By Kelly Wong and Carmel Yang
Autumn is off to an impressive start for GDJYB. Signed up for an October gig at the recent Weekend Concert of “Freespace at Taikoo Place” playing to families, young couples and children at Taikoo Park one Saturday afternoon, they then immediately head to a highly-anticipated performance at Iceland Airwaves beginning of November. The annual music festival known for showcasing up-and-coming musical acts takes place in Reykjavik, Iceland, and GDJYB is representing Hong Kong in the hometown of Icelandic icon Bjork.
The four-piece band [picture above: Soni Cheng (Guitar), Soft Liu (Vocals), Wing Chan (Bass), Hei Hei Ng (Drums) is one of Hong Kong’s hottest indie musical acts at the moment who have won the hearts of many fans not only with their melodic music. Their unique lyrics in “Kongish” also make them one of the best cultural representatives of Hong Kong.
“Nothing can represent Hong Kong better than such hybrid form of English and Cantonese spoken only in this place. We use [Kongish] all the time in our daily life,” Soft Liu, GDJYB’s vocalist, tells CJC at “Freespace at Taikoo Place”, a new performing arts festival organised by West Kowloon Cultural District and Swire Properties.
“Kongish is what I am most comfortable with when writing songs.”
GDJYB, in fact, stands for Gai Dan Jing Yuk Beng, which means “steamed minced meat with egg” (雞蛋蒸肉餅), one of the most common comfort foods people in Hong Kong grow up with. The band’s music, just like its name, resonates with many people in Hong Kong. The band’s distinctive “math-folk” music style features intricate arrangements and variable patterns that have made them a sensation on the local indie scene.
By using Kongish, a humorous mix of Cantonese and literal English translations spoken by young, bilingual Hong Kong people in their music, they are able to capture the nuances of the city. For example, their 2015 song “榴槤乜乜乜” (Durian What What What) is well-known for lyrics that expressed the disappointing political situation following 2014’s Umbrella Movement.
GDJYB has received critical acclaim from all over the world since their formation in 2012. Last October, they won the Foreign Composition Award for their latest album ‘23:59’ at the 2017 Golden Indie Music Award Presentation Ceremony held in Taiwan. Their recent albums have led to successful shows in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Australia.
The prospect of West Kowloon Cultural District gives hope to young artists like GDJYB. Dedicated to new and experimental artistic experiences, Freespace opens in West Kowloon Cultural District in 2019. The multi-billion-dollar arts hub has been actively cultivating Freespace as a brand — the high profile Freespace Fest and Freespace Happenings have attracted young people who are eager to explore homegrown artists and musical acts such as GDJYB.
Having played at the inaugural “Freespace at Taikoo Place” and making an international appearance at the Iceland festival, such exposure could be a breakthrough for their career while raising the profile of Hong Kong’s alternative music scene.
The members are not worried about singing Kongish in Iceland. Instead, it is a prime example of how music can transcend language barriers. Liu references popular Icelandic artists such as Sigur Rós and Björk, who enjoy international acclaim despite often singing in their mother tongue.
“No one understands what they’re saying, but people around the world enjoy their music,” says Liu.
The band members feel that singing to an audience that doesn’t understand their lyrics could be potentially freeing. GDJYB’s songs feature local slang and often discuss societal issues, and Hong Kong listeners tend to analyse the lyrics. The band, however, does not want people to only focus on lyrics as it detracts from the total musical experience.
“In fact, no one in our band cares about the vocals, including myself,” Liu jokes.
Wing, the band’s bassist, believes music to be an all-encompassing experience. She finds that live performances allow more intimacy between musicians and audience members.
“Each component in the song is equally important. Live music is more intense and overwhelming in delivering emotion when compared to a music video”, she says.
With ample experience performing in large outdoor festivals and events, the band is confident that their songs can even impress audiences without a common background. Interestingly, the band is more concerned about their height than a foreign audience’s reaction.
“We have some Icelandic friends and they are all like two meters tall. Comparatively, we are so tiny in their eyes. People may be surprised that we are so short!”, says Liu, with a laugh.
This story is part of CJC x Freespace at Taikoo Place, a CJC learning programme in collaboration with Swire Properties and West Kowloon Cultural District