During my university days I was a DJ on radio, playing punk music from 2am to 4am on Tuesdays, with a listenership that hardly existed (sometimes friends would call in out of sympathy). At the time radio felt a little antiquated, and until recently could be considered in its death throes.
Yet nowadays, radio is back with a vengeance, in the form of online streaming – and its ascension has come just in time to help out Hong Kong’s struggling underground club scene. It might seem an out-of-date way to work as a DJ, but online radio is really just streaming video with the DJ being filmed performing live.
In the current environment it makes perfect sense for DJs to be involved. The clubbing scene in Hong Kong is under severe stress – XXX Gallery will soon be the latest in spate of closings in the city, following Premium Sofa Club and other underground clubs into the dustbin. Rents, complaints, pressure from residents and various authorities, along with the realities of the commercial squeeze, have put a damper on parties in Hong Kong.
While there are several clubs that still play decent underground dance music, a true creative space for people to be experimental and try new things is sorely lacking. DJs have been caught in the crossfire; the Internet was supposed to liberate music but it has widened the choice so much that the common denominator is often the style most heard in clubs now. Chart bangers rule the roost, and requests have become more common as most patrons know it is easy as plugging a phone in and turning up the fader.
Within the maelstrom, a savior of sorts has arisen – online radio. Operators are proliferating globally, inspired by the likes of the UK-based Boiler Room, which went from running on a webcam, to hosting world famous DJs and parties broadcasted online. In the city, Hong Kong Community Radio (HKCR) has been garnering significant viewership, and a new entrant in the market, Fauve Radio is gaining traction too.
It’s little wonder DJs love playing online – the atmosphere is liberating compared to clubs that feel increasingly suffocating. I play on HKCR sometimes, and aside from the odd troll (which I find funny anyway), it’s always been an incredibly positive experience.
The beauty of online viewership is that DJs can get thousands of views for a small investment compared to shows at clubs that can run up costs very quickly and are subject to the whims of fortune. Online radio also engages with the audience who can comment easily, and click to the DJs’ social media pages effortlessly.
Most online radio is hosted on Facebook, but as the network becomes increasingly monetized, the result might be migration to other channels. YouTube has proven an effective platform for Boiler Room, and as long as there are places to stream live video, or post recorded sessions, it is hard to see the online format going any way but up.
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