From Chinese noise rock to Filipino power pop, here are five new acts from the continent you need to hear right now
For all the talk of the ‘death of bands’ over the past few years, they don’t seem to be going anywhere. London’s scene is resilient in the face of rising rents and the closure of live venues, studios, and rehearsal spaces, while the political hellscape of the past few years has helped energise a wave of American rock groups.
For its tenth anniversary, this year’s Clockenflap festival – an annual Hong Kong event that acts as a bridge between the Eastern and Western music communities – brought a host of acts both from the West (Stormzy, Massive Attack) and from across Asia (Chinese trap rappers Higher Brothers, Korean R&B superstar Dean) to the city. The lineup also boasted a host of bands from across East and Southeast Asia, proving that their scenes are going strong too. We met five artists at the festival to learn more.
None of Hong Kong group David Boring’s five members are called David, and their uncompromising noise rock is anything but dull. On record, David Boring (whose name is actually taken from the Daniel Clowes graphic novel) pull from punk, post-punk, no wave, industrial, and experimental music, describing their “violently nihilistic” lyrics as being borne out of the “cheerfully toxic” modern world. “We draw inspiration from transgressive and postmodern literature, the tension derived from living in a claustrophobic city, and, obviously, our own social and political surroundings,” they say.
Live, David Boring’s sound is turned up several notches: it feels visceral, extremely loud and incredibly abrasive, with singer Laujan delivering deadpan, Sonic Youth-esque vocals over a wall of screeching guitar feedback. “Our shows are chaotic, casually destructive, and very, very loud,” the band put it. “Members attacking each other or thrashing around on the ground for no obvious reasons. Disturbing, confusing and potentially scarring experience. We never really know what kind of emotional response we might trigger from the audience – the experience can range from a fun spectacle to a profound transgressive journey, to some who cannot even get through the first song.”
Though Japan’s Wednesday Campanella are a three-piece, their roles are quite unusual compared to mosts conventional bands: KOM_I, who we profiled recently, is the band’s main singer, performer, and spokesperson, while Kenmochi Hidefumi provides the song’s music and production and Dir.F handles the essential visual component. Musically they make a blend of electronica, hip hop, and J-pop, with an unusual approach to song structure and a dreamy production aesthetic.
As fantastic as they are on record, it’s Wednesday Campanella’s live show that really needs to be seen to be believed. “I’m alone on-stage with no any other instruments,” says KOM_I. “I sing, rap, scream, talk, move, dance, jump, dive, swim, surfing, die, and live.” The term “on”-stage there is probably a bit misleading, as KOM_I spends about half of the set – the band’s first ever performance in Hong Kong – out in the crowd, either singing from the festival floor, unfurling a huge parachute over the heads of the sea of newly-converted fans, or performing from the top of a stepladder at the back of the audience. At the end she climbs inside an inflatable transparent ball and crowdsurfs, never missing a beat.
KOM_I sees Wednesday Campanella performances as a chance to appeal to a very basic human instinct: dancing. “I want them to move primitively,” she says.
SO IT GOES
Taking their name from a phrase in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, So It Goes are a three-piece from Hong Kong whose members are all named Emily. Despite their relatively modest setup – a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist/vocalist – the three Emilys make a huge sound. Their deep, atmospheric guitar textures and melancholic songwriting isn’t a million miles away from Warpaint’s early recordings, while the group cite everyone from post-rockers Mogwai to local alt-rock heroes A New World If You Can Take It – bands with “a raw, unpretentious sound” – as influences.
“We often explore the insignificance of human existence, the feeling of powerlessness in a mundane society and the idea that everyone is at the mercy of time and change in our songs,” says one of the three Emilys, speaking on behalf of the band. “Our music is made for the sensitive humans who feel like bugs in amber.”
So It Goes’ lyrics offer a wry glimpse into the mundanities of everyday life in Hong Kong. Though sung in English, there’s a very specific local flavour to their observations – the Blondie-esque footstomper “Monday’s a Bitch”, which closes their Sunday afternoon set on the festival’s FWD stage, laments the repetitive rides they take to work on the city’s MTR metro system.
“‘Monday’s a Bitch’ is about our least favourite day of the week,” they say. “The weekend is over, we force ourselves to wake up to go to work and, worst of all, the metro is always super crowded with constant malfunctions – (but) we have to pay our bills. The song is about frustration, anger, and helplessness that almost everyone in Hong Kong can relate to.”
GYM & SWIM
“Gym & Swim are a catchy, tropical indie band from Bangkok,” says an organiser and co-founder of Clockenflap. “What’s not to like?”
It’s an uncomplicated description, but Gym & Swim aren’t a complicated band. Chalerm, Pokpong, Terk, Hob, and Mudmee make bouncy, carefree electro pop that feels like an endless pool party. It’s easy to unwind to.
You could easily compare the band’s sound to the sort of shiny synth-based songwriting found on European labels like Kitsune, but the band say their inspirations come from less obviously musical places: “Our inspirations mostly came from the food in each country we visit,” they joke.
“We’re a totally unpretentious seven-piece indie rock band with lots of singing and guitars, and a brilliant drummer,” says Cheats guitarist Jason Caballa. “By ‘unpretentious’ I mean that every member’s contributions are important to the sound, and we like to rock out live.”
With seven people on-stage at any one time, the Filipino indie band are a lot of fun to watch live, with their three vocalists (two female – Saab Magalona and Candy Gamos – and one male – Jim Bacarro) lushly harmonising over a blend of riot grrrl, shoegaze, and power pop instrumentation. There’s something of a 90s alt-rock vibe to the group’s sound, emphasised by their on-stage fashion choices of oversized American football jerseys and varsity jackets.
“We really do enjoy playing together live,” says guitarist Jason Caballa. “Jim is a manic conductor, Candy and Saab command attention as singers, Manny is unwavering and rock-solid, Kyle always has some sonic tricks up his sleeve, and Enzo will make you dance.”