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Hong Kong in the 60s: Modern Dreamy Nostalgia

23 September 2011

“Nowadays, it’s so easy to hear music from any place or period, and for us, music from the past and/or from other countries is just much more interesting and inspiring than what’s going on here and now. We can’t help creating our own nostalgic vision of places and times that we never experienced. The dream is more romantic and colorful than everyday reality.”

It’s hard to disagree with Christopher Greenberg, one-third of the London-based indie-pop trio Hong Kong in the 60s. This summer they released their debut album, My Fantoms, a dreamy, sunny psychedelic pop record that recalls Stereolab, Broadcast, Everything But The Girl and Saint Etienne. Additional flourishes lead the band down roads that include Brazilian and Japanese pop as well as Krautrock. If it sounds like a heady sonic stew, don’t worry—their recipe works!

“When we first got together, our shared reference points were Blonde Redhead, Stereolab and Broadcast, as well as films directors Wong Kar-Wai and Dario Argento.  We also all felt that we couldn’t really relate to what was going on in the “mainstream” of alternative music,” Greenberg states. “We knew from the start of the band that we wanted to make pop music of some sort, but we weren’t sure how or in what way we would do it. When we started collecting and playing old Casio keyboards, that shaped the direction of the band a lot. Evolution is natural, and it’s often unintentional – if we try to go in one particular direction, we usually end up somewhere else entirely. We often find that a particular artist or song will inspire us to create something that sounds completely unlike them.”

What makes the experience of listening to My Fantoms even more enjoyable is the dreamy vocals of Mei Yau Kan. Yet for all her loveliness, it seems that vocals—also shared by the other members of the band—are merely a flourish, and not a focus. “Vocals and lyrics are important to us, but not any more important than the other aspects of the music. That is to say that they’re not the central focus of our music, but rather just part of the overall patchwork.”

Another impressive feature of My Fantoms is how it begins in a soft, gentle pop manner, yet ends on a trippy, almost krautrock note. To this writer, the method of exploring styles and genres in such a way made me think that the band spent a good deal of time sequencing the album. “Yeah, we wanted the album to transport the listener, so sequencing was very important. We spent a long time thinking about it, and probably tried every combination and arrangement of tracks before settling on the final order. Our idea was to sequence the album to take the listener through from early evening to daybreak. It wasn’t so literal in the end, but we certainly have a conceptual side – even if it’s a bit vague – and we’re now starting to think of story lines for the next album.”

Of course, having released their record, one would expect them to look towards performance as part of their next move. “Playing live is a challenge, as it’s not always easy to get across music that is understated and atmospheric. Add to that our temperamental equipment and limited skills as instrumentalists, and it can be difficult to achieve what we want. We’re moving away from trying to meticulously recreate our recorded songs live, and what we enjoy most onstage is deconstructing our songs completely and taking them in new, often improvised directions.”

“We’d love to tour properly and play in around the world some day, and of course, we want to keep developing our music. We’ve just started working on new material and we don’t yet know where it will lead.”