Underground 56

05-04-08

Woooohoooo! A very indie and fun night, what a great mix of bands from all over the world! Where else but at The Underground can you see electronic music fused with Chinese instruments plus a metalcore band PLUS Audiotraffic?! Thanks to the audience, to the Underground crew, the sponsors, Club Cixi and most of all to the bands and musicians who performed at Underground 56.
love Chris B xx

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GAZE


The Gaze had drawn a big crowd, despite being first in night’s line-up of what was going to quite diverse offerings. Looking reminiscent of U.K. mods – sharp black jackets, pork-pie hats and a bass guitar with UK red Tube symbol reading ‘Way Out’ on it, this 4-piece band demonstrated a broad range of repertoire extremely competently. A more ‘out-there’ post-punk sound influenced by bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ride and My Bloody Valentine, these are very accomplished musicians – and really nice guys.
The band’s set offered everything from slower contemplative melodic numbers to psychedelic sounds and some very loud, offbeat, likeable creations. Theirs is a distinctive sound with a confident depth about it. They have a real style and savvy about them. There’s isn’t any arrogance or bravado as they just don’t need it. They work very nicely with their self-possessed, genuine talent jumping out at you.
Although influenced by Brit pop, many of their songs are not typically short and sharp as you have come to expect from UK indie pop fare. Instead they have a meatier sound with lengthy compositions featuring screaming guitar forays and unexpected twists and turns in their song bridges along the way. The coda of their final song, in particular, culminated in a wild orgy of guitars. Frenzied but still masterfully crafted, complex and emotional.After playing an excellent set, The Gaze made the disturbing announcement that this gig would be their last. On further investigation and after some persistent arm-twisting, I found out they are disbanding because a couple of the guys will soon be becoming fathers for the first time and according to them, they have to go get ‘proper jobs’. Well, firstly congratulations on the stork bringing your goochy-goo baby bundles, but secondly, that’s such a blow for our indie music scene. Hong Kong’s super-capitalistic environment isn’t kind to people who want to live more diverse lifestyles than just the 9-5 (or more like 8-6) brow-beaten, office-based wage slave. The pointy-sharp fangs and claws of the menacing work monster continually ensnares and eats away at most people’s souls and dreams – and I guess the poor old musos from Gaze have now fallen victim to it.

This is regrettable stuff because a few short years back the general complaint heard around the alternative arts and music scene was that there wasn’t enough talent about. Now there is – an abundance of it, yet Hong Kong entrepreneurs aren’t doing all they could to capitalize on this talent going wanting. Clubs are springing up and requiring bands but they’re obviously not paying enough to allow the musicians to make a professional full-time living from it.
Hey, don’t stay away too long, fellas! We look forward to The Gaze reforming or its band members returning in different incarnations soon.
Isobel S. Saunders

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KISSING ON THE DANCE FLOOR

One look at the very handsome drummer in this band and the idea of ‘kissing’ becomes an obsession. You would want to kiss him not only on the dance floor, but in the back of a taxi, in the alley behind the club, and…’K, pulling myself together now to convey some degree of professionalism and mature journalistic style, I would like to say that…this band has a sound that is weird in a way I like a lot.
The dynamics of their songs vary considerably so you don’t ever feel you can pinpoint their sound and explain it away. Sometimes it is discordant in a purposefully unsettling way and at other times the guitars have turned sweet with crystal-tinkling chiming melodies. They play fun, fresh, short, sharp songs and like most Hong Kong indie bands of recent times, display great musicianship. There’s a real artfulness apparent in the way they weave in and out of different rock guitar styles and how they synchronise a variety of guitar effects in ways that work. With some very versatile lead guitar playing, solid, jumping rhythms, well-written quirky pop songs and the band’s cheery disposition, the crowd had a ball.
Isobel S. Saunders

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FUSILLI PROJECT (Canada 加拿大)


This duo – with an occasional third bell ringer – are sort of performance art mixed with electronic music and a bunch of traditional Asian instruments thrown in to the equation. A very patriotic Canadian crowd muttered appraisals of ‘interesting’ and ‘something different’ as some unusual, very eclectic sounds emanated from two Mac Books, a set of keyboards, a mixer, a woman with a deep monotone voice holding a Blackberry and the occasional bing, bong, bang and blow of woodwind, strings, gongs and bells.
Erudite rather than sexy, I thought this performance might have gone better with marijuana than beer, a circus of weird pre-recorded electronica and as many Asian instruments as you could shake a stick at – or hit with a stick – pull a stick across or… Heidi’s vocals were sometimes sung, other times more like spoken poetry with lyrics containing both oblique references as well as evident truisms, such as’ What have you got left if you have no choice?’
We learnt that much of this music was written for a dance group, which explained why it felt a bit like background music – perhaps there should have been a visual element to the performance, like a video/ TV screen installation or a dancer to take away from the slightly 2-D effect of it all (…or perhaps Chris B doing an irreverent interpretation of modern dance called ‘Spastic Crab Expressing Nihilistic Thoughts By Moshing in Metalcore Pit. ’ *snerk snerk giggle*.)
In my view, this performance wasn’t avant-garde enough and the music wasn’t interesting enough to stand alone. It fell short a little so I felt it was more pretentious than eye-opening and mind-expanding. And the long list of exotic instruments trundled out for a few seconds for each song weren’t played with any real skill or acumen. They were just used as some kind of multicultural show-and-tell which the musicians obviously felt was justification enough. Well, it wasn’t. A few gongs, bells and wooden flutes thrown in amongst the pre-recorded laptop sounds didn’t fill me with urge to run out and buy their CD or rush to see their next gig.
I admit it was challenging in an academic and pushing-the-envelope way and there were some interesting moments but it wasn’t a coherent event. I can’t help feeling the Fusilli Project is what happens when you let geeks into university music departments and then even worse, you let them out again. It’s far better they stay there, do a PhD and then work for all perpetuity in academia, never being allowed out onto the streets. (I used to work at a conservatorium of music for a time before they sussed I was not one of them so I have some idea of the horror within.)
Being the superficial pinhead I am and the philistine lover of alternative rock guitar bands, when confronted by such high-brow stuff I turn to my undeviating spiritual and moral compass. It is found in the Madness/ The Selector 1978 tour motto, which has been appropriated many times over the years, and sagely goes: FUCK ART, LET’S DANCE! Nothing says it better.
Isobel S. Saunders

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Sanjeev Gurung (Nepal)

Just the lonesome Nepalese cowboy and his best bud guitar. Just a set of three songs. But it was enough to demonstrate as heartfelt and mesmerising a performance as any. What a gorgeous rich, mellow, sexy alternative country/ blues guitar vibe! It reverberated right through your very being.
Sanjeev’s voice is strong and melodic, his lyrics impassioned and thoughtful. Even though the UG crowd had become a bit rowdy – including myself…I got so excited I woo-hooed at the wrong moment and put the guy off. .. (*blushes*) – he still held his own with integrity and charisma.
The UG 56 flyer highlights Sanjeev’s political activism in the song For my Brothers, Sisters and Friends which is about one of his friends being senselessly shot dead by Maoist Communist in Nepal during a killing spree in the mid 90’s. (Nepalese modern history is also famous for that wacko prince Dipendra going off the deep end and shooting the whole royal family in 2001, which personally I have no problem with. I wish all kings, generals and dictators would follow suit.) In these times the alternative music scene is the perfect forum for the politics of conscience and social activism with such heroes as Woodie Guthrie, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Billy Bragg, Gang of Four, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Beastie Boys, Radiohead and, most recently, Björk speaking out. Not forgetting also the far-reaching impact of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts from 1996 to 2001 and events such as Vote For Change and Live Earth. (BTW, a piece of Antarctica’s Wilkins Ice Shelf, 415 square kilometres in size, just shattered and tumbled into the sea under the effects of global warming (Nat. Snow and Ice Data Centre, Uni. of Colorado). Scientists are saying that about half the total ice shelf area, now 12,950 square kilometers, could be lost to runaway disintegration in the next few years. Damn.)
Back to Sanjeev…
Coaxing different colours and feelings from his Fender, Sanjeev’s sound was multifaceted as he mixed up crystalline, chiming, rich, deep and bluesy sounds. I did wonder what Sanjeev would be like fronting a whole band and surmised that it would only enrich his songs and his singing. Thanks to The Underground for giving Sanjeev a mid-show slot.
Isobel S. Saunders

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AUDIOTRAFFIC

Their performance at Underground 56 was the usual quality and tism-inducing experience of happiness every indie audience member gleefully knows it will be. From the sound test you knew they were going to play loud and, with awesome Shepherds The Weak bassist Glen and Ferdie Best Drummer in the Universe on drums, it wasn’t going to figure any other way. That skinny drummer guy has a slight frame but somehow packs a big punch. He must have two or three adrenal glands producing six times as much adrenaline as the rest of us. The performance was a swirling mix of guitars and crashing, unrelentless rhythms, overlaid by Adrian’s vocals. Hmmm, Adrian’s vocals. Sorry, did I already say that? Adrian da Silva’s voice is the eighth wonder of the world. He alternates producing such fragile sounds with high-intensity screamed passion. His versatile, perfect delivery has you holding your breath in wonder and tuned in intently so that you don’t miss one single precious utterance. Those sustained holds he puts on words is something all his own and just another artful dimension to their sound. Eddie Vedder had that kind of thing happening, too.Adrian missed one or two notes, but on the Club Cixi’s non-too-great-sounding mikes, it wasn’t a problem for the audience. However the guy’s perfectionist attitude saw him look so crushed and apologetic it was touching. The second and only other time he slipped up, which again was not at all that evident to the chatty, drunk crowd, saw the whole band freeze-frame in complete silence and stillness for one surreal split second. The crowd stopped talking and gawked. You could see the band wondering if they were going to self-destruct because Adrian hadn’t hit his target high note. They didn’t and they resumed playing at precisely the same point they had left off at. Now THAT was funny. It was like watching a glitch occur on an old VHS analog video tape. Or was it a wrinkle in time caused by an interplanetary laser beam sent to Earth by the evil Lord Zargon on Alpha Zargonia Minus 367.6. Or did Audiotraffic just really spazz-out together in tight and elegant unison? (*emits hoots of laughter*)

Again no-one would have noticed or cared if the band hadn’t drawn attention to it. Antony Kiedis from the Chili Peppers did a lot worse during the Live Earth broadcast, which went out to the whole universe (and was probably why evil Lord Zargon retaliated.)

UG56 saw Audiotraffic’s sound harder, wilder and more energetic than previous times I’ve seen them. (One memorable time was in the marquee at RockIt a few years back where they were sounding more dream pop and shoegazing through the sultry, smoky, trance-like atmosphere in there.) Their set closer this evening was a cover of Sweet Child o’ Mine by Guns N ‘Roses with drummer Ferdie on vocals, Adrian harmonizing and Don’s guitar really going off in a burst of fine electric noise. (Hmmm, Guns N’ Roses. Chinese Democracy. Ha ha! Everyone from genuinely democratic countries gets that joke…except those dumb-arse Americans who voted for Bush …TWICE.)

According to guitarist Don the band has tentative plans to play around Asia. I can also see them gigging all around the UK fitting in perfectly with the healthy numbers of high-quality UK indie bands who play at the array of pubs, academies, town halls and local festivals from the Isle of Wight to Edinburgh. Australia’s Big Day Out Music Festivals in all the capital cities would lap this band up, too. I’m sending copies to the ABC radio people I know in Oz (hoping one finds its way to very influential Triple J Radio) as well as a couple of indie directors from my film life past. The word just has got to spread, my loving and servile minions. Along with other significant Hong Kong cultural exports, (Suzy Wong, dressing gowns with dragons on the back, Bruce Lee and Hong Kong flu), the phenomenon of Audiotraffic must be shared with the world. Go forth and spread the word!

BTW, while you are getting a CD for yourself and for everyone-you-know’s birthday, you might think about shelling out for one of their intriguing black on dark grey-green T-shirts. (No, I don’t get a commission.) Not the usual shapeless-mess-after-one-wash material, the shirts are a beautifully made and designed piece of cool pop art. They feature a simple, stark, solid shape of an amp (…kinda looks like the black monolith that lands on Earth from outer space and causes the early primates to first learn to kill each other in Kubrick’s film 2001…) with half-patched leads hanging out ready for the band to hook up to their guitars and start playing. I look as cool as Jim Morrison when I’m wearing mine. (No-one has actually said this to my face, but I know they’re definitely thinking it.)

Some tall friendly Canadian guy in the audience was glibly telling me that Hong Kong was all about ‘lowering your standards’ as he didn’t think all that highly of the home-grown talent here and had left before Audiotraffic’s set. Should have stayed and listened, my sorry friend. Your mindset is way skewed.
Isobel S. Saunders

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EVE OF SIN

When Eve of Sin started playing it was all too evident that the night was going to culminate in a police raid. LOUD, anti-establishment, amoral, to-the-point, in-yer-face and blasphemous – all the right qualities for a howling metal band.
The songs all featured intimidating bass lines, smashed drums and thrashy guitars. Vocals…well… were metalcore vocals – microphone down deep-throat and a choice of guttural and throaty blasts or higher pitched screams. Bodies thrashed in a throb-mob around the stage. Occasionally you got a quieter, melodic lull in some of their songs – kinda like a lull before the storm. The feeling of suspense grabs you. You never knew quite when it would come…but come it did…and all furious hell would break loose again. As good a rush as any.
At the end of the set, the crowd eagerly looked stage-ward for more. ‘Go home now,’ the drummer advised sensibly, but then the band reconsidered and set about busting the walls and their vocal cords some more.
Somewhere in the vicinity 26 cops with batons, walkie talkies, and, most intimidating of all, notebooks with carbon paper inserts, felt the shock and came to civil society’s rescue. Tonight was the night that will be forever remembered in history as The Night of The First (But Not The Last) Underground Raid. As the vast numbers of flatfoots trooped in to the tiny club the mood went from a free-for-all good time and full-on metalcore scream fest to a thick silence. When I coldly asked the lads in kevlar jackets if there was a bomb or something, they assured me it was just a routine check. Heavy-handed twats. (Lucky I had my ID or as Chris B tells me they would have taken me down the station for a kicking.) But still, all in all it must have been a good show if the fuzz showed up.
Isobel S. Saunders

Above photos © Copyright 2008 by Willem
Poster by Sheli

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