Wooooohooo!! What an amazing night! It was wonderful to have these fun bands perform to celebrate 15 years of our showcases. It was great to be able to showcase the diversity and talent, we have currently in Hong Kong.
Biggest shout out to the amazing audience who kept saying what great bands we have in Hong Kong!
Thanks to our drink sponsors: Jack Daniels Cola and Brewdog.
Thanks to our prize sponsors: THE FLEMING, Feel Good Factor, CD Baby, Aaronography & Hotel Icon!
Thanks to the six bands who were part of this memorable night.
Thanks to Leon for all the great photos.
To all the wonderful people who make The Underground run so smoothly, I appreciate you guys so much: Big shout out to the team on site: Bun, Ally, Leon, Yo, Dixie, Raymond & Kate.
Shout out to Jacky & the crew on sound.
Total respect and love to El Jay & Dan, our reviewers who dedicate their time to writing reviews for each band.
Thanks to Cordelia for the cool poster artwork.
Thanks to Shaun for supporting everything I do.
嘩！ 多麼精彩的一個晚上！ 我們非常榮幸在15週年的紀念音樂會能夠有如此出色的樂隊為我們帶來精湛的演出！可以有這麼一個機會展現香港的才華與音樂的多面化，非常驕傲。
在此要感謝我們的贊助伙伴 Jack Daniels Cola 和 Brewdog為我們贊助飲料。
感謝 THE FLEMING, Feel Good Factor, CD Baby, Aaronography & Hotel Icon 贊助了豐富的禮品。
感謝 Leon 拍攝了精美的相片。
節目能夠順利舉行，當然少不了感謝一群幕後團隊 Bun, Ally, Leon, Yo, Dixie, Raymond 和 Kate。
亦要感謝我們的樂評人 El Jay & Dan 抽出寶貴的時間為我們撰寫樂評。
最後要感謝 Shaun 一直支持我的工作。
❤️ Chris B xx
2. Bad One For A Friend
3. Nothing Like Ours
4. You Won’t Be Down Forever
5. Snow Boots
Where’s Jules O’Brien been all my life? This girl is a musical force of nature. Not that you’d necessarily know it from her appearance, although she cuts an impressive figure, tall, attractive and radiating confidence.
Initially though, when the talented singer-songwriter and her band Sunset Moth go into first track “Chopsick” I found myself initially dismissing the quiet, quirky jazzy feel as slightly underwhelming. How wrong I was, dear reader! While their sound does draw on elements of jazz, it’s also informed by folk, rock, indie and pop to provide an irresistibly dynamic and original sound, underpinned by Jules’ compelling vocal.
Second track “Bad One For A Friend” kicks off with a 2/4 arrhythmically bop before heading into a driving chorus with a punchy No Doubt vibe, and confirms the quality of the writing and playing. “This is a new one, it’s about living in Hong Kong” Jules laughs, introducing third track “Nothing Like Ours” on which she switches from her well-worn acoustic guitar to keyboards. With a repeating chordal motif, it’s light and ethereal, before rocking out, finally returning to the intro’s plaintive piano melody to end. Divine.
Track 4 ”You Won’t Be Down Forever” has an extended, jazzy intro, light and delicate which echoes The Cranberries in parts before by turns becoming edgy, understated, vibey, impassioned and melodic – definitely a stand-out for me. Jules conducts the band while shaking her hair around becomingly as the epic track falls away to nothing.
Final track “Snow Boots“ is again forceful, rhythmical and melodic, tight and loose simultaneously, hanging together really well and bringing a brilliant set to a great conclusion. And of course it’s not all about Jules. The band – Noah, Godfrey, Joseph and Alex – are pretty amazing, demonstrating their virtuosity as each takes a mini-solo turn during the closer.
With influences ranging from PJ Harvey to Kate Bush, this set really grew on me, as did Jules’ sweet, clear voice, I found myself occasionally hoping she would cut loose and give it a bit more, Janis Joplin bluesy style, a persona that naturally seems to lend itself to her, and I couldn’t hear many of the lyrics, which was a shame, but otherwise a triumphant start to the evening and a high bar set.
– Dan Creffield
1. A Little Piece of the Sun
2. Risk Factor
3. Fall With You
4. Find Our Way
5. The Malevolent Shadow
When I first saw Cracklebox singer Tim Ash onstage tonight my first reaction was – “It’s the 90s all over again!” He’s just got that skinny-trousered, tousle-haired James/The La’s/The Zutons look. So is that where the comparisons end? Well, yes and no. First things first though – before the band gets to strike a note in anger, Tim announces: “I’m going to kick things off with some performance poetry. Don’t worry, it won’t last long”. Of course we all cracked up until we realised – he was serious!
Thankfully as he promised it didn’t last long, and due to the boozed-up, noisy Saturday night Grappa’s crowd I don’t think anybody could hear it anyway, so no harm done. But for the Cracklebox uninitiated, there was something of a queasy sensation – what next? Mime? Interpretive dance? Do we all have to pretend to be trees growing out of acorns or something?
Thankfully though that was it, and in fact Tim turned out to be a super-amusing gag-a-minute guy. Even at the end of the set, when he was picking a raffle ticket he had a good (if slightly dodgy) line – “this reminds me of my uni days – you just closed your eyes and put your hand in.” What was your degree in again Tim?
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Suddenly they’re into song one, “A Little Piece of the Sun” and immediately we all get it. Tim’s pogo-ing all over the stage like a whirling dervish, the band’s brilliant, everyone’s dancing – or kind of drunkenly swaying, at least. Tim’s got a great, soaring tenor and this is a seriously good pop track – why aren’t these guys stars? They exude self-belief and a great sense of fun, with their funky guitars and keyboards giving them a delicious 80s feel. And then there’s Tim’s dancing! What’s not to like?
Hailing from four countries, alongside Tim Ash on vocals are Tom Cowan on guitars, Diego Caro on keyboards, Nico Oudin on drums and the irrepressible Clark Cahill on bass, who may just be the most expressive four-stringer I’ve ever seen. He’s an absolute riot, and why not – these are four mates having a great time and playing some brilliant music together.
We all love Hong Kong’s indie scene, but it seems to me that jazz-rock, math-rock and clever-clever stuff of that ilk is often disproportionately held up as some kind of pinnacle here. Sure, we love those genres too, but sometimes it’s just such a joy to hear a bunch of guys just offering up some straightforward, authentic song writing and playing. And when was the last time you heard a bona fide guitar solo? Raiding your dad’s vinyl collection?
And that’s exactly what we get with Cracklebox. Yes, it’s clever, even inspired writing, but it takes its inspiration from old-school verse-chorus structures just like your musical heroes do. Clark’s bass is in integral part of the sound, as is Diego’s keyboards, but everyone plays their part to make the whole (lotta love) greater than the sum of its parts.
These guys are having a blast and would be totally at place on any stage or festival in the world. I hear influences from Bowie to Kaiser Chiefs to The Strokes, but it’s very accomplished stuff. Third track “Fall With You” starts of like an indie “Club Tropicana” with lovely electric piano and a jazzy solo, penultimate song “Find Our Way” is another funk workout with a big, bold, anthemic chorus, with Tim running through the crowd high-fiving everyone and Clark’s head looking like it’s about to detach itself (although he’d probably keep on playing if it did). Finally last track “The Malevolent Shadow” lives up to its melodramatic title with a rather theatrical “Phantom of the Opera” feel and is a fabulous way to bring things to a conclusion. The best good-time band in town? I’d say so.
– Dan Creffield
1. Winter Song
3. Missing Grass
5. Wander Across The …
Why should the acoustic guys go on first? Where are we, The Wanch? That was rhetoric question, actually – they shouldn’t have to. Not in a perfect world, anyway. But do we live in a perfect world? That was rhetoric as well, pop kids. So while absolutely, the acoustic guys have every right to a later slot if they deserve it, the simple truth is they’ll often suffer sonically after going on after a full band. Whose fault? No one’s, just a fact of rock ‘n’ roll life I’m afraid, dear reader.
So it was to The Underground’s credit that the talented, brilliant Per Se went on when they did. And if their studied, joyful, life-affirming music went largely lost on the booze brigade, their loss!
Anyway, to the music! Stephen Mok on guitar and Sandy Ip on keyboards/piano make for an unassuming if attractive onstage act. Their music is equally unassuming – initially. But then it hits you, like a jealous ex-girlfriend hiding outside your place for when you come back late one night, even if what happened was totally not your fault, and you’re still kind of into her anyway (that was just a random example of stuff that can hit you. Please call me, Karen).
I thought the first two acts tonight were brilliant, really. But these guys are something else. I’m not even sure quite I have the words to define it, which is unusual for me. They may look like they just walked up from busking at Star Ferry, but they just have this je ne sais quoi.
It’s actually kind of difficult to differentiate the songs, such is the way they all wash deliciously over you, like a wave of redemption. “Winter Song” features a lovely, delicate vocal melody from Stephen, who has such a great voice, with Sandy coming in effectively on backing vocals and with a plaintive little piano figure. It’s uplifting and heart-meltingly gorgeous.
Second track “Inphase” is kind of a duet and again lovely, with super piano and guitar interplay, with a heartfelt and anguished plea to it all. I can’t hear the lyrics, but it’s clearly SUPER MEANINGFUL. There’s a little of Bjork or Amy Lee at their most introspective in Sandy’s vocals, and a fabulous, note-perfect jam in the middle, with the duo making the most of their two instruments with smart arrangements.
Track four “Fragments” is slow, almost solemn, with an uplifting spiritual quality, track five is more driving and urgent, while the rest of the set continues until closer “Petals” concludes a stunning set .
Tonight was a brilliant evening both musically and socially, and also shows how The Underground really know their stuff when it comes to picking quality acts for the big occasions. And that’s what Undergrounders value about them – giving opportunities to lesser-known acts when appropriate but understanding the right time to wheel out the big guns. Here’s to the next 15 years!
– Dan Creffield
1. You know you want me
3. Unfaithful (Rihanna cover)
4. Happy Birthday
5. Dirty Desires
6. Vote For me
7. The Last Song
The fourth act on the bill at The Underground’s birthday, Bliss rocked up with LED lights, a big crowd of friends and aviator sunglasses to hand out to the audience. What they lacked in originality and cohesion, they made up for with oodles of personality and energy, raising heart rates after previous act Per Se, who could barely be heard in the busy room.
Frontman Thomas had a strong stage presence, channeling several different personas during the band’s set. On opener You Know You Want Me, he employed a bizarre gravelly vocal tone that may have been trying to emulate Lemmy, but came off sounding closer to Oscar the Grouch. “This is gonna be a sick show,” the singer said, joking: “That’s a disclaimer because two of us are actually sick.” He gave a more breathy performance on Electrocity, yet, gratingly, kept putting his hand over the metal end of the mic, causing a painful scream of feedback each time.
While the more unassuming of Bliss’s two guitarists, “Man of Charm”, was more content laying down rhythms, his counterpart “Man of Mystery” hammed up his lead role, smashing out Slash-like solos and leaping down to the dancefloor. The band even sneaked in a happy birthday singalong serenade to The Underground, bringing a flattered Chris B on stage.
Rihanna’s tear-jerking track Unfaithful was rendered toe-curling at the hands of Bliss: Thomas came in flat and gave the cover a flavour of bad karaoke. From an inaudibly soft start to a cacophonous climax, the resulting muddle sounded like two separate bands competing for airspace in the same room.
Dirty Desires and Vote for Me evoked the rapidfire punk of The Clash and The Sex Pistols with fast and loose guitarwork and bolshy vocals. Though the group had plenty of style and stage flair, there was less substance to back it up. “They sound like someone dropped Franz Ferdinand,” one nearby punter quipped. While another, kinder, onlooker said Bliss reminded them of being a teenager in Manchester during the 90s.
Finally, The Last Song drew from the 70s prog rock of Pink Floyd and David Bowie – Thomas even assumed a British accent – as the drums and bass joined in a heavy thrum and Mystery shredded another solo.
Bliss’s show was a whole heap of fun, though lacked some of the structure and coherence that would have elevated their performance beyond the level of parody band. Nevertheless, the chemistry between members and their enjoyment of playing together was clear in a set that sounded like a band trying on lots of different hats and struggling to decide how seriously they wanted to be taken.
By far the most polished and rehearsed act to perform at The Underground’s 15th anniversary bash, Senseless led the way with a tight set that felt like a treat to behold. Described as sounding like “the Led Zeppelin of Lai Chi Kok” (or should that be “the T. Rex of Tuen Mun”, more accurately?) by a nearby audience member, the band channeled the best of Eastern and Western rock n’ roll, delivered with personality and flair that recalled their hard-rocking Hong Kong contemporaries Bamboo Star.
Singer Raymond was a natural frontman, imbuing every second of stage time with as many over-the-top, 80s hair metal wails as possible. A clear touchstone for opener 觀音兵 was classic Canto-rockers Beyond, while 男人唔可以窮 was spiced up with some bluesy guitarwork. The tightly compressed rock riff of Green Day’s American Idiot came to mind on 燒雞翼, which featured a deft guitar solo and a neat slap bass section.
兄弟 mixed jangly indie guitar over semi-rapped verses before 無盡OT之歌 brought back the hair metal extravagance best described as a more flamboyant Iron Maiden. The track was pacy and tight, with tempo changes and theatricality that kept the audience gripped. “When I say rock, you say roll,” came the classic refrain as the band belted out final song 請緊握搖滾 without letting the energy drop. Senseless might not be the most original of acts in terms of genre, but their showmanship and professionalism made for a delightful rock show.
– El Jay
******They didn’t provide the right setlist – theirs does not link up with my notes*******
New Wave of Sense
Orb of Fire
Disco Deathstar 2000
What’s On Your Mind?
Nearly five years after Shumking Mansion made their debut at The Underground, the colourful quartet headlined the 15th anniversary celebration of Hong Kong’s longest running music showcase. A tall order for any band – but Shumking rose to the challenge. With a relentless work ethic and boundless creativity, Shumking have moved the goalposts when it comes to being a bunch of foreigners performing music together in Hong Kong.
While the band haven’t quite been successful at translating their peculiarly compelling brand of psychedelic rock to record in the studio, their live shows have gained a reputation for unmissable mayhem – largely stemming from bassist (and band namesake) Shum’s energetic and unpredictable onstage antics. Crowds pack out whichever venue they play. It was no different at Grappa’s Cellar, where the dancefloor filled with undulating forms and those previously sat at tables got up to join in once the fun began.
The band’s provided setlist did not match the order of the songs they chose to perform onstage; frustrating for a reviewer yet redolent of a group for whom improvisation and elements of surprise are key to their appeal. Classic Shumking tracks New Wave of Sense and What’s On Your Mind arrived early in the set feeling like old friends that had been beefed up for the night: while the latter song benefitted from more intricate guitar parts, the added 90s house-style piano didn’t quite mesh with the rest of the arrangement.
With his tophat, shades, huge beard and white Roland keytar, pianist Jean-Emmanuel has long been the focal point of the band, yet their fourth Underground appearance showed greater balance between the synths and guitar, making for tracks that felt more fully fleshed-out. Singer and guitarist Zaid had clearly been working on his playing technique, which came to the fore in newer songs like No Shoes and Mario. His rock sensibility gave an anchoring structure to Jean-Emmanuel’s wilder and more lavish synth noodlings, which, happily, never fell short of sounding ridiculously and extravagantly cheesy.
The instrumental Disco Deathstar 2000 was a particular highlight, simulating a battle in outer space with haywire synths, stomping rhythms and the kind of zapping guitar effects Matt Bellamy would be proud of. Then, Auto-Dreaming played around with something more akin to the modern psychedelic sounds of Connan Mockasin or Tame Impala, with a rather emotionally arresting mix of high fretwork glimmers over a duelling synth and bass. “We won,” someone said as the chaotic noise melted away.
Newer track Orb of Fire combined video game bleeps and bloops with a slap bass interlude and a 60s guitar solo, and gave drummer Kent a chance to belt out some dramatic 80s power rock lyrics into the mic. Shum limbered up like an 80s aerobics instructor for surf rock closer, Toadstool, which closed out with a pitch-bending keytar solo.
The chameleonic show was not without slipshod sections, with slurred or off-key lyrics still letting down the overall production, but Shumking’s star power on the city’s indie scene is undeniable, and the band’s eccentricity and pure bonkers presence was a perfectly joyous finale to a diverse birthday celebration.
– El Jay
由Leon Che’ Clark攝影。
Poster by Cordelia Ngai.
海報由 Cordelia Ngai。