What an amazing night! The HUB was packed with eager live music fans and five finalist bands and the air was electric throughout the evening. We all felt like it was one of the most memorable nights in Hong Kong’s live music history. Thanks to the amazing judges: Lauren James (SCMP), Vincent Choi (Qiu Hong|Zuk Studios) and Simon Gaudry (Envol et Macadam) for giving their full attention to the performances and helping us to choose the winning band, who will fly to Canada to perform at the Envol et Macadam festival in September this year. Thanks to Sherman & Jon for working on the sound. (Jon was our amazing MC too!) Thanks to Leon for his amazing photos. Thanks to our reviewers: Simon & Cyril. Thanks to Ally for video duties. Thanks to Holly for the artwork + thanks to Jenna for the airticket foamboard. Lastly, I want to express my utmost gratitude to the team members working so hard that night: Bun and Sophie. I couldn’t have done it without all of you guys.
Loud Shaft, you guys are going to CANADA!
真係一個好正嘅夜晚！樂迷同五隊決賽樂隊坐滿The Hub，大家既熱情簡直迫爆左成個場呀！個晚感覺簡直就係香港音樂表演史上最難忘既一晚！多謝幾位評判 – Lauren James (SCMP), Vincent Choi (Qiu Hong|Zuk Studios) and Simon Gaudry (Envol et Macadam)，佢地盡心盡力睇表演同揀出將會係九月飛去加拿大表演既冠軍樂隊。多謝調整音響嘅 Shermon 同 Jon。多謝影左好多靚相嘅Leon。多謝評論員 Simon 同 Cyril。多謝拍片嘅Ally。多謝Holly既嘅作品，亦多謝Jenna設計嘅機票發泡膠展板。最後，我想多謝嗰晚好努力嘅隊員：Bun同埋Sophie。冇你地我根本做唔成件事。
❤️ Chris B xx
1. Love Lies
3. Hold You Tied
Scamper get tonight’s Planetrox China final underway. They’ve made the journey from Macau to stake their claim to represent China at the Envol et Macadam festival in Canada. Their first offering is Love Lies which showcases their really old school sound and incredibly well coordinated head banging. Bassist Edmond bossing it on the bass from the get go. The simple lead guitar gives the song a late 80s early 90s flavour. Perhaps a sprinkling of Bon Jovi about them.
They are without a doubt a well-rehearsed band, having been around a good few years. They played some of the Underground’s earliest shows as much as ten years ago. This must feel like some kind of homecoming for the Macau rockers.
Their second song, Heartbeat, doesn’t have the strongest of singalong intros for me. It’s always great to get the crowd involved, but it’s probably a bit too early to get them to join in, having only just had the caps popped off their beers. Drummer El is a total showman behind the skins and I’m willing lead singer Angus to engage more with crowd; show them stillness will not be tolerated!
The bands tonight have got to keep their sets as close to within 20 minutes as possible and that only leaves Scamper with one more song. So far they’ve been what I’d call ‘a safe pair of hands’. They’ve not set the place alight, but they’ve certainly got the crowd listening. Hold You Tied is a funk inspired tune with hints of noughties Maroon 5. The band seem just slightly tighter and enjoying themselves more. This is the kind of vibe I’d like to see more from these guys. A much more unique sound. Bass and drums in perfect partnership.
Scamper won’t be going to Canada, but they’ve built the mood for what’s going to be a great night of music.
– Simon Donald Jones
2. 100% Efficiency
4. Protocol 332
The second band of the night is Hong Kong five-piece VIRT. They don’t get off to the greatest start with a bit of a sound check outside of the rules. You get 20 minutes to play your songs and that is it! Hyperspace is their first song which really vibe of this crowd up a notch. This song though has an interesting balance between its strong driving rhythm and the brevity of the piano break, leading into a milky warm guitar solo. It’s a bit like heavy rock hotel lobby music.
On 100% Efficiency the higher pitched shouts of lead singer Harley, who seems to mess a lot with his beanie, perhaps it’s made from that itchy wool, seem a bit off to me. The song definitely has something special in it; a real clash of genres. The middle-eighth has an obvious Queen inspiration. I do however feel the guitar solo is hampered by the keys, like their fighting each other for the limelight. The break at the end to near silence is awesome and the building of the guitar strumming sends the drummer into a frenzy before bringing it to an abrupt end.
Third song Weirdo starts off with a delicate acoustic guitar and Harley has finally found the itchy beanie too much to bear and has discarded it. I love the percussive style guitarist Danny is playing but he’s missing the beat slightly for me. He has a whole drum kit for percussion behind him for keeping the beat. The keys switch to synth and it brings an awesome sense of anticipation to the song.
The mood of VIRT’s songs has been pretty melancholic, so when Harley tells us the next song is going to be darker, I’m thinking we’re going to be in near darkness shortly.
Danny starts us off again on the acoustic and Harley’s vocal is bang on and the strongest it’s been the whole set. Did he warm up before? Bassist Sunny takes us into a crazy bass line before, yes you guessed it, another slowed down quiet bit with some gentle keys. It then kicks off and speeds up so they’re all totally rocking it out, with cackles of laughter from Harley giving this song a theatrical feeling. A bit like the bit where the main bad guy is telling us how he’s going to catch the show’s main protagonist, be prepared Simba!
VIRT have given a totally varied set of predictability and unpredictability all at once, which in itself is unpredictable. They don’t have one hand on the prize, but watch out for these guys, I predict they’ll be back and they’ll be even more unpredictable.
– Simon Donald Jones
1. Black Sheep
2. Oh Why
3. Paradise Falls
Next up tonight are Underground virgins and local Hong Kong rockers SAGAS. They’re a cool looking 5-piece outfit and band leader Cyrill has the natural swagger of rock band front man. Black Sheep is their first song with a really nice simple arrangement and driving rhythm. A dead catchy bilingual chorus, which is followed up by a string of ‘oh oh, oh ohs’ totally borrowed from Beyonce and Jay Z. My favourite song of the night and I have a feeling we’ve just found the band to take a step towards the chance to go to Canada. They’re doing the simple things well here, this probably being the most well written song I’ve heard this evening. Even if it’s basically Crazy In Love.
Oh wow is what I say to their second song Oh Why. A super catchy chorus which you really struggle not to singalong to. This is a strong showing from this band. There’s no denying Cyril’s charisma, and when he encourages a crowd clap everyone jumps at the chance to join him. I feel like they have some strong punk roots in their playing swagger. Jerry plays a 6-string bass guitar, not something you see every day; what I’d call a bit string greedy.
I’m forced to eat my words on the punk roots reference, as Cyrill gives probably the cheesiest and most un-rock n roll between-song chat ever, dedicating the next song, Paradise Falls, to “anyone who has a dream”. Urgh, God.
Saying that, it’s a sweet song, really emotional and with a perfectly delicate lead guitar piece. I’m feeling some elements of Travis circa The Man Who coming through here.
Cyrill has more to say to the Underground crowd before SAGAS play us their final song of the night – 88. This could all very well be a ploy to try to keep as close to the 20-minute limit. Bands lose points tonight depending on how far from it they are.
The drums on 88 have a bit of a marching band theme to it. SAGAS’ set in a way feels the wrong way around. Starting off with high intensity and then slowing it down with each song. Perhaps another game plan to not leave the crowd pumped for the next band? Who knows. It’s an unusual song, which takes the mood down a bit. It leads into a bit of a rap section which doesn’t quite work for me.
Despite that, this is the strongest showing out of the night’s first three bands. It’s all to play for.
– Simon Donald Jones
Two Finger Salute
1. Things I Hate
2. Kids will Riot
3. Shout Out
5. Noisy Neighbours
6. Society of The Working Class
Aggressive and controversial, Two Finger Salute were the first runner ups. The five-man grunge punk band formed of Phil ‘Oi’!’ Gough (Lead vox), Tim Norton (Guitar, vox), Paul Bullseye (Guitar Vox), Simon Griffin (Bass, vox) and Glen Lewis (Drums, vox) all have their roots in working class Britain which forms the identity of the band. Their cathartically loud songs speak about the difficulties of life across the social-economic spectrum from their first song Things I Hate listing out ‘Politics’, ‘Barbie girls’, ‘The Media’ and ‘You’ (most importantly you), right through to their last song Society of The Working Class which has the important line ‘The working class are fucking proud’; Two Finger Salute never for a second lets you forget where they came from.
The band’s performance on the night had very few problems. Mainly playing songs off their most recent album Anger and Pride, the performance was fresh and full of passion and aggression. The crowd (which by the second half of the night now was pretty tipsy) loved every second. There were very few dull moments in their short set. Despite only playing five songs, Two Finger Salute showed us that they are diverse masters of punk. Their first song Things I Hate is straightforward grunge: heavy, aggressive and loud, full of anger and full of yelling; their second song ‘Kids Will Riot’ continued the rage but shifted the focus from loudness to more intricate rhythms with a slow intro and a ska-esque guitar. The third song ‘Shout Out’ was a complete 180 spin, a much happier song with Beatle-esque backing harmonies, high guitar parts and celebratory lyrics to contrast the ‘I fucking hate you’ from Things I hate. I should also probably mention that out of all the bands, Two Finger Salute seemed to be the calmest, which was ironic because they were also one of the most aggressive. They were the only band to fully utilize the stage by having Phil sing off the stage and interact with the audience (they often play at the Wanch so this sort of audience interaction must come second nature) – special mention has to go out to Glen whose drum set slid away from him in the middle of a song and laughed through the entire time our stagehands were pushing the set back towards him, never did he miss a beat.
However, is the band for everyone? Not necessarily. Phil’s singing voice is a growl, clearly an artistic choice, but it makes the lyrics, which are often well written, hard to hear. It goes without saying that for a band whose identity revolves around punk and all that that encompasses (working class culture, rebellion, lots of noise), people who are looking for ballads and sappy melodies should stay away because you’re not getting any of that here. What you will get, and what we got that night, were five brilliant musicians with similar backgrounds and stories to tell. The stories are not often nice, they don’t skimp words, they don’t use euphemisms and they don’t care if you, or their neighbour, thinks they’re too loud. Suffice to say, they do what they want and they do that well.
– Cyril Ma
1. Brothers in arms
2. Fight for freedom
3. False state
Loud Shaft’s performance that night definitely proved that last is not least. Formed in 2013, Hong Kong based Nepalese four-man metal band includes Alter Limbu (vox), Sajan Gurung (guitar), Binay Gurung (Bass) and Ab Gurung (Drums). By no means a newcomer to the Underground scene, they had most recently performed at Heavy #19 in March playing a mixture of original songs and Rage Against the Machine, one of their biggest influence’s, covers. However, at Planetrox, Loud Shaft clearly tried to come into their own instead of relying on their influences – no longer wearing a RATM shirt, they were instead wearing flannels and Gurkha T’s. With the rules barring covers, Loud Shaft played an entirely original set of new songs that, although were similar in content, showed the extent of their musicianship and creativity.
What was most interesting about them though was their look. With tied back long hair, cute smiles and casual clothes, it looked more like they were about to play some country songs but instead we got heavy metal, grunge, rap and screaming from both the band and the crowd. A bit shy to begin, their first song Brothers in Arms didn’t yet convince me, the band wasn’t yet warmed up and though full of energy was not as tight as they could have been. However, by their second song Fight For Freedom, the only song they’ve recorded and released on Youtube, they had warmed up and was playing like the band that would eventually win Planetrox. Aggressive and driving, Fight for Freedom featured a tight performance and great interplay between the guitar and bass. By their third song False State, the crowd was wilder than they had been all evening.
The most interesting performer in the band was undoubtedly the singer, Alter Limbu, who sang entirely in falsetto. Though originally unsure about this choice of voice with the genre of metal, I was blown away by how well he managed to make it work. Limbu’s unique vocal texture was almost a croon but with a strong rhythm, edge (think of a combination between Frank Sinatra and Zack de la Rocha) and the ability to do screamo. A very different voice to say the least.
What is most amazing about Loud Shaft though was not their performance that night, but the clear space they still had to grow. Already a tight, innovative and unique band, they were always a strong contender for me not because they were great, but because they could be better. Though the performance was memorable, perhaps it was just their set list but the songs seem to all be similar blend. Also, despite having praised Alter on his singing, there were still moments where he could have improved – his jumps from falsetto into chest voice didn’t always hit the right tone or the right pitch but when they did, the performance was amazing. The largest space to grow though is in their character as a band, when forced to improvise some stage banter due to a rogue dancer knocking over a ride cymbal, it became clear that the band’s interaction with the audience has leaps and bounds to go.
Having said all that, I cannot wait to see their next performance and hope that their time in Canada will perfect their act. Congratulations again to Loud Shaft, winners of Planetrox China 2018!
– Cyril Ma
LOUD SHAFT – PLANETROX CHINA 2018 WINNING BAND
Congratulations to Loud Shaft – crowned the champions through a unanimous decision by the judges and public votes, they will be going to Quebec, Canada to play at indie music festival Envol et Macadam with their expenses covered!
恭喜 LOUD SHAFT 在通過評判的決定及大家既投票所得出既賽果之後獲得冠軍，並將會前往加拿大魁北克市參與獨立音樂節 Envol et Macadam ! 他們的機票連食宿費用更是全免！
Photos by Leon Che’ Clark. 由Leon Che’ Clark攝影。Poster by Holly Wu.海報由 Holly Wu。