The Hong Kong Bass Music Scene w/ Sessions HK, Heavy, DJ Nerve, Blood Dunza

Dubspot’s John von Seggern recently returned to Hong Kong looking for the local bass music scene and discovered a small but flourishing network of venues, promoters, fans and DJs keeping the music alive…

Heavy Hongkong party at ferry pier 7 on the HK harborfront

I used to live in Hong Kong for a number of years and got my first taste of the global electronic dance music scene there, going to a small monthly drum’n'bass night in the late 1990s called MashUp. This post on media blog Loud Quiet Loud provides a glimpse of what the HK scene was like back then, a milieu of tiny underground parties and music bars coupled with the first really big one-off parties featuring major DJs and live acts from overseas. There is also a profile of now-legendary local club CE-Top, the venue that spawned MashUp as well as a host of other indie dance music nights spanning a variety of genres.

I recently spent two weeks back in Hong Kong and Macau, playing bass guitar and electronics for a multimedia/theater production, so I took the opportunity to check out some of the latest developments in the local dance music scene during my visit. In some ways, things seem to have changed quite a bit for bass music fans since the late 1990s, when Hong Kong was still a British colony and the MashUp DJs were making frequent trips to London to bring back the latest drum’n'bass vinyl for their tiny parties. The latest music from around the world has become instantly accessible via the Internet, and as Time Out HK reported in 2009, drum’n'bass at least has become quite a bit more popular in Hong Kong since the MashUp days.

However, from the conversations I had with people in the scene on this last visit, it seems that drum’n'bass, dubstep and their various offshoots still remain relatively underground in Hong Kong. The more commercial clubs in areas such as Lan Kwai Fong continue to focus on house or trance for their bookings, and the number of dedicated bass music nights is relatively few. Nonetheless, there is a determined crew of bass heads keeping the music alive.

While in HK this time, I caught a local bass music weekly called Sessions HK and talked with a number of promoters and DJs about bass music in Hong Kong and the region, including Kenneth Pak Yang a.k.a. Rolec (Sessions HK), DJ Nerve (Sessions HK) and Lai Fai (Heavy Hongkong). They told me about a small but dedicated scene of local bass artists and fans, committed to seeking out their favorite sounds outside of the house, trance and techno offered by the city’s more commercial venues. Let’s meet a few of the DJs and promoters who keep the city’s subwoofers pumping and see where they hang out…

Crews and Characters

Heavy Hongkong have done a lot for bass music in the city since starting in 2006; their forthcoming event on March 1st 2013 will mark their seventh anniversary of promoting low end sounds in Hong Kong. I interviewed Heavy’s Lai Fai (a.k.a. DJ/producer Blood Dunza) via email and he said that they got their start as a soundsystem because of the general lack of sufficient bass in the venues they were using: “HEAVY is a seven kilowatt soundsystem that plays d’n'b, dubstep and reggae with proper bassbins! We come from the time that no clubs wanted bass music. The gigs were hosted in restaurants (with no audio setup) and that’s why we started collecting speakers…”

Lai Fai told me that with the recent global surge of popularity of dubstep in its post-Skrillex incarnation, even Cantonese pop stars have started using bits and pieces of dubstep in their productions, and you might be surprised hearing the odd bit of wobble bass over the FM airwaves in the middle of a love song. However he said that Heavy has built a loyal crowd around a deeper brand of bass music and they plan to continue in this vein, adding that, “over the years we have converted more people from the rock scene to enjoy what we present.”

The main DJs in the Heavy crew are Blood Dunza, Stef:funn and N1D (from neighboring Macau), and they have some mixes and releases online for your enjoyment. Blood Dunza has a four-track EP available online through Dub Temple Records, A Change Is Gonna Come, and you can hear some of N1D’s productions and remixes on his SoundCloud page.

When I asked Lai Fai about the some of the best performances they have had at Heavy, he mentioned Goth-Trad and V.I.V.E.K, both of whom have been recently featured at Dubspot as well, so apparently we have some taste in common!

Kenneth Pak Yang a.k.a. Rolec is a young DJ/promoter from Singapore, now living in Hong Kong and focused on global bass music from roots to the future. His weekly Sessions HK night has become a gathering place for denizens of the local bass scene, showcasing future bass, dub, dubstep, drum’n'bass and related sounds. The night has been held at a number of venues around town including XXX, Bassment and The Golden Stupa, where I caught up with Rolec at one of his recent Sessions events and heard a set from Sessions resident DJ Nerve. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Stupa is a small club on the third floor of the same building CE-Top was in back in the day, just a different floor.

Rolec playing an opening set for Pinch at a recent Sessions HK event

Rolec said that he moved to Hong Kong from Singapore because HK has a more active and honest electronic music scene, and he felt there were more opportunities in HK to play the sounds he loves: dubstep, drum’n'bass, reggae and dub. He has been able to book some prominent UK bass artists at his nights in the past year, including Kode9 and Pinch.

Singaporean bass DJ/producer Zeratone is an old friend of Rolec from the Singapore scene and has played at his Sessions events in Hong Kong. If you are a regular reader of Dubspot Blog you might recognize this name, Zeratone is a Dubspot NYC alumni and we previously featured him in one of our Student Spotlight posts. When I looked back at some past Sessions HK flyers to include in this post I found one from when Zeratone played and listed Dubspot as an affiliation:

Steve Hui a.k.a. DJ Nerve is a Hong Kong bass music DJ with an eclectic musical background and career. A resident at Sessions HK, he can be found spinning his eclectic bass sets at a variety of events around the city, from clubs to outdoor events to gallery spaces. He has been producing dance tracks and DJing since his student days, and has started a couple different promotion crews including Headroom and Are Friends Electric?

I asked Nerve what kind of people might be found at a typical bass music night in Hong Kong and he responded: “Many of them don’t like to go out to mainstream or commercial DJ clubs. They’re skateboarders, ‘cool kids,’ hipsters, fans of very obscure music styles. People who would never go to a ‘normal’ club.” He also thought that the bass music audience in HK was made up of about half local Chinese and half expat foreigners from a variety of countries; to me, this cosmopolitan mix of people is part of what gives the HK underground music scene its own special flavor.

DJ Nerve

In addition to his activities in the bass scene, Nerve has also earned a Master’s degree in composition from the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts and has written music for a variety of classical ensembles (both Western and Chinese). According to his bio, his main interest lies in “exploring and experimenting the boundaries between contemporary music, sound art, multimedia theatre and pop culture.”

Most recently he told me he is working on some new club remixes for local electronic artists. I don’t have the details on those yet but you can check out some recent DJ mixes from Nerve on Mixcloud.

Kung Chi-shing on electric violin (left) with DJ Nerve (right) spinning bass tracks; the two recently opened for Kode9 in Hong Kong

Sites of Interaction

Great venues are also a must in order to foster a creative music scene, and one venue in particular was mentioned by everyone I talked to about bass music in Hong Kong. XXX Gallery in Sheung Wan has been an important local venue in the last few years, catering to an ‘alternative’ crowd and providing opportunities for forward-thinking promoters to build an audience.

According their website they offer “new music, new art, new interactions,” and Nerve told me that XXX has played an important role in the HK electronic music scene. Many bass music events have been held here in recent years, including Sessions and Heavy. The latest news is that XXX will be moving soon to a new location, hope they continue to be as successful. Here’s a video posted from a bass gig at XXX in January 2012 that featured Brainfeeder artist Teebs along with local DJs Yao and Kid Fresh:

Hidden Agenda in the Kwun Tong warehouse district is another interesting new spot for EDM, a successful attempt to turn a band practice room in one of the city’s giant industrial buildings into a gritty underground live venue. Hidden Agenda was picked by Time Out Magazine HK as the best music venue in Hong Kong in 2010, and according to their website, Hidden Agenda may be the city’s homegrown answer to New York’s legendary punk club CBGBs. Hidden Agenda is not dedicated to EDM and features a variety of alternative sounds including a lot of live bands, but they have had a number of underground electronic dance music nights there including dubstep and bass music.

The Golden Stupa is a small bar/club under the Central Escalator, in the same building as the old CE-Top as I mentioned earlier. Like many venues in Hong Kong, it is used for multiple purposes and is actually a Nepalese restaurant/bar by day (thus the name). On certain nights, however, it turns into a cozy gathering place for bass music fans…

DJ/promoter Rolec (center w/ cigarette) looks across the bar at a recent Sessions night at the Golden Stupa

Future Developments?

As far as what the future holds for bass music in Hong Kong, no one can say, but with crews like Heavy and Sessions pushing the music ahead and introducing audiences to the latest low end sounds, it will keep rumbling forward. Here at Dubspot we hope to hear more mixes and tracks from HK bass producers in the future!

Dubspot blog editor John von Seggern has played techno at massive underground parties in China, remixed Western pop artists for the Indian music market (and vice versa), designed orchestral electronic sounds and effects for the Pixar film Wall-E, and presented his anthropological research on music technology at ethnomusicology conferences. He has authored two instructional books about computer music production and performance as well as the manual for Native Instruments’ popular software synthesizer Massive. He recently returned to Hong Kong to play bass guitar and electronics in a multimedia performance piece by electric violinist/composer Kung Chi-shing, City In A Broken Sky II.

after the celebration dinner: Kung Chi-shing (clutching head), John von Seggern (staring forward)…photo by Hahn Rowe