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Photograph: Calvin Sit

Talking JUNK! with Hong Kong audio-visual artist

Local audio-visual artist Junk! talks about the indie music scene's technological awakening

Sam Evans
Written by
Sam Evans

This year so far hasn’t been the easiest for our city’s music scene, with events both large and intimate having been canned amid health concerns and the restrictions placed on music venues. Although live performance is among our favourite things, Hong Kong has been anything but alive with the sound of music. Yet performers citywide have adapted to this new reality, harnessing technology to ensure that the show goes on via live-streamed concerts on almost every social medium imaginable.

Among this new wave of increasingly tech-savvy performers, one that stands out is JUNK!, the audio-visual artist who’s been rocking and chip tuning his way around the city’s underground circuit for over half a decade now, amassing a loyal following in the process. We caught up with the Melburnian native in his beloved Sham Shui Po – where he can regularly be found digging around all manner of retro electronics stalls – for a chat about the Hong Kong scene’s evolution in the face of adversity, his art, and where he’s taking it next.

JUNK! stands outside of a hi-fi emporium in Sham Shui Po

We meet the man, who is rocking his signature bright-yellow tracksuit that he regularly performs in, and take a mid-morning stroll between the stalls on Apliu Street. “It’s been a little crazy for local indie musicians,” he tells us. “But artists here are pretty resilient, and a lot of us have taken this time as an opportunity to work on material, whether it be finishing up songs that have been lying around for years, collaborating from a distance, or developing new projects altogether.” And his words ring true, as despite the recent challenges, JUNK! has successfully produced a music video for local rock legends Shumking Mansion, collaborated on a song with After-After-Party, and worked on the mechanics of his next live show in which, he reveals, he’ll be performing inside a virtual reality headset. “The music community isn’t just sitting around and waiting, but innovating and trying to keep music fans engaged as much as possible.”

We wander the streets some more, enjoying the custom JUNK! tour as he guides us around some of his favourite shops in these parts – vintage hi-fi emporiums, bric-a-brac appliance stalls, old-school VHS cassette player vendors, he seemingly knows them all – and then, a few wires and dusty adapters later, we decide to duck out of the languid morning air for a refreshment in one of the neighbourhood’s bohemian coffee houses to pick up where we left off.

The music community isn't sitting around and waiting, but innovating

 “It’s funny, because a lot of musicians turned to live streaming as a means to an end, but I’d actually been wanting to do it for a long time, so this was the perfect ‘crisitunity’ (crisis-opportunity),” he chuckles whilst gently setting down the modified 1987 Yamaha keytar that he’s been clutching all morning, and perching on one of the cafe’s Bauhaus-inspired stools. “I’d live-streamed vocal looping sessions from home before, but the chance to stream an entire show was really exciting! The shows themselves were interesting; it was weird getting into ‘party mode’ whilst being in a room...alone.” He laughs. “People who’ve seen JUNK! shows know that a hilariously catastrophic technical failure can disrupt the performance at any minute. Disappointingly, the live streams have worked flawlessly – the only casualty to date has been a smashed beer bottle that I knocked over in the heat of the last gig.”

JUNK! performed multiple live-streamed concerts during the height of the social distancing period, and received positive feedback from fans. Hong Kong’s 8-bit king reveals that the experience has also opened him up further to the power of technology. “I felt connected with the audience without being able to see them. I could read their comments, and it was surprisingly easy to close my eyes and imagine being back up on stage. For many artists, this has also been a time of discovery in which we’ve learned to utilise technology to do things that we previously didn't think possible.” 

Photograph: Calvin Sit

Our iced coffees arrive and, after mischievously opining that a cold beer would’ve been better, the megabyte maestro continues to open up about how the recent situation has inspired his creativity. “I’d previously been working on introducing virtual reality into my performance, but learning what I’ve learned from recent events has turned this from a working idea into an obsession! My new live show will involve me playing instruments using virtual mallets while wearing a VR headset, and the whole performance will be projected onto a big screen along with synchronised visuals and lighting. It’s going to be challenging, but it will result in an extremely unique show.”

As our chat draws to a close, JUNK! reveals more ideas that he’s assiduously honed during the past months and that will soon come to the stage, including a performance from inside video games, the utilization of smartphones in his shows, and 360° hi-res videos – at which point we quite frankly get a little dizzy. Despite our evidently running with insufficient RAM to process all this, what we can take away from the yellow-clad cavalier’s words are that – while of course not underestimating the struggles that many music venues have felt in recent times – now may not be a time to lament what the local scene has lost, as much as to get pumped about what some of our most talented performers have in store for us when they emerge after weeks of creative incubation.

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