Since its inception in 2010, Klasse Recordings has become a mainstay in the underground dance music community. When scanning the discography, it’s hard to pinpoint any overarching style or genre – instead, Klasse embodies wild hybrids of genres like house and jungle, techno and electro. The label’s iconic designs have pioneered the revival of xerox printing and DIY aesthetics, becoming some of the most memorable record artwork in recent years.
Several months back, Sanpo hosted a mix from Klasse co-owner Mr. Ho, which featured music exclusively produced in Hong Kong between the late 80s and mid 90s – documenting his growing interest in the largely uncharted realm of Cantonese Synth-pop. The mix was quick to garner praise, piquing intrigue from like-minded listeners across the web.
Since then, I’ve intermittently exchanged emails with Mr. Ho, discussing his move to Hong Kong, the local scene, and his ongoing interest in music from Chinese-speaking countries. We’ve finally pieced together an interview, and here it is ~
Can you tell us a little bit about your musical background and what led you to become a producer and DJ?
Like many youths in Hong Kong, I got exposed to non-mainstream music through skateboarding. Punk and hardcore was for the generation before, my era was the 90s so it was Rap (ATCQ, Wu Tang, Gang Starr, Cypress Hill, and Pete Rock & CL Smooth). A lot the music that I liked was built on samples, so I started looking for the originals and that opened me up to soul, jazz, funk, reggae; even a little bit of Latin and Disco. House and Techno for me came at the time of Daft Punk “Homework”, although I was familiar with some of it through buying Mo’ Wax records (La Funk Mob 10″ w/ Carl Craig and Ritchie Hawtin remixes).
DJing started in 1999/2000 – a friend of mine bought decks and a mixer, so I started going to his house and messing around. He was into the turntablist thing, so that’s what I would go and do – scratching, beat juggling, etc. I learnt fast, so I decided to save up and buy myself a setup. In 2001 and 2002, I won Hong Kong Technics DMC championship and made it to the Top 13 Djs for the World finals. Although I took it very seriously for two to three years, the life of a battle dj was not for me because I am actually more into acquiring and playing good music to people.
I started making music in 2008. Before that, I was never really interested because it seemed like a whole lot of commitment and discipline required to get even a half decent result. I only got into it because at the time, it seemed like the right “next thing to do”. Of course, I really love making music now, but quite often I would rather just play good music made by other people.
I never knew that you were a DMC world finalist! That’s incredible! I’m also interested in the way DJs become producers and vice-versa. How did you get started in production? When that ‘next step’ moment came, did you start learning to play an instrument or buy some hardware or a computer program? What was your approach?
Thanks! I got into production pretty late, after 8 years of djing. The first pieces of music I made were totally sample based, and were just loops thrown together and some synths notes chopped up in a sampler and then replayed on the MPC (my first sequencer/sampler). My turntablist background was pretty useful in the sense that I was kind of able to use 2 records on 2 turntables and a mixer as a sampler, and I had a good feeling for loops. I also had piano lessons as a kid growing up, which I hated at the time, but now I appreciate it because the little I remember has been quite useful in making music, especially the music theory stuff.
How recently did you move to Hong Kong and what inspired you to move there?
I moved back to Hong Kong mid February 2016, after Chinese New Year in Malaysia with my mother’s side of the family. The reason for my move is to be closer to my family, who I have been away from for more than ten years.
How would you compare the culture surrounding electronic music in Hong Kong to other cities you’ve lived in? Aside from the Otaku Soundsystem parties that Toyko Matt, Samo DJ and Johnny Hiller were running a while back, I’m not familiar with the scene in Hong Kong. How would you describe it?
Shout out to Matt, Samo and Johnny! Matt and Samo have relocated, Johnny is in Hong Kong and has set up and manages the amazing music room in Potatohead Hong Kong.
I was based in Berlin and Vienna the last ten years. Compared to those places, it’s much more difficult in Hong Kong to get something started and for it to survive and continue. In HK, far fewer people interested are into this kind of music, and there is little to no media attention received. There is also a much higher financial pressure (rent, operational costs) in HK than in Berlin and Vienna.
Aside from Otaku Soundsystem, there are now a few crews/collectives who do parties with a good vibe and interesting line ups. I like parties that have a nice mix of a locals and expatriates, rather than parties that are almost exclusively of one “crowd”.
Since moving to Hong Kong, you recently mentioned that your interest has shifted to collecting records from Chinese-speaking countries, where did that fascination begin and what inspired you to start actually digging for local music?
I got inspired to look for these records after hearing Bezier’s amazing “Native Lovers…” mix in 2014. Harry from Sameheads, Berlin put it on while I was having a coffee break from making music in Luca’s studio. I remember walking in and hearing Roman Tam – “激光中”, a cheesy but infectious disco track from Hong Kong. I think at the time , I knew maybe one other track in that whole mix. Also discovering Endy Chen’s Groovebunny records on Bandcamp (excellent beats/hip hop label from China) began to make me think maybe it was time to look for more music. All my life, I have been mainly focused on finding music from other cultures and countries apart from my own. Getting to know music that I like from my “home” adds another level of pride, joy and excitement that I didn’t get before. Sure, over the years I paid attention to bits and pieces of Chinese music, but since moving back to Hong Kong, where I am physically in the same geographical region as the people where the music was made and as the shops where they actually sell the physical products is a whole different feeling.
Do you ever include these discoveries in your sets? If so, has it evoked any response?
I have and it’s either met with disgust (usually by local Hong Kong Chinese) or fascination and enjoyment (non-local Hong Kong Chinese). There was this one time I played a couple of local tracks at this boogie bar where I used to DJ for money and the HK Chinese manager told me “no Cantonese music”. Shortly after, an English guy and his HK Chinese wife came over and asked me to DJ their wedding because they wanted a mix of “golden era” Cantopop on their special day!
This is hilarious! But…. I’m confused and intrigued, how can the music cause such a mixed response, and even disgust?
Maybe I exaggerate a little with disgust, but in a lot of clubs and bars they associate HK pop music with being lower class. There are some really bad clubs and bars that play horrible HK pop dance mixes, literally Gabba beat over time stretched ballads; I guess the clubs that think they are better than that don’t want to be associated with them and hence have a “no Chinese music” policy.
HK is a strange place culturally. For starters, it’s the most top down cultural flow I’ve ever seen. No trends are started by kids, celebrities and the media decide on what’s cool…
When was most of this music produced and what genres are you looking for specifically?
In the beginning, I was simply looking for the records that Bezier played, or at least records from the same era of late 70s to early 80s. Disco, soul and funk. My focus has since shifted to the late 80s to mid 90’s – more of the Synth Pop, City Pop, and New Age genre. I wish I started collecting earlier, because the prices of Chinese records has shot up so much, in the last 5- 8 years. I remember seeing a few of the records that I want now a few years back of a quarter of the price that sellers want now. Even the CD versions and reissues are quite expensive nowadays. There is now a huge demand for Chinese language records, and buyers from mainland China are willing to pay a lot of money for them.
Where do you feel HK’s synth pop and city pop took its influence? Were they following local trends or do you feel like the sound is more far-reaching?
As Hong Kong is a port, many trends came in and out of the city. I think the city pop influence came from Japan, which was a HUGE cultural influence on Hong Kong. Synth pop and Italo probably came in from the US and Europe, and was a popular sound in the discos. I think commercial radio also played a lot of this genre because I see a lot of these records as promos for radio stations when I go digging.
Are most of the records that you’re digging Cantonese and produced in HK or were some records produced in the mainland as well?
Mainly from Hong Kong, some from Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia. Mainland China seems to be in the minority at the moment for the records that I like.
And what are some of your favourite places to dig in Hong Kong?
I usually go to Ducky Records, Old Time collection and a couple more shops in and around the Sino Centre in Mong Kok. I also go to two spots in Sham Shui Po, one is called Hang Sing LP (amazing web design on the website), there’s one of which I don’t know the name, and there’s an old lady who sells records on the corner of Ap Liu Street.
Do you ever venture over to Mainland China, to dig in Guangzhou or other cities there?
I went over to Shenzhen once, but did not find too much of what I wanted or what I wanted was even more expensive than in Hong Kong. I did some online buying from sellers in Taichung in Taiwan. I feel like there is still so much music I have to listen to what is already in Hong Kong before I even go out to other cities for digging. I’d like to add that I am also distracted by finding Japanese records in Hong Kong ( usually much cheaper than in Japan, but far smaller selection) and which means on some digs I’ll end up not even listening to any Chinese ones.
By the way, your mix included some really nice Mr. Ho edits, can we expect these to see a release in the future?
Thank you! Yes, I have 3 edits that I’m happy with right now, so I will try to put them out!
Nice, I’m looking forward to picking up the release whenever it eventuates and thanks so much for the interview!
Photography – Glenn Ellingsen (http://likemindedpeoplehk.com/)
Stream Mr. Ho’s HK 87 – 97 mix below!