Amping it to the max

junior reporter Yasmin Subba

YRock gives students the chance to be onstage stars

junior reporter Yasmin Subba |

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How cool would it be if you could make like a rock star, and record your music professionally, appear on radio shows, and perform in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of people?

Since 2005, YRock has been giving local teens the chance to do just that. The "Y" in the organisation's name refers to youth - generally those aged between 13 and 19 - and the "Rock" is about a solid foundation, as well as the musical genre.

The community project started out by providing monthly slots for young people at the Edge nightclub in Central. But the nightclub closed down in 2007 due to financial issues, which YRock's co-founder, Belinda Howard, says is a result of Hong Kong's weak live performance industry. Since then, YRock has not found a suitable permanent venue.

Howard, a music graduate and professional clarinettist, set up YRock with DJ Ricky "Spinn" Cumes after realising Hong Kong lacked a music platform.

"[In] sport, you have a developmental platform with regular lessons and tournaments, but there was nothing like that in music," she says. "I thought YRock would be something meaningful to set up."

The closing of the Edge didn't stop Howard and Cumes. The same year the club shut down, they hosted a Classic Rock charity concert called Clock (Classic + Rock) in collaboration with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong.

Clock blended together genres and generations. Says Howard: "There's a barrier between the kid who plays guitar and the parent who thinks their kid should be studying," adding that blending classical music with rock includes older audiences and helps to bridge the generation gap.

Without a permanent home, YRock books venues such as the amphitheatre at Cyberport, Hemingway's by the Bay, Hard Rock Cafe and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts - which all sponsor YRock - for its concerts and workshops. International schools such as Discovery College, King George V School and South Island School also host events.

Past contestants (from left) Nicky Chan and Phoebe Whalley on radio with Belinda Howard and RTHK host Andrew Dembina

YRock holds professional recording and song-writing workshops throughout the year, as well as concerts that raise awareness of teen drug abuse and relationships.

It also hosts an annual Music Challenge event, where entrants vie for awards based on personality, originality and performance.

Rapper Nicky Chan, who won the 2012 YRock International Music Challenge's Best Personality Award, says of the event: "The atmosphere is magical. You have every teen doing different genres because YRock embraces individuality. I can just be the artist I am without anyone telling me to change."

As part of the award, Nicky was given a slot last year in Hong Kong music festival Picnic in the Park.

The 17-year-old rapper was also featured on RTHK's Teen Time: Around Town in August, along with 14-year-old singer Phoebe Whalley, a finalist in from last year's YRock Music Challenge.

"It was such an amazing experience; they even played two of my original songs on air," says Phoebe, a Discovery College student who has taken part in the two most recent YRock songwriting workshops and in all of its gigs over the past year.

"You'd be surprised at how many people would want to hear your songs," says Howard. "It's more powerful because you put more of yourself into an original, and originals always turn out better than covers."

Says Phoebe: "It is such an incredible feeling to go onstage and sing to people, to see them appreciating the songs you wrote. Music performances and competitions give me something to work towards."

Nicky agrees, saying that he used to be shy about his talent, but the opportunity to perform has boosted his confidence.

"[Through music], you can do anything, be anything you want, and most of all, be you," he says.

Howard reinforces this message, explaining that YRock is not so much about "youth" rock as it is "you" rock.

"The point of YRock is to create a space where kids feel comfortable enough to be themselves," she says.

YRock's 2013 International Music Challenge begins this month. It has more than 30 acts lined up, and the first batch of contenders will audition on September 28. The musicians will compete for a slot in the finals on October 19, where the judges will pick the winners.

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