The Underground Compilation 5 'Breaking Through'
After five editions, The Underground compilation stays true to their formula. But is it time for some evolution?
Underground Compilations are like a box of chocolates. Kinda. Not fancy imported truffles or handcrafted artisanal Belgians, mind you, but more like some Whitman’s Samplers, boxes of Quality Street or a nice tin of Roses, where all your assorted caramels, toffees, creams, nutty concoctions and the like mix together in the same box, under the same banner, like a solid sampler of the wider chocolate world. Yes, that’s an Underground Compilation – a place where you can get a small two-song taste of plenty of bands contributing locally-sourced musical confectionary to the Hong Kong scene.
In Comp 5, nine bands come together under the general theme of ‘Breaking Through’, a motivational little moniker that seems to highlight the precise problem that Hong Kong underground/indie/alternative/non-pop music has always faced: taking the step from niche to mainstream. And like any diverse assortment o’chocolate, it’s a bit of a mix, dictated as much by taste as quality.
Underground Comps have always acted as a de facto snapshot of the music scene at a time. And one of the main criticisms levelled at the scene a few years ago – and, perhaps, the earliest Underground Compilations as well – was the overwhelming presence of a narrow range of styles, occupying an anorexic genre bandwidth from guttural, industrial rock to hardcore/nu-metal/metal to distortion-driven pop rock. Followers of the Hong Kong music scene may have hoped that, by the fifth installment of the series, things would have changed significantly.
The Underground Compilation 5 – the last to be recorded and produced in Jordan’s Mark 1 Music Studio before the long time scene supporter closes – suggests that, in circa 2012 Hong Kong, things are both changing and very much staying the same. On one level, just as much as ever, guitar heaviness and pop-rock drawing significantly on past heroes dominates the two discs. But, on another level, there are a clutch of acts that push the HK-boundaries a tad.
On the double CD, there’s the raw, palpitating lo-fi bluesiness of Who Shot Holga’s Curiosity, one of the few to bring something different to the rock conversation. Then there’s Audiotraffic – the popular Adrian Da Silva-led project that’s been off the radar for the last couple of years – with a far-too-rare HK electro-pop offering, UWNTIT, which channels side-scrolling 8-bit, Nintendo-era adventures with its raw, retro synths and simple melodic infectiousness. The Bollands, relative newcomers to our nascent scene, craft captivatingly shaped, husky, grizzly and rootsy folk. But perhaps the standouts of the album are ReOrientate, a six-piece fusion project bringing together funk, soul, flamenco, traditional Chinese and afro-beats, and churning it through a modern pop filter.
Still, they are but a few examples, and the balance is significantly skewed in the axe direction. And at a time when synths, electronics and production have taken such a huge chunk of the global music pie, and a diminishing portion of the world’s aspiring young musicians are even picking up guitars, we’d love to have seen some evolution, both in the Underground Compilations series but, more importantly, in the wider music scene itself.
See www.undergroundhk.com for more details.