The 1975 - inveterate indie tour band back in Hong Kong
British foursome have toured more than any other band on the planet since 2010, and show no signs of slowing down
The last time British indie-pop band The 1975 came to Hong Kong, they were just getting their first taste of the big time. Since that gig, at 2013's Clockenflap festival, they've become a chart-topping and world-dominating colossus, picking up the tag of the globe's hardest-working band.
The group's gig at The Vine Centre in Wan Chai on Tuesday, January 27 will be the latest in a series of tours that saw them play 195 shows in 2014, something which clocked up enough road and air miles to get them two-thirds of the way to the moon, according to live music site Songkick. That's more than any other band since 2010, a statistic that would have come as no surprise to founding member Matt Healy.
"Hotel rooms, tour buses, they're kind of just our home now," Healy told Oyster magazine.
"I don't really resent anything about being on tour. I embrace everything about it and get to travel the world. I've seen 90 per cent more of the world than anybody in the world already so it's kind of an incredible position to be in."
The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for Healy and his Manchester-based crew. They took on America (and largely won), promoted their eponymous album that had already topped the UK charts the year before, and headlined their first major festival: Coachella in California.
It's a huge achievement considering the band only became fully formed a couple of years earlier.
Though Healy, guitarist Adam Hann, drummer George Daniel and bass player Ross MacDonald had played together since their schooldays, initially covering punk songs, the band only released their first EP, Facedown, in 2012.
Its upbeat '80s-influenced indie groove caught the attention of the UK's largest radio station, BBC Radio One, and their next single Sex was championed by the station's DJ Zane Low, who can make or break a band.
Their self-titled debut was released just weeks before their Clockenflap appearance. Its immediate success left Healy a little stunned, telling The Guardian in the UK that he put the record's appeal down to a take-us-or-leave-us attitude within the band.
"The tastemaker press didn't understand it," Healy said soon after the album's release. "Because we aren't a dance band, because we don't sound like The Libertines. I think we've got quite a postmodern attitude to the creation of music, and it's split a lot of people down the middle because they don't know how to take it."
All the more remarkable for a successful chart record, the album is laced with painful personal observations, including the singer's teenage cocaine addiction and, in the moving final song, the fallout from his parents' divorce.
"I went on tour and they sold that house. I went home for two days to move out of my house, and I wrote and recorded Is There Somebody Who Can Watch Me? about that moment," Healy told The Guardian.
The 1975 are not your usual chart pop band, nor are they like any other indie band, although they've managed to forge an audience that straddles both camps. While they dress in black like a Cure tribute act, their music is anything but dour. Hits such as Chocolate and Robbers shimmer as though they were hatched fully formed without the need of going through the process of demos or rehearsals.
There are hints of funk and R'n'B mixed into the guitar pop, which give The 1975 a sound likened to '80s hitmakers such as Tears for Fears and earnest '90s pop act Travis. Live, The 1975 stalk the stage enveloped in dry ice and illuminated by piercing white lasers, like a post-punk Goth band withdrawing from view. But they play tracks that elevate venues the size of sports arenas in rapturous singalongs.
A few years ago the band might have been ridiculed by either audience: indie kids would have cringed at Healy's love for corny acts such as Michael Jackson; pop fans would have condemned his haircut.
But such are the vagaries of rock, fashion and taste, that Matt and crew are now the height of cool. Garrulous and prone to speaking before he puts his brain in gear, Healy has become a tabloid star thanks to rumours he is dating Taylor Swift.
The pair are said to have become friends after meeting at one of his gigs. Sensationalist websites suggest the relationship is more than platonic, with "close friends" spilling the beans on backstage trysts, New Year parties and crossed swords with Swift's previous boyfriends, including One Direction's Harry Styles.
It has also been suggested that drummer Daniel was going out with singer and one-time Justin Bieber girlfriend Selena Gomez. So far there's been no comment from the band's camp.
Healy's unabashed about his success with female fans, insisting in a YouTube interview before the Clockenflap gig that he attracts most of the band's "lady love". It's possibly because of comments such as these, and because Swift has become something of a feminist icon, that Healy felt compelled recently to declare his strident support of sexual equality — albeit in a rather cack-handed way.
"The empowerment of women maps directly onto the growth of secularism and the reduction of power of religion," he told the British Humanist Association last year. "And that's what I'm about."
The 1975, January 27, 7.30pm, The Vine Centre, 29 Burrows Street, Wan Chai, HK$590, ticketflap.com