By Hans Ebert
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THE DARK SIDE OF HONG KONG NIGHT LIFE 1

The familiar rallying call these days is that Hong Kong has lost its “mojo”. Well, that’s true. But are those trying to find ways to get it back heading in the right direction armed with the right strategy?

For example, many wish to “revive” the Hong Kong music scene. There’s a “scene”? Really? The last time I looked and listened to those with ideas on how to achieve this, sad to say, they were going down a familiar and well-beaten path. Some have disappeared altogether. Remember Jon Niermann and all the hoopla surrounding the Hong Kong based multi racial all-girl pop group called Blush? And?

At least two music festivals were meant to bring the music mojo back. But from everything I know, one festival manages to plod along with a smorgasbord of international and local acts and separate days for different music fans while the other, which featured a bizarre lineup of international acts and with the organiser trumpeting that this musical dragon would breath fire globally, came and went with a whimper. Held at a venue with an 11pm sound ordinance despite having EDM DJs on their bill, the supposedly hippermost event was more like a Government sponsored tea party. And with abysmal marketing, many never even heard of it.

This leads to the question of how many in this city have a clue about what they’re doing? Anything. Clubs open and close and yet musicians blame a lack of venues for the music mojo no longer being in Hong Kong. Was it ever here? The reason venues close is a lack of consistently good young talent. Others somehow manage to carry on and happy to say they’re “breaking even”, which is another way of saying, “I’m working, but not making any money.”

Most clubs purport to be “jazz” venues. Let’s say they are though those who really know the music of John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Mingus, Brubeck, Ella etc can be counted on one hand minus a few fingers. To many, Rihanna and Beyoncé and Drake are “jazz”.

Who performs at these venues? The usual suspects who might be very good musicians, but they’re now 10-20 years older. They’re going through the motions. Musically, they’re not that far removed from being a hotel lounge singer performing Norah Jones covers to hotel guests busy making various kinds of deals with strangers in the night.

Where’s the creativity? Most of it is in Taiwan. Singapore had a quick short run a couple of years ago, but, as usual, the city had no lasting power. It can only go so far before hitting that invisible brick wall because those leading the charge are limited. It’s these same limitations that are affecting and afflicting Hong Kong.

Think of the names in music constantly being trotted out. Many are making very very big money in China because of their spinning machines, and to those across the border these are iconic names.

Sure, make money while the sun shines. But in Hong Kong, these performers are over the hill performers hitting 50 and 60 years of age and still making “comeback” concerts because their ageing fans don’t know any better and don’t want their “idols” to go away. It’s the one link to their youth and a better Hong Kong. It’s about buying into nostalgia.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. But these are not game changers. They’re an audience always there for older artists because one can’t teach old dogs new tricks. It’s very very tough to pry these people from their comfort zones. It’s why there are so many loveless marriages. Better to be with the devil you know and keep up false pretences for decades while trying potluck on the side and accepting ageing annoyances.

As for music and making a career out of it, we were out with a young singer last week. She was over the moon that her first recording was on Spotify. What does this mean, asked someone who wouldn’t know Taylor Swift from Jonathan Swift. “My music gets to be heard by millions!” she gushed. “But how”, I asked. “How when it’s wall to wall music with no introductions and a wobbly search engine?”

Back in the day, we had disc jockeys on radio to present and introduce new artists. Then came MTV and its VJs. With Spotify and all these music streaming services, unless you’re Kanye or Beyoncé and her man and millions of marketing dollars, how does an unknown make even a dent on Spotify?

It’s a flawed business model, but all credit to founder Daniel Eck for managing to tap dance around the bloody obvious problem and con so many on something that only works for him and his Spotifyers. Other than the majors and the artists they support, where’s that recording by an unknown going other than maybe a soundcloud link on Twitter or Instagram?

Personally, if wanting to make a hit record in Hong Kong, I’d rather get behind hugely popular young female Japanese “idol” jockey Nanako Fujita. At 20, she has it all.

If she can’t sing, there’s auto tuner. And with her fan base, you’re guaranteed big numbers and different revenue making channels with, more than likely, the powerful Hong Kong Jockey Club coming to the party. Why wouldn’t they? One appearance at a Happy Wednesday or Sha Tin would be brilliant for turnover AND attendance figures.

That missing mojo IS in Hong Kong. Looking to the past for answers and recycling everything that’s come before isn’t exactly progress, nor is it going to get that mojo up and running. No, please, no. More Canto Pop isn’t the answer. Even new Canto Pop artists sound like something out of the Eighties because musically constipated and formulaic Canto Pop belongs in the past.

This was when Hong Kong radio, the big television stations and the major music companies that signed up the original wave of Canto Popsters made very sure that Western music was blanked out.

Hong Kong music fans lost out on over a decade of especially Rock music to the non stop force feeding of dollops of Canto Pop. If only the ICAC knew what was going on then instead of trying to revisit at least one scene of the crime twenty years later and when the guilty have become “legitimate” businessmen beyond the clutches of the law.

To make up for lost time, it’s about thinking out of the box, but not so much that all commercialism goes out the window and “underground” stays underground. There’s the freedom of the Indie spirit and not bending to convention, but there’s also the rent to pay.

It’s a delicate balancing act. It takes a new mindset. Years of learning from past mistakes. And the A&R skills to see something like the enormous commercial potential of Japanese idol jockey Nanako Fujita.

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