At a recent party to promote the Casio G-shock watch, a little publicized band called ‘Quan’ took the stage. The initial thing that struck the audience was the presence of a female drummer with long blonde hair. Then, eyes roved over to the foreground and a magnetic Eurasian man sporting black retro glasses, a glove with a skeleton pattern and skinny jeans stood in front of the mike. The music that came forth was unlike any that Hong Kong had ever heard live before. It was a mixture of spoken word, rap, RnB, '80's and indie rock. Though the music was unfamiliar, the heavy beats and the aggro guitar struck a chord in the hearts of the listeners. The energy of the performance was so contagious, that the typically non-responsive Hong Kong audience was moved to dancing, cheering and hooting.
The mesmerizing frontman of Quan is Quan Yeomans. Born in Brisbane to an Australian father and a Vietnamese mother (she moved to Australia before the war for librarian studies), Quan made it big with his breakout band Regurgitator- an angular pop band which played discordant ‘80s revival music in the ‘90s. They considered their genre of music in the 'No Wave' category. The original musical movement called 'No Wave' occurred in the mid '70s as a reaction to the popular New Wave form which is actually what is commonly known as Punk Rock.
Though thoroughly humble and keeping a low profile in Hong Kong, Quan’s star presence is immediately apparent. Regurgitator won several Aria awards (the Aussie version of the Grammys) and had platinum record sales in Australia. In Oz, where Regurgitator has a huge following, fans would hound them to the point that had a safety code word for a special type of drunk groupie that would continually bombard and harangue them with slurred compliments. They were called “punishers”. Punishers were usually removed by a designated person using some kind secret of hand signal. Though he jokes about this, he admits he’s never had a really bad groupie story because his band discourages fan behavior by keeping it down to earth. Even when he dated Janet English from Spiderbait, another popular Aussie Band, the celebrity couple chose not to let the media into their private lives. “We stayed home and watched the ARIA awards on TV- even though we were winning.” He says.
It’s obvious that Quan is a man whose true mission in life is purely to create and to not profit from egoic displays of rock stardom. Hence, when Regurgitator signed on with Warner Brothers, a commercial record label, they were apprehensive because they were adamant about not selling out their creative vision. Their records ‘Tu-Plang” and “Unit”, which include cheeky songs such as “I Sucked a lot of Cock to Get Where I Am”, launched the band to fame. Eventually they created a reality show called ‘Band in a Bubble’ for Channel V. It was supposed to be an installation art performance whereby they had 3 weeks to record their album Mish Mash live whilst being filmed in glass bubble. Despite the media circus and publicity paradigm, they managed to remain true to their imaginative and irreverent style.
Quan originally came to Hong Kong in 2005 to play in the ‘Rock It’ live music festival. He fell for a girl and decided to come back here. Though ultimately it didn’t work out with her, his love affair with Hong Kong continued and he decided to make Hong Kong his base. Quan says Hong Kong was ‘instantly addictive’. He was entranced by its weird wonderland feel and felt an affinity to all the transient people floating in and out of town. “Some people don’t like the feeling of not having roots, but I’m really comfortable with it. Hong Kong is easy, anonymous and people here are just less aggressive.”
When I ask him about the music scene here and what he thinks about Hong Kong audiences he replies, "Understandably a lot of HK people won't have the most sophisticated interest in Western indie music because they're just exposed to different things- like canto-pop as an example. Hong Kong people are still discovering new styles. When a Hong Kong audience doesn’t respond, most of the time they are standing there assessing whether they like it or not because they’ve never been exposed to it. I’m happy to be able to introduce something new to Hong Kong audiences.”
Quan also believes that the lack of proper live music venues that fit 600-1000 people discourages more interesting bands from playing here. In fact, his solo band, featuring drummer and keyboardist Catarina Behr, who is an architect by day, has only ever played 6 gigs here. Twice they played at the Fringe, once with Ratatat at Grappa’s cellar, and once at a random place called Sammy’s Kitchen. Quan says his favorite gigs in Hong Kong were the ones where his friends attended. When asked about one of his recent gigs at Cliq for Casio G-shock, true to his underground vibe, Quan replied, “It was very corporate. Unfortunately, there’s not enough music and art in Hong Kong. It’s financial city and it's all about money. People like to be entertained but there just never seemed to be a need for subculture here. ”
Quan wrote, produced and recorded everything on his solo album “The Amateur” here in Hong Kong. Unfortunately it’s only available on the Australia version of ITunes. In his solo album, he experiments with lyrical verse over heavy beats. One of his songs is a 5 minute Shakespearean tragedy about an MC who falls in love with his microphone. He also makes a foray into R and B. “I like R and B but I don’t like the content. It’s always about the same things. ”
Quan says that he has to get into the zone when he creates music. Sometimes it starts with a beat that he hums into his phone or it will start with a line, a title or a theme. Sometimes he admits he sits down with a thesaurus to pump out his nouveau beat poems.
All of Quan’s musical influences are obscure. He loves the Mint Chicks- an experimental band that sings songs like ‘Crazy, Yes, Dumb, No’. There’s also Buck 65, a Canadian hip-hop artist, MC and turntablist signed with Anti-Con, an underground hip-hop label. He also thinks the album YoYoYoYoYo by Spank Rock is brilliant. Then he clues me in on a type of music from Australia which is popular with surfers called ‘Skip Hop’. A popular band from that music genre is The Hilltop Hoods out of Adelaide who sing about eating ‘chika rolls’ with their strong Aussie accents.
In his personal life, Quan admits he’s calm and easy-going. He doesn’t drink nor go out much. “Drinking doesn’t enhance my life,” he says. He’s also become a vegetarian after happening upon a Buddhist book he found in his mother’s house called “Being Peace” by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was all marked with highlighter pen. He devoured the book thinking to himself “Oh my God this is exactly my life philosophy.” When he found out the book belonged to his dad, who passed away 10 years ago, he felt that his ancestors had bestowed this way of thinking onto him. “I never feel like I’m depriving myself of anything because I don’t drink or eat meat. It’s a choice I made- so I don’t feel constrained. It’s about being more mindful and aware.”
Quan also talks a lot about love. How he met his first love through fan mail, how he loves to write love letters. He talks about some of his exes, how they were creative and how he moved geographically a few times for love. “It’s easy for me to move around because my job is flexible.” He laughs. When I asked an Australian friend if he knew Regurgitator he said, “Oh Yeah that guy Quan- the ladies love him.” Unfortunately, ladies, Quan is taken.
So what’s next for the humble creative genius- world domination? NOT. Actually Quan has no upcoming shows in Hong Kong partially because he claims he’s terrible at marketing himself. “Ambition is a strange word. It's never seemed appropriate for someone like me. I would love to play everywhere and anywhere I can of course but my priorities are not so honed. I suck at PR and I'm a bit of a social retard. I haven't booked any more shows because I haven't been asked by anyone but I have plenty to keep me busy in the meantime. My next gig in is Japan with my other band.” Though he was being vague and non-self promoting, Regurgitator is playing Sept. 18 in Japan. I asked him if he was really expensive and he says, “I'm actually quite cheap. You could probably get me to play for a couple pounds of high quality dark chocolate.”
Quan isn’t retired from performing live shows but he is branching out into new creative medias. His latest project is a video, which he’s producing for the Local band DP. DP stands for Dave and Paul and the music is heavy metal rock that is a bit Black Sabbath-influenced. Quan is using Premiere on his MAC to edit and produce the video and he’s spending hours on Maya, a 3D animation program that enables him to sculpt 3D animated monsters with pixels. Who needs to go out when you can spend hours in front of your computer sculpting animated monsters?
Though Quan is far from being a typical person, at the end of the day, he's the perfect example of a Hong Kong denizen. His blood is a mixture of East-meets-West. He loves to travel, is comfortable with being transient and he incorporates Eastern philosophies into his daily life. Personally, we're happy he's here for the sole reason that he's subtly influencing Hong Kong culture with his unique music, creative sensibilities, his big heart, humility and understanding of subculture in this somewhat culturally lacking city. Thanks Quan for enlightening us while keeping it real!