Every so often a musician comes along that captures the mood of a city, or at least a certain subset of its time and population. George Gershwin’s compositions embodied the bittersweet optimism of the striver’s New York; more recently, LCD Soundsystem evokes the disaffection felt in the gentrified, Bloomberg-era city. And what better represents the angst and aimlessness of 1990s Montreal than the melodramatic nihilism of Godspeed You! Black Emperor?
If anyone can be said to capture the zeigeist of Hong Kong in the early 2010s, it’s Choi Sai-ho, the experimental electronic musician and video artist who I profiled last year for CNNGo. His frenetic music feeds on Hong Kong’s relentless entrepreneurial drive, something that created created remarkable wealth in the 1970s and 80s but which lost its purpose after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. Hong Kong today is a hamster in a cage, spinning furiously with nowhere to go. The desire for constant advancement and enrichment has been perverted into a kind of civic OCD that, if left untreated, could leave the city utterly debilitated. Already the signs are there, including a yawning wealth gap that is growing larger every year.
Normally, Choi’s music is accompanied by video, but on a cool night earlier this year, he performed outdoors with the dancer Daniel Yeung, as part of Kung Chi-shing’s eclectic Street Music Series. Yeung interpreted two of Choi’s tracks on the sidewalk in front of the Hong Kong Art Centre, in the monolithic office district of Wan Chai North. For the first piece, “Map Dealers” — probably Choi’s most poppy and accessible piece to date — Yeung incorporated many elements of the surrounding street furniture. But it was the second, “Spinning,” which you can see above, that best represented Hong Kong’s kinetic energy and its desperate search for an outlet.
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