Record label boss is helping musicians reach an audience
Record label boss Sean Hocking is giving musicians from around the world a platform, writes Mathew Scott
He might be seated at the back of a bakery café in Sheung Wan today, but Sean Hocking is hoping the noise he helps generate from here will sound out across the globe.
"It's all about getting the music out," he explains. "What I'm trying to do really is install a little of a DIY ethic in music regionally and string a lot of people together. It's about letting musicians who aren't part of any 'scenes' feel confident enough to get their music out there."
The 50-year-old Briton is the founder of Metal Postcard Records which originated in Sydney in 2001, but for the past eight years has called Hong Kong its home. Specifically it works out of a small space at the back of the Saffron Bakery Café in Sheung Wan, one of four outlets the chain now operates since being founded by Sally Krantz 15 years ago.
Krantz and Hocking are partners in the café business and in life, and the space that makes up the Metal Postcard Records outlet fits the Saffron feel, a gathering place for the local community and visitors. Today there are a few kids testing their skills against a Pac-Man machine while their mother takes a breather. The surrounding walls feature posters of the musicians who helped inspire Hocking's own journey over the past few decades which has taken him from Britain, to Australia, to the US and to Hong Kong.
The room takes its lead from Rough Trade in Ladbroke Grove, London - "I first went there when I was 13, so this is a little homage to them," says Hocking - and its mixture of CDs, vinyl and assorted music-linked paraphernalia seems to be the way such establishments are headed these days.
Music, of course, has moved with and even sometimes ahead of the times, and that's part of the magic Hocking searches for when it comes to artists he works with. "It's not world music, it's music from around the world," he says. "Somebody with a laptop in some godforsaken part of the world is going to change music. The technology is at people's fingertips now."
Counted among the recent successes Metal Postcard has helped along their way are the Cambodian Space Project, whose recent release Whiskey Cambodia, the band's third, was recorded at the famed Motown studios with producer Dennis Coffey at the helm.
The irony, says Hocking, is that it often takes popularity overseas to make independent artists heralded at home. "Sometimes the way it simply goes is if you are, say, in Melbourne, no one might be interested in a Melbourne band, but a person who lives in New Orleans thinks that Melbourne band is just the best thing," says Hocking. "So the idea is that you sell it overseas and then sell it to the hometown. Sometimes the only way a band can become successful at home is if they are successful overseas."
Hocking first became interested in music soon after he moved with his family from the West Indies to London when he was seven. "I turned on Top of the Pops and saw Roxy Music and that was it … All through boarding school, my teenage years, my friends were in bands and I was obsessed with music. I was 12 in 1978 when punk exploded. Music was our culture and meant everything to us then. For a lot of us it still does. You never lose that feeling and that thrill you get when you hear something new."
But he only committed himself to the industry when he was in Sydney working in legal publishing but still mixing with musicians. What he found was that many of them couldn't find a way in. "They just couldn't get their stuff recorded," says Hocking. "So I started the label there in 2002. It was all about completely unknown artists, nobody would talk to them - they couldn't even get in the door."
After moving the label to New York for a while, and making connections across the spectrum of the American independent scene, Hocking found himself in Hong Kong and rapidly expanding his interest throughout the Pacific Rim.
So far Metal Postcard Records have been behind about 105 releases and, this particular week, Hocking says he's working out of his shiny silver briefcase with "about 10 to 15 artists", a line-up that includes Tasmanian singer-songwriter Zoe Zac, Honey Bucket from Portland, Oregon, Indian all-girl punk band The Vinyl Records, and a compilation of pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodian pop.
The label hosts in-store artists at its Sheung Wan base, while Saffron in Stanley puts on a show here and there - next up is Australian electronic artist Raus on September 20 - as Hocking's search for new sounds goes on.
"It's the pleasure of getting great music out to an audience," he says. "If I die and people say there was a label that was as good as they get, I guess I will be happy."