RBMA - OTF
Hong Kong -- with its staggering wealth and multi-national community -- has a burgeoning electronic music scene that is in serious need of support and exposure. Red Bull’s first music workshop may well be the spark that ignites the fire, writes Oliver Clasper
“We don’t stop playing music because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing music.” George Bernard Shaw’s prescient words remind us of the duty we have to preserve and protect our artistic creations. For what is to come will only survive if nurtured with great care and given a reason to be. We must learn, create and teach. Once that momentum dies then the music will surely perish.
Red Bull, in their wisdom and understanding of modern youth culture, have grasped this sentiment and ridden with it all guns blazing. Not merely content with setting the benchmark for energy drinks, the company set up the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in 1998. Starting its journey in Berlin it has since grown at a staggering rate. From Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Seattle, and Dublin to last February’s event held in London, the RBMA has crossed many borders. Mostly though, it has facilitated a convergence of thousands of aspiring and up-and-coming artists with a myriad of established musicians. Over time it has fostered a marriage of belief and vision for those just starting out.
Through a series of forums, workshops, open mics and lectures a whole array of artists have been given the space to promote and teach their creative insights – from production and performance to label running, promotion and marketing. Over its 12-year lifespan, legendary producers such as Jeff Mills, A Guy Called Gerald, Marshall Jefferson, Carl Craig, Kerri Chandler and Goldie have lined up alongside Chuck D, Biz Markie, Roots Manuva, Gilberto Gil, Gilles Peterson and Peter Hook. As a result, the constant stream of musical expression has been given space to live, to mutate, to grow, to breathe and to flourish.
And so to Hong Kong: a grand, impressive, wealthy and captivating city, where so much is writ large but where the underground music scene is still relatively underdeveloped. On May 7 the Red Bull Music Academy rolls into town under the guise of the more humble RBMA On The Floor. For just one day, three of the region’s most respected and recognised artists will come together to infuse a young group of aspiring Hongkongers with some advice of their own. The Hong Kong-based duo of veteran DJ and promoter Frankie Lam and hip-hop MC and producer Kevin Chau, aka Gold Mountain, will lead a Q&A session alongside Shanghai’s resident drum’n’bass and dubstep queen DJ Siesta, who was invited in 2008 by Red Bull to take part in the RBMA in Barcelona. Some 30-40 participants are expected to attend here, and will be free to pick the brains of each of these artists about how they got started, how to sustain a career in music, and how they can stand out from the madding crowd.
Ahead of the workshop and live music event at Play, Lam (wise, humble, understated) and Gold Mountain (loquacious, active, insightful) are enthusiastic about the prospect of promoting the scene and overseeing the progression of those passionate about making a career out of music. “We want to find the potential and nurture these guys,” says Gold Mountain, matter-of-factly. Together they see the event as a way to encourage the next generation to make the transition from bedroom DJs or MCs to fully-fledged artists, producing and selling records and playing live – and urging their friends to come and support them in the process.
Lam is an undisputed pioneer of the Hong Kong dance music scene. He is resident at the Foundation One and Push nights, and since the mid-1990s has taken his sound across Asia and Europe. He also co-runs Intermix, a collaboration between the cream of Hong Kong and Japan’s techno scenes, that sees his collective throw parties on the Mainland and in Taiwan. But for Lam it is Hong Kong that is his mainstay, whatever the pervading movement and sound: “Early 1990s it was hard house and techno, then trance, then progressive house, then breakbeat. Now it’s back to the early sounds of techno. It’s kind of cyclical like that.”
But what is sad to hear from both artists is the dampening – or more likely the flooding – of the scene by the commercial market. In the process thousands have been steered away from truly good music. The raves and warehouse parties have all but disappeared – and along with them the vibrant creativity they harboured. In their place lurks a saturated market of commercial pop house on the one hand and the Black Eyed Peas ‘urban’ sound on the other: ergo, a complete meltdown of anything to get excited about. As Lam puts it, with a hint of frustration in his voice, “Right now the urban, commercial markets are the problem. It’s an Asia-wide issue. They have no time to listen to the underground music. They just want to get in the club, VIP, drink, that’s it.”
Gold Mountain is no stranger to invigorating the scene whichever way he can. Having fallen into MCing almost by accident a few years back – “I just started rapping, albeit terribly. But it was rapping” – he has since been hailed as one of the best in the region, and has supported the likes of beatbox extraordinaire Killa Kella and schooled major Cantopop stars in the fine art of MCing. And as well as being on the verge of releasing his debut EP (“It’s almost time yo!”), he has promoted and supported a growing band of MCs and freestylers to meet up and just spit lyrics (known as a cipher) here in Hong Kong – so he will be a key figure for younger people to talk to given his current situation as an artist on the up. “In terms of hip-hop I’m their go-to guy.”
It’s fascinating to think what could have been had RBMA OTF come here earlier. So much so that Gold Mountain laments that the same opportunities weren’t available to him back in 2005: “Man, if I had had someone telling me what to do when I first started out it would have been a huge help. I had to learn the hard way.” Frankie concurs, “Yeah, a lot. Because at the beginning nobody taught me and that slowed me down.”
The event is the first of three planned Red Bull workshops in the city, and both artists are more than confident that through them a new generation of electronic artists is just waiting to break through. What’s crystal clear is that it’s time to wean the kids off the mediocre and onto the majestic, before the music stops and we all grow old.
The Red Bull Music Academy On The Floor workshop takes place at Play on Friday 7 at 6pm.To particpate email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 3426 3376.