Elusive international Hong Kong band Blood, Wine or Honey make rare appearance for album launch

The band have created international interest with their eclectic multi-instrumental sounds and their fans include Iggy Pop and DJs from Britain and France. Their upcoming performance will only be their fourth live gig

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 May, 2018, 6:05pm

For one of the Hong Kong bands to have generated the most international buzz in recent years, Blood Wine or Honey are surprisingly difficult to see live in their hometown. The June 8 launch party for their nine-track debut album Fear & Celebration will actually only be the fourth time the band have performed live together.

The party is at the Pearl Ballroom at the Eaton Hotel, which has recently been rebranded as a music space. As well as the band’s performance – during which they’ll be playing the album’s title track live for the first time – it will also feature DJs including Yao, of XXX fame, plus a presumably suitably high-concept mise-en-scène from experimental video artist and City University of Hong Kong professor Max Hattler.

The live debut of the multi-instrumentalists, just over a year ago, was at the unusually auspicious location of the inaugural Hong Kong edition of electronic music festival Sónar. Their only other gigs have been the party for the launch of their debut EP Anxious Party People and this year’s Freespace Happening at West Kowloon.

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“Every time we’re rehearsing to play live, it’s because we’ve already booked the show,” says band member Shane Aspegren, who’s also a well known contemporary artist. “When we play live we have to work out how to play the songs.”

We try to take pop clichés and disguise them as something else
Shane Aspegren

Since the release of Anxious Party People, the band – other members are James Banbury and Joseph von Hess – have also been getting quite a bit of attention overseas, and are planning to follow the album launch party with their fifth live performance, at a festival in Switzerland, with a return to Europe later in the year also likely.

The most notable support for Blood Wine or Honey has come from tastemaker and BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Gilles Peterson, who shortlisted their debut EP for track of the year at his annual awards last year.

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Other prominent international fans include several of Peterson’s fellow Radio 6 DJs, such as Tom Ravenscroft, son of the legendary John Peel; and punk legend Iggy Pop. The band have developed a particularly enthusiastic following in France since the title track of the Loosefoot EP was championed by much-loved Parisian alternative radio station Nova.

The new album, featuring all the songs from their first two EPs plus new material, is a head spinning mash-up of many different genres, including wonky funk, experimental electronica, jazz, tropicália, Afrobeat, Romani music, synth-pop and psychedelic rock, all accompanied by disorientating choral vocals (because none of them wanted to be the main singer) and regularly spliced with extended space-prog interludes.

Blood Wine or Honey songs are ever-mutating creatures, ready at any moment to turn an unexpected corner. You can also dance to quite a lot of them – or, as Aspegren puts it, “We try to take pop clichés and disguise them as something else.”

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“It’s really nice to see this body of work packaged together. It’s the first chunk of music we made together, and it’s fitting that it’s all on one record.”

Their composition process is entirely collaborative, even where lyrics are concerned, and almost entirely studio based.

“It wasn’t at all pre-planned as far as sound goes,” says Aspegren. “It’s like an amalgamation of the three of our approaches to making music. Editing and selecting is often the most difficult part; our different ideas about how we should sound are manifested on the record.”

The album was produced by the band themselves under their own Plastic Pagan label, but they are signed internationally with Toronto label Do Right! Music, owned by Hongkonger John Kong.

All the band members have sizeable other work and personal commitments, so the amount of time they get to spend together is strictly limited – about half a day each week – leading to a drawn-out recording process.

“But,” says Aspegren, “the international interest pushed us along.”

Blood Wine or Honey, June 8, 8pm, Pearl Ballroom, 2/F Eaton Hotel, 30 Nathan Rd, Kowloon

HK$150 (advance, Ticketflap), HK$200 (door)