Technology-driven music festival Sónar Hong Kong returns tomorrow for its third iteration in the city. Local music pros and show hosts tell Rob Garratt why it matters.
Scintii is a singer and producer from Taiwan, now based in the Chinese mainland. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Transplanting any world-renowned festival brand to foreign climes can carry accusations of watering down and cashing in. Yet of all the 60-plus cities handpicked to host authorized pop-ups of Barcelona’s almost painfully hip electronic music and technology summit, Sónar Hong Kong (SHK), which opens tomorrow, is bucking that trend. As the event’s third iteration in the city proves, Hong Kong has become one of just a handful of cities to turn that initial buzz into an annual happening.
“The guys from Barcelona come out every year and they actually feel this is their favorite, closest to the core of what Sónar is about in Barcelona,” says SHK music director Justin Sweeting. “And I think the venue plays a great part in that.”
The venue in question is Hong Kong Science Park, all set for a 15-hour cycle of concerts and DJ sets spread over five stages. The main outdoor SónarVillage stage showcases the biggest draws, including chart-troubling British “future-pop” duo AlunaGeorge and US funk-fusion polymath Thundercat, who previously headlined the event in Barcelona.
The Barcelona gig in 2017 remains one of his most favorite ever, says Thundercat — the stage name of American bassist Stephen Lee Bruner. “As a brand I think they’re fantastic. I love their work, what they represent — and I love that it’s all about the music.”
Founder of the music labels, Mobilee and Sous Music, Anja Schenider is from Berlin. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Canada’s Art Department is a star on the tech-house scene. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
More than just a party
After the outdoor curfew kicks in at 11pm, the party continues until 3am at three indoor stages, with the largest, SónarClub, welcoming headline DJ sets from Ninja Tune hypnotist Bonobo, Spanish house icon John Talabot, Canadian tech-house trailblazer Art Department, and Berlin-based Mobilee and Sous Music founder Anja Schneider.
Edgier, underground acts take to the smaller SónarLab stage, which will feature Canadian hip-hop producer Ryan Hemsworth collaborating live with Japanese rap duo Yurufuwa Gang and the “gothic dancehall and industrial electronics” of Warp Records newbie Gaika.
With artists billed alphabetically rather than on the basis of their renown, Sónar’s eclectic, wide-ranging approach is the “anti-Creamfields”, agrees Sweeting, in reference to the EDM bluster of Hong Kong’s other big imported electronic music festival.
“We want to showcase a much broader spectrum, and for people to understand there are all these genres and feelings and emotions you can get from electronic music that go far deeper than the instant gratification of build-up-and-drop kind of music,” he says.
The music is only half the story, though, with state-of-the-art creative technology presented at workshops, talks and demo booths as part of the sister Sónar+D section. Worlds collide with a series of all-seated audio-visual performances that feature augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) on the SónarComplex stage inside the park’s iconic “egg”, also known as the Charles K. Kao Auditorium, which is where British sonic artist Mileece will make what the organizers describe as “organic electronic music through living plants”.
Bonobo aka Simon Green from the UK plays a DJ set. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Relatively new to the scene, Gaika is into gothic dancehall and electro-industrial music. electronic. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Canadian hip-hop producer Ryan Hemsworth will appear on the SónarLab stage. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Brought to Hong Kong by Magnetic Asia — also the promoters behind the annual indie fest Clockenflap — SHK undoubtedly plays an ambassadorial role, presenting breaking global musical and technological trends while serving as a platform for emerging regional and local acts.
More than half of the 35 billed artists are Hong Kong natives — including local club favorites Miss Yellow and Finsent C, along with acts including Shanghai underground icon Hype11e and trippy Taiwan-native, mainland-based singer Scintii.
Internationally noted Hong Kong-based electronic trio Blood Wine or Honey performed their first live gig at the debut SHK in 2017, where headliner Gilles Peterson spun a 12-inch single the band had given him that same afternoon.
“It was enormously positive for us — a wonderful thing to do,” said multi-instrumentalist Joseph von Hess. “Sónar has serious cachet and pedigree as a festival, and some of that rubs off on the Hong Kong event. It has amazing potential, but I think more could be done — they could potentially afford to be a little bit bolder and dig a little bit deeper.”
Finsent C is a popular local musician, as are more than half the acts at Sónar Hong Kong. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Mileece will use living plants to create organic electronic music. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Miss Yellow is a well-known club circuit favorite in Hong Kong. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Eclectic electronic sounds will also be heard at next month’s Shi Fu Miz, a boutique music and arts weekender hosted on Cheung Chau Island on May 4 and 5. Co-founder Florian Melinette welcomes the complementary role SHK plays.
“Sónar is one of the most famous festivals in Europe,” he says. “It’s really good for a small-medium sized festival like ours, Shi Fu Miz, to welcome a bigger festival in the market, in order to push the electronic music scene and educate Hong Kong people in this emerging culture.”
“Historically in Hong Kong, electronic music as a broad genre has been quite well established — it’s a place where rave culture outlasted many others,” adds Sweeting.
“Sónar is very much positioned at that cutting edge of the spectrum. It really seeks to be as forward thinking as possible. So much is down to curation — trying to balance the avant garde and the experimental with the realities of where things are at in Hong Kong — and Sónar is one of the things which help keep the momentum moving forward.”
If you go
Sónar Hong Kong
Organized by: Magnetic Asia
Date: April 13, from noon
Venue: Hong Kong Science Park, Pak Shek Kok, New Territories
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