On the assumption that visitors to music blogs aren’t on the look out for the musings of an amateur Judith Chalmers I’ll keep the holiday diary to a minimum. Suffice to say as a “Brit” Hong Kong’s a wonderful mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. Our connection may have begun inauspiciously with some almighty scraps over China’s outrageous refusal to allow us to peddle Opium to their population, but the influence of and perhaps(?) affection for the UK in HK will take generations to fade.

Traditionally the quickest way to get a crash course in the sounds of any city is to visit the musical devotees to be found in local independent record emporium. On the evidence however of my 10 hour slep round Kowloon and surrounding areas, the record shop is as endangered here as it is in England.

Starting off by testing my tolerance to Canto-Pop at the listening booths of a few central HMV like entertainment stores. I left marvelling at little more than the mind-boggling prices and caught the ferry to Kowloon to track down the fruits of my “hong kong best record shops” google searches.

Almost immediately after getting off the Star Ferry I stumble across the self proclaimed “best record store in HK”, Rendezvous Records. It’s a traditional 2nd hand store crammed to bursting with piles of vinyl and CD’s. I’m sure the dedicated rack browser would be rewarded with many a treasure (see here), but its new “local” music I’m after so its on to the next one for me.

Deeper into Mong Kok I wander up and down a street in search of what I remember being tipped as the finest small indie store but now a week or so later I cant remember the name or find any reference to it online. After a while I spot a sign for comics/internet and head up some narrow stairs into a small room the walls of which are entirely lined by comic books while assorted blokes lay spread eagled over scruffy couches engrossed in said books. Stepping over a pile of Anime, I log onto a PC in the corner to discover the shop closed down last year.

Anyway lets pause the holiday postcard for some lovely local low-down hiphop soul, precisely the kind of music I totally failed to find wandering the streets.
Other than they hail from Hong Kong & Canton there’s little information about Inspired Once on their myspace. “The Dawn” is a tasty amalgam of 70’s soul and 808 beats, while “Takin’ It Easy” lifts the Tommy McCook sample used by Lily Allen on LDN and heads off into jazzier territory. “Soul Kiss” (see below) sounds like an unheard Dilla track (the influence of the man reaches all four corners of the globe).
DJ Kenny was one of the original members of the Terntable Jediz (their spelling not mine). Started in and mostly made up of Australians, DJ Kenny is the Hong Kong wing of the operation, and according to his page “well recognised for his knowledge and dedication to hip-hop, crate digging and Turntablist/DJ culture“.
As for Djoe, Im not actually sure he’s an artist or as his links suggest, a character in a create your own dance music video game. Either way I enjoyed the downtempo hiphop on offer.

Inspired Once – Myspace
Inspired Once – “Soul Kiss” (MP3)

Djoe – Myspace
Djoe – “Scratch Battle” (MP3)

DJ Kenny – Myspace / Soundclick
DJ Kenny – “Beat 36” (MP3)

Stopping for an overdue food break I toyed with the idea of sampling a dish called “Fried Morning Glory“, something Id previously only known as a vague threat issued by girlfriends when woken too early. The waiter however insisted I try the “famous” Hainan Chicken, a dish I now is prepared by boiling chicken then plunging it into freezing water so that it arrives cold on the plate. Unfortunately I didn’t know this at the time and spent most of the meal engaged in a very English conundrum of whether to complain my food was cold. The language barrier confused my attempts to question the coldness, but the waiters response probably translated as “Yes, cold… And??”

Next stop Zoo Records, a tiny shop in the Sino Centre run by ex-record producer Yeung So and his sister, specialising in leftfield sounds along the lines of Sigur Ross. They have an online presence, record label, and have been known to bring artists over to play HK.

The Sino’s various levels are crammed with local teens eagerly snapping up reproduction pictures of the current heart throbs, fashion, quirky trinkets and a few shops selling some more questionable content. In the basement music takes over with numerous little stores pilled high with Canto-Pop but also less mainstream tastes like a dedicated Metal retailer. Zoo is an oasis of calm from the hoards, its stock paired down, hand picked and carefully selected rather than teetering from floor to ceiling.

Enquiring what kind of music I was interested in, Yeung (if it was him?) was more than happy to take time out to select half a dozen CD’s from his non-Western selection. The first album he picked out was “Zatracenie” by the Tokyo based ambient/electronic act Matryoshka. Released in 2009 on Zoo’s own label, I actually plumped for the remix version, and having heard that I’m now wishing I’d also bought the original as suggested! The duo have demo’s on Myspace giving a sneak peak at their 2nd LP due later in the year.

Incidentally when I got home and imported the CD into itunes a message popped up saying “do you want to import duplicate tracks?” All the way to Hong Kong to pick out something I already had a track from!

Matryoshka – Facebook / Myspace / Listen to Demo’s from the forthcoming LP
Matryoshka – “Slowsnow (Remixed by Fort Wayne)” (MP3)

Snoblind were the highlight of my Zoo Records bounty, formed by two Hong Kong cubicle workers Vincent & Regina after an initial tongue in cheek conversation round the water cooler.
They seem most heavily influenced by artists like David Holmes, David Axelrod or DJ Shadow but take in everything from rock, ambient, hip-hop, dub reggae to film scores.

Snoblind – Website / Myspace / Latest EP available for FREE Learning From Murmurs : Selected Filmworks
Also download FREE “Imaginary Soundtrack” EP & “Phantom Cartography” EP
Snoblind – “Test Project” (MP3)
Snoblind – “Inside All” (MP3)

The second weekend of my stay in Hong Kong coincided with the annual rugby/beer drinking tournament The Hong Kong Sevens.
The Wan Chai district could hardly be said to be prim the rest of the year – with a history for prostitution dating back to the US servicemen on R&R from Vietnam – but during 7’s its a seething mass of boozed up rugger fans. That said, there was no aggression on the streets as the fans busied themselves with lager, loudly displaying their testicles to each other (dont ask me, its a rugby thing) or finding a working girl for the evening.

One Englishman I found myself chatting to a few nights earlier casually slipped into the conversation that he’d “pulled a model the other night“. Perhaps spotting my involuntary eye brow raise (not that Frank, 45 overweight from Stevenage wasnt a catch) he continued “yeah you can have a different one every night“. Lo and behold on Saturday night we spotted “Frank” and true to his word he had indeed pulled another model.  I should point out that neither of the awkward looking chancers pictured below are “Frank” – one is me, and the other kindly put up with me loitering round his flat for a week – we are both naturals in front of the camera.

Me and the friend that kindly put up with me loitering round his house, pose naturally for the camera.

At the centre of the Wan Chai throng a nondescript lift safely whisks you up one floor to Rockschool where “The Underground” run a bi-weekly event showcasing Hong Kong bands. Tourists, ex-pats, and actual locals pack in to enjoy a showcase of predominantly guitar based acts, not to mention beer at about half the price of the bars below. The Hong Kong Underground nights have already spawned two 22 track compilation CD’s with another due in mid April.
On the evening we were there, 5 bands were on the bill ranging from the slick Canto-Pop of The Heroes to a young Courtney Love fronted indie rock of A Six Pack of Wolves. Most perplexing of all were the unique musical stew of a Cambodian ex-Karaoke singer backed by surf/space rock & harmonica blues, otherwise known as The Cambodian Space Project (pic below).

The Cambodian Space Project – “Mondulkiri” (MP3)Myspace / Youtube live

Veterans of the Hong Kong scene, Thinking Out Loud feature on The Underground’s 2nd compilation CD. Flamboyant front woman Chris B (below) is the obvious figure head but for me its the screaming Sax of someone called the Mysterious Mr B that turns “Rock’n’Roll Machine” into a force of nature in its final few minutes.
Described by Hong Kong Time Out as “Lo-fi post-punk with hi-fi ass-kicking ’tude“, if someone told me The Yours were the latest uber-cool punk rock band I’d believe them. Although with the obvious My Bloody Valentine influence maybe Dublin would be more appropriate.
So thats Cambodian rock, punk rock, indie rock, and lets add post-rock to that list with Elf Fatima. They opened for Mogwai in the past and list their influences as psychedelic, Noisenik and of course Post-Rock.

Thinking Out Loud – Myspace / Website
Thinking Out Loud – “Rock’n’Roll Machine Part 3” (MP3)

The Yours – Myspace
The Yours – “Untitled #2” (MP3)

Elf Fatima – Facebook / Myspace
Elf Fatima – “Your Mind Has Been Damaged” (MP3)

This article has to end somewhere but the danger is once you start exploring the music of a city you get sucked in by the sheer breadth of sounds on offer. Click on one band, and they lead you to a friend of theirs who leads to another whole scene, and so it never ends.

Jut this second I stumbled across Samson Young an avant-garde music and video artist who fuses an obsessive love for old-school video games with classical music concerts. Watch his composition for violin and Nintendo Gameboy in the video above.

“The Deer In The Lake” by The Kim Tak Building is a achingly beautiful piece of music that soothes your stresses away with delicate guitar and lush ambient washes. The band create all their music on the 6th floor of the building that gives them their name. BC magazine described it perfectly saying “the restrained emotion and sleep-slow pace …is in direct contrast to the bustle of the city. The music is an escape, a space in which to hide”. Their debut album was limited to 1,000 copies packaged in a hard-back, cloth-covered booklet with warped fantasy-style art. If anyone from the band or someone who knows them is reading this, are there any copies left, and where do I buy one!!!?? This is absolutely gorgeous!

The Kim Tak Building – Myspace / Website
The Kim Tak Building – “The Deer By The Lake” (MP3)

“Sinner” by The Projects may just be my favourite track from the whole trip. Its the sound of a secret supergroup featuring the throaty utterings of William Burroughs upfront, Duane Eddy on guitar and perhaps the Beatmasters or Kruder & Dorfmeister on production duties.
Its actually the work of one man, Simon Griffin who since moving to Hong Kong has formed or performed with three groups, The Projects, Sushi Robot and Violent Jokes.

The Projects – Myspace
The Projects – “Sinner” (MP3)

The Heavy combine running a monthly Dub Step night with putting out compilations strictly featuring only productions sourced from Hong Kong and Macau.
Speaking of Dubstep I almost forgot the KongCast, a weekly podcast of the finest Hong Kong & Worldwide drum’n’bass and dubstep. I’d have embedded the widget here but its autoplay and I cant think of many things more irritating things for a web page to feature than that. However you can sign up to their podcast over on KongKretebass.com.

Heavy Hong Kong – Myspace
Heavy Hong Kong – “Choice (feat. KC)” (MP3)

Wilson Tsang – Myspace
Wilson Tsang – “Hazy Mirror” (MP3)

Thierry Nkeli Faha – Myspace
Thierry Nkeli Faha – “Agbeto (Human Beings)” (MP3)


False Alarm – Myspace / Facebook
False Alarm – “Blood Love” (MP3)

The Room – Myspace
The Room – “Man1000” (MP3)


PixelToy – Myspace
PixelToy – “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (MP3)