The stage is set for the Planetrox China final. Five very different artists have been chosen to go head-to-head at the Backstage, Central this June. With the top prize of a trip to Canada to play the legendary Envol et Macadam – Quebec’s premier alt-music festival – there is everything to play for.
We chatted to the five finalists (Turing Apples/Les Gromechkos/Wondergarl/Bamboo Star/Mr. Rocket Head) to find out what the competition means to them.
First off, congratulations on getting this far! Are you excited to play the upcoming Planetrox final show?
Turing Apples: We are always excited to play, in this case especially so as we are in such great company.
WonderGarl: Yes! We are really excited about getting into the final show! We hope all of you will enjoy our music that night.
Les Gromechkos: Thanks! Yes we’re looking forward to the finals. It’s going to be amazing, the Underground always organises great shows and the four other bands are awesome, it’s going to be a memorable night!
Bamboo Star: We’re completely stoked to be in the final!
Mr Rocket Head: Thanks to the judges and audiences who voted for us! We are so excited and are practicing hard for the show. We hope you guys enjoy our performance in the final! Let’s get crazy!
Previous winners Shotgun Politics used the opportunity to extend their tour in Canada and went on to gain sponsorship deals. How would you use the win?
TA: We have been trying to spread the word about the LDN research trust [non-profit multiple sclerosis charity], so I think we would use the opportunity to reach even more people!
WG: We will do the same but go before the show instead of touring after. We are looking forward to playing our Cantonese music in Canada! It is our dream to bring Cantonese music to a foreign country!
LG: We would love to tour in North America! We are always looking for a new audience and we would definitely take this chance to introduce Hong Kong to the French speakers in Quebec.
BS: Once we’re done celebrating, we’d probably start planning a tour. If we win, we’d like to spend two weeks moving around not only south-east Canada but the upper-east coast of the USA too.
MRH: Awesome! Sponsorship deal sounds so interesting to us! This seldom happens in Hong Kong! We hope to spread music and share Hong Kong’s culture to Canada. They may not understand Cantonese, but we believe music is the best international language.
What about your band sets you apart from the rest?
TA: There are so many great bands here but we feel we have an amazing rapport. Having known each other since high school we enjoy everything from the songwriting process to recording and playing live together.
WG: Our lyrics are written in ‘spoken Cantonese’, which best reflects Hong Kong’s local culture! Also, our music is all about our society, including political ideas and daily life.
LG: Someone said we are the ‘frenchest’ Hong Kong band! We talk about Hong Kong through a different prism. At the same time, we are local as we have been living here for 5–10 years and will probably never leave! We speak about our local experiences, seen through a gweilo’s eye!
BS: Every band in the final is very unique in their own way and exemplify very different genres. I guess we’re the guys that play hard rock and all we can do is play it the best as we can!
MRH: The secret weapon of Mr Rocket Head is our passion! We jump like a rocket!
Actually, the standard of this competition is quite high. We will keep on fine-tuning our songs.
How long have you been playing together? Any stories behind the bands formation?
TA: Ali, Latif, Rafe and myself had been playing together for a little over a year when we started playing as Black Kites with Tom Howells (The Academy, Young Echos). When Tom moved away we asked the very talented Nicola to join us and began working on a new sound and new tracks. Thus began the era of Turing Apples.
WG: Our band started in 2008. It was just a side project at the beginning, but now it’s our main project.
LG: The band was formed in 2008, but we really started being serious about it after 2010! It was formed by two primary school ex-classmates from Belgium. To pay respect to the founders, we always drink Belgian beers!
BS: Terence and I met in mid-2011 and we first launched our material in May 2012, so this month is actually the bands second anniversary! We had actually both just moved to Hong Kong and met at a guitar store.
MRH: We have been played for two years and had a change of the vocalist in the last year. It is not easy having a band while being married, having night shift/full-time jobs, etc. We treasure the time we meet, practice and gig, as it is always not easy!
Which song are you most excited about playing and why?
TA: I think we are most excited about playing our newest tracks. It’s always great to get a gauge from the audience whether they suck or not!
WG: “起勢維穩” – this song is about our society, our country and what we are facing and what we should really look into.
LG: We love all the songs! But the song called ‘Sheung Wan Taximan’ is one that gets the most attention from the audience, as there is some English, Spanish and Cantonese!
BS: Man, that’s a bit like asking which kid you love most! I’d say Breaking Limits is always fun when there’s a big crowd since it’s so energetic but really, we love playing all of them!
MRH: I think should be the song ‘Goodbye Tears’. Because this song remind us that no matter how hard it is playing music in Hong Kong, we will never forgot why we started. Let the tears fall and treasure it, but never let the tears make us fall or give up.
Do you see Hong Kong’s alternative music scene growing in the coming years?
TA: Having grown up here it is easy to see how much bigger and more involved the scene is here. It’s still very tight knit but we are optimistic that things will keep getting better, especially with people like Artefracture, The Underground, Clockenflap, etc. doing so much for music here.
WG: Yes, thanks to the Internet and the band lovers and organisers!
LG: We have seen the scene growing over the past few years and there are always new talented bands emerging thanks to the very active indie community. Now you can attend original music shows almost every night!
BS: As Hong Kongers who haven’t lived in Hong Kong too long we’ve already seen a big deal of change in the music scene and hope it only gets bigger and bigger.
MRH: Yes, as nowadays I think more parents are letting their kids play music. This is because the image of being in a band has improved and people are more passionate. Now even the high school students already playing very well, even better than some band which played a few years.
Name your biggest inspirations as a band and also any local bands worth checking out.
TA: Our inspirations are diverse and varied, from indie rock to metal to punk/hardcore and post rock. We love so many local bands, including Shotgun Politics, Tango and Snatch, The David Bowie Knives, Kestrels and Kites, Shatalene, Dark Himaya, Ponyboy, Empty Bottles, etc. All definitely worth checking out!
WG: Bad Religion is one of the most inspiring bands for us. The way they put political ideas into their music sets a good example. ‘Senseless’ are a local band with Cantonese vocals. They are really great!
LG: We don’t have a single source of inspiration, as we all come from different backgrounds with different musical tastes – which is probably what makes us special! But we definitely like all rock, punk and ska! On the local front, Shotgun Politics, Say Mosquito, Dr Eggs. We really dig League of Gentlemen’s rock sound, and also had a chance to play gigs with local rock stars like Killer Soap and Kolor.
BS: Our influences are worn pretty proudly on our sleeves. We’re huge fans of classic 70s and 80s rock and metal. Guys like Guns n’ Roses, Zeppelin, Ozzy, Skid Row, Alice Cooper, Van Halen, etc. As for local bands, I was pretty blown away the first time I saw Chochukmo live.
MRH: Supper Moment, ChoChukMo, Hey Joe Trio, Senseless. Merry Go Round, etc.
Envol et Macadam offers the chance to play alongside some big names, including Bloc Party, Bad Religion, Raekwon, in front of a huge crowd (10,000+). What would be your ideal top-3 lineup to play alongside?
TA: That’s a tough one! Radiohead: they are incredible and amazing live; The Locust: because they are insane and insanely good; and Explosions in the Sky: because they made me cry once.
WG: We would kiss a toilet seat to play alongside Bad Religion!
LG: We’d love to play with great bands like The Specials, Gogol Bordello or NoFX (but Shotgun Politics already played on the same stage as them last year in Canada!)
BS: We can’t stop listening to and would be a dream to share a stage with Halestorm, SIXX: AM and the one and only Steel Panther.
MRH: It’s hard to choose! Sum 41, Pennywise and As I lay Dying I think.
What advice can you offer to someone wanting to start their own band?
TA: Practice hard but remember to enjoy yourself. Always remember, you are better than everyone else.
WG: Be hungry and keep your passion alive! Work hard on it and you will have success!
LG: Don’t hesitate! Go ahead and don’t be shy! Go on stage! Choose a simple name, one that everybody can spell easily (it’s pronounced GRO-MESH-KO by the way!)
BS: Practice, write, network, promote and repeat. That last one is the most important part. I guarantee that it will be tough but you’re only beaten when you stop.
MRH: No special way for success! Not much time to waste! If you want to start a band, start it now, no more hesitation!