Canto-pop dominates Hong Kong's mainstream music scene, leaving little room for indie bands to thrive. Student bands have it even harder.
"The band scene that provides organic live performance is primitive compared with other extracurricular activities," says Michael Ju, a year 12 Renaissance College student and guitarist for the blues and funk band James's Secret.
Academic-related activities such as debate (think Model UN or World Scholar's Cup) are given a lot more attention because achievements in academic areas help students get into top universities, says Michael. "That's understandable. But for a musician like me, it's definitely disappointing. There's no reason [the student band scene] can't go beyond what it is now."
James's Secret is trying to push its way into the "semi-professional zone" by booking more public gigs. Since the band formed in October, it has played for 13 shows in schools and even a mall.
On June 19, they'll perform at Lion Rock, a music festival organised by King George V students.
"It's all about the student talent," says Sean Derman, co-head of the organising committee. The Year 12 student, who is in a band himself, hopes to give fellow musicians more recognition by holding a premium event where only the best perform "even though it's only HK$80 for a ticket," he adds.
Sean decided to limit the show to only the best bands after talking with Clockenflap co-founder and music director Justin Sweeting. Sweeting will be at the festival to scout for potential bands to play at the next Clockenflap. This Music Studio has also promised to offer its favourite band a recording deal.
Michael and his band see this as their most important performance in terms of opportunity: "Lion Rock could take us to bigger stages. That's our main motivation," he says.
Compared to last year, when only a dozen groups showed up, 17 bands from schools across Hong Kong came to audition this year. They each had to play two songs, which could be originals or covers.
A panel of five judges - consisting of Sean, fellow co-head Komal Harjani and three other musically oriented students - picked the eight bands that will perform. Sean says stage presence was the panel's main consideration.
"Whatever will get the crowd going is what we want," he says.
One of the things that could get the crowd going is a female rocker. The reason is obvious.
"Female artists are a minority in rock music," says Victoria Bird, the only female guitarist to be featured in Lion Rock.
She doesn't have any female friends who play electric guitar, and even female idols such as Joan Jett and the all-girl rock band The Runaways are rare.
Victoria says this may be because the guitar is considered a masculine instrument even though it's not any harder for girls to play.
"I feel like I have to prove myself more," she says. "But at the other extreme, I sometimes get more praise than boys who play at the same level."
Victoria, a 16-year-old Discovery College student, started playing her dad's guitar four years ago, and fell in love with performing. Last year, she started Glass Onions, an alternative rock band. They've played nearly 30 gigs at clubs and events such as YRock, Picnic in the Park, and the Jockey Club Street Music Series. For Lion Rock, they'll introduce three original songs.
One of the songs is about overcoming struggles, which echoes Lion Rock's goal: the organisers hope to raise HK$80,000 from ticket sales and donations to combat modern-day slavery.
"Around the world, students are being exploited, and they're not given the same opportunities that we are," says Harjani. "We'd like to reach out to them because it's easier to reach out to your own generation."
For more info and the show's complete line-up, check out facebook.com/Lionrock2015