Sep 28, 2006|
Rockit 4.0 – coming your way this October 14-15. Hong Kong’s biggest, and only – and yet totally fabulous - outdoor music festival has cemented its place on the short list of stuff that really blows our minds.
Last year’s festival was dogged by the government’s initial refusal to lease out the venue and commit to a contract. Noise restriction laws also meant frequent breaks between sets and a way-too-low limit on speaker volume. For a city of Hong Kong’s caliber, many wondered what exactly was keeping our music scene so low-key, one-dimensional and just plain deadbeat. So what’s changed this year? And are we any closer to that world-class city everyone keeps talking about?
Sort of. And what little we are has little to do with the Economic and Trade Offices or even those happy-go-lucky fools, the Tourism Board (not that the “Young Office Ladies Booster Campaign” wasn’t cool and all). Thanks to a steadfast group of indie music fans, the local music scene has been quietly evolving. Complaints about an unhealthy scene and the people who can’t be bothered to support it are less relevant. “I see the scene as healthy and on target for what it should be,” says Vivian Yeung of local independent music label 89268. “People know that indie music exists and the existing support is enough to sustain the scene.”
With a regular crowd at indie band institutions like the bi-monthly Underground and monthly HK Live!, as well as the dozens of other gigs each month, the scene is both flourishing and stable, a happy combination often overlooked by the average naysayer. “There are also a lot of band show opportunities now for indie musicians,” says Jan Lo of 2005 World Battle of the Bands champions, Qiu Hong. “And there have been a lot more local bands putting out albums in the past year.” EMI product manager Divine Mui notes that many indie bands finally accept that there must be at least some pop element in their music and so we see many different genres of independent bands releasing albums, with good results.
One reason behind this is that new-fangled phenomenon, the internet. Any fool can upload a video of himself strumming air guitar to YouTube, or an MP3 from a stoned evening with Cubase onto his MySpace. And many fools do. Somewhere in the flotsam though, bobs bona fide clips of actual musicality from actual musicians. “Before, bands had to go to formal studios to record, but now technology is so advanced that home studios can create nearly the same quality,” says Yeung. “Then it’s all about releasing and promoting the music on the internet, which helps producers and managers find the bands.”
Although the quality of local talent may be extremely diverse, undeniably raw and in many cases extremely underplayed, what’s admirable is, in Yeung’s words, “their spirit.” “Though the music style can be very boring, I admire the bands’ strength of will in making and releasing music in the face of so many obstacles. It’s not pop music after all,” he says. For example, in comparison to the mainstream record labels propelling artists like Joey Yung and Shawn Yu to stardom, indie labels have only a fraction of the money to spend on releasing and promoting artists and their albums. And yet the bands play on.
“The band scene has become more local,” says Nimal Jayawardena, Rockit organizer and managing partner of Matrix Entertainment Group. “Bands have more purpose in their outlook and there has been this slow realization that we are all in this together,” he says. It’s in this happy cushion of unity, determination, and occasionally competent guitar riffing that Rockit 2006 lands.
“People now know what they like to listen to,” says Rockit headliner DJ Frankie Lam. “The Rockit crowd is particularly enthusiastic; I think that scene is very healthy.” Loyal Rockit-goers will notice that, compared to the original Rockit in 2003, the big marquee names have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger.
This year’s headlining acts include the most veteran names in rock and drum’n’bass, with the most recent additions being drum’n’bass and hip-hop DJ Adam F and Mr.1-2-3-4-Get-Your-Woman-On-The-Floor himself, rapper Coolio. “We just went for bigger names this year,” says Jayawardena. “The majority of Hong Kong people need to be spoon-fed or have the assurance from their peers that they are doing something cool. “ Compared to the previous years though, it seems more and more people are assured Rockit is the cool thing to do.
Over three years, Rockit almost doubled its attendance and organizers expect well over 5,000 festivalgoers this year. Also, the crowd now includes a lot more local Chinese. “At this year’s auditions, you’d struggle not to see a Chinese face,” says Jayawardena. “Ninety percent of the bands auditioning are local. I think it’s a sign for this year’s event.” With over 75 bands trying out for a coveted spot on the main stage, it’s also a sign of how Rockit has cemented its place as the music event of the year. It’s become a fixture in an awareness that’s now a lot more public. In the previous few years, advertisements for Rockit were few and you’d have been hard-pressed to find it mentioned at all in the Chinese media. “This time last year, we were in Russia shooting a film,” says Jayawardena. “This year we’re much better prepared. However, the situation with the government remains the same.”
The government is reluctant to lease out Victoria Park and other public spaces for any sort of music event largely because of noise complaints from the residents. Some bright spark in Legco even had the idea a while back to have everyone wear headphones and white gloves at concerts. “The noise issue is the biggest problem we face,” says Jayawardena. “It gets worse every year and ends up costing a fortune in compliance measures.” These measures include noise monitoring all around Victoria Park, a mandatory volume limit, and limiting time for continuous activity on the main stage. Despite the fact that the number of residential complaints from Rockit last year was less than ten, not much has changed in the official stance on outdoor music events and the restrictions remain resolutely stringent. Rockit organizers have been advised to gather signatures for petitions so that the government takes notice of just how many oppose current noise restriction laws.
So while the music scene may be inching into its own, the government trails behind like an imperious old aunt. There may be more support from the audience, but what we need now is the support from the government and for them to realize the thousands of festivalgoers who love loud music are voters as much as the handful of concerned citizens who phone in about catching a decibel too much of a Regurgitator riff. Rockit and our music scene will only grow if everyone stands together. World-class city, here we come.
He’s not just a drum’n’bass and jungle pioneer; the man also sells grills. Not for meats, fool, for teeths. Examine the bling-bling on Goldie’s own grill. And expect jungle breaks and bass with soul.
This guy broke through with tech-step drum’n’bass, and hit the world radar with a drum’n’bass/jazz fusion album, “Circles.” He’s also the mastermind behind hip-hop collabo album series KAOS, which features folks like LL Cool J and Redman.
What did we say about a veteran-heavy lineup? Anthony was half of 80s weird-fun synth-pop duo Tat Ming Pair, and later went on to an illustrious career as a solo singer and producer. He also founded indie label People Mountain People Sea.
There is but one question for you, “C.” Will you, or won’t you, walk through the shadow of the valley of death? Truly, the gangsta, he returns.
Oh, Ian and his tambourine. The ex-frontman of influential early 90s group The Stone Roses hits Hong Kong for the first time, accompanied by backing band and tambourine. Classic rock in a pink tracksuit. With a tambourine.
A mentor to the DJ kiddies at DJ Tommy’s DJ school (called “Colors,” for the matriculation-minded), Frankie is known for immaculate mixes of all that is good and progressive. Expect breakbeats, funk and bass too.
Who be they, but local funky jockeys Simon Pang, Drafus and The Prawn. Lots of old-school funk, rock and jazzed-up beats on the cards.
Check www.rockit-hk.com for lineup updates. Many local bands to be announced!