Thank you soooo much to Ravi & Rula Live for hosting our big celebrations this year. We were thrilled that we could go ahead and celebrate 17 years with six very special bands, who all unleashed their pent up energies and desire to perform for an eager audience!
Thanks to Aaron for taking great photos. Thanks to Ally for filming all night long.
Thanks to Jack, the outstanding soundman at Rula Live. Big thanks to King & Jasper for door duties.
Big love to Bay for all the amazing artwork. High Five to Jack Daniels, Leo Beer, Warsteiner and Brewdog for keeping the bands refreshed.
Thanks to our dedicated reviewers: Jasmine & Cyril for their attention and words.
MOST OF ALL thank you soooo much to the audience (who patiently followed all Government regulations), to come and celebrate with us, the bands really really appreciate you guys! We look forward to bringing you more great shows in the future.
非常愛Bay所有令人驚嘆的藝術品，感謝 Jack Daniels、Leo Beer、Warsteiner 和 Brewdog 讓樂隊保持活力。
❤️ Chris B xx
1. Funky Snow (short instrumental warm up)
3. About You
4. New Normal
5. Lonely Jim
6. Big Wave Bay
7. Don’t let me down (cover)
When I was asked to review the Underground’s 17th Anniversary, I had expectations for a loud, aggressive, mind shatteringly powerful opening. You don’t go to an Underground show to chill out, you go to rock out. But we chill we did, and chill we enjoyed. Riding in first on an expectedly smooth wave was Mr. Koo – a classic Britpop band that styles themselves with chilled out California vibes, what with their medium length hair, baseball caps and slightly-too-long stubble (rocking it guys!). A very original Hong Kong vibe.
Their first number Funky Snow came without introduction because it was the instrumental introduction. Bluesy, funky (obviously), not too loud but not too soft; perfectly suited, if unlikely, lively opening to the night. This was followed by a mix of lyrical British Invasion style songs such as Surreal, About You and New Normal that got the crowd swaying. Some of their offerings had additional influences: New Normal for instance had strong jazzy Dave Brubeck vibes which aptly fits with the chorus’ tagline “it’s alright” – and of course shows the great originality that bands performing at The Underground are known for.
Big Wave Bay deserves special mention – perhaps special mention to the Tourism Board. The song is a tongue-in-cheek love letter to the popular Southern District beach with music and lyrics working perfectly together to create a relaxing late Saturday afternoon in the sun. Changing the setting on the keys, the soundscape was filled with sea sparkles rushing over on a cool, lightly rocking wave. This was delightfully reflected in the line “The sun don’t shine everyday” because it’s Hong Kong and the sun does not shine everyday and it will especially not shine if you decide to take a trip to Big Wave Bay. Or maybe I’m just that unlucky. I was on a junk trip the afternoon of the concert and it started raining.
What I liked the most about Mr. Koo’s music however, was not their influences, even though I am a big Beatles fan (cheers for the brilliant cover of Don’t Let Me Down as your finishing number – really felt like we were on the roof of Abbey Road) but the perfect structural composition of their songs. Many local bands, in the name of experimentation and originality, have songs full of guitar solos, special effects, key changes, rhythm changes, and are just in any case, far, far too long. Mr. Koo doesn’t do that. Mr. Koo knows that sometimes less is more. Mr Koo knows that we’re all here for a good time, not to philosophically ponder the hermeneutics of Wagnerian chordal structures appropriated for contemporary vernacular musical forms (imagine that was by a British guy with a moustache in a stuck up suit).
Having said all this, Mr. Koo’s performance could still have some improvement. At multiple points during the opening few numbers, the harmonies between the two vocalists, Ollie Rodgers (lead vox and guitar) and Tom Chan (backing vox and rhythm) were noticeably flat. The overall performance could have been tighter with different parts sometimes being out of sync. In addition, I had really hoped to hear Ollie sing in his upper register, which sounds brilliant, but most songs opted to stick around his lower range which sometimes became gravely. An octave reach for the final Don’t Let Me Down would’ve been perfect – John Lennon does that and Ollie isn’t far off from being a Hong Kong John.
– Cyril Ma
What They Do
1. See You In Hell
3. Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way
5. Raining Men (cover)
With power chords in their hearts and a nineties swagger in their step, punk kids What They Do took the stage as the second act of the evening.
Their sound is an eclectic one, that much you can gather from opening track We Are Doing. They seem to be gunning for a rock n’ roll genre bender; think if Metallica and Hole had gotten wasted together and collaborated in Kurt’s basement. Whilst their sound has a way to go to achieve it, WTD are a curious group who attempt to encapsulate those converging worlds of grunge rock and thrash metal.
Lead vocalist Josephine Wellton offers shades of a Courtney Love/Taylor Momsen lovechild, her gravelly deep vocals and powerful belt a match made made in heaven with any rock band. The raw energy in her performance buffs the edges of a few missed notes, reminding you of the sheer beauty of live music because dodgy notes don’t matter at all when you’re putting on a show like See You In Hell.
However, with each song centred around djent-y riffs and manic guitar solos, they feel virtually indistinguishable from one another in style and structure. The result is a predictable – though in no way objectively bad- setlist.
With chugging guitar notes tearing over shimmering high hats before descending into chord-laden verses, I am never blown away by any one track. Rather, I am preoccupied with figuring out how I know the blatantly sampled (or borrowed?) intro riff of Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way. It is Marilyn Manson’s Sweet Dreams, of course. A solid, dark, winding riff. This thew me off- it works well with the trebly punk rock edge of WTD, but it jars against the utterly hectic Metallica tribute guitar solo shoehorned into in the song. Well, all the songs.
Bay Leung, guitarist and songwriter for WTD, is very clearly a skilled and impressive lead guitarist. However, the disproportionate focus placed on the guitar elements is extremely pronounced throughout the set. Even their rendition of Geri Halliwell’s Raining Men, featuring revamped heavy metal instrumentals of Blondie’s Call Me, had a guitar solo squeezed in. The transition into this solo in particular could do with some fine tuning. Who knows, maybe Hammett and Harry wouldn’t sound bad together if the tempos actually matched up?
So what are What They Do doing? Trying to make ‘post-hardcore-punk-metal’ happen, I reckon. Perhaps next time they can do more to showcase their killer bassist, Nic, whose effortless cool and wicked talent deserved more of a spotlight. Or perhaps Adrien could have had more of an introduction with a cheeky drum fill? They are so close to something brilliant, and I look forward to watching them find it.
– Jasmine GW
1. (Out On The) Dance Floor (Get What You Ask For)
2. The Day The Earth Stood Still
3. Show Us Your Soul
4. A Week In The Life
6. Freedom Now
7. Glam Slam
For those new to The Sleeves, and there shouldn’t be many, they’re a classic British Rock band, UK-born, HK-formed. To call them a regular is an understatement. They’ve been around for a decade, have two studio albums, a remix-collaboration and have done literal worldwide tours. For the die-hard classic rock fan, The Sleeves have got infectious melodies, propulsive rhythm and a die-hard sexual spirit. For the more modern connoisseur, well, not very much. Their previous albums Arcade Rock and Vaudeville are relatively experimental with Nintendocore references and a literal band of DJs collaborating on Vaudeville, but really, The Sleeves aren’t around for the excitement of virtual sound effects. They’re classic for a reason; their music is timeless, their lyrics universal and their personalities unchanging over the years, just as the spirit of rock.
While I’ll admit I found some of their recordings a bit dated in its execution, seeing them live was a completely different story. Despite being the most … senior band of the night (sorry guys) … they were as lively as could be. Every song was tight, flawless and full of energy; uncomplicated but perfectly executed. Their audience interaction was likewise natural and full of whimsical British banter that a lot of modern bands are lacking. There wasn’t the same level of theatricality and experimentation that younger bands have, but that’s not really necessary when every note you play exudes time tested experience. Their lyrics are similarly timeless. Freedom Now has really complex lyrical metaphors which perhaps four years ago when I first heard it, seemed needlessly critical, even cliché in its judgements but it’s aged like a well-oiled democratic system – one which, I assume, we have in abundance.
Personally, reviewing the Sleeves at UG’s 17 is a bit of a homecoming. I reviewed Deliverance in 2017 when I first started writing for The Underground and would later, just before COVID, work as a soundman at The Wanch, of which Keith was heavily involved with. The crowd that came to support The Sleeves were the Wanch crowd – What a small world Hong Kong is and what a smaller world our original music scene is. We’re all in this together really, is what I’ve learned. But how many more can fit into fit in the shoes of The Sleeves?
It seems that Keith and the band have similar sentiments, and perhaps similar worries. The experience of The Sleeves means a much closer, personal relationship with The Underground. It seemed that Keith could not stop thanking Chris B and The Underground for nurturing a safe yet exciting environment for local, original music to flourish. It’s on this hope that we continue to hinge, and continue to rock – the music and the boat.
– Cyril Ma
3. That’s why
4. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up
6. Superpowers (eng ver.)
Nowhere boys’ electrifying performance got the whole bar hyped. A mixture of Cantonese and English pieces, their setlist featured a variety of songs from conventional Canto band pieces with uplifting beat and easy-to-follow music patterns, to more interesting pieces. The balance of songs showed the expertise of the band, with two experimental pieces 狂想曲 (Rhapsody) and 小丑 (The Joker) inserted between other simpler pieces. Their use of both English and Cantonese was also very well received, as the crowd, no matter what they spoke could dance along and enjoy the energy of the band.
The performance of the songs themselves were also very well done. The band described themselves as cinematic, meaning that many of their songs are based on a movie. In particular 小丑 (The Joker) really reflected the mood of the surreal movie with the lead singer Van Chan conducting the band with his back to the audience, bringing to mind infamous scenes where the joker watched the buildings behind him burn. The song itself was dark but musically diverse with forays into classic rock, rap and references to carnival piano music. The rhythm swapped between multiple complex musical metres from 6/8 to 4/4 and 5/4, creating a chaotic setting. This sort of song is difficult enough to write, and even harder to play but with the tight quality that Nowhere Boys showed, it’s no wonder that the audience was cheering nonstop the whole night.
But even on their less experimental numbers, the band’s originality and skill still shone through. For example, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is a pop song with a catchy chorus, but otherwise pretty normal. What made it really special was the way that the band performed it. The smiles on their faces, the pure enjoyment of every note was infectious. When Van Chan then asked the audience to sing along to the simple but beautiful melody, we just couldn’t resist! The only improvement that could be made was that sometimes the instruments would be too loud and so the vocals were inaudible, but this was an issue for every band.
Overall, this is a great exhibition of what Hong Kong bands can offer in the music world. Not only were they able to perform brilliant Cantonese songs, but their English songs were entirely on-par. Unlike more commercial groups which may add in English or Mandarin songs to push their market, Nowhere Boys wrote and played every song without at all sounding out of place. It’s interesting to note that although they performed the English version of Superheroes at the show, the original version is not in Cantonese but rather in Cantonese, English and Japanese. The stars of the music videos are African Hong Kong children which shows how the Nowhere Boys are not only aware, but actively providing excellent platform for cultural exchange, reflecting, the multicultural city of Hong Kong.
– Thomas Chow (co-authored by Cyril Ma) in collaboration with Harbour Times–
Bebe’s Wish (featuring Iris)
1. Mr Bug
4. The Iris Song/ Original Song
When Bebe’s Wish took the stage, the first thing that struck me was how many keyboards the group had in their arsenal – three to be exact, including a keytar strapped to the body of keyboardist Lito as well as one set up in front of frontwoman and lead vocalist, Bebe. Usually a trio, the outfit were joined by the mysterious Iris for the Underground’s 17th Anniversary bash. Iris is something of a Russell Brand meets Slash persona, with his long hair and low-slung Firebird guitar giving fair indication that he would be delivering some classic rock oomph to the night’s proceedings.
And deliver he did. Mr Bug started off their set on a high note, introducing the room to Bebe & co’s brand of feel good rock music. High energy and charged with some Guns n’ Roses flair, you would’ve thought Iris a permanent fixture in the band with how well their group dynamics worked.
Bebe’s stage presence was magnetic and warm, strong pop vocals suiting the funkier palate of slower tempo track Highway. As the song blended into Alien, weaving between soft and more classical rock sensibilities, each band member’s unique talents were made clear. Lito’s keyboard solos were a standout favourite of mine, his deft fingers moving quicker than you’d think possible as he switched fluidly between his keyboard and keytar respectively. Really, the guy could probably make music of any genre look like a breeze and a joy to play through, and that joy was palpable from the audience’s perspective too.
Naturally, Iris truly shone in his very own Original Song. Something for all the 80s rock lovers in the house, Iris took over the lead vocals from Bebe for this song and hit the ground running with crunchy guitars, catchy audience singalongs, and a long melodic outto which the whole band could jam to and have fun with. This song, “unfinished” as it may be according to Iris himself, was so much fun to watch and listen to especially because of the sheer unity shown between the band members. Iris’s song was as playful as it was an impressive performance from all.
Finally, haunting goth rock tune Solitude made for an unexpected – though very much welcome – gear shift to end the set. Oozing with theatrical gloom, the song combines the 90s fuzz of The Cranberries, operatic rock circa Nightwish and Evanescence, and the camp glory of those 80s power ballads (think “Alone” by Heart). Bebe’s voice was stunning alongside the harmonies provided by her bandmates, making for a satisfyingly atmospheric finale to their set which left me excited to Google the song later.
Though three people at its core, Bebe’s Wish welcomed Iris with the synchronicity of a band who have been playing together many years. Their talent gets you in the room, but it is their energy and passion which keeps you interested. What better way to celebrate Underground, right?
– Jasmine GW
1. False State
2. Brothers in Arms
6. None Of Your Business
7. Toxic Generation
8. Walking Monsters
Cranking the dial all the way up to 100, Nepalese nu metal moshers Loud Shaft returned to headline for the Underground’s 17th Anniversary.
Still sporting their luscious long hair grown specifically for windmilling, the band attacked the set with all the pent up COVID-19 rage that they clearly had brewing.
I remember watching Loud Shaft at The Underground’s 16th anniversary gig last year, so I already knew what to expect. As they set up more hi hats and cymbals, I nudged my fellow metal fan standing next to me.
“You’ll like this. They’re heavy.”
His eyes widened. “Heavy heavy?”
I didn’t have time to respond before they got stuck in with False State. With chunky down-tuned guitar riffs and rap rock vocals, LS may have been away for awhile but their sound is just as cutting.
By the time they careened into Chaos, a circle pit had formed at the front of the stage. It had been so long since my last hardcore show that I’d almost forgotten the incredible energy of a good old fashioned mosh pit- the unity between band and audience, the wide grins and claps on the back as both boys and girls slammed into each other in the jubilant dance of the truly dedicated (and physically capable) metalheads. Weirdly, it was pretty beautiful.
Reborn may have been my favourite performance of the set- not only because the duelling guitars reminded me of something off Avenged Sevenfold’s melodic hardcore album Waking The Fallen (2003), but because of the breakdown. Or rather, the audience led breakdown. With the whole room repeating F*CK THAT SHIT at the top of our lungs, middle fingers raised high into the air, I think this was the most involved the crowd had been all night long. Perhaps was the unifying spirit of frustration which pervades us all these days in Hong Kong, but something tells me we all had a specific person or people in mind when we screamed in unison at nothing in particular….
The next three tracks seemed to pass by in a flash. They were all new songs, something I later realised primarily because instead of the urgent rage tapering off toward the end of the set, it seemed to keep soaring to greater, louder, neck-breaking heights. Toxic Generation had an air of Slipknot’s ‘Gehenna’, tinny and brash and resounding with industrial rock flavours. It slipped easily into Walking Monsters, another headbanger of a track which seemed to be reaching ahead to their usual encore cover of Killing In The Name- which, unfortunately, didn’t manage to squeeze into the set on Saturday.
Still, Loud Shaft stood sweaty and victorious after yet another killer show. With new songs as well as old peppered throughout their set list, my only hope is that next time they be given a double slot. Denying the new fans some Rage Against The Machine is just cruel!
Photos by Aaron Michelson
Poster by Bay Leung.
海報由 Bay Leung。