It’s not easy talking about local independent music in Hong Kong. Reason being that the scene here veers quite far from what is commonly referred to as the “indie music scene” as compared the United States. On the surface, Hong Kong independent music can loosely be defined as the music that is played by bands or musicians that do not have major support by record companies or have mainstream exposure from the media. Within this, independent bands and musicians play original songs in a variety of styles ranging from pop, funk, rock, metal and even to jazz. This in itself is different from the standard notion of the term “indie music”, which comes closer to hint at a specific sound or music style.
It’s not all different though, as most Hong Kong indie bands or musicians practice a similar “do it yourself” aesthetic, handling all promotions, designs and release music without much financial support from labels or sponsors. In the past there were approximately 10-20 active independent bands in Hong Kong during the 1970’s, 100 or so in the 1980’s and it has grown to over 500 today. It is clear that the local indie music scene is growing at a steady rate.
But what may set things apart in definition is that the mainstream awareness of local indie music is extremely lacking. Whereas in Western countries, while indie music is mainstream, bands such as Arcade Fire or Death Cab for Cutie are all indie acts that have definitely garnered widespread acceptance. Even genres that are not usually considered independent such as heavy metal have huge followings that allows for either independent or mainstream distribution. Or maybe, things aren’t really that different. After all, playing music independently in Hong Kong is largely a one-way street – if you want creative freedom and play your own songs, you are doomed to be underground. The reason being that most music listeners in Hong Kong lack a big interest for local indie music. If there were such interest, mainstream labels would be signing independent acts everywhere.
Of course things aren’t really that simple and there is more to this discussion, so stay tuned, as I explore other aspects of the Hong Kong indie music scene in the following months. Hopefully we will arrive to a conclusion and further conclude the indie-stigma once and for all.
- Edwin Lo
all images courtesy of Vic Shing