• FM Belowground is a community radio station with a varied programme ranging from local dance and indie bands to podcasts to DJing workshops
  • Music director Arthur Bray explains how the station is now fulfilling its initial purpose of connecting people from different backgrounds and creative practices

FM Belowground is tucked away in a basement corner of the Landmark upmarket commercial complex in Hong Kong's Central district, but it is far from your typical posh-shopping-mall tenant.

With techno music gently thumping in the background, the hole-in-the-wall-esque space gives off vibes that are both distinctive and secretive, baffling curious passers-by.

A peek through the big glass window reveals young people either immersed in music or talking enthusiastically.

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FM Belowground is a community radio platform that was founded by the international music collective Yeti Out in 2020 to initiate creative conversations and collaborations. "Sound oddities" is one label found on its Instagram profile.

"It's a community radio station and also a place where we can interact with different creative communities as well as friends, bringing ideas to life in the forms of radio programming and pop-up shops and events," says Arthur Bray, co-founder of Yeti Out and music director of the station.

The initial concept for the platform - which is an extension of The Landmark's Belowground retail space - was to bring in interesting minds from around the world for activations, events and parties. It was an exciting, novel venture for music enthusiasts as well as the local creative community in Hong Kong.

However, as the world has come to learn since December 2019, things do not always pan out as they were supposed to.

"Originally, we wanted to make this as much a local hang-out as it is a place where people can come visit from overseas," Bray says. "When [Covid-19] happened, not only could we not do that, but we also had social-distancing rules inside of the studio, which made things rather uncomfortable and awkward at one point."

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During the pandemic in Hong Kong, live performances, gigs and parties were banned. Concerts and festivals were postponed again and again before being cancelled.

Live music performers and enthusiasts alike were devoid of opportunities to have fun and instead were stuck in a stagnant void, bored out of their minds.

"An online radio station seemed like the only way we could connect with people and share music and conversations," Bray says.

"The social-distancing measures definitely put a bit of a spanner in the works, but thanks to the DJs who sent in mixes they recorded at home, we could continue streaming. We were able to work around the restrictions and still operate 24 hours a day, hence our Instagram bio, 'Still live'."

If it's too comfortable, you're not actually changing anything. If we're going to do this, we'll do it as authentic as how we think it should be done
Arthur Bray

Now that FM Belowground can operate fully, it is starting to fulfil its initial purpose of connecting people from different cultural backgrounds and creative practices.

Not just centred on electronic music, the station has a varied programme ranging from local indie post-punk bands to a podcast about contemporary art. It even runs DJing workshops.

"We try to keep it as eclectic and diverse as possible," Bray says. "Radio culture is about sharing creativity. Say, if we have a Japanese hip-hop show, and the next hour is an ambient show - these are people that do not normally connect in a club setting, but a radio station allows for an intersection between shows which can start conversations and discussions.

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"At the end of the day, this is about connecting music lovers and sharing that on the airwaves. I think the most beautiful moments are those in between shows."

FM Belowground's sound booth was designed by London-based consultancy Brinkworth - which has outfitted stores for Supreme, End Clothing and Browns Fashion - and has a fully decked-out sound system worthy of a professional recording studio.

"Devon Turnbull of the New York-based [audio systems brand] OJAS helped us with the sound system. He's an audiophile, really interested in sound quality," Bray says. "We did a podcast with him to talk about his past and how his fascination with audio is important to what we're into - just finding parallels."

Standing at the heart of the hybrid retail and cultural destination that is Belowground, the radio station also has access to hype streetwear labels like Awake NY and Human Made.

"The designers and people behind the brands all have rather interesting stories to tell. The idea of running these podcasts is to further explain the thought process of these creatives," Bray says.

"That's why I think FM Belowground is as much online as it is offline. The online part is, of course, people tuning in; the offline part consists of people coming to break bread, network and get to know each other. It is a 360-degree enterprise."

But why, among all this talk about alternative music and the creative scene, choose The Landmark as a base, a place far more readily associated with upper-class tai tais looking to get their hands on the latest Hermes purse?

"My reason for starting a community radio station here is because this is where we can seriously shake things up by disrupting the peace," Bray says with a laugh.

"Sometimes our neighbours do not understand what we're trying to do, or perhaps people simply aren't ready for a nosebleed-inducing techno set at 1pm on a Tuesday - and that's OK!

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"It still needs to be done, because if it's too comfortable, you're not actually changing anything. If we're going to do this, we'll do it as authentic as how we think it should be done.

"If you want to get more people involved and push things further, do you just do what you do in the same circles and same places, or do you go somewhere else, where no one completely gets what you do? Ultimately, the impact is larger in the latter."

FM Belowground has welcomed local sonic creativity from the likes of Sheung Wan techno club Mihn, post-punk band Nan Yang Pai Dui (who will be playing at Clockenflap this year) and veteran DJ Andrew Bull, better known as DJ El Toro.

Next week, Japanese artist Hiroki Muraoka will pay the station a visit for an interview and mix show, coinciding with his exhibition opening next door at Belowground's gallery space.

"This February is going to be our two-year anniversary, so there'll be a pop-up," Bray says. "We've also got events in the works for Hong Kong's arts month [in March]."

Bray wants to extend his appreciation to his peers in the scene who are similarly working towards a common, greater goal in Hong Kong.

"Shout out to HKCR [Hong Kong Community Radio] and [founder] Gavin [Wong], who truly paved the way; Eaton Hong Kong's radio station is doing such an amazing job, too.

"But why not have more, you know? This is just our version, and the more, the better."

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

2023-02-04T05:30:16Z dg43tfdfdgfd