Best indie music albums of 2018 from Hong Kong: nine picks, from The Low Mays to Blood Wine or Honey
- Despite venue closures, rising rents, and government bureaucracy, the independent music scene is still thriving
- These are the best albums from the hottest bands in the city
Hong Kong’s music scene prevails. Regardless of the beatings it takes from venue closures, rising rents, government bureaucracy, and the difficulty musicians face earning a living in one of the world’s most expensive cities, we are continually amazed and encouraged by the craftsmanship and level of creativity among our independent artists.
Last year saw the city’s live music scene witnessed multiple raids at former Kowloon venue Hidden Agenda, the closure of venues such as XXX Gallery, and the announcement that Wow and Flutter The Weekend festival would not be returning for a third edition.
Meanwhile, this year saw the opening of new venues such as The Aftermath, the rebirth of Hidden Agenda in a new location as TTN, and events spaces such as Cattle Depot Artist Village, PMQ and West Kowloon Cultural District host mini-festivals that gave opportunities for local acts to shine.
A number of strong works did not make this list, including a plethora of fine EPs, but here are our favourite independently released albums of 2018 – the ones that show the city’s music scene at its best and helped define another year of resilience in Hong Kong music.
After several high-profile gigs, such as supporting US indie royalty Diiv and performing at the 2017 Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival, Hong Kong’s Phoon focused their efforts in 2018 on their self-titled “mini-album”. A riotous sold-out album release show at Mom Livehouse during the summer brought the album to life and represented the pinnacle of the diligent band’s efforts to date.
Warm vocals, emotive songwriting, uplifting melodies and sunny guitar washes define this world-class live act’s sound. Bittersweet lead single People in the Dark opens with delicately picked arpeggios over swirling keys before morphing into a full-blown, joyous singalong celebration.
The Low Mays
Fulham Space Station
With hip-hop releases often limited to EPs and SoundCloud singles, The Low Mays came through with their brilliant Fulham Space Station album this year, boosting Hong Kong hip-hop’s profile on the international stage.
Sharp-witted, incisive bars, a mischievous sense of humour and crisp production define the sci-fi-themed record, which also features guest vocals from local rap legend Dough-Boy and Serena, one half of edgy pop duo Green Tea Beauty Queens.
Hong Kong’s premier “slamming brutal deathcore” Cryogenic Defilement exhume foul sounds from the depths of depravity on their debut album Worldwide Extermination.
Crushing, machine-gunned rhythms, deathly vocals, shrill squeals and ungodly breakdowns bubble together in this trio’s festering cauldron of rage.
No Hard Feelings
Few bands have worked as hard as Bamboo Star to propel themselves out of Hong Kong.
The big-haired metalheads’ crowdfunded first full studio album was recorded late last year in Los Angeles with US rock producer Bob Marlette, famed for his work with Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper.
Led by charismatic frontman Wolf Red, aka Wilfred Chung, the local live favourites attack with fierce energy, groovy guitar licks and a trademark sense of humour on No Hard Feelings; pure, heavy, fist-pumping rock from start to finish.
Blood Wine or Honey
Fear & Celebration
Championed by British DJ and tastemaker Gilles Peterson, experimental trio Blood Wine or Honey generated considerable international buzz this year with their debut album Fear & Celebration.
The band, who appear onstage clad entirely in white, inject more established genres such as jazz, funk and Afrobeat with quirky electronic elements, snatches of song and mesmerising psychedelia for a vibrant, eclectic and constantly surprising nine tracks that defy the listener not to dance.
New Youth Barbershop
Romantic New Youth Hotel
Delightfully lo-fi and minimalist, the new album by long-standing Hong Kong folk group New Youth Barbershop stays within the furrows they have ploughed since their formation in 2013.
From the beginning, the band has used its deceptively sweet-sounding music as a conduit to tap into the rising tide of political discontent. The album features soft acoustic guitar, off-kilter vocals and spoken word sections, field recordings at bus stops and supermarkets, and finds quiet, romantic tableaus in mundane scenarios.
When Prune Deer announced they were making their second full-length album, fans rallied on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise the HK$30,000 needed to bring Chemistry to life.
After the post-rock of 2015’s superb Solid Transparency, the (mostly) instrumental band dived into their follow-up with renewed confidence, playing around with more avant-garde textures and incorporating the sound of the flute, guzheng, synthesisers – and even birdsong.
The only complaint we could possibly have is that the band don’t perform live nearly often enough.
Sea Island & Ferry
Lovers of neoclassical music who crowded to Max Richter’s Hong Kong concert this month would do well to check out Sea Island & Ferry, a “neo-chamber” group who carve affecting cinematic soundscapes using Western and traditional Chinese instruments.
Taking inspiration from Richter’s playbook, the group use their music to comment on sociopolitical events; the jazz-flavoured Adrift was written in response to the recent refugee crisis in Europe, while Living Under Water draws from the experiences of a transgender person.
With progressive metal receiving great attention elsewhere in the word, there was plenty of anticipation for Hong Kong’s home-grown five-piece Synergy’s first full record, Laika, launched in February with a big party at local venue TTN.
Most of the tracks clock in at more than five minutes. Laika draws influence from the likes of Opeth and Tool, playing with tempo, intensity and mood to conjure mystical tableaus given energy by serrated vocal growls and driving guitars.
Smoke in Half Note
A late entry to the list, Smoke in Half Note’s just-released Crossings closely follows their triumphant performance at the 2018 Clockenflap festival. The group’s sound falls between shoegaze and psychedelic rock with a progressive bent, a creative infusion of dual-guitar distortion with heavy rhythms and lush melodies.
Like many of their peers within the creative arts, the band uses its platform to spread messages of social justice and environmental awareness in Hong Kong.