Local artist Kongkee on his collaboration with British band Blur for The Magic Whip

Local artist Kongkee on his collaboration with British band Blur for The Magic Whip

Something about Hong Kong inspired the British band's latest album. Melanie Leung talked to the local artist invited to work with the rockers


Blur recruited the skills of local artist Kongkee.
Blur recruited the skills of local artist Kongkee.
Photo: AFP

At the height of Blur's fame in the 1990s, a newspaper drew a cartoon of the Britpop band that they still remember with disgust.

"Basically it was about how we bonded, and there was this image of us with our arms around each other in a circle, naked," guitarist Graham Coxon told Young Post before their concert on Wednesday at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

"Which is of course what we do before every show, in a sauna, or something."

To avoid similar misrepresentations, they decided to do their own comic book to accompany The Magic Whip, their comeback album after 12 years.

They chose to recruit a local artist because much of the music and lyrics of the new record was inspired by Hong Kong. Their manager loved the local flavour of Kongkee's work on Pandaman, and decided he was the man for the task.

Sitting in his new office in Kwun Tong, Kongkee, whose real name is Kong Khong-chang, says he nearly dismissed the email inviting him to collaborate.

"They were so secretive - they didn't even reveal which band I was supposed to draw for at first," says the 38-year-old.

He had one and a half months to work on the 24-page colour comic. He began work in March, ahead of the album's April release, so was only allowed to listen to it once for inspiration.

Songs like Mirrorball, Ghost Ship and New World Towers evoked a sense of loneliness in a claustrophobic city.

When Blur's tour brought them to Hong Kong

"The city looks spectacular at first glance, but it's full of flaws," says Kongkee, pointing at a broken mirrorball in the comic.

"I wondered: where did their impression of Hong Kong come from? Could I present it in a different way?"

In retro style with printing press textures and highly saturated colours, the nostalgic sci-fi comic tells the story of Blur travelling around a futuristic Hong Kong in a flying ice cream truck (its design is inspired by ice cream vendor Mister Softee and manga series Dr. Slump).

They pass by a pawn shop, a mahjong parlour, and a Cantonese opera singer playing the electric guitar, before ending up at a protest scene reminiscent of last year's Occupy protests.

Lead singer Damon Albarn named the album The Magic Whip because he sensed a feeling of strong control while he was in Hong Kong.

This became Kongkee's perfect excuse to include the Umbrella Revolution in the comic, which is already out of stock on the band's website.

"I wanted to show to people our response to an authority whose control over us has become more subtle, more sophisticated and packaged to be more humanised," he says.

He didn't face much control when he was drawing the comic, though. After seeing his draft, the band only requested he make them look younger.

Bassist Alex James attributed their new record's gritty sound to the "sweaty, horrible" studio in Jordan that allowed them to play their hearts out, and Kongkee says he is also more creative in unfamiliar environments.

There are plenty of places in Hong Kong where our imagination can roam free, says Kongkee. He finds flyovers and construction sites particularly exciting.

"If there's only a hill and a flyover, with some wires hanging overhead, there's plenty to imagine. We could be in another time altogether, and if we just walked over to explore we'd see something amazing hidden there."

Blur's jamming sessions in Hong Kong yielded such success because they faced no distractions. Kongkee has his own trick to stop procrastinating: he makes himself a cup of coffee.

"It's my warm up ritual. I tell myself, 'You've done everything; you've even made coffee …Now get to work'."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
A Blur of pop art and neon lights


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