If there is one thing that Madonna, Daniel Barenboim, the Foo Fighters, Weezer, il Opera di Verona, the Roots, and Dave Matthews have in common, besides all being Jewish, it is their ability to rock the muthafucking house, even if that house is a 20,000 seat stadium and you're sitting way out in seat no. 19,768, which happens to be on the side of the stage, facing the left speakers, from an angle at which even reggie miller couldn't sink a three pointer. There is something about the spirit of the masses that these bands can harness, no matter how drunk or disinterested the audience, or how impersonal the setting or the ticket price. Seeing Radiohead from far away or up close (we got to that concert 8 hours in advance) is almost the same.
Maybe Franz Ferdinand isn't one of those bands. The low energy of their Valentine's Day show in Hong Kong might suggest as much. Orrrrr, maybe they are one of those bands. After all, their entire aesthetic is informed by zeitgeist-molding Party art, quite appropriate given their kraut wave musical leanings and their actual mass culture control, to the point where they pretty much have completely outdone the real Franz Ferdiand on the global stage (google the words, that's all I'm saying). And in the proletarian style nonetheless--check Alex's triumph-of-the-music pose.
(Funny how their simultaneous appropriation of his name and their embrace of socialist realist styles encapsulate the trickery of cool-hunting, trend-setting bands and the corporations that drive them--though in this case, I think Franz Ferdinand are being clever. Their schtick is actually not a schtick I think so much as an obsession with design and a rough stab at commentary on hip and corporate culture--aren't they valuably pointing up the great disparity between artifice and art? Thank Lenin their music is so good.)
Maybe the problem is that Hong Kong is just a freaky, pathetic exception--a place where no amount of crowd-prodding and zeitgeist-stoking could rile people to do more than whip out their camera phones and message their friends about it. Didn't these people know it was Valentine's Day?
Hong Kong's live pop music scene, according to a British guy I met before the show who tells club kid wannabes what to do, is apparently analogous to the rest of the art scene: a small number of large promoters book only the biggest names (Oasis, R.E.M., Paul van Dyk, Queen (?)) into arenas that aren't quite made for music (see HITEC below). Costs are so high for security, taxes, fees, and more fees, and still more fees, that only the fancy people (who have only likely heard of the bands) can afford the crazy ticket prices (US$60-120), leaving all those hardcore and poor students (or English teachers) at home. I take that back, some English teachers make a lot of cash. A lot. Buuuut, then again, they need that money to pay rent. Unless of course they live inside their own art studio. (Adrian, let's talk later, maybe I could borrow some cubes?)
Anyway, the end result, you can imagine, is that the band plays to an audience that's there for the experience more than the music. (See how the band starts to feel about being dragged around between concerts like this, above.) Not that bankers and movie stars and privleged school girls don't like Franz Ferdiand. It's just that they're too busy sending text messages or preening to be very bothered.
(If it's not obvious, I have a text message complex. I am not 2 good at it. That's why I'm practicing by writing this whole entry from my fone. n jk.)
Aside from the problem of demand, the hkclubbing guy also pointed out that Hong Kong lacks a good supply of small or medium-sized places for bands like the Kings of Convenience to play. And less exposure to outsiders only leads to less interest. There is some interest of course: Gary at White Noise Records, a brilliant little light in the dark of independent, outsider music, loves acts like Laura Veirs and Mimi Segue and Themselves, and knows the people in Hong Kong who want to see come to Hong Kong, all five of them (plus me). When will it happen, Gary? "Oh, never!" he says gleefully. Sometimes he has them in his store, but like most venues open to hosting futuristic stuff, it's pretty tiny.
Apparently Sigur Ros has had enough exposure here to fill HITEC, which they're playing in early April. Another easy metaphor for the profit-obsessed, bureaucracy-laden situation.
HITEC is truly a world-class commercial complex with integrated facilities that offers you the most versatile solution to your business.
-the HITEC website
I could end with that quote and rest my case, but frustration, and a bit of nostalgia, kicks in. Could there be a place much farther from HITEC than Boston's Avalon club, where, three years ago, in my halcyon college days, Sigur Ros transported me as I stood right in front of the stage, completely oblivious to the non-passive agressive stabs I was getting in the back from short and angry hipsters. (I still feel tall guilt everytime I'm at a standing in between someone and a stage.)
This song--"Not Getting Better" by a band called The Hong Kong (American I think) -- could be a theme song for our situation. I hope not.
But the song is good. So maybe that means something.
To end on a positive note, Cantopop offers another story altogether--a film tie-in, bubblegum and glitch-pop tale that deserves litany or praise from someone who has actually given it a good listen. It seems refreshing, and it's vibrant here, along with some more progressive genres that flirt with folk, electronica and post rock, supported by concerned programs like this and this. Hong Kong is in some ways the capital of cantopop and rock, and I'm hoping to see more of it. Yes, there are a lot of short hipsters here, but I'm sure they're not as agressive.
And we can't forget of course about the truly impressive Filipino cover bands (we'll ignore that one night of all Black Eyed Peas all the time). Somehow, their audiences get as excited about the music as they do about the young Southeast Asian girls "on their day off" they're feeling up. That's another musical experience.