By Arthur Tam
You might have noticed the giant orange microphone near the Two to Tango sculpture in Dorset House. It means PROJECT AFTER 6: The Buskers is fast approaching. Ahead of the event, we catch up with two of Universal Music Hong Kong’s rising stars, AGA and Adrian Fu, to talk about their backgrounds, their perspectives on our city’s music industry and their advice for the performers who, like them, will also be busking at Taikoo Place.
I started busking when I was around 16 years old around Central and Causeway Bay, but in about 10 minutes, the police would always come and stop my guitarist and me.
That’s why PROJECT AFTER 6: The Buskers is a great programme. It gives a platform for young talented people to perform and an audience to enjoy their music.
The local music industry is going through a revolution at the moment. You see more and more musicians who are not as reliant on music labels. They can just upload their music online and promote themselves.
Before I got into the industry, I was a flight attendant and studying music arrangement and composition at the same time. Then I got my break when I was about 21 and met the number one music producer in Hong Kong, Shuman. I wanted to be a singer-songwriter, but he said I needed to work more on composing so he decided to teach me. I started writing songs for different artists, and one of my songs was picked up by artist Kary Ng. That’s when Universal Music decided to sign me.
I just love what I do. Music has always been part of my life. My dad is a rock musician and has been educating me about music since I was a little girl and it has always been something I wanted to pursue. When I write songs, it doesn't feel like I’m working. It’s just me making my art and I don't think about the results.
Last year when I had my first concert, I was really happy and now I'm ready to write a lot of R&B and groovy stuff to reflect that. R&B is always sidelined in Hong Kong, and my label was hesitant when I wanted 3AM to be my first plug of the year. But I worked on it for half a year and convinced them that R&B is something that I love. It represents me and I believe there is an audience for it here.
My all-time favourite artist is Stevie Wonder. He always inspires me. Recently I have been listening to a lot of Nirvana and Coldplay and I would love to collaborate with Chris Martin.
Right now I’m planning for my next concert; it’s going to be my biggest concert yet. To coincide with it, I’m coming out with my next full-length album, Ashley. There is going to be 10 songs, and I'm trying to experiment with different types of music. It's like my little Lemonade project (famous experimental project of Beyonce). I’m going to keep making things work in Cantonese and in my way.
To the buskers at Taikoo Place, I just have to say: sing like nobody is listening!
I was incarcerated when I was three: I didn’t have a childhood and studied piano 365 days a year.
At first, it was because of my tiger mom, but then I became competitive. I needed to practise more and outperform these kids that were beating me at competitions. It became an obsession.
But then I burnt out and didn’t touch the piano for a few years, until I was driving home one night from school and I heard this John Coltrane song that inspired me to write my first song, We Are Lonely, which went to Eason Chan.
I started writing songs, but I had a full-time job working for a technology company in corporate marketing and PR. I also used to work at John Swire & Sons for under a year. When I wasn’t working, I spent all my free time writing songs.
My songs were picked up in Taiwan for a TV drama, but my publisher was struggling to find a singer, so they asked me to do it. Then Rock Records in Taiwan approached me and asked if I would like a record deal. This was back in 2013. I came out with my first album in Mandarin, which is always why a lot of people mistake me for being Taiwanese, but I’m from Hong Kong. I was nominated that year for best newcomer at the Golden Melody Awards.
I didn’t continue the relationship with Rock Records because I felt like Hong Kong was home. I wanted to do more Cantonese music, not only as a Hong Kong person but quite honestly because there are business opportunities here. A lot of people are looking into Mandarin music because of how big the China market is, but they forget that there are people that still listen to Cantonese music, even in China. After returning to Hong Kong, I signed with Universal.
For the past 15 years, Hong Kong pop music has been driven by karaoke culture and not necessarily for the love of music. It gave birth to a formulaic and monotonous form of music. But at the same time, occasionally, even though formulaic, you’ll get a really good Cantonese song like Eason Chan’s Beneath Mount Fuji or Candy Lo’s Deep Blue. Now, you see more buskers, guys on the Internet and indie, underground musicians. A lot of people in Hong Kong say music is dead, but that’s so far from the truth. It’s chaotic. I’ve been so inspired by all the compassion and empathy among musicians that I see amid all this chaos.
I used to busk and play with a band called Helter Skelter. I found whatever gig I could because I enjoyed performing, but I don’t necessarily enjoy being in front of the camera. I’ve always been quite reactive with my music career and can be content just being a songwriter. It’s pure enjoyment every time I write a song.
PROJECT AFTER 6: The Buskers is a fantastic programme because everyone wants to play their music and have it heard. Swire Properties does a lot for arts in Hong Kong. It’s good that they focus on both the grand stuff and the small things like busking.
As I’m getting older, I’m becoming more philosophical about music. I've been listening to different types of music and used more technology in my work. I’m working on this song that will be released later this year with an arrangement that mixes a bass clarinet and bassoon-like sound with an electronic and trap beat. If I am going to risk it, I'm going to go balls deep in it.
Right now I have a new single that's going to be out in a week. I'm also writing songs for a Chinese artist and possibly a South Korean one and a Japanese one. In addition, I'm also working with these producers in Finland through FaceTime. There is no geographical limitation for me.
To the buskers at Taikoo Place, plan, prepare and do your homework as much as you can beforehand. But then the second you go on stage forget all of that. You might never get your next gig, I might never get my next gig, so just enjoy it.
PROJECT AFTER 6: The Buskers [event details]