Lam Ah-P (left) and Ho Shan, members of Local indie group "Forever Tarkovsky Club"
HONG KONG: Hong Kong has always taken pride in its reputation for fostering a distinctive creativity recognized as avant garde and even edgy. Recent years have seen things get even edgier. There was, for example, the pas des deux involving one music group and law enforcement concerning a "showcase" venue. It began with an event billed as the "Christmas Half-Nude Party", the debut concert of the local indie group, "Forever Tarkovsky Club". Publicity for the event was augmented by a photo that was "edgy". Concert title and photo set some into a moral frenzy. Media, never averse to lurid tales, furnished a wealth of pre-concert publicity with sensational reporting and before long, a musical concert had become transformed in the minds of many into an orgy.
Thus, neither the "Christmas Half-Nude Party" nor any items of wearing apparel ever came off. What did happen was that all the frenzy aroused the attention of local law enforcement.
"We walked out of the Wan Chai Police Station with the advice that it's illegal to host a public function in a private premise. After that we canceled the gig," said the band's two members Ho Shan and Lam Ah-P. "It was a case of the music being silenced under moral pressure from media and law enforcement."
"Forever Tarkovsky Club" cancelled its debut concert. All that remained were the lubricious images shared among wildly titillated regulars of an online form and perhaps a sense of achievement among those who opposed the event without ever finding out what they were opposing.
Original publicity photos for the band's music performance, "Christmas Half-Nude Party" Photos courtesy of "Forever Tarkovsky Club"
Crime of music
The premise the duo chose for the grand debut concert is the Foo Tak Building. It's a commercial-cum-residential building in Wan Chai, known to be the residence of artists and art organizations. In keeping with the spirit of indie music shows, the band planned an intimate mini-concert for an audience of 16 in a vacant unit of the building.
As Lam remarked, the band specified in its Facebook posting that the performance was not to be racy, sexy or even "half nude." "The title 'Christmas Half-Nude Party' is the name of one of our songs. We made it very clear that the audience had the choice whether they wanted to pay for admission to the gig."
Despite the disclaimer and enthusiastic response from music lovers, a few of the event's promotional photos spelt trouble. The black and white portraits featured the band and their female friend Siu Ding, who posed half-nude with a keyboard across her chest. Within hours she became the focus of much fascination in a local online forum noted for its fixation with all topics "macho".
"Some guys tracked down her personal blog and photos, and posted them for everyone to see," Ho recalled. "In the next few days, both our Facebook posting and our music video on Youtube were deleted. Then there were stories in two local Chinese newspapers that called us 'netizens recruiting for a Christmas half-nude party'."
According to Lam, the newspapers never approached him or his fellow band member asking for an interview. He pointed out the stories made no reference to the band's name or that a band was organizing the event. "They spoke to the residents of the Foo Tak Building, to lawyers and to the police. The whole thing was so distorted that they made us look like sickos planning an orgy."
All that is what led to Ho and Lam being taken, inevitably, to the Wan Chai Police Station on December 23, four days before the band's big night was to take place. In the hour-long meeting, the two band members laid out their case before the Technology Crime Division of the Crime Prevention Bureau (CPB).
"The CPB had second-hand sources like Siu Ding's blog and the online forum posts," Lam elaborated. "In the end they accepted that we're musicians, but reminded us of the media reports. Finally they cautioned that we'd be in breach of the law if we held a show without a license."
While the police declined to comment on the particular case, a spokesperson said that to organize any public activity or event in an establishment not licensed as a place of public entertainment is an infringement of Chapter 172 of the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance.
"But that's how independent bands have always run their shows. Our experience is just an example of the dilemma we face as musicians," Ho argued. "The good thing is that it sparked some lively discussions online and in local independent media. The discussion is all very fair-minded and there's been a lot of support for us."
The cancellation of the group's original concert might prove a blessing in disguise for Ho and Lam. On December 28, 2008, the band debuted at Kubrick, a bookstore in Yau Ma Tei. The concert was renamed, in all sober seriousness and strait laced propriety, the "Healthy Moral Christmas Party". And the duo debuted a new original tune, "The Misadventure in Wan Chai Police Station".
For all the sarcastic overtones, the one-hour concert drew an audience of over 100. It was featured on RTHK TV. The band's new found notoriety also attracted the attention of some mainstream music lovers, who checked out the band's blog and music videos orbiting out in cyberspace.
Besides the new found attention, Ho said the course of events opened a fresh interaction between the band and the audience. "In the past we tended to hang out with our friends, to create and perform in private. Now we get feedback from strangers on Facebook and through other channels."
Named after the late Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, "Forever Tarkovsky Club" started two years ago as a small circle of friends gathered to screen movies.The gatherings evolved into sessions, at which Ho played experimental guitar compositions and Lam recited his poetry.
"Our club is really a collaborative effort; our friends participate in the meetings through a wide range of mediums, like modern dance and stage magic," Lam emphasized. "Shan and me are the band because we're responsible for the music. We have a German artist friend who creates our videos."
The band's music revolves around diverse themes, from social responsibility, poverty and prostitution, to cult movies and the club's persuasion to anarchy. A standout piece is "Please don't go flag-selling in Sham Shui Po", which pokes fun at the absurdity of fund-raising in one of the poorest districts of Hong Kong.
"We wrote the song after we saw someone doing it in Sham Shui Po on a Monday. In reality, flag-selling activities by approved charities are organized on Wednesdays and Saturdays," Lam recalled. "It was a dodgy business. It's ironic how the poor in Hong Kong get exploited rather than getting helped."
Following the legal entanglements over the canceled gig, Ho said the band will aim to host its future concerts in venues that are properly licensed public entertainment venues, like the Fringe Club in Central. "We'll have a fuller line-up featuring our friends, though the performance will still be spontaneous."
The two young men have much to look forward to in 2009. Apart from the debut album of "Forever Tarkovsky Club" in April, Ho will release a new album with his band Pixel Toy. Lam will also launch a new release with his band My Little Airport, which has signed record deals in Spain, Korea, Taiwan and the mainland.
It is impossible to survive as full-time independent musicians in Hong Kong. Thus, both Ho and Lam have other commitments, including working for a living. There is some identity conflict among alternative music groups whose members often embrace labels of rogue, rebel renegade and so on, against the artistic imperative to wider acceptance, as independent musicians seek recognition for their works.
"By nature, independent bands cater to a small and alternative audience, though we also try to attract the mainstream audience sometimes. A challenge for the local independent art scene is that most youngsters are unwilling to spend time pursuing their passion. Still, it's no excuse for us not to work hard on what we do," Ho concluded.
(HK Edition 01/24/2009 page4)