Taking place this weekend at the West Kowloon Cultural District is a music festival that is promoting itself under a rather unusual banner – “local.” A quick glance at the lineup and you will find that very single band playing at the event is from Hong Kong, with no overseas headliners. Even the stages carry a local flavour and are named according to the districts in the city – Kowloon, Hong Kong, and New Territories.
The festival is a two-day event that will feature not only music performances, but also installation art by new media artist Keith Lam, creative unit Start From Zero, and multimedia creator KS – as well as a food court with traditional snacks such as dim sum, egg waffles and put chai kos.
The official host organiser of festival is wow and flutter, a platform created by music veteran Hong Ka-chun that aims to promote and connect individuals and units working on different independent projects. This includes, but is not limited to, projects on music. “The Weekend will be wow and flutter’s first event, and naturally a lot of the units, be it the market or the bands, they are locals – Hongkongers.”
But Hong said that “local” was not a so-called selling point of the festival; in fact, he expressed worries over the associations others would put on the word – political or otherwise.
“The worst would be if people think we’re piggybacking on this. In my opinion, we’re each doing our own thing. In all these years that I’ve been working in the indie music scene, the most important spirit of independent music is that we can all do all our own thing without being held accountable to, say, our bosses, and we can say what we want. That should be the best part about the community… and that’s what I want The Weekend to be like as well. ”
Hong said what he wants from this two-day festival is simply for different people doing different things to come together and know each other. “Whether or not it’s related to politics or livelihood, or the localist issues… I don’t know if there is any connection – it’s up to one’s own interpretation. But for me, I don’t want to market it so that people see it as a project relating to those things – that’s not what I want to do… my approach is not to do something and then for it to spark any particular discussion.”
Organic & grassroots
But is there a specific theme tying together the performing units at the wow and flutter Weekend? And what kind of people do they want to attract to the wow and flutter platform? “The whole thing might feel a bit unorganised – but I feel that it’s very organic. I’m not telling you that there are these ten criteria and because you meet them you have been chosen by me, and then these are the things I will do for you.”
The word Hong used to describe what he’s doing is “grassroots.” “The picture I have in my head – it goes back to the way the communities in Hong Kong functioned when I was a little kid.”
By that, Hong meant that there used to be small stores, stationery shops and grocers, all run by different personalities in the community, Hong said. “They’re all individual units, and for example, say that there’s a couple who runs this stationery shop – that’s their entire life. This is how a community is built, and if that happens in all the different communities, the city will grow and flourish.”
“But now what we see in Hong Kong is that all communities are exactly the same. They have these chain stores, and you see a replica of them in malls – if you go to Mong Kok, or Kwun Tung, or Kowloon Bay, you see the same things… I believe it’s not good for the city for be like that.”
What Hong is looking to revive is not so much the physical stores themselves, but the spirit. “From what I know, there’s still a lot of people in Hong Kong who are working hard to do something well – be it with music, or arts, or food, or leather goods – they’re not hoping to have the company listed, and then get funds and then open chain stores… they just want do what they do well. I want to connect those people together. They’re already supporting each other. These are the people the city needs, and I hope they’ll be a united force.”
Indeed, the name wow and flutter itself carries a strong sense of nostalgia. The term refers to the imperfections produced in tape or gramophone recordings during the analogue era, and according to the Hong Kong platform’s website, they hope to bring these sensations back to the digital age, which stresses the new, the efficient, and being perfect. “In Hong Kong, there are still a lot of great people and great things that have the flavour, value and warmth of old gramophones.”
Local & indie: no definitions needed
“I don’t think there’s a need for a definition,” Hong said, when asked what he believed was “local.”
“It’s not like, you take your passport out and you show me what your nationality is. It’s not like that. We’ve lived here for so many years, we’re proud of telling other people we’re Hongkongers, a local. There’s no evidence – it’s about what’s in the heart. Isn’t that right?… I think the city already has too many rules and conditions, why do you need to push someone to prove something? It’s what you need to prove to yourself. If you want to be a Hongkonger, a local, then you will be.”
Hong has worked in the music scene since 1994, making that over 20 years now, from independent music shows to mainstream production. A music veteran, Hong started indie music label 89268, and worked in event production at Commercial Radio from 1994 to 2007. He then became a director at popular music festivals.
Hong said that independent production was an interest, a dream, and even a habit of his. “I want the world to be filled with people doing indie stuff. That’s a huge part of my upbringing. I grew up listening to indie music, and it’s shaped my life, made me who I am today. I feel that I’ve taken so much from it, and that now that I have the ability, I want to leave similar things for people growing up now.”
Hong has harboured the idea of creating something like the wow and flutter Weekend for years, and when he was running his label, he put on mini versions of the festival with many bands at a venue, complete with food, drinks, vendors and music. “And now there’s people supporting us to do something like this, so that’s contributed to us being able to put this on now.”
When asked what his definition of “indie” is, Hong laughed and said, “These kind of questions – it’s going to attract a lot of criticism against me. What is indie and what is a Hongkonger is the same type of question – I genuinely don’t think there needs to be a definition. A person working in indie will know what they’re doing. The most important spirit is that they have a vision or a direction with certain things, and these things will not change because of advantages that come along, and they would continue going down the path they believe in.”
Hong Kong’s festival culture
And what does Hong think the positioning of Weekend is, against the ecosphere of music festivals in the city such as Grasscamp and Clockenflap, or even smaller one-off events like Open Sesame last year and the recently held Sweaty & Really Cramped 12-hour gig?
“I feel that there really aren’t enough of these events in Hong Kong. I think if you want this place to flourish, be it in music or arts, you need a lot of happenings that are different in type and that advocate different things happening at different times. It’s not useful if there’s only one or two every year,” Hong said.
“I think all the events that you mentioned – they’re all defenders of the disappearing land in Hong Kong, encouraging others to feel the earth – it’s awesome. If there are organisers already doing some sort of event, then do something different… I don’t really know what our target audience is. To be honest, I didn’t strategise this – in fact, I’m quite against it. I don’t want it to become a typical mega-corporation project,” Hong said.
“If there are things that need to be done, like putting up a billboard ad on the streets, then we’ll do it, but I don’t want to adopt this mindset, I really don’t want to analyse what kind of people we’re targeting – our targets are just Hongkongers! Of course, we are not against people from other places coming over to attend as well…”
Yuen Chi-chung, music critic and curator of the Kowloon stage, said that compared with other countries, Hong Kong’s festival culture is still in a “developing” stage, mainly due to the lack of venues. Unlike Taiwan and the mainland, where there are a variety of different spaces available and — at times — the support of local governments, Hong Kong lacks these factors for the festival climate to flourish.
“Even Clockenflap faced the problem of the West Kowloon venue’s partial closure and had to move to the Central Harbourfront. If you put the event at a remote venue, there may not be a lot of attendees,” he observed.
However, Yuen believes there will be a mix of different music lovers who will turn up to the festival. “For example, fans of Supper Moment might not necessarily be the same crowd which often goes to Hidden Agenda, and lovers of RubberBand who also like Cantopop – it won’t just be the same crowd who goes to all the indie shows.”
Yuen says he hopes that the bands he arranged to play at the stage will bring a new experience to listeners who have not come across that type of music before, and said it was important to have an open mind. Yuen said that apart from big indie names such as RubberBand and Chochukmo, his stage will also feature alternative music such as instrumental and post-rock – ANWIYCTI, Life Was All Silence, and more – bringing a wide range of choices for the music festival’s audience.
Both Yuen and Hong rejected the idea that the festival should be compared to Clockenflap. “I think it’s good that Clockenflap has been getting bigger in recent years. And with Grasscamp, it’s another sort of event where there are other elements involved, like camping. I think the best thing for Hong Kong would be if all these sort of events on a different scale all bloom and flourish together.”
Yuen also said that it was not antagonistic, and that putting together an overseas festival and a local festival was completely different in terms of production methods anyway. “Each of them have their own place… and the audience might also be quite different.”
Hong expressed similar sentiments. “We’re each doing our own thing. They’re putting on a bunch of overseas acts, so we won’t. If you look at the UK – do you think the Reading Festival and Glastonbury are friends? They’re really direct competitors. Whereas Clockenflap and ourselves – we’re not. I think [Clockenflap Music Director] Justin [Sweeting] and I are doing different things – we should be supporting each other. Justin would share our stuff on Facebook, and I would also buy a ticket to go see Clockenflap. This place is already so small, there are so many problems – let’s not have so many conflicts. There’ll be more events every year, isn’t that great?”
However, some believe that the audience needs to show more care in choosing what events to attend. When local math rock band Prune Deer announced on Facebook that they would be playing at the wow and flutter Weekend, they said: “compared with the three-day flyover white elephant [event], this is a genuine music festival that helps the music ecosphere in Hong Kong.”
“As a consumer, your resources and your support will directly affect the future of Hong Kong’s music scene. We already don’t have a lot of choices, and it’s because of this that we need to make wiser decisions,” the band said.
The gov’t and the indie scene
When speaking about the indie music scene in general, however, Hong was less optimistic. Recently, it was reported that Hidden Agenda faces fears of closure. Although this is nothing new for them (the live house has already moved venues twice), it seems that this time the government is determined to crack down on activity in industrial buildings, meaning that the fate awaiting the creative groups dwelling in these spaces is unlikely to be a happy one.
“There hasn’t been much change through the years. This place has not improved at all. With the Hidden Agenda incident, people feel that the government has become more fierce – it’s just because we have Hidden Agenda standing up against them in a high-profile manner, representing us in that they’re communicating [with the authorities] on our behalf, and we get to see how the government responds in return.”
“But if this happened ten or 20 years ago, I believe the government would have done the same thing,” Hong said. “Throughout all these years, I do not see them providing support to indie music or production in any way.”
Hong said that in order for both the music scene to flourish as it does in the UK and Japan, and for the community to strengthen, there is a need for different events of all scales, big and small, to take place at different locations using different methods.
“If you decide on one way of doing things and you impose that on others, and everything else is just a clone – then we’d just all become AI in the end,” Hong said.