Arts, Lifestyle & Events HKFP Reports Hong Kong Interviews

Local indie promoters move to Singapore, but aren’t giving up on the Hong Kong scene

No indie gig regular in Hong Kong would be unfamiliar with the name Songs for Children. For years now, the independent music promoter has been responsible for bringing some of the biggest alternative acts to Hong Kong, such as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Carl Barat of the Libertines, The Drums, Slowdive, and Yuck.

Recently, however, founders Jane Blondel and Mike Mystery announced that they have moved to Singapore, and the industry is buzzing with speculation about what this will mean for Hong Kong. Fortunately, Songs for Children have assured us that they have not thrown in the towel with the local indie scene for good. Jane Blondel speaks to HKFP about the move, the indie scene in the two cities, her best and worst experiences of putting on shows in Hong Kong, and plans for the future.

SFC gigs

Gigs put on by Songs for Children. Photo: Songs For Children via Facebook.

How long have you been in Hong Kong for, and how old is Songs for Children?

I’ve been in Hong Kong for seven and a half years. I started Songs For Children in March 2009, so that would make it six and a half years old.

You started Songs For Children because…

I didn’t know anyone when I arrived and really didn’t hear the music I liked. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to just hang out and listen to indie music, and I really wanted to meet local indie people. I guess I was looking for a scene, so I decided to start my own indie night.

What are some of the biggest difficulties, being an indie promoter in Hong Kong?

Definitely venues. We had to turn down a lot of acts because there’s nowhere to put them on. For a city of 7 million it’s crazy how few there are, and they’re also ill-equipped and over-priced. It means that it’s very hard to break even. It’s also really hard to get press for shows, even after 6 years I still find it a battle to get the press to respond to releases.

yuck hong kong

Yuck Live in Hong Kong. Photo: HKFP.

How has the indie scene in Hong Kong changed over the years?

I think that the local band scene has grown stronger and there’s a growth in interest in regional music which is a good thing. In terms of the international demographic in Hong Kong, there’s more French and Spanish people now, and fewer British, so there’s less interest in indie music from those growing communities. And conversely, the rise of Asian music festivals has seen a decline in attendance at headline shows; larger indie shows that I’ve seen by different promoters have had small turnouts (especially in comparison to what those acts are doing in the rest of Asia). You can see that trend as downgraded venue capacities or cancellations are quite common.

As more festivals come on board, it’s harder for the smaller indie acts to tour: they just can’t compete with headline acts that will tour at the same time. The decline in the Western market is still driving more and more acts to come to Asia, but they’re now competing with a growing regional market and as more acts come through it’s hard to sustain the high ticket prices.

You’ve signed on Thud as the first band under your label – any plans to sign on more in the future? What do you look for in a band?

Yes, we’re looking to work with another band next year, we can’t say who yet but it’s going to be very exciting! I guess I am looking for a band that has a unique sound and is looking to venture overseas and not just Asia.

Favourite local bands?

Thud, The Yours, Fantastic Day.

fantastic day

Fantastic Day playing at OpenSesame. Photo: HKFP.

Best and worst experience of putting on a show in Hong Kong?

Worst was probably a sound guy that just sat eating his dinner during the sound check. He was so rude to the band manager, and refused to let them even touch the mixing desk. That level of unprofessionalism gives touring bands a bad impression of Hong Kong, especially as standards are so high in Japan, for example. Slowdive was a very special show as I think that people didn’t expect them to get back together – I looked at the front row and there was a girl crying – it was quite emotional!

slowdive hong kong

Slowdive in Hong Kong, 2014. Photo: HKFP.

When did you move to Singapore, and what made you decide to move?

I moved to Singapore a couple of weeks ago but have already been back to Hong Kong, so I think I will be going back and forth between the two a lot. My partner [Mike Mystery] works in the creative industry and has much more work there so I guess the motive is partly financial, and also change is always exciting!

The pollution really worries me too, I thought it might be better in Singapore, but the haze has been terrible!

How is Singapore’s indie scene like, as compared to Hong Kong’s?

It’s early days for me but I love the stuff that promoters like Other Sounds, are doing. I deejayed at one of their shows last week and it was loads of fun. There’s a really strong ska/mod scene, and some great local indie bands like Obedient Wives Club. Seems like post rock is still strong here too.

jane blondel SFC

Jane Blondel dj-ing at a show in Singapore. Photo: Songs For Children via Facebook.

Just to confirm – you haven’t given up on the Hong Kong indie scene, have you?

No I haven’t! I want to continue with the label and Thud will be doing an album next year.

What are some things (music or otherwise) that you’ll miss about Hong Kong?

Fish balls and Tsing Tao! I already miss the skyline, the sea, and the mountains. I think there’s a lot of natural beauty in Hong Kong that is set next to high rises …. there’s nowhere quite like it. I miss my friends and all the people that help with SFC; although it’s a small scene the people that I’ve met are brilliant.

Many live venues such as Backstage Live Restaurant and MusicianAREA have closed down in recent months – thoughts?

Yes, I’m really sad about Backstage. They genuinely cared about music and I really enjoyed the shows we did there, which was about 12 international acts. I don’t really know what to say. It’s sad that Hong Kong is an international city but can’t sustain legal and dedicated music venues.

Any people in the local indie scene that you admire and would like to give a shoutout to?

Void Noize and Kung Chi Shing do great work, especially with the outdoor concerts. Void Noize are doing a fantastic job with showcasing up-and-coming Hong Kong indie bands, and Kung Chi Shing is very committed and has been able to get government support for local bands and shows, which is badly needed. Graham Turner McKinnon (English press) and Rachel Mok (Chinese press) are excellent music journalists who have been very supportive. And honestly, Chris B from the Underground is so committed to local bands it’s amazing – she does great work providing a live and online platform for alternative music.

Local indie promoters move to Singapore, but aren't giving up on the Hong Kong scene