After months of fighting to stand out, a dozen diverse acts performed at the YRock POP Music Challenge finale. The annual awards celebrate the acts nurtured by YRock over the previous year. Finalists from the three heats – Lantau, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island – competed for Tom Lee Music vouchers worth HK$9,000, as well as the chance to perform at this year’s Clockenflap.
Young Post joined YRock judges Belinda Howard and John Lee, from Tom Lee Music, in scoring the artists based on three factors: Performance, Originality and Personality.
Kicking off the competition at the Orange Peel in Central, Aeden Alvarez put a lot of passion into a soulful, intimate set. His mature vocal style and sensitive guitarwork brought something new to Tori Kelly’s Confetti and Alicia Keys’ If I Ain’t Got You, but he was let down by the quality of the backing track, which was played from his phone.
Nicole Raiola was up next, showing off her impressive voice in a mash-up of songs by artists including Nicki Minaj and Sam Smith. And while competition was fierce at YRock POP, that didn’t mean artists didn’t help each other. Phoebe Whalley, previous POP winner and Live@YP performer, came to the aid of her friend Nicole with guitar and backing vocals.
Then a frenzied set by notorious punks The Pansies, decked out in Hawaiian shirts. Guitarist Miggy de Leon sported a leg cast from a rugby injury, but this didn’t stop him from unleashing jagged riffs as the quartet crushed it with four tightly-rehearsed songs.
The following act, Squarehead, was a completely different genre, but he was equally compelling. During his slick, self-assured and atmospheric set, the rapper laid down personal lyrics about his girlfriend and being a “high school drop-out” over crisp backing beats.
Kira Gregory looked every inch the star when she stepped on stage in a silvery prom dress. Backed by Luca Howard on cajon and Mikayla Boonstra on piano, Kira showed off her great vocal range and tone, on classics like House of the Rising Sun and Rihanna’s Love On The Brain.
Ben Man would play later with his band Asyndeton, but the singer performed a few of his own self-produced songs to warm up. During his first song, he unleashed his famed vocal power alongside ’80s-style heavy, echoey drums.
Technical Difficulties had only been together for a few weeks, but they have all the makings of a great band. The YRock supergroup, formed from the Glass Onions and Lucky Blues, has a raw punk feel, with huge soulful vocals from Mikayla Boonstra, a cool blues solo from guitarist Dylan Halbroth, and ferocious drumming by Ydis Lopez.
When the duo The Folk Ups wheeled their home-made suitcase drum onto the stage, the crowd knew they were in for something special. Fresh from another gig, Ryan Harling and Jasmine Kelly were happy and relaxed as they wove dual guitars, soft vocals and barefoot tambourine taps to create the dark Red in the Sky and The Snake Charmer.
2015 YRock POP winners James’s Secret were back with a stripped down sound. The band ditched their horn section for rock that was so laid-back that lead singer Jacob Leung even sounded a bit like Michael Buble during the jazzy Loose. Patrick Yau’s basslines sparkled, but it was James Koo who stole the spotlight when MC Ricky Cumes challenged him to a drum solo.
Phoebe Whalley, who had already warmed up with Nicole, was confident enough to try out two new compositions. “A few weeks ago I realised YRock was coming up and I didn’t have an original song to play,” she told the crowd. “So I ended up writing two.” She showed clever use of pedal loops, and left the audience astonished by her technical skill and beautiful voice.
Shivom kept the chilled vibe going with his signature sound of Spanish guitar. He was a little nervous at the start, but his small army of fans in the crowd gave him confidence. He signed off with a cool mash-up, combining Drake’s Doing It Wrong and Frank Ocean’s Thinking About You.
Closing the show was Asyndeton, who performed tracks from their latest EP. Ben Man seemed apprehensive during the opening lines of Ascending Heaven, but he was at full power by the time the band kicked in. The group threw everything at Paranoia: a tight and energetic rock-out with a screeching solo from Harmeet Bhatia overtop Aaron de Guzman’s thunderous drums.
When it was all said and done, judges picked James’s Secret as winners for Performance, while Asyndeton scooped the prize for Originality, and Phoebe Whalley won best Personality. The Folk Ups emerged as runners-up, and Technical Difficulties were invited onstage for a YRock commendation.
The finalists will reunite for one more YRock performance, when they all perform live at the Big Picnic in Discovery Bay on November 5.
YP reporter Lauren was on the panel of judges at the YRockPOP Awards final.