What specific shape has localism taken since 2009? What role has HK’s indie music arena played? In part 4 of his 10-part report, Elliott Wan makes the connection between between several activities and incidents. 本土精神強調本地生活、經驗的累積是身份認同的資源，自主生活的底。獨立音樂佔了個甚麼角色？
*feature image: photo taken by 低質·攝影
Local Identity & Indie Music
Localism refers to a political movement that focuses on the preservation of Hong Kong’s identity and autonomy (Kwong 63). The localism movement includes a wide spectrum of views and politics, ranging from advocating greater autonomy and the continuation of ‘one country two systems’, to independence for Hong Kong and complete separation from China. The localist viewpoints are based on a strong sense of local identity and object to the Beijing government’s growing political encroachment of HK’s political, economic and social affairs. Culturally, advocates of localism usually treasure arts and culture they call their own; music, films, and entertainment that are not tainted by the kind of political censorship rampant in China.
Recently, ‘localism’ has risen in popularity within the general Hong Kong public as a reaction towards political stagnation and diminishing freedoms (Lam 585). The notion that one’s own culture should be defended resonates with a lot of people, and a vast majority of people see the preservation of Hong Kong’s own culture as vital and crucial to the development of the city. This was reflected with the election of localists during the 2016 Legislative Council Election, the 2019 District Council Elections and the 2020 pro-Democratic Legislative Council mock primaries. This brought localism and the preservation of one’s culture within the mainstream political discourse, evident by numerous amounts of bands and artists interacting with localist groups, advocating the use of Cantonese within songs, as well as upholding traditional rock and punk music ideals such as anti-authoritarianism, equality, and liberty.
The Summer Blossom Festival
As a result of the on-going pro-democratic protests, event organisers from This Town Needs and Zuk Studio curated the Summer Blossom Festival [繁花音樂祭] in support of Spark Alliance [星火同盟抗爭支援], an organisation which financed bail payments to those arrested during the protests. Twelve local bands and artists were invited to participate in this event, all of which played at the festival pro bono, as the event’s entire revenues were to be donated to Spark Alliance in support of arrested protestors (This Town Needs).
The National Security Law
The fallout of the National Security Law enacted by Beijing onto Hong Kong during the summer of 2020 came quick and strong. Even though the new law posed question and concerns regarding the legality of the mock primaries, the pan-democratic camp held their primaries just 10 days after the new imposed law. With over 10 percent of the eligible electorate voting, the response rate was enough to cross the threshold set by the organisers as a significant election. Within the six-hundred thousand voters, over 54% of the popular vote went to localist candidates, with traditional democrats receiving just under 43% of the vote. This primary election was considered a landmark event, rejecting traditional pan-democratic establishment candidates in favour of hard-line, radical localists (Kaeding 157, Lam 585).
Pan-democratic legislative councillors resigned en masse in an act of protest against the disqualification of primary candidates. In February 2021, 47 candidates out of the total 52 were arrested and charged with ‘conspiracy to commit subversion’ under the new national security law.
The rejection of traditional democratic politicians in favour of young, inexperienced localist candidates further shows that the discourse of localism has consolidated further in mainstream thinking among young people. This sort of ‘political awakening’ calls upon citizens to preserve and treasure their own cultures and values. Specifically, the use of Cantonese, shared ideas, and the distrust towards the Chinese government led to the re-valuation of local music [本土音樂].
With Beijing and the Hong Kong government making electoral reforms, making pan-democratic petitions nearly impossible and leaving localist candidates disqualified, the mainstream, play-safe political discourse in Hong Kong shifted in favour of the pro-establishment camp. The prohibition of the anti-establishment, pro-democratic candidates from the Legislative Council further pushes the localist movement away from the limelight and into the underground.
Local Identity Through Music: language and ideals of the “Hong Kong Identity”
The identity of Hong Kong is a unique combination of traditional Eastern cultures and traditions with Western ideals and world views.
While the official languages of Hong Kong are both English and Chinese, Cantonese remains a language for everyday communication; Cantonese is central to the identity and pride of people in Hong Kong (Moody 113).
Kwok Ching-yi believes that the culture of rock bands and rock music have gained more attention in the mainstream during the early 2010s, as compared to the mid 2000s. He points out Chochukmo and My Little Airport as examples of successful local independent bands that have become known beyond the community of local music subculture. These trans-local artists and bands can use various online platforms to achieve a wider dissemination of their words – from proper recordings to videos of their live performances (Kwok, 31). Furthermore, My Little Airport utilizes Cantonese along with an indie pop sound for their music. This brought the Hong Kong identity to a wider audience, including audiences from the expatriate community in Hong Kong, including that of Taiwan and mainland China. Meanwhile, Chochukmo uses math rock and English within their songs, captivating audiences beyond Hong Kong and into the Anglosphere (84).
The perceived importance of the use of Hong Kong’s language, Cantonese, within music and art rose as a result of the increasing support for localism and its implied ideals. (Moody 115, Lai 380) However, many musicians did not agree with the idea that Cantonese must be used in their music to protect the Cantonese language and assert one’s local identity; rather, musicians continue to use English as their language of choice, believing that writing in English as a non-native user can “even highlight one’s identity as a citizen of Hong Kong, a postcolonial city with Chinese and English as official languages (Lai 87).” Besides, individualistic identities present in many independent musicians may resonate with the rebellion against the norm of using Cantonese in Hong Kong popular music.
Since the inception of rock and punk music within Western countries such as the UK and the US, core ideals such as anti-authoritarianism, equality, liberty (Moran 64) and anti-capitalism (Ferdinandi 13), translated from these genres to within the band sound in Hong Kong. Leung, however, believes that capitalism is unchallengeable; rather, the labels and artists of Hong Kong seem to be “exploring an alternative mode of economic production and distribution with different and innovative ideas, by proposing alternatives for music production, distribution, and consumption (Leung 121).”
The independent music community often overlapped with the activist community (Hugo Fu), creating opportunities for both community circles to overlap, as evident in events such as the Summer Blossom Festival, where revenues were being donated to groups who support arrested democratic protestors financially, all while exposing individuals with similar political views to the independent musicians and music of Hong Kong.
Ferdinandi, Dillon. “The Only Band That Matters”: An Analysis of the Relationship Between Punk Rock and Culture, digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=comssp.
Kaeding, Malte Philipp. “The Rise of ‘Localism’ in Hong Kong.” Journal of Democracy, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 157–171., doi:10.1353/jod.2017.0013.
Kwok, Ching-yi. Spaces for Subculture: Case Studies of Hidden Agenda and Warehouse in Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong, 2012, hub.hku.hk/handle/10722/177297.
Kwong, Ying-ho. “The Growth of ‘Localism’ in Hong Kong.” China Perspectives, vol. 2016, no. 3, 2016, pp. 63–68., doi:10.4000/chinaperspectives.7057.
Lai, Mee-Ling. “Language Attitudes of the First Postcolonial Generation in Hong Kong Secondary Schools.” Language in Society, vol. 34, no. 03, 2005, doi:10.1017/s004740450505013x.
Lam, Jermain T.M. “Localist Challenges and the Fragmentation of THE PAN-DEMOCRATIC Camp in Hong Kong.” Asian Education and Development Studies, vol. 9, no. 4, 2020, pp. 579–589., doi:10.1108/aeds-08-2018-0144.
Leung, Pui Yee. “Selling Out the Indie Music? Re-Examining the Independence of Hong Kong Indie Music in the Early 21st Century.” 2014.
Moody, Asako M. “Construction of a Localist Hong Kong Identity Using Cantonese.” Horizons, vol. 5, no. 1, ser. 23, 18 Dec. 2020. 23, kahualike.manoa.hawaii.edu/horizons/vol5/iss1/23.
Moran , Ian P. “Punk: The Do-It-Yourself Subculture .” Social Sciences Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, 2010, repository.wcsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://scholar.google.com/&httpsredi r=1&article=1074&context=ssj.
This Town Needs. 用音樂傳遞信念 讓繁花繼續盛放 – 27/8 繁花音樂祭, 23 Aug. 2019, 23:01, www.facebook.com/Thistownneeds/photos/a.138804342845932/2519960358063640/?t ype=3.
This Town Needs. “This Town Needs Farewell.” Facebook, www.facebook.com/Thistownneeds/posts/2923802641012741. Thomson, Scott, and Karen Ng. “COVID-19 and the Creative Music Ecology.” Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études Critiques En Improvisation, vol. 14, no. 1, 2021, doi:10.21083/csieci.v14i1.6424.
Biography. Creative media graduate Elliott Wan is a co-founder of local promoter group Ying Dak Collective as well as the front-person for local indie rock act Strange Lives and post-punk project KVYLE. Elliott ended their bachelor’s studies by analysing how events in recent years, namely the closure of This Town Needs, the rise of localism, and the pandemic have affected the local independent music industry. They will begin their postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds fall 2021, aiming to continue their studies and research regarding the sociology, economy, and psychology within the music industry and ecosystem.