Six weeks ago, on a wet Monday night, music fans gathered outside the Immigration Department at Kowloon Bay, after authorities raided Hong Kong’s indie venue Hidden Agenda, to hear owner Hui Chung Wo’s defiant speech. In the crowd were local musician Tomii Chan — a frequent performer at the livehouse — and visual artist Jasmine Cheung, a supporter. It was at that moment that the duo became inspired to do something to fight for the mecca of Hong Kong’s indie scene.
Since then the two have been planning ‘Bitter: Never Aligns’ — what they say will be the first performance at Hidden Agenda involving both live visual art and music. It comes at a crucial time. “After what happened to Hidden Agenda on 7th of May, bands from overseas started cancelling their performances, and we knew it would be difficult for the place to survive,” Tomii tells us. “So Jasmine and I wanted to organise a show there.”
‘Bitter’ promises to showcase the interesting contrast between the two creators. Photographing them for this story, I noticed their difference instantly — Tomii dressed in a tee with a banana print, checkered shorts and flip-flops, often giggles too much, or looks blank and uncomfortable in front of the camera. But the camera loved Jasmine, a petite young lady in a black straw hat and an all-black outfit, carrying an aura that screams “artist”.
Tomii is one of Hong Kong’s most talented young guitarists and a member of Stranded Whale. More than merely a musician, he’s a storyteller who uses the medium to express his emotions poetically. Jasmine on the other hand, is famous for her abstract paintings. Her works are bathed in custom UV lighting and paired with music; this exhibition builds on her old work and “only gets better,” she says.
The two have collaborated before: Stranded Whale commissioned Jasmine to produce a video for their therapeutic-yet-melancholic song ‘Grey’ in late 2016. But this time the duo are aiming for something different. Tomii and Jasmine say they want the audience to experience a “rollercoaster of sensations” the whole way through, so ‘Bitter’ will feature a total of four acts, a grand rendezvous of some of Hong Kong’s best indie musicians including post-rocker Life Was All Silence, eclectic singer-songwriter Jonathan Yang, and acoustic guitarist Jabin Law, Tomii’s partner-in-crime in Stranded Whale.
The controversy over Hidden Agenda has added another layer of meaning to the performance: “It somewhat becomes a fifth element to this show,” says Jasmine.
“And who knows — if the police show up we may get the sixth element of the night”, Tomii jokes after a long pause. (Perhaps the extra hues of blue from the police uniform at the show might pair well with Jasmine’s paintings.)
On the diverse lineup: “One plus one does not necessarily make two. It’s the chemical reaction that makes things interesting,” says the painter. “Tomii and I want to create a new multimedia experience for everyone. It is to see the entire run-down — from beginning to end, and accompanied by the paintings — as an entity of work.”
“But of course, you can also leave halfway, too,” quips Tomii. “As long as you’ve paid before going in. Then we can break even!”
Writing and reporting by Michael Chiu and Kylie Lee. Editing by Karen Cheung and Wilfred Chan.