When localist Edward Leung Tin-kei rose to fame in the days leading up to last year’s Legislative Council by-elections, every major news outlet wanted to interview him on his politics. But a small Facebook page called Zenegeist was determined to get Leung’s views on more pressing questions: did he prefer Oasis or Blur, and did he think shoegaze was a real genre?
After stalking the young activist on social media and discovering that he listened to Slowdive, the page’s admins — young, internet-obsessed music lovers — timidly put in a request for an interview. It worked — and “It was just an accident, but it’s now our most popular post ever,” says NKCH, one of the moderators.
Launched in 2013, Zenegeist has become a humble fixture of Hong Kong’s indie music community, with over 6,000 loyal followers who subscribe to their carefully curated links to songs from around the world, paired with captions they describe as “diary-like” snapshots of their lives. Last year, shortly after their video went viral, they organised a charity sale that raised over HK$100,000 for Hidden Agenda’s move to a new location. Now, they’re putting together a gig at that very venue to celebrate their page’s four year anniversary.
Like many of Hong Kong’s subcultures, Zenegeist’s origin story is closely connected to popular online forum HKGolden. True to their message board roots, the group prefers to be known by their pseudonyms, which allow them to “say anything [they] like”. Noble and Medius, the group’s founding members, met at a Stone Roses show in 2012, and decided soon after to recruit like-minded individuals to start a Facebook page. They picked up Jan, who was getting into heated arguments over Britpop on HKGolden’s music platform, and later found NKCH after he posted about Spacemen 3 on a separate thread. In total, they have 12 members.
Zenegeist is a portmanteau of the Dutch word for “music” and the German word for “spirit,” and the mission is to introduce good music to Hong Kongers — and get them to care. “Back in the 80s and 90s, people listened to indie music too, but they could only meet other fanatics at, say, the record stores at Sino Centre or live houses,” explains NKCH. The internet has opened up a “whole new universe of music,” he says, along with a “safe distance” for discussion.
You can find just about any type of music on Zenegeist’s page, ranging from obscure bands with less than 300 views on Youtube, to classic Cantopop songs by Cheng Siu-chau. Many of Zenegeist’s founders are Britpop lovers and diehard Oasis fans — yet you’ll find shoegaze and darkwave here as well, thanks to NKCH. Some days they publish in-depth reviews about genres like post punk and Mainland China indie. Other days, interviews with bands including Yuck, Tycho and Sleep Party People.
The goal is not just to favour “indie,” but diversity, NKCH explains. “It’s not that pop is bad, it’s just that there are more choices out there and people don’t pay attention. With time, your tolerance towards different music goes up, and you lean towards the lesser known genres.”
This support of underdogs could also describe Zenegeist’s political views. Over the years, Zenegeist has posted countless songs as a response to social issues they feel strongly about, such as the Occupy movement in 2014 and more recently, the epidemic of suicides amongst local students. Last week, the group was hit hard by the three-year prison sentence imposed on three young dissenters arrested at last year’s Mong Kok “Fishball protest,” especially because one team member is close friends with them.
To the members of Zenegeist, politics and music are closely intertwined, both being topics that “inevitably trigger arguments”. Yet they admit music can’t do a lot to change Hong Kong’s political situation.
“You can’t just sing 踏進這無盡旅途 [lyrics from a Supper Moment song] and make everything better — you think you’re spiritually united with others, but really it’s just masturbatory,” Justin says. If Carrie Lam wins this Sunday’s Chief Executive election, he says he’ll post a song that expresses the sentiment of “I don’t give a fuck.”
“It really makes no difference, when you have three candidates but no votes,” adds NKCH.
How do you get Hong Kongers to look beyond the mainstream? Any rebel movement — be it musical or political — requires a dream and determination. Zenegeist remains small, but they hope to facilitate an ecosystem of music in Hong Kong.
“If we want more bands to make Hong Kong a stop in their tours, we need a scene that thrives,” says Jan. “On some level this is romantic — with some things, you know the outcome will stay be the same no matter what, but that doesn’t stop you from trying.”
That spirit will be on display this Saturday, March 25 at their Hidden Agenda gig — featuring local bands Stranded Whale, 鬥牛梗, Smoke In Half Note, and murmur — and Zenegeist’s followers in the crowd.
Responding to the event invite, one left a note of gratitude. “You’ve introduced me to a lot of new music these past few years. Page admins, gayau!”
Writing and reporting by Karen Cheung, Vivian Yeung, and Kylie Lee. Editing by Wilfred Chan.