If you, like most of our readers, grew up in an American city (or at least relatively close to one), to have your favourite indie artists eventually play at a venue near you might be something that you take for granted.
But in Hong Kong, the city that I grew up in all the way across the Pacific Ocean, the opposite couldn’t be more true. While we’re generally considered to be a major Asian city in the same way that Taipei, Tokyo, or Jakarta are, it’s always felt like we’re completely glossed over when any Western artist that isn’t a mainstream heavyweight embarks on an Asian tour. I can’t count the number of times in high school that my heart would flutter when I saw indie artists announce Asian shows, only to be immediately let down by the absence of a Hong Kong date. The live music drought that I lived through for most of my life is actually one of the reasons that I find myself going to so many shows (14 during my freshman year if I count correctly) now that I spend most of my year in Boston.
With that being said, things have been getting progressively better over the past two years. During my final few months of high school, I had the pleasure of seeing up-and-coming artists like Fazerdaze, mid-sized acts like Japanese Breakfast, and well-established ones like Beach Fossils— to put that into perspective, I only went to a single non-festival show over all of the previous years. Western indie artists now play in Hong Kong with increasing frequency thanks to the work of small and independent music promoters like Gluestick, which despite being founded only about a year ago, has already brought the likes of Denzel Curry, Snail Mail, and Moonchild to our shores. This isn’t to discount the multitude of indie music scenes around Asia and in Hong Kong. They are thriving and excellent— some of my local and regional favourites include Thud, (the sadly defunct) SilHungMo, Elephant Gym, and Chinese Football— and Gluestick promotes Asian musicians with just as much gusto. Local artists open at all their shows, and Thailand’s Phum Viphurit and the Philippines’ Mellow Fellow headlined one such show.
Building on the momentum of the past year (organizing 4 shows in a single year is no easy task after all), Gluestick hosted their inaugural Gluestick Fest this past May, a day long event that brought both international and local talents together in one place. Fresh off of my early morning flight back from Boston, I made my way to KITEC— a mall-exhibition-hall hybrid that perfectly exemplifies how space in Hong Kong is used— out in Kowloon to check out the festivities.
Starting things off were local band Dusty Bottle, who hyped the crowd up with bouncy, sunny, and sugary electro-pop numbers like “You Don’t Know Me” and “Forever Summer”, before mellowing things out with sleek and slower neo-soul tracks “How Could You” and “That Shit Raw”. Building off of the energy established by Dusty Bottle, Cantonese rapper JB followed with a short but punchy set, going through tracks like “潮共” and “Different” with his signature swagger. He even debuted new track “西遊記”, a sensual and smooth R&B number that demonstrated his impressive versatility.
Taiwanese-American hip-hop artist ØZI took the stage next, bouncing from stylish, jazzy R&B songs like B.O, to slick, groovy trap-inspired bangers like “Diamond”, and even full-on romantic ballads like “Prey”, effortlessly weaving between Mandarin and English all the while. The atmosphere was electric— the crowd never stopped grooving throughout ØZI’s set, bouncing around so vigorously that I actually felt the floor flexing underneath my feet as they moved about.
Sunset Rollercoaster were the next band on the roster, bringing their distinctively honeyed and breezy music to the concert hall. I find it particularly hard to confine Sunset Rollercoaster to any singular genre— accordingly, I can only best describe their set as a dreamy mix of tropical soft rock, jazz, R&B, and city pop. The one thing that those tracks shared in common was their warmth and familiarity— the glowing nostalgia that their songs evoked formed a nice contrast to the restless energy brought about by ØZI. My personal highlights were “Vanilla”, a track from their recent VANILLA VILLA EP that felt like a lullaby, “Almost Mature ‘87”, and of course, the gorgeously blissed out “My Jinji”. I’ve never seen somebody go so insanely hard on a saxophone as their sax player did, but I’m infinitely glad that I got to see that happen up close.
Bedroom pop phenom Phum Viphurit followed. Having headlined a Gluestick-organized show late last year, this wasn’t his first time playing to a Hong Kong crowd. What struck me about Viphurit’s set was how playful, high-spirited, and charming it was. At one point his bassist took the spotlight, launching into an extended beatbox medley that amongst other songs, contained a cover of “Baby Shark”. It also happened to be his birthday, so he blew out the candles on a pair of birthday cakes after the crowd sung him happy birthday. Viphurit also jumped down from the stage during “Long Gone”, running right up to the barricade and turning his mic towards the crowd, who went absolutely wild. It was antics like these, in addition to his delightfully off-kilter and exuberant music, that made me realize that Viphurit reminded me of an early Mac Demarco— during the intermission after Viphurit’s set, a high school friend and I couldn’t stop gushing over how impressive his stage presence was.
Ending the night was Kero Kero Bonito (who are playing a show at Paradise Rock Club on October 11th). While KKB broke out onto the indie scene with their eccentric and colourful synthpop albums Bonito Generation and Intro Bonito, they drastically reinvented their sound by pivoting to noise-rock on 2018’s Time ‘n’ Place. Their live set reflected that shift in sonic identity— tracks off of Time ‘n’ Place like “Only Acting” and “Flyway” sounded explosive and beautifully cluttered. Even older songs like “Lipslap” and “Picture This” were retooled to sound more aggressive and intense, their bubbly synth arrangements augmented by an array of thundering electric guitars and vigorous drums. I can’t think of a better example of this than on “Trampoline”, in which Sarah’s “bounce bounce bounce” refrain was run through a filter that transformed her voice into a raspy, guttural, screamo-esque roar.
Maybe it’s a bit too early to be thinking about this, but I’m scared of the thought that after I graduate and return to Hong Kong, I’ll be deprived of regular live indie music once again. But it’s music promoters like Gluestick that keep my hopes up. It’s events like this that demonstrate the potential that my home city has to become a staple destination in the Asian tour circuit.