HK’s hottest unsung band Dada Baba is on the verge of a breakup. But not before they launch their debut EP. By Mark Tjhung
Over the past 18 months, Dada Baba has become synonymous with fun. Quirky, choreographed-outfit fun, best summed up by their animal suit antics at last year’s Clockenflap. Or vivacious, chaotic live fun, as they’ve demonstrated in their increasing gigs around the city and in the Mainland. And, yes, some phonics fun too – Dada Baba is an enjoyable word to say.
But perhaps more than fun, Dada Baba has become renowned for boasting one of the most unique rock’n’roll sounds we’ve heard coming out of our city for some time – a synthesis of lo-fi noise-pop, Chinese folk and art rock – leading some to proclaim them as the most exciting new band in Hong Kong.
In reality, Dada Baba – the quartet of instantly recognisable mop-haired frontman Tam Ka-kit, guitarist Carlos Lam Wing-yat, bassist Iris Heung Cheuk-yu and drummer Lau Hei-lok, who got together more than a decade ago at high school – is hardly a ‘new’ band. But it’s only been since their first gig at the Fringe Club in 2009 – and particularly over the past year-and-a-half – that they’ve reached this buzz status.
It’s all happened rather unintentionally, according to the band, going well beyond their ‘ambitionless’ expectations. Dada Baba themselves originally set the bar rather low. “We never expected that people would even think that what we made are songs. One song is like three parts. We don’t even have a song that really has a verse or chorus. We all love to play with style but we basically have no style,” laughs Lam.
Or sound, apparently. There’s no template to the Dada Baba aesthetic, they say. There’s no collective Arcade Fire or Fleet Foxes worship, as some fans have queried post-gig, nor Sonic Youth influences, as their alt-rock leanings may suggest. “It’s funny that people just try to label you with the band they know but you know, we don’t mind, say whatever you like,” says Tam.
It’s spontaneous, random and organic (“Like Canto movies in the 1980s: full of crap but so entertaining,” says Lam) and, according to them, the band’s most uniting musical element is their collective will to be un-pigeonhole-able. “If a song [we write] sounds like something of a certain kind of style or feels too much like an existing band, then we just cut it. I guess this is the only similar thing between us,” says Lam.
This outlook explains a lot about the eclectic world of influences that filters into Dada Baba’s music – and which all features on the band’s debut EP, 一半 GREASY 一半 JUICY released at Hidden Agenda this fortnight. The five tracks on the disc swing from the crafted, searing, riff-led art-rock in YAYAYA, to the pattering, slow-building meanderings of If on a summer’s night, fucked up in China and the lilting country/Chinese trad-folk fusion/throat-singing lyricism in Ai Shang Ne De Mei Mei.
LISTEN TO DADA BABA'S DEBUT EP 一半 GREASY 一半 JUICY
These Chinese elements, also revisited in Chinese Fried Rice, have become one of the most distinctive elements, particularly given the overwhelming rarity of such trad-Chinese/rock fusion in Hong Kong. Of course, it, too, is unintentional. “In music theory, people know about Chinese instruments and the pentatonic scale. But we really didn’t use the Oriental scale or textures intentionally,” says Lam. Adds Tam: “I think we listen to a lot of Chinese music. We like to contain all these types of music that we listen to. And then we just play, randomly. Maybe it’s subconscious.”
In recent weeks, Dada Baba has also unwittingly found themselves in the spotlight for non-musical reasons, becoming associated with the Occupy Hong Kong movement. They were invited to perform at the final night of the HSBC building occupation and, as the first band to perform on the night, immediately becoming the musical symbols for the Occupy resistance.
“We do not 100 percent agree with the rationale of Occupy Central. The idea was good but we didn’t agree with the way they executed and communicated it,” says Lam. “As people, we are quite political. But we don’t know how to put that in our music. Songs can become a commodity for people’s cultural lives. And we kind of reject that, in a way. If you can really transmit that message to the people then our songs can be political… and maybe that’s our ambition.”
The Dada Baba ambitions, whatever they may be, are sadly being put on hold after this launch. With Lam and Heung Berlin-bound in early October and Lau headed to Shanghai, you’re unlikely to see the band playing again in Hong Kong any time soon. The Hidden Agenda gig may well be the first simultaneous EP launch and farewell gig we’ve seen for a while – and if the Dada Baba track record is anything to go by, we imagine that fun will be central to proceedings.
Hidden Agenda Sun Sep 30 Tickets: 9170 6073; hiddenagendahk.com. Hear the EP at dadababa.bandcamp.com