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Friday, April 27, 2018, 11:13
Homegrown bands on home turf
By Neil Li
Friday, April 27, 2018, 11:13 By Neil Li

From folk to progressive rock to hip hop and funk, Hong Kong’s diverse local indie music scene emerged from the shadows at The Week music festival. Neil Li reports.

Brandon Ho, lead singer of alternative groove funk band Site Access, says technology is helping the local indie music scene to develop. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Formerly known as The Gig Week, The Week music festival was started in 2017 by a group of people who had a hard time finding local music acts playing the lesser-known genres that they enjoyed. One of the event’s founders, Paul Sedille, lived in Beijing before moving to Hong Kong which seemed to lack the diversity of the music scene in the Chinese capital at the time.

“In Hong Kong, you can find some of the bigger genres but then when you’re looking for more specific or underground music, it gets harder. Because of that difficulty, we started looking around and as we organized the event, we discovered a lot,” says Sedille.

With the goal to make Hong Kong indie music more accessible and bring it to a bigger audience, the organizers put together seven consecutive nights of shows at seven different venues around the city for the first edition of The Week last year, covering genres such as acoustic, hip hop, punk, metal, dance rock and electronic. The event was well-received. The model seemed to have worked in Hong Kong. This year, the gigs followed the same format with new acts except for one repeat band.  New genres like world music, progressive rock and soul and funk as well as an all-female lineup-themed night were featured. 

“The whole point of the event is to push more bands on more stages more often. The idea is to change the lineups every year to give people more opportunities,” Sedille explains. “All the venues are different as well from last year except for one. A lot of them are new live houses like Lost Stars or This Town Needs. The genres changed as well, we didn’t repeat genres this year besides metal and hip hop. All the others are new because there is so much going on in the city that you can’t cover everything in seven days.”

World music collective ReOrientate is inspired by cultures along the Silk Road. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Engaged audiences

One of the performing acts, ReOrientate, was happy that The Week had dedicated a night to world music, to fit them in. “Normally people don’t know where to put us. This time we’re not sandwiched in between a progressive rock band and a hip hop act. It has been said that ReOrientate fits equally well in an arts festival theater and all the way to an indie rock venue,” says founder De Kai. 

Described as “a dialogue across musical languages, across time and space”, ReOrientate is a collective of musicians from a variety of backgrounds who collaborate and create a blend of music influenced by cultures along the Silk Road such as Chinese, Indian, Middle-Eastern and others. Their performances incorporate traditional music elements such as a cajon, erhu, flamenco dancers and Indian singers along with advanced technology like virtual reality.

De Kai expresses that like in many places around the world, the Hong Kong audiences are not too familiar with music outside the mainstream, such as world music and especially music that is produced locally. However, that doesn’t deter the collective from trying to play in front of as many diverse audiences as possible in order to bridge cultures, often with positive results. 

“It’s amazing because every single place that we’ve played in, every single audience has just been incredibly engaged, warm and wonderful,” De Kai says. 

“When we play in a mixed lineup, the audiences that came for something else see us and are surprised. It helps because otherwise they would’ve never run into us. And a dedicated world music night also helps to get the community that is already aware together and gives it cohesion and momentum. It’s a wonderful combination.”

From left: Paul Sedille, Joris Boutin and Elaine Ip founded The Week to make Hong Kong indie music more accessible. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Building an ecosystem

As anyone who follows the local indie bands scene would know, such music has in fact gained traction over the years. Alternative groove funk band Site Access, who also performed at this year’s The Week, was formed in 1998 and has witnessed many of the changes. Lead singer Brandon Ho points out that a number of major labels have either already signed indie bands or are looking to sign acts that are not just playing mainstream music but blues, jazz and funk as well.

Audiences have also diversified their music tastes. “I think right now there’s a growing number of people who listen to and like jazz, soul, funk and groove music. Back in the nineties, it was pretty much metal or club music in Hong Kong,” Ho says. Besides Site Access, there are a handful of local bands making and playing soul and funk music, he adds.

Technology has played a big role in both the growth of local musicians and the audience’s interest in less-known genres of music. Musicians can easily set up a home studio to record their own music and then release their songs and videos on the Internet or social media to draw in the audiences who have more choices and easier access to music. 

According to Ho, a number of factors can help the Hong Kong indie music scene continue to grow. Musicians need to put out good music to attract listeners. He believes there also needs to be more outlets such as venues and radio stations to help expose more people to local indie music.

Live events play a big role as well. Both Ho and De Kai stress the importance of more shows and events for local music acts. 

“Obviously the music scene needs these types of events more frequently. That’s the way bands grow, from doing more shows, they will get more fans. If bands have more opportunities to perform, it’ll be great,” Ho says.

Sedille and his team hope The Week will become bigger in the future as they aim to bring the indie scene to a mainstream audience, making it a more popular choice for local people. 

“If you bring the music to the audience, you grow the audience and basically create an ecosystem or support line for the bands to have more opportunities to play, to make money, to get exposure and to grow. It also makes venues more likely to organize a show and if more people will show up more venues will start organizing them. Everything gets cross-fed,” he says.

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