Live Review from The Underground’s 18th Year Anniversary Party
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