It’s the start of the Year of the Ram, which some call the Sheep and others, the Goat, and despite the usual celebrations and floats and messages of health and wealth and all that other good stuff, it is a very quiet Hong Kong. No, not a “chilled” Hong Kong, but a worried and kinda dead Hong Kong.
Sure, there are the party people in the mean and main streets of Lan Kwai Fong, the usual pockets of Soho and Wanchai, punch drunk and high on the occasion, which would be a blur by Saturday whereas, musically, all’s quiet on the waterfront other than the news that some songs recorded here by Blur will soon be released. Good for Blur and Damon Albarn.
Far more interesting would be to see what Albarn and collaborator Jamie Hewlett come up with for the next phase of Gorillaz.
Being a fan of both artists, hopefully, it can have enough “Chinese” and “Hong Kong” in what is produced to kick-start a surge of crackling creativity to shake up this city’s moribund music industry run by overrated and overpaid music executives and a music “scene” dependent on 3-4 venues and around twenty musicians who pop up wherever there’s a microphone.
By the way, with Hong Kong’s excellent animators, isn’t it bloody sad that it took two Brits to create the character Noodle and then doodle with Chinese music through stories like “Monkey King?”
As for the usual suspects propping up every venue for ‘live’ music, that’s very nice and anyone who wishes to share their music with an audience, no matter how large or small, should be applauded.
What would Hong Kong’s ‘live’ scene be without Ted Lo? The guy is everywhere at the drop of a snare. It’s a passion thing- and that’s cool.
But- and it’s a big booty of a But is this: What’s new, where’s it new, who’s new, and Wherefore Art Thou, Creativity?
If a musician who’s forty, or fifty, how long will it be before the gigs dry up? Venues always want “young”, and a younger breed of cover acts will take over. And so, on and on we go in the Circle Game with the only change being ageism coming into play.
Hong Kong doesn’t exactly have a Bowie or the Stones or a McCartney to keep the freak flag flying for oldies to remain relevant every 45Seconds to Wildin.
It’s this lack of “newness” why American and British television karaoke shows like “American Idol”- this Season, it not only looks and sounds tired and tedious, it’s corny and takes itself way too self-importantly- “The Voice” where the judges overwhelm the nameless contestants, and “X Factor” with the least talented Spice Girl as- oh, please- a JUDGE, leave me stone cold.
Like MTV, other music channels past their Use By Date, and gawdawful “reality” shows like “Celebrity Apartment” with its cast of never-beens, these examples of celebrity showboating have become bloated and, creatively barren and plodding rubbish recycling old ideas that are even older today. Who runs these channels and purchases this garbage? The night watchman?
It’s not unlike all those restaurants and bars in every nook and cranny in Hong Kong that also plod along copying everyone else until the customer decides to take up cooking and have friends over for dinner instead of being at some naked lunch somewhere with a couple of overnight foodie bloggers instagramming their food.
It’s just sad, and why, if looking at everything around us, including why music fans don’t wish to pay to download music, and prefer to dive into a streaming site like Spotify- a major and basic music company marketing faux pas- comes back to there being a dearth of New Thinking aka Creativity.
Too many musicians are like too many of those restaurateurs without the well-known money launderers using them, watching the wheels rolling by and wondering why life is passing them by along with customers. Why? Their restaurants and/or bars are bland, boring venues offering nothing of any difference or relevance.
So, as a musician, what are you doing differently to the lost and lazy restaurateur whose business might, ironically, actually be keeping you in business?
Are you, too, putting everything on the back-burner thinking it can all wait for another day? And which then turns into another day, and another month, and another few years, and then wonder where the hell the time has gone and why your career has not just stalled, it’s self-imploded?
When, these days, musicians talk about being in or making a great “team” with someone, my mind thinks back to George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, below, Bacharach and David, Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, Lennon and McCartney and Jagger-Richards- each and everyone of them, equal parts teamwork.
What’s that cliche about there being no “i” in “team”? Oh, but there is.
Today, more often than not, there is always the “i” who takes control and makes things happen, or, at least, TRIES to make things happen whereas, too often, on the flip side are the hangers-on, the strays and the shameless opportunists. You know who you are.
Beware the Ides of March and Beware the shuck and jive merchants who spot a golden goose, and take that short-cut to what they couldn’t achieve by themselves by either marrying wealth or tapping into roller decks. And you, too, know who you are.
What’s funny in a sad way are also those who come outta the woodwork when (A) needing an introduction to someone who might be interested in some lame project they’ve managed to hatch, (B) those who suddenly pop up to ride on your coattails and (C) so many with absolutely no sense of self-pride who think nothing about asking for everything for nothing. It’s more than shameless. It’s an embarrassing lack of character. Yes, and you know who you are.
Teams and teamwork never happen when things become so lop-sided that you’re not only carrying the other side’s insecurities, inadequacies, and baggage, you’ve inherited their entire dysfunctional circus of excuses: “I got pissed last night, dude,” “I fell asleep, man” plus the litany of apologies. It’s then that the penny finally drops and you realise why these people have not come remotely close to “making it”: They are serial losers.
This is when something has to give as the taking must stop and the “over and under takers” be shown the door; it can’t be a fifty/fifty split when it’s a ninety/ten working partnership where even the ten percent is to do with falling on the kindness of strangers to bail out the weak other side.
Though much of this has to do with Hong Kong and those who ebb and flow outta this transient city depending on how much or how little they’ve got outta it while others having nowhere else to go, if a musician, or someone involved in the art form, it has to do with tapping into the universal power of music.
Those who either cannot, or do not tap into it even when they can- and prefer to be voyeurs of life- should be ruled outta any idea of being part of teamwork when those familiar tell-tale signs start to appear: Laziness in the “delivery system” to meet deadlines, and a haziness when it comes to telling the truth.
Hong Kong has a handful of good musicians, but do they have the originality to be more than sidemen and women? Or are they happy as Larry, Moe and Curly to be musical stooges and maintain the same status quo that has kept their feet glued to the same road to nowhere for over a decade?
Being creative, of course, is easier said than done. Or understood. There are very competent musicians and singers who simply cannot write a good commercial song.
Perhaps it’s a DNA thing, perhaps it’s years of never having tried and understanding that just like constantly rehearsing, the more one writes, the better one becomes as a songwriter. Same with sex. The more you plunge yourself into it, the better you become at knowing what works and what to discard. And making music and having sex- and being good at both- are joined at the hip.
There is a need to get to that point where one can confidently ask, “Do we really need a snare throughout the track?”
“Must there be a guitar solo just because this is supposedly the way it’s always been?”
“Those are lotsa words, but what does it all mean?”
“Okay, she sounds just like Adele and he sounds like Ed Sheeran. And? Now what?
“Why did two Brits create the Chinese character Noodle and see the musical potential of the Monkey King and why did Bowie write about a China Girl just as Hoagy Carmichael wrote “Hong Kong Blues” all those years ago?
A friend recently emailed some of us a great piece on Mick Fleetwood and his five all-time favourite drummers.
It was only his personal likes, but it piqued my interest enough to check out what there was about Sandy Nelson that appealed to him. I now get it.
Being inquisitive is part of the creative process and making the time to understand music’s glorious past, and what Mick Ronson or Bruno Mars or the extraordinary Bjork might be doing today is the inspiration needed to move things along.
It’s not about copying, but about being in the loop, understanding what’s working with consumers, and seeing what “newness” can be produced and which you have pride of ownership.
This cannot happen by putting things off for another day or talking about “teamwork” but “doing a Howard Hughes” and thinking the world will stop turning only until you’re ready to step out and smell the dim sum. Uh uh. It doesn’t work like that.
It works by stepping out of your comfort zone. By working with and being with those not on your Facebook page and creative talent who come from other industries.
It’s about starting that new song in a major key and not going back to A minor and see if anything new might come out.
It’s about watching and studying how every great film maker has used music- and why someone like Martin Scorsese has always been drawn to musicians- Robbie Robertson, The Band, Dylan, Van Morrison, the Stones, George Harrison.
Creativity and change come from being a sieve- absorbing everything around you and making it part of music as a holistic art form and not something that starts and ends with a jam session or even finally completing that song that’s lived inside of you for too long. Those are just baby steps to guide and prepare you for a much greater- and never ending journey.
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc and Fast Track Global Ltd