Underground 54


Hey, thanks to all those people who came to Underground 54, wasn’t it a sexy night? Great bands fronted by great singers plus LEO37 rapping all over the place made for one of the most interesting Underground shows yet. I truly feel Hong Kong’s live music scene is taking off and everyone (including me!) is so happy to be a part of it! Now over to our reviewer Isobel
love Chris B xx

What a night! What a great atmosphere at Underground 54! The Underground crowd is made up of interesting, cruisey people who all come together because they love music. Looking around on the night I saw people who were really into their lovers, their friends, other Underground people new and old, the beer and the bands. These people belong here and nowhere else.
Upstairs in another club Audiotraffic were launching their new CD so that, no doubt, went well for them. Musicians from F.T.T., Bone Table and few other bands were milling about in the crowd. Even the Cixi bartenders were into the music, coordinating their cocktail shaker throws to the beat. Five bands/ artists performed this evening and again left everyone in awe at how much indie talent there is in Hong Kong.
Isobel S. Saunders


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Specially imported from Toronto, Canada for the night LEO37 (Three Seven) hit the stage running – and the dance floor, the tables, the chairs, the amps and everything else he could climb onto in the club, his mouth moving as fast as his feet. He is only a skinny guy, cute as a button, but he’s all over it, babbling, jumping, thinking, interacting: I say ‘Too’- you say ‘cold’/ I say ‘Hell yeah’ – you say ‘Fuck yeah’/ I say ‘I brought white’ – you say ‘flowers’. (I could have done that all night…) Leo37 started up the whole evening’s entertainment even though the audience hadn’t filled out yet. The ones there hadn’t had anywhere near enough to drink and were just beginning the process of altering their states of mind. So… we got there quicker via LEO37’s excess adrenaline levels. Warning that he had scared people last time he was in Hong Kong, he worked his butt off to speed up the change. The aggressive rap spilled out and we got told a couple of times, “Dance! Don’t just sit there like you’re at your grandmother’s fucking tea party!” (Chris B had just downed a chocolate soy milk and a biscuit so she was looking particularly mortified.) A gorgeous group of French people, comprising pretty much the whole crowd at this stage, obligingly got up and grooved.I like guitar rock bands so I’m not the best person to comment on rappers with all pre-recorded electronic music and backing, but I like this guy’s relentlessly fast delivery and awesome freestyling. His eye-opening energy created just the right jolting effect for many, like myself in the audience recovering from the usual shitty, mind-numbing work day. Though it was a short set we got a good idea of his range of rap and hip hip styles. No turntabling this time though.

LEO37 came back after the final band The David Bowie Knives had finished their set to do a couple of improvised numbers with Hazden, the second band in the night’s lineup. With Hazden’s lead singer Faye, the pair of them let fly in a combo of loud punk and fast rap. It was interesting but I’m not sure the two sounds gelled all that well together. Still it was a rad and unusual idea so that’s gotta be all right. He maybe should have tried this on with Zoundz to create some kind of rapcore collaboration, which could have come across like an early Linkin Park hard rock/ rap fusion. But, being a visitor to Hong Kong, he wasn’t to know what bands were going to be served up on the night, and good on him – and Hazden – for trying to create something original and spontaneous then and there without a rehearsal. ‘Hands up!’ to LEO37.
Isobel S. Saunders


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Faye – Lok – Lun – Kelvin – Cheong Right from their sound check, this band signaled fast, loud, bold. Awesome kicking drums and strong vocals marked their style. Part Goth/ post-punk, hardcore and metal – the crowd really liked them.Faye’s vocals had substantial power to carry themselves competently over the crashing drums and strong bassline rhythms. She seemed to have two types of good noise-making – depressed and guttural or loud and screamed. The small lead singer said their songs were mainly new, which proved all good as they had a fresh sound about them. I’m too stupid to speak Cantonese so I don’t know what insights she had to share in the words, but whatever it was it sounded pretty real and reasonable.

Faye, with her funky, almost-surreal orange caramel hair, is cool, cocky, wild and friendly. The rest of the band were the tall silent types who went about providing good, solid backing to her way of doing things.

They’ve only been around for 9 months but they’re already good dark musicians. Aware, sensing and intuitive. Ballsy and defiant.
Isobel S. Saunders


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This band has the awesome nu metal/alternative metal/rock hardcore sound you just can’t get enough of in Hong Kong. Black, aggressive – the guy even broke his own nose for this gig – Zoundz’ dark nihilistic energy spread quickly infecting the crowd like this year’s flu. Thrashing bodies, arms, heads, whatever, matched the full-on beat. (‘I hope he doesn’t hurt his nose,’ says a concerned Chris B.)
I’m not sure about the use of the word ‘zounds’, an archaic English word from perhaps Jane Austen times, give or take a few hundred years, short for ‘God’s wounds’. The band writes that the word expresses anger, surprise or indignation but given its ye olde High Middle English context, all I can imagine is Dr Watson saying, ‘Zounds! By gad, Holmes! He’s dead!’ (*snerk! giggle*)According to the band’s poster blurb, they “are aggressive because as the world gets darker they have to Zound what they hate”. Yeah, I think the guys screaming “I hate you and hate myself” pretty much communicated that well. Brilliant and constant high-energy levels, loud drums, thumping bass, wild guitars and guttural shouting with plenty of mike distortion blasted everything in the club into atomic particles. In the vein of Slipknot, Korn, Rage Against the Machine and some Nine Inch Nails, the band’s sound seemed like all chaos unleashed but was indeed a tight mesh of great musicianship. This harrowing dose of hardcore punk, rapcore and plenty of industrial metal sounds achieved a mood in the crowd that a case of beer and Anton Chigurgh’s cattle stun gun couldn’t ever achieve. Far out. This is my idea of a Saturday night productively-spent. I’ll do it again.

Borrowing a comment I saw, which could verily (also archaic English) apply here, from some informed person (or possibly, a retard) on YouTube comparing Slipknot, Korn et al with lesser hardcore indie music, ‘This is what you call heavy metal – NOT that fucking gay emo shit.’
Isobel S. Saunders


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Helium3 (formerly named “Skin Deep”)

Nick – Mike – Andrew – Brendan
Set list:

1. No One’s In
2. Leaving
3. This Ship
4. Twist of
5. It brings me
6. Come Undone
7. Home

Skin Deep are sharp looking and come across with a well-established sound…so much so that I wanted to roll them in dirt and mess up their hair. Punch them up and leave them in the gutter overnight. Then I’d pick them up and let them play… although, Amazing Bass player Andrew looks respectably weird enough not to have to undergo all this with his wondrous mutton chop sideburns… like some deserter from the American Civil War …or Victorian Dad in Viz Magazine…(Perhaps he says ‘Zounds! By gad!’ *snerk! giggles again*)
These are fab live musicians – they make a great sound. At times, they have cool alternative U.S rock shades about them, like R.E.M. or Three Doors Down, and at other times, they have a little bit of a Britpop feel about them. Whatever they did it was consistently excellent musicianship. Lead vocalist Nick switched between playing guitar and keyboards, guitarist Mike produced some incredible riffs that sang by themselves, Brendan’s drumming was determined but not all consuming and then… there’s Andrew…although he kept in the background his talent, determined and solid, just jumped right out at you.

I was lucky enough to score one of their giveaway CDs (www.skindeepband.com) but actually think they were better sounding on the night than on the recording because of their engaging live energy…and, yes… no one can deny it doesn’t exist, their very big good-looking-ness. Skin Deep were much appreciated by the rev-ved up crowd.

However, here’s the thing…and it was a bit like the time I had to listen to a whole Rob Thomas solo CD. I just got a bit bored. Some of their songs are too straight for my tastes, the sort of commercial pop/ soft rock stuff you hear (or don’t want to hear) on Video Hits on Saturday morning TV. I felt the band’s song arrangements and lyrics were a bit clichéd and lacked eccentricity. There wasn’t anything particularly edgy, innovative or dirty about their sound – it was just nice. What was missing was that touch of genius, accidental or otherwise, that causes that sublime mind-fuck in a receptive music freak who is really listening. Skin Deep makes cool rock music extremely well and has great stage presence. Apart from that, (and I’m not intending to be a bitch) there are no criticisms.
Isobel S. Saunders


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The David Bowie Knives

Shaun – Claire – Gabe
I crack up laughing every time I hear this band’s name. According to my dictionary a bowie knife is a long knife with a blade double-edged at the point, used as a weapon or for hunting by American pioneers. In Johnny Cash’s autobiography he says he had one as a kid on his family’s cotton farm in Arkansas in the 1930s, (along with a smokehouse and a fishing pole). However, it’s the ‘David’ bit in this band’s name that does it. Not because they’re glam and theatrical like Ziggy Stardust but because they have their roots in that early UK rock/ pop alternative scene, the type of artistry that is highly original and not easy to categorise in a single genre. I’d put it in the ‘strange fruit’ basket, like other idiosyncratic, weird alternative rock artists – early Bowie, Goldfrapp, Beck (U.S.), The White Stripes(U.S.). Again The David Bowie Knives are this, but they’re not. Because they’re their own thing, which is what a good indie band is. Their brilliant absurdist name really says it all.
Off-stage Shaun the lead singer/ guitarist is self-effacing and softly spoken with a slight Cornish Gaelic lilt. ‘Aye,’ he says ‘aye’. He cites their influences as dirty 70’s pop, like Miss Sugar. Who? I wished he’d given me someone I’d heard of. I know of 70’s-inspired bands that make ‘sugar’ references…Is that the same thing? Ladytron: If I give you sugar, will you give me something elusive and temporary? / The Dandy Warhols: C’mon now, sugar. Bring it on, bring it on now/…See, I know stuff…(*miffed*)So, their sound is eclectic and novel, and instantly likeable. What strikes you about this band’s sound is that for a three-piece they have a very full sound. Drum guy Gabe’s fast, precise drumming and Claire’s often very melodic and complex bass playing were part of the reason for the rich sound, but so were Shaun’s strong vocals. Depending on the band’s weird-o-meter, some songs had an Iggy Pop and the Stooges punk rock scream-fest feel, while others had a wicked cheek and 70’s bad boy rock vibe about them, not unlike The Who or Jet. The front guy has an open, wild, honest, unapologetic quality on stage, which all amounts to a charisma he’s not trying to put on. It’s just him and he doesn’t seem aware of it. Whereas their musicianship is awesome, the thing for me is how the vocals are delivered. Take Johnny Rotten, Tom Waits or P.J. Harvey as some examples (from gazillions available) of seminal vocalists whose vocals take on a life of own life. Shaun’s own humble take is that he sings ‘by default’ or that he doesn’t ‘sing’ he chants and screams as if he were with the lads down the football. But there’s a lot more to him than that. (Well, he also moans, aahs, sneers and growls a bit, too.)

These are highly accomplished musos with something very interesting and original to offer audiences. They are distinct, different and as we know, dishy. Their sound isn’t clearly derivative of any one genre or style – it’s a good sound, a great sound. Their set was consistently excellent despite problems I’m told with Club Cixi’s foldback and the musos not being able to hear what they played clearly. With a cheeky UK showman fronting, quite complex rhythms coming from the drums and a very versatile bass player (ex-Shotgun SheRas), you’d want to hunt this band down anywhere in Hong Kong for their next performance. Can’t wait for their CD release expected around June.

Chris B summed up the audience reaction at the end of their set, ‘You guys sound like you’re having an orgasm!’ (Now I know why I needed that second pair of underpants.) Some tall, friendly, nosy guy appeared out of the crowd to ask me very pointedly and busting with pride, ‘Who’s left to compete with the David Bowie Knives? Well, who?’ I dunno, matey. They left me with the same blown away feeling.

I hate it when a band like the David Bowie Knives stops playing. It’s a real feeling of sadness and deprivation – the feeling a junkie has coming down too quickly. Luckily we only have to wait a week for our next Underground fix.
Isobel S. Saunders

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Above photos © Copyright 2008 by Willem
Poster by Sheli

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