In an era when the threat of backlash steers many bands away from making political statements, CharmCharmChu doesn’t apologise for what it wants to say – whether that’s on the subject of the metal scene in Asia, or police violence in Hong Kong.
Their debut EP Majestic Brewing Order sees the uniquely Hong Kong thrash metal group at its most irreverent and acerbic, with lyrics name-dropping figures like Franklin Chu King-wai, the police commander accused of attacking protesters during Occupy.
“If we came from anywhere else, CharmCharmChu would not exist,” frontman Bob Wan tells Young Post. “We come from the crowds, the bad policies, the pressure ... Hong Kong is very cold and distant. [But] we believe in balancing it with fun. If you’re too serious, you get into trouble.”
The EP’s cover art stands by that philosophy: designed by Beijing artist Uncle Three, the dark cartoon [below, right] was inspired by Hong Kong’s purchase of Dong River water.
Due to the sensitive nature of the songs, Majestic Brewing Order was released discreetly on the mainland, with only 5,000 copies. Nevertheless, the EP has gained lots of attention and new opportunities for the band, who are in full preparation mode for their performance at next month’s Clockenflap festival. The metallers were one of the first acts booked to play at this year.
The band is looking forward to making themselves at home on the alternative stage. “I enjoy smaller stages,” Wan says. “You can communicate with the audience, which is really important in performance. Sometimes I hit people to get them moshing.”
CharmCharmChu formed in 2009, when Wan was studying in the US. Bass player Grenade Kwong recalls, “We couldn’t rehearse together, only compose over the internet.”
“It was just two of us,” Wan adds. “Grenade wrote and composed [the music], while I wrote the vocals. We wrote five songs and played our first show in 2011.”
For Majestic, the pair wrote music and lyrics separately; the songs only came together in jamming sessions. Only Warhorse, based on the Tang dynasty poem Song of the Chariots, was planned beforehand.
While writing music for the EP, Kwong listened to K-pop and J-pop for inspiration. “Our songs share the same goal: to make people happy,” he explains. “Heavy music is never mainstream. In Japan or Indonesia, maybe, but not in Hong Kong.”
Sounding original is important to the band, Wan explains. “I don’t want anyone to tell me the songs sound like someone else. That’s why all my songs are in Cantonese.”
For the city’s aspiring musicians, Wan’s advice is: “Listen to more music, see live music, even if you don’t like the band. Make friends. A lot of bands in Hong Kong don’t promote themselves enough.”
Kwong adds that bands need to be proactive in making connections, and should avoid drama. “The metal scene here has back-stabbers, but you have to remember that people like them won’t last very long. People quit the scene all the time.”
Despite their day jobs – Wan is a web developer and Kwong works at a bank – the duo completed a mainland tour earlier this year.
“It’s our proudest moment as a band.” Wan says. “And we’ve made Clockenflap. Our CD has sold in Japan, the US, even Iceland. Our band journey is pretty much complete.”
Here is everything you need to know about this year's Clockenflap!