Huge thank you to Jon Lee, Parsons & the Hub for helping us to host this unique event. Big thank you to all five acts, it was an amazing night of great music. Who knew mellow music could be so rousing & exciting! Love to The Underground team who worked really hard and enjoyed the music at the same time – Angus, Calvin, Kei & Sophie. Thanks also to Wilson for sound duties. Thanks always to our amazing reviewers El Jay & Chris.
首先多謝Jon Lee，柏斯琴行和The Hub協助我們舉辦這個節目。非常多謝演出的5個單位，帶給我們整晚好音樂。誰知道溫柔音樂可以是振奮和刺激的？ 我至愛的The Underground團隊一方面奮力搞這個活動，而背後他們也是音樂愛好者 ––– Angus，Calvin，Kei和Sophie。感謝Wilson做好音響那部分。必然要謝的還有一對好筆的樂評與紀錄： El Jay 和 Chris。
❤️ Chris B xx
Mr Muk 木子先生
1. Silhouette (Sun)
2. Cayman Island (cover)
4. Night Night
The first ever ‘Mellow Yellow’ acoustic night at new venue The Hub was kicked off by local indie-folkster ‘Mr Muk 木子先生’. Opener ‘Silhouette (Sun)’ began with a soft fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Script-style chord progressions, before moving into a satisfying chorus, which drew parallels to Tracy Chapman. His voice was fragile and dreamy, thanks to distant reverb washes creating atmospheres similar to any sophomore Craft Spells track.
‘Cayman Island’ was an emotive cover of Norwegian folk-pop duo Kings of Convenience. This saw Mr Muk create an innovative muted brass sound with his voice, adding a hint of his own personality to the song, as well as an element of flair to a generally downbeat number. ‘Island’ (which was the first song he wrote seriously) continued the involvement of the horn sound, which was accompanied by sweetly plucked guitar. The whole track had a Ben Howard feel to it, from the vocal melody and lyrics to the chords and structure, whilst the reverberated horn sound added a dash of Portico Quartet to the palette.
Closer ‘Night Night’ could only be described as a jazz-lullaby, with its sweeping 3/4 rhythm, interesting chord shapes, and meandering melodies. Despite only being written the previous day, Mr Muk delivered a confident rendition as if the song had been performed for years. The four song set left the attentive crowd pining for more, and was the perfect start to the evening’s proceedings.
– Chris Gillett
The Folk Ups
1. Red In The Sky
3. Kansas City (cover)
5. How Long
6. Flowers in Your Hair (Lumineers cover)
The Folk Ups have come a long way since Lion Rock Festival. With greater stage presence and the addition of a suitcase-drum named Shelby, the young duo has elevated themselves beyond battle of the bands and into professional gigs. At their first Underground appearance, Ryan and Jasmine set the tone perfectly for a folk night. Their neat set of original and covered folk songs invited people in, as if to gather around a big campfire.
They selected a dark song to open the show – the very Johnny Cash Red in the Sky: a melancholic slice of Americana that combined soulful guitar with call-and-response lyrics. The vocal dynamics between the pair evoke influences from across the spectrum – Ryan’s smooth baritone no doubt recalls the man in black, yet paired with Jasmine’s sultry, Nora Jones-esque voice, the two combine to produce a downbeat harmony more akin to the minimalism of The xx’s Jamie and Romy.
Meanwhile, The Folk Ups’ music draws from both contemporary and classic folk. Tempest had a more modern feel, opening with guitar knocking and tambourine taps for an Eels vibe, before a catchy wa-ohh chorus where the singers’ voices took on the southern English tones of Laura Marling and Noah and the Whale’s Charlie Fink – with every ounce of the same chemistry.
It was back to the States for New Basement Tapes’ cover, Kansas City. Ryan picked up his banjo, and the atmosphere immediately shifted towards the southern gothic frisson of Blanche’s Tracee Mae and Dan Miller. The band’s heavily chilled demeanour no doubt stems from living in the peaceful Mui Wo, where being far from the city gives them space to channel emotions and see ideas blossom. Footprints, written on the beach featured two strummed guitars and somewhat clichéd lines about “footprints in the sand fading away” and waves washing in.
“I drink ’til I drop and I do drink a lot,” Ryan sung while wearing a harmonica rack during How Long, which featured the particularly evocative lyrics, “you’re in my blood, you’re the venomous bite”. Unfortunately, with at least four instruments being played simultaneously, the tempo began to unravel and the two seemed to have trouble keeping both guitars in sync.
It’s rare for Chris B to invite an opening band to perform an encore, but the audience wanted to hold on to this charming pair for a little longer. They chose to cover US indie group The Lumineers’ bittersweet Flowers in Your Hair and brought the house down, leaving the audience to ponder over the line, “It takes a man to live, it takes a woman to make him compromise.”
The more musically and vocally self-assured of the two, Jasmine held the show together. Using her toe for tambourine clatters and heel for Shelby thumps, she gave a travelling troubadour power to the folksters’ show. But it’s the magnetism between the two – as well as the creative songs and approach to stagecraft – that make The Folk Ups a wholly unforgettable and promising new act.
– El Jay
The Interzone Collective
1. Strange 5
2. Pocketful of Memories
3. Two Pans
4. This Day We Fight
5. 9 Jam
Trying to describe The Interzone Collective’s music succinctly is close to impossible with its many layers of influence, but ‘Mind Music’ (as broad a description as it is) reads better than Neo-classical-jazz-gamelan-jungle-world-fusion.
‘Strange 5’ began with Edmund Leung wearing bells on his ankle, whilst playing polyrhythms on a hand-pan over a droning chime. Guitarist Adam, with his eye-catching Goldtone guitar/mandolin hybrid, was running arpeggios effortlessly in a clean, dry tone, vaguely similar to George Benson’s ‘Affirmation’. The cyclical nature of the music was merely a taster of what to expect from the group’s set.
‘Pocketful of Memories’ began with a triplet rhythm of a broken minor chord on the handpan, before low cello strokes were included by Eric Chan. The guitar work this time by Adam had more of a neo-classical vibe to them, such as Bryce Dessner’s mannerisms simmering in the background. The band introduced an extra member with each passing song, and by the 3rd track ‘Two Pans’, the band was in full flow. As the title suggests, a second handpan was prevalent, creating a hypnotic and tribal mood, like a Sexwitch track (minus any wailing Natasha Khan vocals). The song fluctuated in velocity effectively, and the muted guitar licks channeled Amadou and Miriam subtly.
‘This Day We Fight’ was inspired by Lord of the Rings, and proved to be their most cinematic, with low cello 4ths creating a brash Nordic feeling, under complex rhythms of the handpan, and what can only be described as nunchuck-percussion by Moka Mok, playing the asalato. The most notable moment however was HakGwai Lau’s use of the didgeridoo, aiming it at the younger audience members near the front, almost taunting them.
Lau’s performance became more than just visual in ‘9 Jam’ with various clicks, screams, and low rumbles, resembling wild naturalistic jungle sounds, whilst the crowd excitedly clapped along. Cellist Chan also began expanding the versatility of his instrument, using it as a drum later on in the track. ‘Rebellion’ felt like a collage of all the sounds heard previously, but without any distinct character that had featured so heavily before. Regardless, The Interzone Collective were still being applauded enthusiastically long after they left the stage.
– Chris Gillett
1) Summer Wind
6) Black Pepper
Pity the reviewer who had to rate Cow Head’s performance. Not because the local instrumental quartet failed to deliver at The Hub – but because there was so much going on that it was a challenge to unpick the band’s influences and work out what made the show so special.
Opener Summer Wind was a midnight stroll through Rio, with Latin rhythm guitar and softly-patted cajon. Second track NMT (“No Musical Talent”? Pah!) ramped up the energy with metallic scratching and rapid, almost Celtic picking that recalled the duality and dynamism of Rodrigo y Gabriela. Electro-acoustic guitarist Ryan Wan showed considerable skill, which suggested he had studied the music of Joaquin Rodriguez. However, his guitar was so loud in the mix that it was very audible if he accidentally muted a note while his fingers flew over the frets. Meanwhile, his fellow guitarist Simon Choi used harmonics and phaser distortion to great effect, taking the song into psychedelic territory over Wai-leung Wu’s tango bassline, which gave the track a traditional tether.
It was time to play “guess the tune” on third song, Turkish. The group took Mozart’s instantly-recognisable Rondo Alla Turca and gave it a fiery mariachi-esque makeover. The performance was pure revelry, with some particularly jaw-dropping fretwork from the flamboyant Wan. With his lovingly-picked strings, Wu took the spotlight for Life, which took on a Stairway to Heaven meandering rock ballad vibe.
Maze began with rapid, flamenco strumming from Choi, before he was joined by Wan on a gondola of mandolin-style tremolo. The song blossomed into a toe-tapping bossa nova number, with stomping cajon, rumba bass and high fretwork from the duelling guitars. Percussionist Ying-chung Wong led a mass click-along as the bass tension heightened, the tempo slowed and the Pink Panther practically slunk out of the speakers. But this was a momentary diversion before the band burst back into Spanish rhythms to end the dramatic song.
Final song Black Pepper incorporated a strong riff over sultry bass and windswept guitar flourishes. The closer took on a prog feel as the tempo and the direction took a turn for the classical. Wan drew upon his classical influences as the two guitar players worked soaring melodies and jangling chords alongside Wong’s joyful shouts, hand-clapping and a bass bobbing with snake-hipped rhythm
With so many genres and flavours blended into the mix, Cow Head’s set could have been a dizzying mess. Instead, four charismatic and extremely competent musicians gave a theatrical and infectiously fun performance that was both thrilling and energising to witness.
– El Jay
1. Our last July
2. Face in the river
4. Man in the mirror (cover)
It’s hard for an audience to become absorbed in a performance when they can’t shake the feeling they’ve been short-changed. Singer-songwriter Kasa, better known as the frontman of Seasons for Change and Soul of Ears, had promised The Underground a set of “ambient electronica”, but ended up performing a few simple acoustic songs with his guitar instead. There’s no doubt that Kasa has a strong voice and competent playing ability, but his five ballads were not what the dwindling crowd had in mind.
Opener Our Last July evoked the work of Adam Green/ Owl City and Sam Tsui in its sensitive emotions and Americanised vocal style, while Face in the River was introduced as “a song written for Seasons for Change while I was living in Australia.” Emo guitar and the defiant lyrics “I’d rather be myself than live as someone else” should have awoken the teen angst within the room, but ended up coming off a bit like a mantra uttered on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
As Kasa’s show wore on, it became impossible to shed the illusion of teen-heartthrob boyband member gone solo. Settle dipped its toe into the poppier end of emo with densely-packed lyrics and a distinctive 5SOS/Fall Out Boy delivery. A cover of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror could have been too camp or tedious, but was pulled off with flair. Using Ed Sheeran-style tippy-tappy guitar, Kasa brought something new to the classic ballad, and delivered a confident and lively rendition. This energy transferred to Up, an impassioned song addressed to the singer’s parents. “Is this what you meant when you said growing up?” the lyrics implored.
It would be out of character for Chris B not to award an encore to a night’s final act, and despite the late hour and slightly dry, monotonous set, Kasa signed off with a bluster of Oasis-influenced strumming and the grandiose line, “you’ll always be my thunder.”
It is both a privilege and a challenge to headline any Underground show: the act must be worthy of the top billing and do justice to the performances that came before. Unfortunately, Kasa’s rushed and occasionally slapdash set was overshadowed by the diverse talent of the other four bands. Kasa is a self-assured performer, who can apply his skill across the genres, but sadly didn’t live up to the hype this time. We look forward to seeing what he pulls out of the bag at his next UG gig – as long as he’s better-prepared.
– El Jay
Photos by Angus Leung.
Poster by Jenna Ho.