It was our first show of 2014 and it was a great start to the new year. We’re very proud to say that this show was organised by Karen and Becky: the two newest team members of The Underground. Their choice of bands reflects the growing and ever changing mix of bands that are currently gigging around Hong Kong. We want to thank all the bands for their performances, as well as Backstage for hosting our events. Huge love & thanks to The Underground team whose passion for showcasing original music in Hong Kong is tireless. Thanks to all of you who came and cheered the bands on.
See you all at Girls with Guitars 6 next month.
love Chris B x
- A Boy and a Girl
- Ride Into the Sky
Underground 112以本地年青樂隊作主題，找來了3隊風格不一的新晉樂隊演出。當晚先有4人shoesgaze樂隊murmur開場,murmur的風格及形象鮮明，主音及鼓手均為女性，歌曲揉合了My Bloody Valentine式的結他噪聲，女主音如夢似幻的聲線組合成一個光怪迷離的景象。開首的A Boy & A Girl大量使用結他音效堆起音牆，歌曲回到了八、九十年代的另類青春風景。
Ride Into the Sky以循序漸進的噪音結他為主，全曲的速度變化近乎為零，營造了歌曲在有聲音下靜止的效果。歌曲注重聲音變化，主音在vocal方面的旋律線並不明顯， 刻意融入整體配器當中；聲音與聲音的不協調遊走於音準邊緣，打破一般對歌曲重視和聲的印象。Starfish在延續噪聲的基礎上做了有趣的節奏編制，歌曲以快慢快速度組成，變化突然，中段的慢板營造出急煞制後影象慢播的感覺，效果有趣。
– Becky Wong
The night began with Murmur taking the stage who, short of drag or kilts, were probably the most interesting-looking band I’ve seen at the U. Don’t get me wrong, they wore regular-people clothes, but they had a look without having a uniform; they looked like a late 90s art-rock band influenced a little by grunge, all angular and solid-coloured. There were several nice-looking hipster-style people who also looked like them in the audience, so I infer that they were there for Murmur. Just looking at them should’ve made one suspicious that something was up just by looking at them, for indeed there was.
To put it very simply, to the point of overstretching the scope of my point, they sound Sonic Youth-y. The drums are stark-sounding and much in the style of Steve Shelley in Sonic Youth’s slower songs, and even like Chris Frantz sometimes. There isn’t a bass but, most intriguingly, the function of the bass is performed by the two singers. The guitar is the main melodic force of the band, and it employs a beautiful, juicy and rich distorted sound reminiscent of the early Smashing Pumpkins albums (just listen to the rendition of Tristessa on Gish, for instance (the linked one isn’t it, but it gives you an idea)) to take the song where it needs to go. It’s the kind of guitar sound into which you can just immerse your listening brain and soak.
The vocals, on the other hand, tend to sing single notes or only a few, and simply at that, much like a minimal bass which just holds the root note (like in rock ‘n’ roll). I must confess, this fact first confused my ears – when their set started off I thought the vocals were badly mixed and the singers weren’t putting in enough effort. But, I freely admit that the band proved me wrong, in a beautiful way by simply sticking with the style that they’ve found. I also laud (and thank) the lead singer for singing in her natural voice, and not adding any forced huskiness or doing any of those numerous female-singer things that immensely annoy me – she has a perfectly pleasant mid-to-deep voice, and she uses it as such.
There’s a little bit of Fleetwood Mac that comes through in the way their songs are composed; they particularly have much in common with the melodies on Rumours. I also imagine that Jeremy Spencer, if he was inclined to use distortion and fuzz, would sound much like Murmur’s guitarists do. The sombre Ride Into the Sky and the paradoxically cheery palette of Druggie particularly reflect these tendencies. Acid was a more typical shoegaze song, and the singing particularly shone on this song; the simple tunefulness of the vocals contrasted beautifully with the guitars, whose notes were ever so slightly off; this somehow only added to the music instead of detracting from it. There was something of the primitive composition of the Velvet Underground on 13, which worked great mixed with the rest of the song (which sounds like a mix of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Today,SpaceboyandMayonaise).
As a band, they do several things right – they have a recognisable sound, they’ve composed their songs such that they all sound different from each other, and they have something unique about their music. They also have a very consistent set (by now; as I understand it, they weren’t always this good, but that’s only to be expected), but they also have one song that, at least I think, is phenomenal. I was totally blown away by their rendition of Starfish; it reminded me of Mudhoney’s Let it Slide riff, with a bluesy-punky sound, but played with a Sonic Youth-y frenzy. It was a really great way to start the show, and I’m definitely going to be watching out for the band in the future.
— Shashwati Kala
- Paint the City Black
– Becky Wong
Carseat were up next, and even before they started, I was impressed with a choice they made – their singer had their own microphone. Very clever, and shows a level of forethought that one doesn’t often see. They were definitely the most local band of the night – not just because they sing in Cantonese, but also in terms of their sound – the mid-tempo rockers, with lots of holding high-notes, medium distortion, a high degree of tunefulness and a fanatical adherence to the verse-chorus-solo-verse-chorus structure (you won’t find any surprising composition here). But, that’s exactly what pop-rock is meant to be, and also what Carseat claim to play, so I have no problem with this. Their singer departs from the standard model of Canto-rock bands by actually singing with attitude and not overusing the high notes; his tone and delivery change from song to song without hamming, and most singers here don’t do that. I must also commend the lead guitarist on his solo-ing style, because there were some great, colourful moments in the solos that sounded like something Eddie Van Halen, or Zakk Wylde might do (particularly on 故事 and the broody 十年). It’s been done before, yes, but when it’s done well that kind of guitar-playing sounds brilliant, and this man definitely did it well.
They’re a solid pop-rock band, embodied by 十年, but with a little more metal than that usually implies, like the speed metal-infused 夢盡. They also can be unexpectedly pop-punky; in fact 理關得佢死 and 故事 could’ve been almost done by local punks Senseless. However, their songs do blend into each other, and they need to work on that aspect of their composition, and I do think some songs of theirs just go on too long. Still, theirs was a fun set, to watch and listen to, and their set had serious energy.
— Shashwati Kala
- High Ban
- Epic Fail
- Fall Song
- Walk My Way
最後funk rock樂隊hydroscope帶來當晚最後的演出，jamming式的前奏反映了樂隊成員彈奏樂器有一定水準。進入第一首歌 曲High Ban時可能因經驗原因，歌曲感覺不太穩定，令到了副歌部份稍微鬆散。但後來表演進入狀態後穩定度有所提高，整體節奏明快富動感；主音咬字清晰，rap部份表現不錯，整體流暢具節奏感。Walk my way以較輕鬆的氛圍開始，高音穩定度略有進步空間，少許繃緊的聲帶如可再多作放鬆可令歌曲更完整。但從整體而言樂隊的風格及技巧俱備，甚具潛力，累積更多演出經驗相信在現階段尤其重要。
– Becky Wong
The final act of the night promised to continue the amped-up atmosphere with some funky rock. They started off with some scratchy guitar, to which were added some fast-paced drums, a heavy bassline, and guitars so smoothly distorted that they may well have been directly taken from 2000s radio rock; it was immediately clear that this was another solid and tight live outfit. The singer soon joined in and he only added to that impression – he has a smooth, highly-controlled singing style and an easy-on-the-ears, radio-friendly voice, very much like one you would actually hear on the radio. He also resembles the MC5’s Rob Tyner from a distance, so that added to their rock credentials (in my mind only, I’m sure).
They started off with plenty of promise for funk, with injections of slap bass here and there, and the high-pitched guitars with tonnes of wah. High Ban was the most funk rock of their songs – a solid classic rock-derived beat, fast guitars and drums, with smooth tunes allowing the singer numerous occasions to reach a high note and hold it. However, they managed to do this while creating a big sound which reminded me of the big feel on albums of 70s bands like Chicago (and to be abundantly clear, I don’t mean that specific aspects of their music sounded this way, just the overall feel). There was a bit of speed metal on Epic Fail, while Fall Song and Walk My Way were generic rock, with some elements of 2000s brit-pop (but played with more prominent bass). A little funk (along with its brother, rap) returned for 689 to close out the set.
That said, they’re not very funky. I’ve always felt that bands cheat when they try to categorise themselves under that name simply because there is some slap bass or because they imitate the guitar sound that funk bands tend to use. Simply having the trappings of a “funk” unit is not enough, you need to earn that name. And ‘indie-rock’ they’re not (if by that one means to refer to the style). Hydroscope’s sound is much better described as generic pop-rock, with some funky embellishments.
All this nit-picking aside, I have the same problem with them that I have with many bands – there’s really nothing memorable about them. Even the slap bass and guitars don’t do it, because they’re not essential to the music, feeling more like an afterthought. I sympathise if their aim is to be just a party-music-type band, but it also needs to be pointed out that their music is somewhat shallow. They end up sounding less like RATM or Faith No More, and more like Extreme’s “Get the Funk Out”. What dissatisfies me is that there ought to be something, because the band is obviously talented and should be properly funky and interesting, but they’re not. They’re fun to listen to and they’re tight, and played a set that the people there obviously enjoyed their set, and they deserve credit for this. But the band has a chance to be so much more and, challenging though it surely is, I really hope they fulfil that potential.
— Shashwati Kala
Poster by Karen Cheung. Photos by Sunil Khiatani