SAAL is a DIY live music venue which opened in its latest location in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong area in 2016. It was one of the few smaller-scale spaces in Hong Kong in which local experimental musicians could cut their teeth, as well as a destination for like-minded artists visiting from abroad. There aren’t many such small places for experimental performance in Hong Kong, and so SAAL (taken from the German, meaning a small hall, room, or chamber) represented an important part of the underground music scene here. In 2020 the owners, Leo and William, placed SAAL on hiatus due to the COVID-19 situation as well for various other reasons, so in this interview I wanted to ask them about the development of SAAL, what the space represented for them, for the artists that made use of it, and for Hong Kong more generally, and why they closed the space and their plans for the future. Along the way they pay tribute to their colleague Albert Leung who passed away in 2019, and why noise music in particular needs live spaces to be experienced.
Date of original interview: 22 October 2021; UPDATED: February 2023
This interview with Steve Hui, aka Nerve, originally took place in October 2021, and was part of my PhD research into the live-streaming of experimental music in Hong Kong and Mainland China during the COVID-19 restrictions. Hui is an artist, educator, and co-founder of the Twenty Alpha live venue that has been situated in the Foo Tak Building in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district since March 2018. Twenty Alpha has become one of the main venues in Hong Kong for non-mainstream music and performance generally, and with the COVID-19 restrictions became a base for broadcasting events when audiences could not be invited in. This interview reviews Hui’s approaches to performance over this period, both the broadcasts from Twenty Alpha, as well as the group and solo performances he took part in the tunnels, walkways, and trams of Hong Kong, some of which were live-streamed.
This blog post marks a return to the originally intended subject matter of my recently-completed PhD – that being a study of the physical spaces for the performance of experimental music and sound art in China. Such was my original direction, before the outbreak of COVID-19 forced performance spaces to close (temporarily or, in some cases, permanently), and all public gatherings to be restricted, a situation which led me to consider live-streaming as a space of performance for many of the same artists under these conditions. So here we are, in the long-tail of COVID-19, and while in the near future I plan to return to Mainland China to resume my fieldwork, in the meantime there are spaces in Hong Kong, where I live, that I can learn from.
The interview below stemmed from my first visit to Peng Chau, one of the outer islands of Hong Kong and an hour’s ferry trip from the main urban area of the city. That trip was for a performance by Karen Yu and Olivier Cong, part of a series of experimental music events organised by the musician Nelson Hiu and hosted by the Islander’s Space bookshop. Through Nelson I contacted Kit Chan, one of the owners of Islander’s Space, and had a conversation with him about the space and its relation to the performance of experimental music, and the island’s overall social dynamic. Many thanks to Kit for his time and patience on this.
Back in 2003, in an ecstatic review of the Sounding Beijing festival for The Wire magazine, Steve Barker wrote about a “stone-killer electro-nerd star” named Zhou Pei , and in 2017 Yan Jun’s history of experimental music in China recorded that Zhou’s music was “amateur electronica/avant-pop” . Zhou has therefore been active since the very early days of experimental electronic music in China, and continues to perform and release material under a series of artist names, including Ronez, Karassage, and OddChordSpace, reflecting the diverse styles of sound he is producing. Zhou, however, still considers himself an “outsider” artist, living in Guilin city, in South China’s Guangxi Province, away from the major conurbations where experimental music has usually been found in China, so I got in touch with him by email to ask about his music and life in experimental music.