Deadly silence / Smoky skies / Hell broke loose / The crowd goes wild / Waxy faces / Eyes grow wide / His body is his armour / So frail and so thin / They push and shove and beat and poke / but still they cannot win.
Many in Hong Kong remember September 28, 2014 as the night tear gas was deployed against protesters, sparking the 79-day long Occupy protests. But for the five members of local noise rock/post-punk group David Boring it was the night they hastily wrote “Smog” together in their band room.
“Everyone was out there facing the tear gas, but at the time we felt like we would just be a few more people getting hit by it,” recalls vocalist Laujan. “Instead we’ve written that song, and it feels like a sign of respect.”
Motivated by a desire to uncover the mayhem beneath Hong Kong’s surface, guitarist Jason Cheung describes David Boring an unmistakably “localist” band. Despite being largely influenced by niche, underground subcultures that took over New York and the UK decades ago — from writers such as J.G. Ballard and William Burroughs to music like Joy Division and Bauhaus — the emotions expressed, and the inspiration for their tracks, are essentially about the Hong Kong experience.
Four years ago, David Boring was still playing shows at the University of Hong Kong, the members’ alma mater. Since then, they’ve toured China and Japan, appeared in countless gigs and festivals, and even opened for Japanese noise rockers Bo Ningen during their last visit to Hong Kong — all the while accumulating a modest but devoted fanbase.
Now, a new milestone: a debut album called “Unnatural Objects and Their Humans.” On the heels of the release the band welcomed us into their practice space, the album standing proudly in an arresting shade of pink against the room’s moss-green walls; next to vinyl records by bands like Swans and Slint, Warsaw and Iggy Pop — unsubtle clues to David Boring’s musical inspiration.
On Bandcamp, the group says the album reflects the “internalisation of Hong Kong’s toxic environment” — a feeling that the bad news just doesn’t stop coming.
“We’re always talking about the horrifying thing that happened today, that shows Hong Kong is ‘dying’ — but when Hong Kong is ‘dying’ every day, that loses its meaning,” vocalist Laujan muses. “There’s this feeling like you keep trying to cleanse the dirt off of you, but even when you keep showering you never feel clean of the innate evil.”
“I think what we’re trying to do is to portray reality using art,” says bassist Panicube — who is from China, but stays in Hong Kong because she finds its chaos to be a source of musical inspiration. “Every character or story our album creates, it’s an exaggeration or illustration of what’s happening here.”
This is evident in the dark, pounding track “Men”, which David Boring pronounces “mun” – Cantonese for “mosquito”. Here, Laujan speaks of what they call a “mass metamorphosis”, evoking a post-apocalyptic society in which a character watches helplessly as everyone else gradually turns into monsters, before the character gives in to the same transformation. The song opens with an intro worthy of “I Remember Nothing”, then segments into a Panicube-signature bassline before Jason and Laujan’s vocals chime in to announce the doom that befalls upon mankind.
Again, this is a metaphor for Hong Kong. “Everyone sees different levels of decay, and they feel like it’s pointless to be good people — so they either go with the flow, or try to benefit from the chaos.” explains Laujan.
The “humans” of the album’s title is a concept that refers to imaginary individuals that inhabit the city. “Brian Emo”, for example, is about a repressed, “good boy” figure who has been slowly twisted by his environment. According to Laujan, “during Occupy, there were a lot of these ‘good boys’ who end up becoming people who threw bricks. They’re all Brian Emos.”
“Brian Emo” starts off with a haunting guitar riff and Laujan’s vocals at their softest yet — the song is meant to pay respect to the victims of a recent wave of suicides in Hong Kong, the band says. But the track soon builds into a full-on riot of anger — a response to the thoughtlessness of Hong Kongers in the tragedy’s aftermath.
“The media always attributes suicides to a single reason — it’s either that they had problems with studying, or their mother yelled at them. I think that’s an insult to them,” says Laujan.
David Boring does not shy away from such difficult topics; rather, they confront them with unflinching intensity. “Susie Exciting” is a frenetic, defiant song about a marginalised group in Hong Kong — the mentally ill. Laujan explains: “It’s about these people who look normal on the outside, but really are abnormal — they deserve our recognition too. There are many songs out there that celebrate positivity, but we need to recognise what’s wrong as well.”
While the album makes social critiques, it also gets personal. “Loosefuck”, for example, is a reflection of Hong Kong as a patriarchal society and “pays respect to a group of people whom we were, for some reason, obliged to look up to.” But it was partly inspired by comments Laujan received from peers upon joining the band — that she “needed to take singing lessons”.
She won’t be losing any sleep over it — it’s not worth it to worry too much about the “likes and dislikes” of the audience, she says. “If you stubbornly believe something is great, you’ll work until your art is that level. You might look stupid for a while, but eventually people will be convinced.”
This is the dogged spirit they’ve brought to the production of their new album. For a band that seems to give off an “I don’t give a fuck” vibe, it’s clear they’ve put a near-obsessive level of thought into the production: from their ideology to the type of paper for the album sleeve, there’s a passionate perfectionism about it all.
On May 6, David Boring will be showcasing their album at XXX along with close friends Ex-Punishment and An Id Signal, which they once declared their “favourite local band”. “We want it to be like we’re playing with our family,” the group says.
Anyone who has seen David Boring live knows that the energy level at their shows makes the clean versions on their album seem mild. Layers of noise, screams, assaults that pile on top of each other, like the universe is coming to an end.
And that’s really the point. “Ultimately, we hope the album will be a personal awakening,” Laujan says. “We’re not trying to save the world.”
Still / Loud’s Vivian Yeung contributed reporting. Editing by Wilfred Chan. David Boring will be unveiling their new album at XXX on Saturday, May 6 at 8:30 PM.
What were the members of David Boring listening to when they wrote the album? Check out this 14-track playlist the band exclusively curated for Still / Loud: