Learning music doesn’t need to be all grade exams and sight reading – it can be about having fun and making friends as well. Last weekend, budding rock stars from across the city showed off what they’d learned during their “rock band training” music lessons at Sai Kung social enterprise The Living Room. Parents, musicians (and media) piled into the tiny venue, which doubles as a teaching space, for an afternoon showcasing budding new talents.
“I started Rock School because I wanted kids to have a safe place where they can create something of their own, meet new people and build their confidence,” says founder and teacher Matthew Snelgrove, who joined several of the groups onstage.
Of Monsters And Men’s hit Little Talks was a popular cover, with bands and ukulele groups alike presenting their take on the song. The fully-fledged rock trio The Worthy Ones opted to play songs by Twin Atlantic and Blur. The band’s singer and bassist, Juliana Hartwig, 11, started Rock School two years ago because she wanted to form a band.
“We practise every Tuesday and play a lot of different songs,” she told Young Post. “We’ve played lots of concerts, but today wasn’t perfect – there were parts where we messed up.”
The young rocker, who goes to Hong Kong Academy, said learning to sing and play bass simultaneously was tough at first, “But I got used to it because they’re both things I enjoy doing.”
“We write songs by thinking of a catchy riff, then by making up lyrics, which are inspired by the problems in life – like cutting down trees or taking drugs. I’d say we’re quite creative.”
The Living Room was born out of Snelgrove’s lifelong love of music and involvement in bands. About six years ago, he received a grant from the Li Ka-shing Foundation’s Love Ideas project, which he used to develop The Living Room. “I want [students] to find their value not in what they do or play, but in who they are, as long as they are willing to try and give it their best then there is always a place for them.”
His first Rock School intake included a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Colombia. “He could play a bit of hand drums but he had a raw passion for music,” Snelgrove says. “Within a month he was able to play a full drum kit, guitar, bass and discovered [that he had] a great voice too. Now in his 20s, he performs with Hong Kong hip hop group 7on7.”
Fresh from the stage, Wonderbroz gathered around for their first major media interview. When asked where they expected to be in a year, drummer Zach Makay Hay shrugged and said that he expected they’ll be more developed as a band, but that it’ll be harder to stay together as time passes.
“The other bands today were good, but we were better,” said bassist Ravi Balu, who loves the band Kiss and looks up to bassist Gene Simmons for his style. “We’re really good at communicating and we’re all really close. Rock School has been really fun.”
The boys, who are all 11 and go to Hong Kong Academy, agree: they love Twenty One Pilots, whose song Stressed Out they covered during their set. The US duo also influenced the ’Broz during their first foray into songwriting.
“Before Ravi was in the band, Zach, Zama and I tried to write our own songs, but it didn’t go well,” said singer Ben O’Leary. The band found its missing link in Ravi: “Within a week of me joining, we’d written a song – Out of Her Mind,” the bassist says. “We’re now learning how to play it.”
Guitarist Zama, who worships Gun N Roses’ Slash, revealed he came up with the band name. “Ben wanted us to be Tree Persons, but we had a vote and my name won,” he says. “Though our first album will be called Tree Huggers,” Ravi adds.
“There’s a lot of untapped creativity and potential in this band,” Snelgrove says. “Hong Kong better look out. If the boys pull together, they’ll be gigging next year, then rocking the world the next!”
The Living Room will host a three-day Easter band camp in April. For more information, see thelivingroom.hk