Endless Summer International Reggae Ska Festival

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As the Endless Summer International Reggae Ska Festival draws near, co-organiser Paul Thompson talks details with Anderson Muth

The Endless Summer International Reggae Ska Festival – Hong Kong’s first large-scale celebration of Jamaican music – may be a viewed as a noteworthy collaboration by various organisers, but more importantly, it’s a culmination of sorts. Music from and inspired by Jamaica has long been played in Hong Kong, but it still remains underground and hard to find much of the time. Two stages and a diverse lineup at the iconic Fringe Club in Central, plus a pair of bonus shows for all attendees, aim to change the city’s view of all things ‘irie’.

With high rents and other economic constraints a constant reality, it’s more cost effective to fly in individual DJs (called ‘selectors’ in the genre) rather than a band with numerous players. Simple economics explains why selectors have gained prominence over live bands at most reggae-related events. In an attempt to broaden musical horizons, bringing skilled musicians to Hong Kong is a clear priority for Trenchtown Music and Mod Sound Promotions. With support from Shao Culture Entertainment, the organisers of this fest (each run by a veteran Jamaican-influenced instrumentalist) have set out to create a truly international gathering. Mod Sound’s Paul Thompson explains that they are ‘trying to create an authentic event… As pure to the roots as we can make it’.

‘Roots’ here means the real backbone of Jamaican music: riddims and vocals in combination, delivered by a full live band with up to 10 members. To reach this goal, experienced acts have been booked from all across Asia: Machaco from Japan, Skaraoke from Taiwan, and Masia One & The Irietones from Singapore – respectively presenting styles of rocksteady, ska and reggae. This combination of genres showcases the evolution of authentic Jamaican sounds. The music born out of the 1960s saw both tempo and instrumental emphasis change over the years as creativity, innovation and experimentation bore fruit.

For Thompson – also the bass player in local ska outfit The Red Stripes – ‘It’s great to build a network… but also, we’re the only real band doing that kind of music here’. In addition to the Stripes – who are hard at work on their debut album – Thompson, when he talks of a network, refers to well-regarded Cantonese dub act Sensi Lion and revamped roots band Dr Eggs, who both help fill out the live line- up. In addition, promoters Heavy Hongkong are powering a second soundsystem stage featuring selectors Rumshot (Singapore), Blood Dunza (Hong Kong) and Paragon (Ireland).

Thompson credits the success of Clockenflap and other events, like Secret Island Party, with helping to lay the groundwork, as ‘people know what a festival is here now’. Hopes are high for an energetic crowd since ‘it’s really entertaining to see a large setup on stage’. Whether people in the audience are already connoisseurs of these Caribbean sounds or not, Thompson perceives a motivational benefit for everyone playing onstage, too. “The idea is to raise our game a little bit [as it’s] good for the local bands to see other great bands within the genre,” the organiser says with equal parts optimism and humility.

And what about those aforementioned bonuses you ask? All ticketholders gain access to two other shows as well. First, Bass Music China is organising an official after-party immediately after the festival concludes, which is sadly one of the final nights at the soon-to-be-shuttered Backstage Live. Second, if you can keep those wristbands on, Machaco & Friends are playing a special session at LKF’s Orange Peel, starting at 8pm on Saturday, August 29. If you can’t make the fest, tickets for Machaco are available separately for $150 (including one drink) at the door.

Endless Summer International Reggae Ska Festival Fri Aug 28, 7pm-late, Fringe Club. Tickets: $320; pelago.co/endlesssummer.

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