Five Hong Kong shoegaze bands to get you primed on emerging music scene
Influenced by 1990s bands The Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine among others, and helped by local labels and dedicated event organisers, these groups have made their mark on Hong Kong’s indie scene
Hong Kong is known for its food, cinema, and cityscape, but its music scene remains something of an open secret, especially when it comes to shoegaze, dream pop, noise pop, and post punk.
Although not quite an epicentre such as Taipei or Tokyo (at least not yet), Hong Kong continues to forge its own unique identity as exciting new bands emerge and evolve.
And with venues such as TTN (formerly Hidden Agenda) and MOM Livehouse, music stores including White Noise Records and Zoo Records, some dedicated event organisers and a growing number of indie labels, there are plenty of reasons to explore the city’s sonic landscapes.
If dreamy ambient, reverb backed by hazy vocals with a dollop of noise are your thing, then consider the following five shoegaze bands from Hong Kong as your musical primer. There’s a great deal to discover for both novices and initiates alike.
Sea of Tranquility
Influenced by the sounds of 1990s bands such as Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteau Twins, Sea of Tranquility wear their shoegaze credentials with aplomb. Far from formulaic, however, the five members have created a hybrid sound with psychedelic and post-rock elements and their demos ebb and flow like the waters at Repulse Bay. A band favourite, the track Cadence languidly transforms into a warped crescendo of wailing guitars of epic proportions.
It’s a fan favourite, too, and despite the frequency with which they play it, the band can’t shake off the nostalgic and melancholic feelings that it evokes. Yet they speak equally of the challenges of making music in Hong Kong in terms of funding and space as “the indie scene has long been ignored”, which makes it difficult to sustain and promote their music. They will play shows at Tong Y-Concept on February 10 and SAAL on March 11, so why not test the waters?
So It Goes
Self-described pessimistic optimists, So It Goes are an all-female trio of Emilies – Emily Chak (guitar), Emily Hui (bass) and Emily Wong (drums). Fans of Kurt Vonnegut will recognise in the band’s name a reference to the three famous words from Slaughterhouse-Five. And those familiar with Warpaint, the all-female indie quartet from Los Angeles, will appreciate So It Goes’ own twist on alternative rock with dark psychedelic undertones.
In between spaces figure prominently in tracks such as When I Dream of Grapes Turning Blue and Stardust, unsurprising given their bricolage approach as well as Hong Kong’s history. As they characterise it, “Hong Kong shoegaze/indie is quiet, yet determined. This is a busy girl who can’t afford to be chilled. She lives in a more oppressed world, has many things to say and many feelings to express although she does so in a subtle way.” And so it goes.
Five-piece Thud describe their music as a shoegaze wall of sound layered with dreamy synth-pop and ethereal vocals. Lead singer Kim and guitarists Andy and Sky met as students at Hong Kong Design Institute, while brothers Wang and Wai on drums and bass eventually rounded out the quintet. Their first EP, the five-song Floret, combines breezy melodies with hypnotic guitars and astral-like synths.
While the glittery lightness of tracks such as Venture and B-side You Want Me to Die suspend the listener in a kind of celestial otherworldliness, Prime of Pride grounds their sound in My Bloody Valentine-inflected distortion. Despite their sound’s expansiveness, Hong Kong’s constricted cityscape often translates into difficulties finding venues and places to practice. But the music endures. Expect a new single from them soon. If only more “weirdos” (their word) would make such beautiful noise.
In fast-paced, dollar-rich Hong Kong, White Wave are something of anomaly. After a five-year gestation, they released their LP Whimsy: Demo for free because they were too lazy to sell the album. Building on the success of local bands such as David Boring and More Reverb, and citing genre-bending influences from rock and pop to classical and J-pop as well as the Japanese film Love Exposure and Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, the quartet are allergic to being labelled (they don’t even like the term shoegaze).
Their opening salvo Cigar Bear is a jaunty dream pop number tinged with a hint of melancholy by lead singer Siu Sun’s vocals, while blissfully long outros conclude Dazed and Confused and Fairies – the latter the album’s stand-out track. According to the band, they like to use noise to put their listeners to sleep. Ride the wave as long as it lasts – this is the stuff of dreams.
No One Remains Virgin
Formed in 2009, No One Remains Virgin are by turns experimental, irreverent and even cerebral. Blending shoegaze aesthetics with electronic glitches and twitches, their 2012 release Life F***s with Everyone sends listeners down a musical rabbit hole.
The song Careless Hipster opens with a saxophone sample from George Michael’s Careless Whisper (note the syncopated rhyme in the song titles) only to dissolve instantaneously into an intoxicating mixture of hushed lyrics, sparkling electronic effects, and gritty background noise, which flares up and dies out over the song’s three-and- a-half-minute span. On (Under the Lion Crotch) they channel the experimental electronic touches of Iceland’s Mum with a louche TV On The Radio-esque guitar in the background.
And just when you think that you’ve lost your way in all of this strange beauty, they bring you back up for air with the penultimate track Asia’s Dim Sum City.