21 February, 2012

SMWHK – Pitch Yr Culture: Social media and the search for music

[at]smwhk #smwhk #smwPyc

We weren't sure what the audience for PyC #3 would be like – since we'd combined with Social Media Week, we knew we'd be drawing in a different crowd to the eclectic mix we normally attract.


We were grateful that XXX in Sheung Wan was the perfect venue for us: Collapsable chairs, lounging couches, one projector for presenters, another for the TBWA Socializer. What more could we ask for?


Searching in Chinatowns everywhere
We got under way with Adam Cheung (writer, programme editor at RTHK and 80s Canto and J-pop junkie). He doesn't download music, preferring to buy CDs (he enjoys the pleasure of unwrapping and playing it; he respects the musicians). But he's not an idealist, he can't avoid Hong Kong's storage space issues anymore than anyone else.

Along with a great story and sense of humour, Cheung brought along a 13-year overdue cassette tape from the main library in Toronto, which he waved around as he walked us through his teen years. In fact, Cheung was born in Hong Kong, but his parents tricked him into moving to Toronto, in 1989, by prefacing the move with a holiday around the USA. In the '90s he started to yearn for Cantopop and J-pop, finding random music in Chinatowns everywhere: Toronto, Boston, Montreal... all in the dollar boxes. (Now days, he roams around the Sino Centre (Mongkok) and Sham Shui Po.

Come 2007, YouTube entered his life, where he found old songs. Cheung points out, like many music fans, that things that were hard to find, are now searchable - and he misses the search. But he did find himself in an '80s canto music video for Sam Hui's 許冠傑, 甄妮 - 無敵是愛 on YouTube. He was about 6 at the time.

Three degrees of collaboration
Next up, we had Derek Bullen ("music is a hobby"), who was prepared to tell his own story of origination and downloading. It all started when he downloaded a music-making software. He made a track called Hopeless and sent it back to a friend – who commented on the sadness of the piece. Bullen was happy enough to have "transmuted his emotions into a song" – he was happy. His friend put the song online, along with his own songs, which also made Bullen happy, since he was "limited with social media". A few days later, a stranger who had downloaded the track, uploaded it to the same site, with additions. It's what Bullen calls "three degrees of collaboration" and the song maintains a certain touching lament. "Later, we all met up. But that's another presentation," he quips.

Ching Chong
The next presentation was set to be the funniest of the night. Artist and curator Isaac Leung hit the topic on the spot with the statement "social media can punish and reward you!"


Alexandra Wallace made news recently by YouTube-ing her rant, about Asians in her university library. Jimmy Wong took it upon himself to sing a reply in kind, and by now, both have had around 4million views. "Google Alexandra and you get hot pics. But now days you'll also see pictures of 'sexy' Asian guys," jokes Leung, who started 'following' Wong because, well, he's quite cute.

Before making us laugh non-stop for four minutes, Leung emphasises his initial point: "You'll also find stories online of people fired over social media." Wallace chose to stop attending classes at UCLA.

Hong Kong loves Facebook
Our fourth presentation came in Cantonese, along with a bilingual presentation, something that PyC is always grateful for (and perhaps a first for SMW?). Arto Leung (founder of Mugazine.net) talked about the sharing of information – and how Hong Kong loves Facebook (it's so true). But, echoing Cheung's sentiments, there's no surprise like finding the record you wanted.

That said, the Internet makes people "honest". They say when they hate an album... they complain and share, the like and share. So it changes society in a way. In keeping with his native-language presentation, Leung plays 困局 (dilemma) by local act, Ni.Ne.Mo, who were present at the event. Their song reminds me of Bloc Party.

Origins and re-writes
Blogger and YouTube channel member Ching Hoi made things interesting by presenting her own song. Well, originality already came up once in the evening, and it came up again here. As an amateur songwriter – and to promote a love of Cantopop – Ching decided to make a Canto version of the theme song from popular Taiwanese movie, Apple of my Eye.


She explains the difficulties of writing in Cantonese, which requires both tone matches and rhyming - you have to balance the tone and the lyrics, to be convincing. While she cares about the original song, she points out that re-writing and copying are two different things. And it's clear from their comments that her audience also cares about the original; some of them even offering new re-writes.

While it's convenient, sharing music on YouTube has also helped her to make new friends. "There's no need to promote and spend - just ask friends to share. I hope I will make more original songs of my own, too."

The silent approach
The sixth presentation of the evening was mostly silent. Reign Lee (Founder of Indie Mag; Singer/ songwriter) takes a great approach to both topic and style. Silent, with emphatic images making strong cultural references and setting the timeframe: The invasion of Kuwait, fall of Berlin wall, Sinead O'Connor refusing to play in the USA if their national anthem is played first. Frank Sinatra threatening to punch her.


Lee's social networks are real; human. While interviewing Aimee Mann recently, the conversation lead her to recall an old song she loved: Joey by Concrete Blonde. So from one social network, to another, we hear the song that deeply inspired her as a musician.

Being human and socialising: We all need to be loved
Our final presenter (almost ironically) presents The Smiths' How Soon Is Now. I say that, because Stuart Lennon (Senior Communications Manager for Animals Asia; Singer/ songwriter; Co-host Crosswires HK) willingly jumped onto the PyC roster just a week before the event.

In his early days, Lennon was all about distortion and screaming – so he didn't know this song in '84 when it first came out as a B-side. As a punk/ metal/ anything heavy fan, Indie and Britpop wasn't his thing - and so he admits to first hearing this song as a cover by metal act paradise lost.

But his friends all loved Indie and Britpop, so it was almost peer pressure that lead him to embrace the original. He decided it was one of the best music videos he'd seen, blending audio and visual, yet ironically, The Smiths hated it and pretty much disowned it.

But that's just fodder and Lennon gets to the point. "The chorus lyrics speak to two key aspects of being human and socialising".

You shut your mouth, how can you say
I go about things the wrong way?
I am human and I need to be loved
Just like everybody else does 

"The first half speaks to Internet trolls. The second is the flip side of the human condition – wanting to connect, be in tune. Hating and loving. That's why we constantly check our Facebook to see how loved we are – or tweet about tweeting."

He finishes poignantly, "its a shame that as we use these social networks, we forget that as we want to be loved, everyone else does."

// Wait – he has an end note: "By the way, I stole my images from the Internet, but i don't illegally download music. And I made this presentation using an app on my phone."//

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