Thank you soooo much to Ravi & Rula Live for hosting our coming-of-age celebration this year!
The bands were tight, connecting with the audience and showing truly how great Hong Kong bands are.
Thanks to Aaron for taking great photos. Big thanks to Prada & Justin for door duties.
Big love to Bay for all the amazing artwork.
High Five to Bacardi and Singha beer for keeping the bands & audience refreshed.
Thanks to our dedicated reviewers: Lauren & Cyril for their attention and words.
MOST OF ALL thank you soooo much to the audience (who very 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 2023!
多謝 Bacardi 同 Singha Beer 為樂隊同粉絲充電解渴；
❤️ Chris B xx
Die in me
Opening the Underground’s 18th birthday festivities fell to singer-songwriter Gwenji, aka Billie Ho Gwenji, who kickstarted the show with her melancholic, chart-listed single Don’t. Her silky sweet voice floated above guitar chords she picked to a bossa nova rhythm while her bandmate Sam provided jazzy embellishment, also on guitar. The lyrics saw Gwenji pleading with an unidentified person—assumed to be a lover—not to leave her behind.
“Welcome to the zone of my depression,” Gwenji told the audience as she moved into Conquer, which evoked a very Hail to the Thief-era Radiohead atmosphere in its minor chord picking and downbeat melodies. She sang, “The dark becomes the dark,” as Sam layered on the reverb. The song tailed off, ghostly and unsettling.
The next track, Haze, was introduced as having been inspired by “emotional problems”, specifically “a friend who was constantly having panic attacks while commuting.” His accompaniment, gentle at first but building to strummed then palm-muted chords matched the gradual raising of Gwenji’s voice to its loudest of the set: “Can I, can I ever feel alive?”
Gigi, an upcoming single “about picking yourself up from hurdles”, involved a quick tuneup while her bandmate noodled in the background. “I don’t belong in this broken shell, it’s not as strong,” she breathed sensually, holding the room rapt in a dreamy, jazz-inflected tune. Billie Eilish and Sky Ferreira would be singers capable of comparable insouciance and atmosphere, but Gwenji brings a clarity and conviction of her own that makes for irresistible listening.
Closing tracks Die in Me and About Guilt were mellow and left a contemplative, almost mournful impression upon the room. The former combined quietly picked chords with despondent vocals, while About Guilt infused more reverb with a jarring guitar delivery by Sam. The juxtaposition between Gwenji’s childlike, diaphanous voice and the maudlin topics her songs encompass—from loneliness to depression to dysphoria—made for a frequently spine-chilling combination.
While Gwenji’s set was far different in tone and genre than the bill’s other three bands, the contrast did not feel jarring. Her strong set showed conviction and marked her out as a true original, formidable talent, and a name to watch as her star ascends on the Hong Kong music scene. Don’t miss the opportunity to watch her perform live.
– El Jay
Progressive-metalcore band Parallel Horizons are Underground veterans and it shows. “Be on your worst behaviour. Disrespect your surroundings”, said Naseem, who works full time as an English teacher by day, while introducing Asylum in the second half of the set. And the crowd did. Having played at UG events since 2015, Parallel Horizons showed up with their own mosh-pitting entourage that jumped, beck and call, whenever lead singer Naseem demanded.
The band’s first song was Scorn. As a vestal virgin of the band, the demonic screams and devilish guitars were heavy and pounding, but the biggest shock was the immediate change in Naseem’s performance. His well spoken, calm demeaour which introduced the song juxtaposed with the two-faced demon spitting out in every growl he made. His singing was not just singing, it was yelling, it was rapping, it was gargling. He performed like four spirits unabled to be exorcised or separated from one another.
Their next song Ashen One showed a more restrained yet equally entrapping part of the band’s performance. Starting with a pre-recorded VO over a smooth melodic intro, the song quickly gave way to Moderno guitar slashing, heavy pounding from Shaun’s drums and a stern faced Naseem swapping between growling and whispering. He stared sternly at the audience through most of the song – in fact most of the night – causing fear not so much from his animalistic grunts but from how his whole body stays still while he performs.
The next song Everlasting was similar to Ashen One except with more sound effects – pre-rec vox, synths, loops and the like. In a way I wouldn’t even really call it a song, it was more of a mixed soundscape. As with a lot of their recent songs (Everlasting is from around 2021 – although there doesn’t seem to be a studio recording yet), there is a symphonic mix of metal, piano and other styles that create a whole song. But while it made for a very interesting and multifaceted performance, its execution on stage was perhaps my one criticism – the sound system couldn’t handle it. There were lyrics – maybe – in the mix somewhere. And maybe there was some differentiation between the instruments too, but it was not clear. I found it difficult to hear any real lyrics the whole show to be honest, a combination of the venue’s limitations and the band not really setting up for the plethora of things they needed to do on stage other than play their own instruments – The changeover from the previous band to them was almost half an hour long but there were still cracks and squeeks!
A highlight from the second half of the set was Amor, a classic metal love song. Although more straightforward than their other satanic offerings, it was just as tight and exciting. The clear emotional melody was interspersed by rapping; even the drumming got emotional. And don’t think I didn’t catch the cliche sappy key change up a tone – you can’t have a love song without that!
In short, Parallel Horizons performed well enough to summon the devil. Every song was written and performed tight. But not just musically tight – you’d expect a band to do that – but the whole performance from the banter to their own stage personalities were spot on. Just a shame that the speakers couldn’t handle them.
– Cyril Ma
WHAT THEY DO
(soundcheck: Time is Running Out – cover)
1. See you in hell
3. Nothing’s gonna go my way
4. Bulls on parade (cover)
6. Survive (cover)
8. Killing in the name (cover)
Ascending to the stage after Parallel Horizons and maintaining the same level of energy among the crowd is no easy feat at all, but What They Do managed to pull it off with a set of hard rock originals and covers, combined with oodles of personality and charm. Usually sporting utilitarian boilersuits, tonight the band were in Hawaiian shirts for a dose of party-starting fun.
They burst out of the speakers with a cover of Muse’s Time is Running Out, executed well as a close duplication. So good was their soundcheck that it was indistinguishable from the rest of their set… Singer Josephine Persson boasts one of the city’s finest rock voices, disarmingly low-pitched and brooding but able to soar and shout at a moment’s notice. Some nerves were evident towards the start of the set, but her confidence and delivery grew to match the crowd’s warm and enthusiastic reception.
Catchy original See You in Hell combined drummer Ferdie Ramos’ dustbin lid smashing with punk chugging by guitarist Bay Leung, who also provided backing vocals for a call-and-response effect with Persson. He launched into his first solo of the night, combining screeching fretwork with finger-tapping. With a loud smash, the song ended.
A close cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls on Parade and a sped up version of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive—both What They Do signatures—had the crowd in a frenzy of excitement. Leung showed off an impressive versatility, nailing Morello’s distorted and distinctive solo in the former song, and bringing in a cowboy western flavour for the hypnotic guitar motifs of original tune, Climb.
Ramos, an Amazonia stalwart, brought a vicious energy that drove the set forward and gave his bandmates a platform to push the tempo and volume so that the set never felt bloated or lacking in momentum. What Nicola Shannon’s basslines lacked in complexity they made up for in punch and depth, bubbling threateningly on songs like Nothing’s Gonna Go My Way, creating a helicopter thrum on Climb, and teaming up with Leung’s guitarwork for fully fledged rock breakdowns throughout the set. Buttdial, their own, channelled a funk sound and featured a solo from both Leung and Shannon.
What They Do rounded out their set with Killing in the Name, another RATM cover, and as that infamous climax was reached, there was barely a soul in the venue whose body wasn’t flailing around and yelling “F**ck you, I won’t do what you tell me” to deafening, dizzying effect.
The band is capable of conjuring a huge sound and captivating a crowd, and as their confidence grows as a unit, a set less reliant on covers and built around more of their own demonstrably superb and effective songwriting will ensure their position is cemented on the scene as one of the city’s favourite rock groups. This is a full throttle band coming into their own—and it’s exciting to see.
– El Jay
Into the Light
Scent in the Dark Feat. Naseem
Hybrid Stereo have been around since 2020 and are known for their clean urban style, both visually and musically. Andrea Curtis, glowing beautifully with smokey eyes and dirty blonde hair but dancing like a giddy high school girl and singing with a clean pop voice felt like Christina Perri or Avril Lavigne at the height of their careers. The rest of the band were dressed in all black street-style, shorts covered by oversized T-shirts; it felt like I had time traveled back 15 years. In fact, with their musical style feeling like an advanced version of the pop and alt punk waves of the 2000s as well, I had flashbacks of sitting in the master bedroom watching TVB Pearl play MTV videos.
Their first two songs Arise and Broken Shards encapsulated the energy they would bring as the closing act – upbeat with a nostalgia that got everyone on their feet. Broken Shards was an epic ballad with soaring guitars that merged with Andrea’s lo-fi voice (though that could’ve been a technical issue – similar issues from Parallel Horizons remained till the end of the night).
Following on was Into The Light which featured Aaron Moderno from Parallel Horizons. Seems like the two bands have an unofficial partnership because Moderno would not be the only guest! However, I’m not sure what having Aaron on added. He’s not on the studio recording and his vocals were muted and sometimes off-tune, although he and Andrea harmonized perfectly when given the chance. After Into The Light came Enigma which contrasted with the punk ballads by giving a power-chord heavy anthem that really showed off the band’s compositions as inspired but not imitations of alt-punk. It was cleaner, more complex, longer and more musically diverse than the bands of the 2000s but not quite as flowery or theatrical as a lot of contemporary pop.
They then performed two new songs – a song with no name (literally, it has no name yet, although Andrea said it might be named Rainbow in the future considering the amount of colours and visuals mentioned in the lyrics). As with their previous songs, the performance was tight, and to top it off they added in a colourful light show as well! Surprisingly, their newest single Luna wasn’t performed as well. Lyrics had to be read from their phones and an unannounced backing vocalist was brought on stage. Similar to Aaron’s guest appearance in Into The Light, this new girl wasn’t on the studio recording but what was more surprising was…well…I have no idea who she was. Maybe I zoned out while she was being introduced. Andrea’s vocals weren’t as tight either with clear strain on the higher belted parts of the melody.
But in any case, the song was written brilliantly. Guitar harmonics pierced through the musical texture and the word painting was spot on.
Their final number Scent In The Dark featured a surprising guest – Naseem Khan! Unable to be kept down, the beast of Parallel Horizons joins bubbly Andrea Curtis on stage in an Angels vs Demons show off as both singers stood forbodingly with their hands on their mics. And the song really showed off the performance and writing style of both Naseem and Hybrid Stereo (officially speaking, Naseem collabed under his own brand SCRIPTVRE rather than Parallel Horizons…but the energy is the same). Long beautiful melodies clashing with demonic grunts. There was wailing and moshing of pits; there was a dark musical energy I hadn’t felt since I went to a (literal) underground performance in Edinburgh where the bar was in a (literal) crypt.
The crossover we didn’t expect because we didn’t know we needed it. A perfect finale to the Underground’s 18th Anniversary, showcasing all the great musical talent Hong Kong has to offer, whether already perfected or a work in progress.
– Cyril Ma
Photos by Aaron Michelson.
Poster by Bay Leung.
海報由 Bay Leung。