Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lona Records Keeps The Experimental Flame in Hong Kong Alive

By Eric de Fontenay

Lona Records is a Hong Kong boutique indie label set up by Alok Leung in 2003. The label has attracted a very international and growing roster of acts focused on alternative and experimental music. I first discovered the label through four-piece rock outfit UNiXX that plies its trade in dark, shoegazing garage rock, flecked with overtones of The Horrors and circa-1993 Suede and is about to tour the mainland.

Alok is a self-taught guitarist and bassist who formed several bands in the 90s, including Pillow and Slow Tech Riddim, which combined electronic music with live instruments. He decided to go solo in 2001 and set up his own record label Lona Records the following year. Working as a producer, he released 5 albums and 5 CD singles from 2002 to 2009. He has played and participated in more than 50 shows and experimental events / projects in Hong Kong and across China.

How did you come to launch Lona Records in 2003 and how have you grown since?

At the beginning, I only set up Lona Records to release my own works. I subsequently met a number of recording artists that shared the same vision as myself. So from around early 2005, I started to release works of other artists from countries like the UK, US, Italy, Germany, Poland, Japan, Netherlands, mainland China and Hong Kong. We are also planning on releasing some works by artists from Denmark and Argentina etc.

Lona Records has also organized several concerts and exhibitions in recent years. We've gotten some very good feedback, but still there is not much room for survival here in Hong Kong.

Let me get straight to the point: how has a label focused on alternative/experimental music survived over the last 7 years in a market like Hong Kong?... no offense of course.

Every record label has to have its own direction. Experimental / alternative is my favorite music genre. Lona Records though has never looked at the Hong Kong market as a viable one - experimental music can't really survive here.

Tell me a little about the 3" CDR series you launched in 2005 "to explore the aesthetic boundaries of experimental sound."

After launching this series, I found that many people were interested in it. Personally, this idea is almost like the 7" vinyl. One shortcoming though is that Mac users cannot play these CDRs.

China is notorious for piracy. How has it affected Lona Records' business?

The problem of piracy does not really affect us a lot, because the quantities for each releases is still relatively small. I believe that the people who like our works are be willing to buy the originals. We are also planning to enter the digital download market.

I've become a huge a fan of UNiXX, which I've called one of my Hong Kong band's to watch in 2010. How do you choose which bands to add to Lona's roster?

The main directions of Lona Records include:
1) experimental, i.e. Avant-garde, Ambient, Minimal, Noise,...
2) Alternative, i.e. Alternative rock, Neo-Classical,....

With the latter, apart from UNiXX, we also have a Hong Kong band called The Yours and Jeffrey Butzer from the US. We always have an open-minded attitude when considering the demos received.

How do you see the growing independent music scene in the mainland affecting Hong Kong?

There are many excellent recording artists in mainland China. You'll notice that while these artists have been influenced by foreign cultures, they are still able to retain elements of traditional Chinese culture in their works. On the contrary, we don't have such a 'local' culture in Hong Kong. I might also explore the possibility of doing something in Beijing in the future.

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