(Photo from Choi’s Facebook page)
The dense skyscrapers, bustling streets, dazzling city light and fast-paced life – Hong Kong, a metropolis integrating all these elements, provides fertile soil for Choi Sai-ho’s electronic music creations. This 32-year-old musician often dresses neatly in a plain-colored shirt and wears a pair of black-frame glasses. He smiles shyly when talking in front of people and sometimes scratches his head; but when performing, he becomes as dynamic as his music.
“I want to show the energy of the city through the music. Electronic music is different from other mainstream music. It’s very energetic, and the beats can punch your heart. I want to express the kind of excitement,” Choi says.
Born in the 1980s, Choi grew up in the golden days of Canto pop music. Although he learned the violin and was a fan of the pop music, he never thought he would become a musician but rather a graphic design. Also, his idea about music performance was still traditional at that time: he thought there should be musicians playing instruments on a stage.
However, the stereotype was overturned in 2002.
The first time Choi was exposed to electronic music was when the Chemical Brothers, a British band, came to HK and gave a performance. Choi was amazed by the powerful music played without any use of instrument, only machines.
Because of this, an idea started to burgeon in his mind: was it possible to only use a computer and audio software to do electronic music on his own?
“The good thing is when you are a student, you can do whatever you want to. At the same time, you can observe if you want to be a musician in Hong Kong,” Choi says. “To me, I didn’t think a lot. I just did what I wanted and saw what would happen.”
Choi completed his bachelor and master degrees of fine arts in creative media at City University of Hong Kong. Inspired by the cityscape and culture, he combined unique Hong Kong elements into his music and video production. He is not showcasing Hong Kong deliberately but offers himself a way to express his feeling about this city spontaneously.
As an independent electronic musician and audio-visual artist, Choi takes full charge of his album production, sales and promotion. He considers it relates to the local DIY culture. Last year, Choi released his second album “Sync” with 16 tracks, and collaborated with local artists, such as Jan Curious as well as Wong Jing, for some of the songs.
(Cover of Choi’s album “Sync” from Local Press)
Choi describes his brain as a library, as the result of long-term persistent reading, listening and thinking. He is never satisfied with repeating the same thing he has done before but tries to innovate in every composition. Musicalizing natural sound is one of his innovative approaches. Choi once held his digital recorder to recorded the storm and thunder, and put them into his composition, when composing a song for a Martial-hero Dance Drama, Storm Clouds, of the Hong Kong Dance Company.
Apart from the cooperation with the dance company and the Hong Kong Arts Festival in Hong Kong, Choi has received invitations from some global electronic music community, such as VideoBrazil festival, Worldtronics in Berlin and the Electron Festival in Switzerland.
“My music is the mainstream internationally, but in HK is another story,” he says.
Choi notices that unlike Western audiences, Hong Kong audiences don’t easily show their expressions, which makes it difficult to know whether they like the music or not. He jokes that it is like playing in front of graves, which don’t move but sit under the stage staring at the performer.
Even Choi’s parents don’t understand what their son is doing when they come to watch his shows. Using only computer and gears to play the music, in Choi’s words, it looks as if he is checking email on stage. But still, Choi doesn’t want people to think that he is doing nothing but simply pressing the button. Instead, he wants to show the audience the process of playing electronic music.
“The moment standing on the stage is very different.” He needs to synchronize the gears, the pattern, the video with the background track at the same time. He is not ashamed of making mistakes. “At least, it tells people I am not faking.”
If say the city is an angel that endows Choi with endless inspirations, it’s also a devil that sets difficulties for him to survive. Apart from the immature audience, independent musicians are also faced with the high rent of performance sites, tiny spaces for practice, limited budget, and few chances to perform. The high living cost pushes them to have several jobs at the same time. For Choi, he also does video production, and teaches visual arts as well as sound arts at universities.
“Many young people graduated from art school but are doing a job unrelated to what they have learned,” Choi said. He hopes that Hong Kong can pay more attention to music education and investment, in order to foster the music development.
Despite of the tough environment, Choi still wants to pursuit his music career in the city. “I always want to do something in Hong Kong. To achieve something in Hong Kong is the happiest thing I could ever imagined.”
Being an independent musician in Hong Kong is not easy. He must be passionate about music, have great works, keep learning, and know more people.
“I’ll just keep doing it and to see what will happen next,” Choi said.