By Hans Ebert

THE DARK SIDE OF HONG KONG NIGHT LIFE 1

Speak to local musicians and most will moan about the lack of venues in Hong Kong. But, let’s say there suddenly were five fabulous new venues. Who and where are the musicians to fill these? The same old faces we see getting older by the day? Sorry, but that plan to fill the holes in Blackburn, Lancashire and all the musical potholes in Hong Kong cannot fly because it has no wings- and definitely no legs.

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There is something decidedly old school and dated about what passes itself off as “the Hong Kong music scene”- the usual “jazzified” suspects getting older every day and happy to play musical chairs by performing the usual gigs- hotel lounges, “functions”, private parties, and those often tiresome exercises in scooby doobee doo self-indulgence “jizz” at venues like Peel Fresco, Grappas and Orange Peel.

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On the other side of the fence, some very good copycat musicians from the Philippines are relegated to playing the bar scenes in Wanchai, Tsimshatsui and Lan Kwai Fong.

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The part-time Indie spirit, meanwhile, springs up now and again at some Hidden Agenda gig in an industrial building in the bowels of Kowloon, and, apart from the fat cat Canto Pulp meisters with their tedious shows of flatulence and narcissism at the Coliseum, this, in a tiny nutshell, is the Hong Kong “music scene”. Bloody sad, isn’t it?

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So, how and where does one fill this embarrassing void of simply not having enough local musicians- good musicians- to make opening new venues financially viable investments? Sure, Support Your Local Musician. But for how long and why? What’s in it for you? Are there any signs of improvement? If so, where and by whom? How big an audience is there for the same old same old? Is there a new audience?

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This is the other thing about many- not all- musicians in Hong Kong: Their misplaced sense of entitlement when they seldom ever really push themselves to improve and happy to settle for Okay is good enough. Okay is never good enough in every aspect of life.

Working with the tiny pool of musicians in Hong Kong, it doesn’t take long for even the most forgiving of people to realise when they’re being used, when it’s only about paying the rent money and when inane musical doodling and riff raffing are passed off as “Jazz”, or “shredding” when it’s actually more Spinal Tap than Spinal Tap.

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Way too many musicians in this city need to be jolted out of their comfort zones brought on by decades of a lack of competition. It has made the Canto Pop fat cats fabulously wealthy while also creating many wannabe big fish in a very small pond of mediocrity. And this is where it’s been allowed to stagnate. The rich got richer and left with Hong Kong only left with musical memories from thirty and forty years ago.

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For today’s generation of local musicians to face and hear the truth- and the music- and this is key- for for local audiences to understand the difference between shuck and jive and mediocrity versus truly good, original music, what’s needed is an ongoing global music exchange programme. It’s been long overdue. And for this, the government and other publicly funded organisations should be held culpable as they have completely underrated the power of music and how it can be used to improve the image of the city, locally, and how this brand- a new brand made up of a new sound- can be exported overseas.

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Sorry, but Canto-pop is derivative Western pop with some very minor chord changes to avoid copyright infringement. Jacky Cheung crooning variations on “Desperado” isn’t exactly the “sound of Hong Kong”. Neither is the buffoonery of the ubiquitous Biff of the Hong Kong music scene- Michael Wong. There’s satire and then there’s cheese. “The Wongster” is cheese and few appreciate the ‘in’ joke. It’s stupid.

For a city once described as “Asia’s world city”- and with music being the most popular language in the world- surely now is the time for an organisation like the Hong Kong Tourism Board to step in, work with clever marketers and make this happen? Surely, this plan can be extended to include sponsorship and all the “hardware” in the way of the excellent venues that belong to the Hong Kong Jockey Club and sit there like lumbering white elephants on non-racing days. And if the HKJC is shackled by government red tape and decades old ordinances that make this unable to happen, well, we’re coming up to 2016 and Django Unchained is in need of freedom.

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Over the past few months, a lot of great new music created and performed by an amazing number of new and young talent has crossed my table- artists from all over Scandinavia, Europe, Canada, the UK, the U.S. and closer to home, Japan, Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Mongolia, Nepal, India and, of course, Mainland China.

This is new music that should be heard. But how and where? Music fans here need to be reminded that music is the tie that binds. It is not only the magic elixir that can revive Hong Kong’s moribund music scene out of its state of flux and lethargy, but should work to inspire our musicians to make the effort to improve and actually be original. And if they can’t be original, they’re simply not good enough to pass Go and collect $200. They’re not good enough to be musicians. And if “You give lovin’ a bad name”, bad musicians- or lazy musicians- give music a terrible name.

In Hong Kong, we have reached a stage where there’s no music scene. We might pretend there is one, but there isn’t. Hong Kong has hobbyist musicians. And there isn’t a music scene for a host of historical reasons going back to when those in charge of the local music industry were busy lining their pockets through various back-handers. It still goes on today, and the ongoing saga to, this time, successfully prosecute a former senior executive with the city’s leading terrestrial television station for corruption bears this out.

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As those of us who have been in Hong Kong for some time know only too well, despite all the fanfare before the launch of the public funded CreateHK, which was supposed to support and nurture this city’s creative community, there’s been diddley squat from them. If they’re actually doing something after all these years, it’s been a well-kept secret. Have we been cheated and conned? Guess.

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As for the music industry, it has always been left to its own devices. This has created a division within the ranks, petty jealousies, unhealthy competition, promoting mediocrity, and a fractured business model- that is, if there was ever any business in the first place. It’s an industry devoid of mentors and any divine financial intervention. This is needed. Without this, how can an extremely talented young percussionist like Anna Fan progress beyond the confines of performing some one-off gigs?

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Where does an excellent singer like Jennifer Palor go next without anyone writing original music for her? More “functions”?

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And where is the new local talent? Have they been blindsided by the enormous wealth squirrelled away by the Canto Pop generations before them and where the stylist was more important than any talent?

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No, those days are well and truly over and needed in Hong Kong in this day and age is a far more international approach and a more global image for the Made In Hong Kong music brand.

This can only happen through musical and creative marriages with musicians making their music in other countries. Call it an ongoing rainbow connection musical programme. This is an idea that has wings and legs and everything else to work. It’s up to the government to work with those who know exactly how and why and where this can work.

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Of course, gawd knows, the Hong Kong government has other priorities. But it would be foolish to think music doesn’t have a Voice, that music cannot soothe the savage beast, and that music cannot have a Feel Good domino effect on a city sorely lacking in very much to feel good about these days.