Nathan doesn’t wish to be famous. He and his friends just want to make music. Their music. They are not copyists nor do they want to be seen as “underground”. They are “overground” searchers, originators and masters of their destiny.
If this group of English and Cantonese speaking Hong Kong Belongers in their late teens and early twenties have a leader, it’s Nathan. They share his vision to give his home an artistic future by creating a soundtrack to their lives.
Are they angry with their lives? Not really. Confused, maybe, but also excited to what he describes as “breathing life into a stale fish”.
He sees everything he and his friends are doing as something of a musical science experiment with like-minded explorers joining him on an expedition.
Nathan lives in a small walk up off High Street with his filmmaker girlfriend Sonja, a Norwegian and one-time tourist who decided to make Hong Kong her home in 2017, and moved to High Street.
This is where she and Nathan met while both were exploring and taking photographs of the area and getting to know the local elders.
Nathan was born on High Street and his parents still live here. They flitted in and out of this interview, proud of their son and supportive of whatever he’s doing.
They mentioned to us in Cantonese how Nathan is a good boy and that they have had their time and are now living in what will be their son’s future.
Sonja is a few years older than Nathan and shares a belief in “conformity through unconformity” by discovering and being inspired by various artists-artists from the days of The Factory and people like Nico and the Velvet Underground, “Low” period Bowie with Brian Eno, and Zappa to filmmakers like Hitchcock, Ed Wood, Bergman, Polanski, Jim Jarmusch, Stephen Chao and David Lynch.
How did a young guy from Hong Kong get to know so much about Western music not even known to many Westerners?
He can’t really explain except to say that he was lucky to have met tourists who had mentioned artists they felt he needed to check out and exploring the small night markets in the Mongkok area of Kowloon that still sell obscure vinyl records.
Covers of classic vinyl records adorn the walls of the one bedroom apartment he shares with Sonja. The rest of the space is taken up with his small recording studio, film equipment, Sonja’s photographs and various pop/art memorabilia from around the world.
We met with Nathan and Sonja a couple of weeks ago at a small noodle shop in their neighbourhood. Here, they enjoy a cult status.
Those who live in this area know who they are and respect what they’re doing though they might not know what it is.
Their “uniform” of jeans, sneakers and t-shirts paint them out to be artists and that’s fine with them. They are what they are.
We first discovered Nathan’s music when he shared it online with a handful of people he felt might understand what he and his friends are trying to do to change things around.
It’s upbeat ambient music chopped up with bits of the sounds of Hong Kong- mahjong, sound bites, traffic- and with sometimes Nathan narrating in Cantonese what is going through his mind.
It’s sometimes a jigsaw that challenges others to figure out what he is saying and how he would be happy to hear their art.
Every weekend, he and his friends come together to share their art. Everyone helps each other out with whatever they might have to give them what’s needed to continue their work.
Nathan comes across as a good kid. He’s not interested in politics nor being rebellious. It’s all about his music and the visuals he sees in the experimental recordings he makes.
Ask him when and what he last ate and he laughs and says he can’t remember.
“Eating is just sustenance to continue making the music going on in my head”, he says while looking straight ahead. It’s difficult to know what he’s thinking. Sonja holds his hand. She knows what’s going on.
Maybe he’ll start making experimental films for his music, he says- more of the ambient music he’s now making to capture the personality of Hong Kong. It’s far removed from the showbiz fizz and youthful fan appeal of the super popular Canto Pop group Mirror.
He’s happy to see the group making many in Hong Kong happy, which to him, is something positive.
He believes there’s always room for happiness and there are so many ways to make people happy.
“I hope that what my friends and I are creating can add to happiness by coming from a different Hong Kong to where Canto Pop is from”, he says. “Music is all about diversity and not copying what’s already popular”.
He mentions a Hong Kong group from a number of years ago called Tat Ming Pair. He talks enthusiastically about their music, how relevant it remains and how privileged he would be to make music with them.
He’s excited about the future. He’s never been worried about these Covid days. It’s given him the time to think about his art and where it’s going and making sure it’s in step with what he calls ‘The New Hong Kong’.
He tells us it’s all there in something new he and Sonja are creating called “What Happens When You Get What You Always Wanted?”
He says that this is a question for all of Hong Kong to think about and help people to prioritise and understand how there’s much more to life than money and creating another materialistic Hong Kong.
“This is where we in Hong Kong have gone wrong”, he says. “Maybe this question will put us back on the right track. I believe it can”.