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Organic Intelligence XXXII: Hong Kong Lo-Fi & Dreampop Today

Following her visit to the Clockenflap Festival, Irina Shtreis looks at a new wave of Hong Kong artists reinterpreting Cantopop

The contemporary Hong Kong scene is a reflection of the Special Administrative Region’s history as well as its geographical location. With its powerful neighbour – mainland China – and distant yet influential Japan and South Korea, the former British colony has long absorbed energy and creativity from all directions.

Despite these jets of influence coming from the outside, Hong Kong gave birth to Cantopop, the popular music scene that emerged in the late 70s and brought Cantonese songs into vogue. The new genre borrowed from Mandopop or Mandarine pop, which originated in Shanghai, and soaked it in elements of British and American jazz, rock & roll and disco.  

For a long time, the alternative music scene of Hong Kong was overshadowed by Cantopop, which became the major product of music export with chart-topping names such as Leslie Cheung, Priscilla Chan, Andy Lau and later Faye Wong. Nowadays, the genre is not limited to the mainstream and has been reinterpreted by a new generation of guitar bands. Local darlings My Little Airport (pictured above) define their music as Cantopop and although they’re often sung in Cantonese, their songs are go beyond straightforward radio-friendly heritage, blending influences from the wider world of indie pop as well as those closer to home. With lush arrangement, abundant synth parts and undulating melodies, they are closer to the dreampop and idiosyncratic indie scene of Dunedin than to the Cantopop genre. Yet this is not as twee as their western counterparts can be, with artists including My Little Airport attracting ire from the authorities for their politicised lyrics.

The Clockenflap Festival, named after its founder’s enthusiasm for German techno, recently showcased the best of this emerging scene, of which the following are some highlights.

N.Y.P.D. – ‘18座’ (‘18th Floor’)

Despite its obvious analogies (New York Police Department), the name of the five-piece collective from Tai Kok Tsui, Kowloon, translates from Cantonese as “Drifters of South Asia”. It’s a perfect summary for the sound that seemingly floats between the roaring riffs of Foals and the Dunedin scene, minus jangling guitars. Their song ‘18th Floor’ is an ideal soundtrack to the city with the biggest concentration of skyscrapers in the world. <…

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