I Am Lost in Hong Kong…or at Least I Was
A Report on the Hong Kong Music Scene from Inside the City Itself

Though my journey to the Hong Kong SAR was primarily movie motivated, I couldn't
help but poke around and see what kind of a musical "scene" existed. To be more
precise, my first mission upon arriving was to see if, indeed, a scene existed
at all. Hong Kong music is dominated by the juggernaut known as "Cantopop."
Imagine if you will that the center of the American mainstream music industry
was located in Chicago. Then further imagine that all of that music is intended
for Chicagoans and a few diasporic Chicagoans out there in the rest of the
world. While the Cantopop industry isn't quite as big as that of the entire
United States, you get the idea of what indie bands have to compete with. Not
surprisingly, then, I'd never heard talk of Hong Kong music outside of their
famous singing movie stars. With a little sleuthing, though, I found that HK has
a handful of indie record shops scattered throughout the city, usually small
boutiques that occupy a single little room. Shops like
The Panic and
Monitor Records are thoroughly up-to-date on the sort of releases that grace the
pages of TMT, as well as with albums by HK indie bands. While I feel like it
would be a bit disingenuous to try to sum up the scene, or identify "that Hong
Kong sound," I've decided rather to give you more of a report on my experience
via the top five Hong Kong albums I came into contact with during my stay.

 


5.
Twins – Touch of Love
(http://www.eegmusic.com)

To kick off the list, and perhaps embarrass myself transcontinentally, I must
include the Twins Touch of Love in the tokenistic number five spot
because it just isn't a list about Hong Kong without film superstars and
Cantopop. In a genre known for its packaging and for micro-tuning its stars for
ultimate image, Touch of Love emerges as the ultimate Cantopop album with
so much gloss it cannot be looked at directly by mere mortals. Oddly, though,
the album opener has the stupidest sounding keyboard I think I've ever heard.
However, this is quickly overwhelmed as the ballad's melody begins to overwhelm
my critical resistance. It speaks to the song's credit that a ballad was chosen
to kick off the album, and it is good enough to suck you in. The song uses a
standard template with fairly routine production choices, drums that kick in
halfway through, increasing harmonies through the song, and, of course, strings
by the end, but sometimes sticking to generic conventions allows a great song to
shine though. The rest of the album, however, is not content to sound the same
offering epic serious dance music, bouncy summery songs, and a surprising amount
of variance amongst the ballads. As a fitting conclusion, the mega hit last
track, "Diva...Ah Hey," closes the album with a melody memorable enough to serve
as the recurring theme for the film of the same name. While it may not be the most mature, deep,
or significant album, I'll be damned if I haven't listened to it an embarrassing
amount of times.




4.
Stealstealground – Stealstealground
(http://www.stealstealground.com)

Stealstealground's introductory track features a huge atmospheric synth sound
rising and rising, until I became convinced that I was in for M83 level of epic
synth-tastic melodrama. However, when the racket died down, instead I got "Bad
Waves of Paranoia," consisting of a strummed guitar and a pair of sometimes
conflicting singers that likely recorded the track around a campfire. Probably
the band with the highest ‘quirk' factor on the list, it is difficult to
describe Stealstealground's sound, or at least what is so appealing about it.
Stripped down to guitar and voice some of the time, other times employing sheets
of electronics instead, the simple but lovely sing-songy melodies of the sister
half of this brother-sister duo, Pennylane, make the album a bizarre treat.

 




3.
Alok- 29 Minutes From the End
(http://www.monitor-records.com)

Alok positions himself as the ubiquitous genius of the Hong Kong music scene by
collaborating with a good deal of the local indie stars. About half of the album
is made up of gorgeous guitar driven post-rock tunes, while the rest of the
tracks feature guest vocals with each song seemingly written toward the
direction of the guest's band. Surprisingly, almost every one of the tracks on
this album is a winner, the lone exception being the foray into hip-hop, "Dead
Poet's Society," which comes off as awkward at best. However, "Logan's Run," the
album's hands-down highlight, immediately follows it up, complete with a driving
kraut-rock beat, shimmering guitars, bizarrely robotic vocals, and memorable
melody. Using diversity as its strength, the album is a fairly amazing
accomplishment in its ability to dazzle in such a diverse range of styles.




2.
Elf Fatima - Elf Fatima
(http://www.elf-fatima.com)

Rooted in heavy psychedelia and post-rock, Elf Fatima is an
atmospherically beautiful, sometimes stormy album. The heavier elements of the
band ensure that everything is louder and more driving than your more breezy
post-rock types. Eschewing the aforementioned genres' tendencies towards
abstraction, a fore grounded rhythm section keeps the songs focused in the midst
of oceans of tonal layers. With already loud drums and bass, the guitars
struggle to be the stars of the show, often taking the lead melodically without
ever being flashy or excessive. However, more than anything, the powerful alto
vocals of Elf prove to be the band's secret weapon. The lone human sound floats
above the mix, providing a beautiful layer of clarity amongst the masses of
distortion and heavy percussion. While at times all the heaviness can make the
band sound like they are fighting, often something beautiful comes about as a
result.




1.
My Little Airport – The OK Thing To Do On Sunday Afternoon Is To Toddle In
The Zoo
(http://www.mylittleaiport.com)

Charm can go a long way…all they way to number one it seems. My Little Airport
have crafted a short little gem with 10 songs in about 20 minutes that zip by in
the blink of an eye. While the individual songs were a bit too short to stick in
my head immediately, the album possesses an absolutely irresistible charm that
necessitated repeated listening. As I got to know the album better, I found that
it possesses a rare balance of sameness and difference between the songs that
makes it sound more like 10 movements of a pop symphony than whatever the best
ten songs they had at their disposal were. Though only a duo, the songs are
filled to the brim with all sorts of bouncy synths, guitars, and drum-machine
beats, making listening to the seemingly simple songs little voyages of
discovery. Tying everything together is Nicole's sweet voice, which tells stories
of lost love, abandoning a business, and the difficulties of loving someone too
vain, among other things. With its brevity, density, and overwhelmingly
infectious quality, My Little Airport have created an album that serves as a
reminder of how great pop music can be.

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