The stakes were high and the lights were bright as bands and music fans from all over the city turned up at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre on September 27. It is safe to say a few guitarists and singers had that butterfly feeling in their stomachs: they had one shot to impress a panel of four judges, in the hope of representing Hong Kong at the Grand Final of the Yamaha Asian Beat Band Competition 2016 Hong Kong, one of the biggest amateur band competitions in Asia, in Japan.
They may have felt nervous, but The Soul Proprietors didn’t show it. As the first of 14 acts, they confidently kicked off the night with their song, Pharmacists and Anarchists, which won Vincent Siu the prize for top keyboard player.
Second band 20Eye may have been a little too excited – singer Li Ho-fung was jumping around so much that it made his singing sound bad. His group played indie rock with metal elements, which reminded the audience of US rock bands like Glassjaw.
Experienced performer Sidick Lam gave a quirky performance with her band. Her voice sounded baby sweet as she sang cheerful ditties, while Tang Chi-hon played jazzy notes on the keyboard. However, her song didn’t really seem polished, and several audience members were seen wincing.
Next band Cow Head were a very original act. The four members were some of the most skilled musicians of the whole night. Their song Black Pepper had a South American sound, and they played around with speed changes and used electronic effects on their guitars.
The music got louder when Fiester walked onstage. The five-piece’s sound was influenced by guitar-based genres like J-rock and grunge. Lead singer Lo Wing-lam made her voice sound like a robot, while her bandmate Mak Lai-yin’s spooky synths made everyone think it was already Halloween. Judges probably felt that Fiester’s song needed to be more original, but they definitely grabbed everyone’s attention.
Mockingbird were one of the only bands to sing in English, and brought to mind pop-punk bands, like Paramore, with their upbeat rock and dramatic singing from frontwoman Miki Okada. Drummer Kelvin Chan’s extra-energetic performance paid off: judges saw he was a worthy winner of best drummer.
A rumble of drums introduced next act 1:05 to the stage. Guitarists Ma Ka-ho and Leung Lok-hang mirrored each other’s movements, which showed they had spent time planning their performance. Drummer Chung Tat-wai was very talented, but Wong Nga-yiu’s keyboard playing didn’t really suit the rest of the music.
Season Four had also planned their performance carefully: they used special effects, like smoke and flashing lights, to make their show seem very theatrical. They played emo rock, but bassist Liu Kwok-yin sounded a lot like the Cookie Monster when he started to sing in a growly voice.
Next up, Sugar Bro entered the competition feeling confident, having already won several music prizes this year. Guitarist Jerome Turner played an impressive solo, while lead singer Kan Lo headbanged so hard that his hat fell off. Judges really, really liked Sugar Bro: they awarded the pop-punk band best bassist, best vocalist and best guitarist.
The following band Causethu were the heaviest band in the show. Wearing matching T-shirts, they played death metal with elements of electronica. Frontman Thomas So also used growly singing, and bass player Heath Yuen looked really cool as he used a special ring to control the sound made by his guitar.
Tri-Accident played the catchy song Turnspit Dog, which saw Johnny Chiu blow the crowd’s minds with an amazing guitar solo. Then KSana brought their very well-rehearsed, powerful rock and squealing guitars to the show.
Then there were only two bands left: NastyDudes gave a flawless performance with their song TGIF. The band had a more ’80s, classic rock sound; singer Yu Ka-hin belted out wailing vocals next to guitarist Chan Chun-hei who whirled his hair around so quickly that it was hard to see his face.
Lastly, it was LingMonKaiPe’s turn to close the contest. Supported by great drumming from Poon Kai-shun, the band played indie rock. Lead singer Debbie Lai seemed shy and awkward at first, but her confidence grew to match the noisy guitar and bass beside her.
All this and more was taken into consideration by judges, who spent a long time thinking about which band should win. Season Four came third, and NastyDudes came second. In the end, Sugar Bro were hard to ignore. As well as their three individual awards, they took home the champion trophy. All members grinned and laughed with joy as they posed for photos, and are looking forward to representing the city in Japan at the grand final next month.