constantly battling the police, who thought he was begging for money. He even consulted a lawyer friend who offered him tips to reason with the police.
But things have changed. Music is heard virtually every day in the outdoor areas around Queen’s Road Central, Times Square and pedestrian tunnels in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, and the police crackdown has eased up . The public has also embraced street musicians and cheers them on.
Wong has now retired from busking , largely because it’s become something resembling the new karaoke in Hong Kong. Most street musicians play covers of Canto-pop hits instead of original works, and not all of them have the skills to perform live, he says.
“Many young musicians have forgotten about improving their techniques,” Wong says.
“Busking is a great starting point, but some musicians just enjoy the feel-good factor without pursuing it further. Their sets consist of only cover versions instead of original songs. And then these musicians portray themselves as singer-songwriters.
“Mong Kok is the worst. Some people just plug a microphone into a computer and sing karaoke. Many people don’t know the difference between good and bad.”
Wong hopes that relaxing building and land-use regulations can allow live houses such as Hidden Agenda to survive. “I proposed a live house at PMQ, but they rejected the idea,” Wong says.
But the Wow and Flutter organiser Hong thinks in broader terms than this.
He says he enjoyed a great sense of community when he was young, and felt a sense of belonging to his local neighbourhood made up of small shops and friendly faces. He learnt about music from friends and experts who shared their passion, and now the cultural entrepreneur – best known for co-founding indie label 89268 – sees Wow and Flutter as an experiment to see if something bigger can be built around this love for music.
Apart from music, the two-day event will also feature street art and cultural events tailor-made for families and children. A market area will offer locally produced handicrafts, accessories and clothes, plus workshops for festivalgoers to create something from scratch. And rather than offering expensive food and drinks, Hong wants to play on Hongkongers’ collective memories by selling local street food ranging from egg waffles to put chai ko (bowl pudding).
“We had a strong community in the past and that made the city successful. Our city is changing every day and society is becoming twisted. If you have a chance to do something you feel right, you have to keep doing it,” Hong says.
“I found nourishment from music and I make a living out of music. I have to give something back if I can.”