Earning their title

Earning their title

The indie music scene in Hong Kong is expanding fast

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Pollie Tong and Jonathan Wut of Lil' Ashes.
Pollie Tong and Jonathan Wut of Lil' Ashes.
Photos: Thomas Yau/SCMP
Ten years ago, if you had asked young people in Hong Kong to tell you about indie music, you'd likely have received some puzzled looks.

Today, most youngsters would be quick to name a few bands, and the type of music they are famous for. So it's not surprising that Hong Kong's underground music scene is thriving, and local indie musicians agree.

"In the past few years, we have seen a lot of new emerging bands, such as Chochukmo," says indie musician Shandy Gan Pui-shan. "They are starting to appear on magazine covers, meaning that they are gaining recognition."

Indie music generally refers to fresh sounds produced by independent ("indie") artists, who don't follow the commercial, one-size-fits-all formula when making music. Although it can sound rough and experimental, indie music appeals to adventurous music lovers who look beyond the norm.

Gan, a bossa nova specialist, recently signed up with O.U.R Works, a music project put together by Sony Music Entertainment Hong Kong.

The project's acronym stands for original, unique, refreshing, and it consists of four independent music units: Gan, piano-rocker Lillian Wong Ho-lam, acoustic-pop band Lil' Ashes, and folk-rock trio Trekkerz. A compilation album by the musicians is due to be released in October.

Gan - whose original career plan was to be an arts administrator - is determined to pursue musical fame because she sees more and more performance venues for independent musicians opening up in the city.

Full Cup Cafe in Mong Kok, for example, allows budding musicians to play gigs for free. And Hidden Agenda - tucked away in an industrial building in Kwun Tong - is another much-loved venue for fans with boundary-pushing music tastes. It was featured as a popular hub promoting local underground music during this year's Le French May.

But Gan is very impressed by Visage One, a two-storey hair salon by day that becomes a jazz and blues bar every Saturday night. "You get to come really close to your audience, and the design has an artistic feeling to it," says the singer-songwriter.

Vocalist Pollie Tong Hoi-ting and guitarist Jonathan Wut Ting-hin of Lil' Ashes say music lovers are seeking more variety these days. Since coming together two years ago, the pair have been hitting local venues with their crisp acoustics and harmonious vocals.

"By performing at these venues, indie bands like us can spread our music. The larger the crowd, the more exposure we get," Tong says.

Wut adds: "The younger generation is now searching for something they have not listened to before." The internet, he says, enables people to find that.

Music festivals such as Clockenflap and Freespace Fest also help to propel Hong Kong's indie music scene forward.

"It's fun to go to karaoke or see concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum," Gan says. "But if you can walk around freely and choose the band that you want to listen to, sometimes just by walking past a stage and being hooked, this can make for all kinds of exciting discoveries."

While fame may help these artists make a living, would signing with a well-known record label go against the philosophy of being an indie musician?

"Indie has nothing to do with record labels. It's the attitude of independence that matters," says Lil' Ashes' Tong. "Arctic Monkeys is a signed British band, but they are still committed to making their own music."

The view that indie musicians don't need any money or resources to make music is a misconception. But if they're indie by nature, they can be indie by name.


You might also like:

- Canto-pop singer/songwriter Chita Yu waited about 10 years for her turn to achieve fame. But she's grateful for the long wait.

- Canto-pop singer Siufay did a bit of soul-searching for his latest release, Little Singer, which resulted in his most personal album to date.

- Acclaimed British indie band The xx comes to Hong Kong more relaxed as performers

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