By Hans Ebert
It would be an understatement to say that Hong Kong is in a funk. Pick up the newspaper and there’s nothing but gloom and doom. Speak to friends, and their businesses are either on shaky ground or else have fallen through the cracks. New restaurants, bars and clubs keep opening, but even more keep closing, and all these new venues are doomed to also end up on the rubbish heap.
There are then the fraudsters, who, knowing that many have fallen on hard times, have seized the opportunity to benefit from the desperation of others.
Recently, many in Hong Kong have been victims of cons, some with dirty little secrets to hide, and, therefore, targeted and eager to pay millions to keep the lid on everything. Others blindly sign legally binding contracts only to find they’ve been scammed- so cleverly scammed that they not only lose the money they’ve foolishly handed over, they suddenly actually owe the fraudsters even more money for being “shareholders” in some non-existent company.
Desperation can trick many minds. And Hong Kong is in the throes and grip of desperation. So, while Roy Orbison sings, “It’s Over” in the background and a thick fog of malaise hangs over Hong Kong, one’s mind turns once more to music and wonders, Where is it? At Peel Fresco? At Orange Peel? At a Hidden Agenda event? One of those epic Canto Pop exercises in over-the-top self-indulgence and flatulence? More Canto Pop that’s regurgitated ponderous ballads that haven’t moved away from the heyday of Jacky Cheung or the so-called derivative “R&B” or “Jazzu” of David Tao and Khalil Fong? One of those hotel lounges with some hack songstress from Winnipeg singing “jizz”, or else serving up another plate of Dover Sole?
Wait: Or is it another comeback or the fiftieth farewell concert, or nostalgia-filled couple of hours of depression listening to some old-timer desperately trying to relive whatever golden moments they might have had “back in the day” while an audience of more oldies clap along and get up long enough to do The Twist? And, lest we forget, there’s the laundry list of the usual suspects popping up as “special guests” and singing everything they’ve been singing for over four decades.
There’s a time and place for nostalgia even though far too many are transparent cons trotted out like some lousy pension plan.
Where, however, is The New? Anyone out there with the A&R skills to even know what The New is? Judging by the same old new slush released by music companies, no. It’s the same old chords and melodies recorded to tired and lame formats and so-called “formulas for success”.
The main problem for the lack of The New is that unlike musicians in Singapore like the excellent singer-songwriter Joel Tan who goes by the name Gentle Bones, and even Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Taiwan and the Philippines, musicians in Hong Kong are either scared to change, or don’t know how. They’re lost and confused whereas someone like Gentle Sleep is young (23) and creating music in English that is fresh and relevant. And commercial without being passé and depressingly derivative. Why isn’t there an artist like this in Hong Kong and capable of singing in English without it sounding forced and cringeworthy? Is Hong Kong’s standard of “Engris” to blame- and which can lead to everything that’s wrong with this city’s education system?
Some of the more “hip” arrangers and producers in this town are decidedly old-fashioned. They really need to get out more- even if it’s to Singapore. And if they need to have those egos come down with a thud, listen to all the new, fresh, innovative music being created, not in the obvious places, but cities like Copenhagen, Antwerp, Melbourne, Perth, Oslo.
There are too many oldsters, fraudsters and just plain goons here who have been allowed to become legends in their own lunchtime without anyone having the balls to bust their nuts for their rants, their pathetic character assassinations on social media because their “genius” has not been recognised, and for their lack of innovation despite the many opportunities that they have been given over many years, some of these on a silver tray with a silver spoon to stick it up wherever they want.
None of us can be Prince, but look at the time he spent in his recording studio at Paisley Park recording music. Not everything was a classic, but it’s about trying new things. It’s how, in any aspect of life, one progresses or suddenly hits upon something that takes them to that next level. Many have studios here. And? And, well, nothing of note ever emerges. It’s just more of the same.
It’s not about singing covers, and despite being very good at it, thinking this is progress. This is stagnation, or, simply, survival. And if surviving as a musician is one’s life plan, that’s fine. It’s knowing one’s limits and being happy with that lot in life and living on Old Kent Road.
This is very different to that all-too-familiar big fish in a very small pond syndrome.
Again, I repeat, Get out more often. Listen to an artist like Beck.
Listen to what he’s doing today. Listen to what the Beatles produced fifty years ago and why many are only now picking up on McCartney’s bass playing “Paperback Writer” and how that track led to the music on “Revolver”.
There is- and there must be- room for all types of music. But this music MUST be of a certain quality. In Hong Kong, a new bar must be set as music in this city has been allowed to plod along the same way that it has since the Seventies and Eighties- and, scarily, at times, driven by those from those old days still trying to cling onto a past that’s no longer the present.
Who are those here today to make a change? Not those hiding on Facebook and other social media platforms and slandering people trying to make a difference, but those who can actually produce a tangible, relevant and creative music product from its overall sound to the entire marketing of this one creative product?
Like everything else in Hong Kong these days, thoughts are scattered and everything is fragmented through jealousy, gossip and politics, pettiness, rampant inferiority complexes and laziness. There’s very little teamwork. This might have to do with a lack of the right people in the right place who can come together, really focus and create something truly special with a passion.
Passion. It’s sometimes an overused word, but often it’s passion that’s missing from the music produced here. Passion and creativity which are often the same thing. Oh, and talent.
Follow Hans Ebert @HansEbertHK