The Guide to Getting Into Hong Kong Underground Music
The Guide to Getting Into Hong Kong Underground Music. Image: Jordan Lee

The Guide to Getting Into Hong Kong Underground Music

The neon-lit city gives more than the glam of Canto-pop—an underground scene of local talent.
October 18, 2021, 7:04am

Away from the skyscrapers and commercial mentalities that Hong Kong is known for, there is a burgeoning independent music scene attempting to shake off its global club identity.

It’s the DIY studios tucked in the New Territories and warehouse floors of Kowloon’s Tsuen Wan district that define the homegrown sounds of the city—from indie labels like Wildstyle Records, Mou Hoi, and Zepa Records, to acts that dive into hip-hop, Canto-rap, experimental production, and city pop.

The alt subculture has been alive in Hong Kong since the early economic boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when highs in trade and foreign investment allowed for a new culture in entertainment and the arts. Today, what underpins the underground are fiercely independent, self-funded, and resilient attitudes.

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Those in the indie-pop and rock scenes are driven by reflections on identity, culture, and relationships, while for some Canto-rap and experimental artists, this independence is rooted in recent pro-democracy protests and a determination to thrive under the pressure of social and economic uncertainty.

Helping amplify local artists’ sounds are alternative promoters like OC2S and Glue Stick Entertainment, and Hong Kong Community Radio, which streams local music online, 24/7. Now completely digital, the community provides a space for free speech and art.

Discover these artists below and let their expressions of freedom, power, and identity come through with every listen. 

So you want to get into… indie pop Hong Kong underground music?

The ‘80s saw the Golden Age of Canto-pop, but the genre is having a resurgence of sorts, championed today by women in their 20s playing electronic melodies and fast-paced instrumentals. 

There’s Serrini, whose accidental love songs are accompanied by beat switches and electro-synths; Jace Chan, who pairs pop-charm choruses with rap and ballad bridges; and Kiri T, a soulful vocalist in Mandarin and English who plays upbeat piano progressions. 

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Meanwhile, the men in the scene, like The Hertz and MC $OHO & KidNey, present a more tongue-in-cheek play on pop melodies, homing in on a raw freestyle flow and local slang.

Listen to this when you’re… looking for a pick-me-up or some not-so-guilty pleasure karaoke songs.

You’ll dig this if you like: BLACKPINK, Rina Sawayama, Charli XCX, Kim Petras, Tommy Genesis, Doja Cat

Playlist: “係咁先啦 (feat. Kayan9896)” - MC $oho & KidNey, Kayan9896 / “~旋轉with me*” - Serrini / “I Wish” - Jace Chan / “10,000ft.” - Kiri T / “Unfollow我是你做過最貼心的事” - 惡夢扭蛋 / “末日快車” - The Hertz / “漪” - Just a broken machine, 2K88

So you want to get into… soulful rock Hong Kong underground music?

Hong Kong’s indie scene defines itself through an infusion of genres with no clear lines, pinned to its melting pot of cultural influences and cross-collaborative production methods. But an undertone of hybrid-soul ties the emerging artists together as voices speaking on the Asian experience in a global context. 

Leaning towards lo-fi R&B are R.I.D.D.E.M. and Cehryl, whose choice of English lyrics is stylistic, influenced by their local roots and international upbringing. They sing of love and loss with a sound filled with nostalgia from seamless transitions of indie pop melodies and new wave jazz.

Meanwhile, rock and ‘70s charm echo in unison in bands like Fds/4eva, Science Noodles, and Charming Way, all of whom mix Cantonese and English riffs. These indie rock bands talk to the misfits by singing about coming-of-age stories, love, and friendship. Many of their tracks are framed with the backdrop of Hong Kong in mind, as seen in the track titled “Victoria,” named after Hong Kong’s famed harbor, and “Seven Winds,” with its metaphors of the everpresent howls of the tropical winds. The sounds and lyrics ring true to anyone familiar with Hong Kong. 

Meanwhile, the tense socio-political climate in Hong Kong comes through in songs by N.Y.P.D. (Nan Yang Pai Dui, or  “South Pacific Party”), a punk-rock band that leans heavily into satire. In the song “美之 (Mee & Gee),” they describe the local thrift stores in competition with local fast-fashion brands Giordano and Bossini.

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Listen to this when you’re… feeling reflective.

You’ll dig this if you like: Gracie Abrams, Rex Orange County, Joji, Clairo, Arctic Monkeys, Northeast Party House

Playlist: “Hide n Seek” - cehryl / “I wish I can be Rich” - Anna hisbbuR / “In Debt” - RIDDEM / “Indie Yoga” - Science Noodles / “@renee_0928” - Fds/4eva / “Victoria” - Charming Way / “Another Sunny Day” - Arches / “Seven Wind” - Wellsaid / “美之 (Mee & Gee)” - N.Y.P.D. 南洋派對 / “Aged Toy” - Jingyi

So you want to get into… Canto-rap Hong Kong underground music?

Canto-rap is all about raw, localized themes that talk about rebellion, identity, and youth culture. Notable artists in the movement include Matt Force, GrymeMan, Lai Kei, and Big Spoon, whose records are powered by a blur of hard bars and melodic tones, reflecting the high-pressure society they grew up in. Meanwhile, YoungQueenz takes inspiration from traditional Japanese and Chinese melodies set to trap-rap bars, revealing a live fast, die young mentality.

While the scene remains mostly male-dominated, Luna is a Bep shines in adopting SoundCloud beats reminiscent of Swedish rapper Yung Lean and the early days of bedroom production. She is the leading female force, and her songs include charming pop cuts and nostalgic instrumentals. 

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Listen to this when you’re… attempting your next power move.

You’ll dig this if you like: Vince Staples, Travis Scott, Future

Playlist: “死亡香 (feat. GrymeMan, YoungQueenz)” - Matt Force, GrymeMan, YoungQueenz / “待續” - Yung Bright, Yung Raise / “【Turn off the Light】” - Owen奧雲OCS, BMW, / “一丿(feat. 柒羊 Yung Takeem)” - YoungQueenz, N.O.L.Y, , Takeem, / “黑水鬼 (feat. Geniuz F the FUTURE)” -  Novel Fergus, Geniuz F the FUTURE, / “麻甩系” - Luna Is A Bep / “列車” - Triple G / “Everywhere we go (feat. 應采兒)” - MC仁,  Edison Chen,, 廚房仔 / “Baiyue 百越” - Big Spoon / “化骨龍” - Lai Kei, Big Spoon 

So you want to get into… experimental Hong Kong underground music?

It’s an air of punk mentalities in the industrial studios outside Hong Kong’s Central district that shapes the city’s experimental artists. Through guerrilla radio, performances in grimey warehouse buildings, and outdoor raves, they expose the dark and raw sides to Hong Kong’s usually polished facade.

You see this in producer Kelvin T’s collaborations with vocalists QQBBG and Rae Law—keyboard and synthesizer-heavy electro punk tracks that amplify Hong Kong’s urban decay and industrious ways in a heady production style.  

Fotan Laiki and Bloodz Boi play on the city’s pressure cooker of stress and emotion in songs like “Dong Leng Cha,” which means ice lemon tea, citing party drugs and the popular iced drink. The track’s happy breakbeat tones are overlaid with synthetic rap progressions and production, matching the high heart rate atmospheres and noise at the local cha chaan teng diners.

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In tracks produced by Alexmalism and NERVE, Game Boy effects and industrial punk make the city feel like a scene from a neo-Tokyo Akira-meets-Tron film, perfectly suited for the neon-lit districts of Mong Kok. The highly produced charm in Hong Kong’s experimental music sits well as an intentionally industrial and surreal experience, like game arcades and abandoned rooftops.

Listen to this when you’re… driving a fast car down a highway. 

You’ll dig this if you like: Grimes, Björk, Yaeji, M.I.A., Death Grips, Gesaffelstein

Playlist: “Dong Leng Cha 凍檸茶” - FOTAN LAIKI, Bloodz Boi / “Game - Alexmalism Remix” - Rae Law, Alexmalism / “No. 1 Sweetheart - Car Crash Mix” - Qqbbg, Kelvin T / “Dysfunctional” - Rae Law, Kelvin T / “夏日閪水禮 Summer E Water - ASJ Remix” - Qqbbg, ASJ / “Lucid Satori” - ASJ / “Velodrome” - Alexmalism / “Bicycle Day” - 小本生燈 / “Disposable Lover” - 王和平

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