Rock 'n' roll

Bandsmen face difficulties in pursuing their ideal music

by Yvonne Lau

They do not have huge of fans waiting outside the studio; nor are they popular interviewees for magazines and television shows. However, they are creating a subculture, silently yet relentlessly.

They are musicians who are infusing the domestic music market with an alternative choice.

Mr. Fung Lai Chi is the chief editor of Quotables, a Chinese-language music magazine published by Commercial Radio.

He described the subculture created by band music as such: “Though it is not a strong current, it has a strong sense of self-orientation. While looking for passion, bands place less emphasis on money.”

He said bands can be divided into mainstream and underground ones, distinguished by their songs created. Mainstream bands would meet the demands of a larger market.

Said he: “For instance, Tai-Chi (a local band) can be regarded as a mainstream one. They are able to issue their own albums and cooperate with other pop-stars like Alan Tam.

“Conversely, the market for underground music is much narrower,” added he.

According to Mr. Fung, while Canto-pop seems more monotonous, local bands play a wide spectrum of music like heavy metal, electronics and acid jazz.

The differences between Canto-pop and band music are further explained by the chief editor of Music Colony, Mr. Yuen Chi Chung.

Music Colony is a bimonthly magazine advocating new music for the young generation.

Said Mr. Yuen: “The content of band music is rather authentic. Most songs are about their feelings towards society and their ways of life.

“Canto-pop is market-oriented and usually tailor-made for karaoke. The melodies of Canto-pop tend to meet the taste of the majority. For example, the rhythm of upbeat is nimble.”

Inno is a local band formed by three young men in 1993.

According to its members, they focus on “Canto-rock”, sticking to local music. Singing in Cantonese, they express their values towards school, social lives and their self-images.

Mr. Wilson Ip, the lead guitarist of the band, said, “Performing brings me a sense of satisfaction. It drives me to be a musician.”

Forming a local band is not an easy task. For these amateur musicians, pursuing interest means some sacrifice at the same time.

Said Mr. Ip: “I am always very exhausted having worked for a whole day. Physical fatigue always has a dampening effect on our practice.

“Moreover, we lack resources. As we don’t have much money to rent high-tech equipment, sometimes we cannot make the sound effects we desire.”

Their situation is understood by Mr. Fung. Said he: “Hong Kong isn’t a welfare state. It is impossible for musicians to live on public assistance and devote all their time to playing music.”

Even if they devoted all their time to music, underground bands would still be unlikely to enter the mainstream because of the lack of promotion channels, according to Mr. Christian Ekander, the drummer of a four-man band named Uncle Spoon.

Said he: “There are limited performance venues available for local bands. The bands have to compete for the limited places against one another.”

Uncle Spoon would sometimes perform at the Heineken Gallery of the Fringe Club, which is a private non-profit making organization.

Above all, the Hong Kong audience does not have much chance to contact domestic band music. “External support seems quite insufficient in this sense,” said Mr. Fung.

In fact, these difficulties might only be the tip of iceberg. In the domestic music field, the status of band music seems to be overridden by Canto-pop. It might be attributed to the attitudes of record companies and the general masses towards this alternative music.

Renowned record companies seldom employ local bands. Mr. Ekander said it was no use persuading big record companies to make records for them.

“When we send music to record companies, they just give no replies. We always wondered about the quality of our music,” said he.

At present, Uncle Spoon issued records by themselves.

Mr. Yuen of Music Colony said, “Most record companies are quite conservative. They don’t accept the bands who insist on their own lines of music.

“Besides, from commercial standpoint, the cost is higher for employing a whole band than for individual artists.

“Promoting a band is also more difficult for it usually has vague image,” added Mr. Yuen.

Music Communication Limited is a record company aimed at introducing wide-ranging music to audiences.

The director of the company, Miss Peony Wong explained the attitude held by large record companies, “They are unwilling to take the risk on promoting band music.

“Although they make contracts with some local bands, they may not accept their music. In this way, some bands need to change their original style. Otherwise, they have to quit.

“Besides, the structure of a big record company is very complicated, thus leading to many constraints in introducing new kinds of music to the market.

“It is indisputable that small-scale record companies have a greater degree of freedom in promoting different species of music,” said Miss Wong.

Yet, signing a contract with a record company does not guarantee a smooth path of development.

“In Hong Kong, the success of a song depends greatly on the popularity of its singer,” said Mr. Yuen of Music Colony.

“The concept of band is not strong among Chinese. This explains why the members of Winners enjoy greater popularity after they disbanded,” added Mr. Yuen.

Mr. Ekander said, “The Chinese in Hong Kong are not open-minded enough to accept different styles of music. They only favour bubble-gum Canto-pop.”

Though attitude from outsiders has constituted a gloomy picture for bands, the transfer of sovereignty might bring changes.

Mr. Fung of Quotables is optimistic about the future of rock music.

Said he: “The market will be larger as many mainland Chinese love rock music. Of course, the pace of development depends on how open China will be.”

Miss Wong agreed.

“The acceptance of Hong Kong people towards different kinds of music has been uplifting due to the western style of education.

“Added to this, there is a large mainland market waiting for exploration,” added Miss Wong.

Mr. Yuen said political changes might bring band music a new sense of mission.

“During the June Fourth Massacre in 1989, the contents of local music were enriched.

“Since there may be social instability after 1997, band music may act as a channel for expressing anger and discontent. Band music can easily arouse sympathy of masses at critical moments,” said Mr. Yuen.

No matter what the situation will be, local bandsmen will not cease striving to realize their musical dreams.

“Up till now, I have been able to compose my music of my own free will, not for the purpose of suiting or pleasing anyone.

“Though our adventure in exploring musical breakthrough meets a lot of uncertainties and pressure, we are empowered by the love of our fans,” said Mr. Ip.

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