25 February 2020
Children enjoy riding the bike to produce energy for the portable sound system. Photo: Facebook
Children enjoy riding the bike to produce energy for the portable sound system. Photo: Facebook

The future of music is solar-powered

SolarSoundSystem HK is a portable sound system powered by solar and kinetic energy, with two attached bikes which partygoers can use to generate energy, and see how much they are contributing to the fairly powerful sound system. Part of a global movement running since 1999, it can be used for anything that requires amplification or powering, from bands to talks, online streaming for radio shows or even simply charging stations for phones at events.

EJ Insight recently caught up with Aymeric Vollant, who along with Chuck Wu co-founded the Hong Kong team, to see how the project is going.

One year into the project, how has the response been from DJs and the public?

It has been such a positive year for us presenting the project around the city, and being involved in about 30 events. We are more than happy to notice the same enthusiasm as us for the project coming from the public and DJ community. Children love to challenge themselves at the bike station. It is funny because children tend to jump on the bikes and to pedal as soon as they see them, without even understanding that they are linked to the booth. It is only after pedaling for a while and after seeing the LED light moving that they start to ask us, “What does it actually do?”

Young adults are at an age that has more interest in music and partying. For them, it is more about welcoming a new fun and meaningful tool to enjoy outdoors daytime music sessions, be it for dancing or just chilling out on the grass. And we have been happily surprised to see older people loving it too! We even had an 85-year-old grandfather riding our bike together with his granddaughter when we hosted a busking session at the Zero Waste Building last summer.

Regarding the DJ community, we are lucky enough to have welcomed about 40 artists to play on the system. Support came from the more experienced generation, such as Allan Ho, Lukas, Jo.D, JayMe, or Johnny Hiller, as well as the younger passionate generation such as Romain Fx, Hugo Lau, and Dan-Neo.

What have the challenges been? It must be a very time-consuming and physically demanding project?

Besides some really important help from our community and friends, we are still mainly two people taking care of the development of the project at the moment. As it involves bringing the equipment to a maximum of events all around the city, we can say for sure that we have been challenging our physical abilities.

The peak of the activity was between October and December last year. At the time, we had an event almost every single weekend, going from a farm in Cheung Chau to the top of a hill in Pok Fu Lam, or from the West Kowloon Art Park to the French International School in Tseung Kwan O. This was especially intense for us with limited rest and a lot of work behind the curtain. But it was also so much fun!

On the technical side, both Chuck and I have been learning a lot throughout the year, always trying to get the most out of the system while managing the challenges around the energy consumption of our equipment. Thanks to the original SolarSoundSystem team in Europe, who has been assisting us from day one, as well as the help of Hong Kong-based friends, we have avoided major issues. We have also been working on new features to be revealed soon this year.

What were the big milestones of 2018?

One year has passed since we started the project, and our mind is already full of beautiful memories. The first milestone was our participation in Sónar Hong Kong in March 2018. After weeks of intense work together with the original SSS team who flew over to Hong Kong to help build the system, this event was the very first time we introduced the project to the public. We are originally only supposed to play background music for the late hours after 10 p.m., but finally became a real outdoor after-party stage with hundreds of people dancing and riding the bikes.

A second important milestone was the participation of Freespace Happening as program partner. With one edition per month from September to March, attracting thousands of local people and families, we had an amazing platform to raise awareness about renewable energy. Open to alternative genres of music, the festival’s team has enabled us to curate an eclectic selection of artists and present electronic music as a beautiful cultural expression tool. Freespace Happening has also been the perfect platform to introduce our workshop Solar Toy Playground, which offers children the opportunity to play and build their own solar-powered toys.

What are you looking forward to in 2019?

We are really excited about the two coming months, especially in March as it will be the first anniversary of our operation in Hong Kong, and also a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the global SolarSoundSystem network.

The month will be full of fun events, starting with the final edition of Freespace Happening on 9 and 10 March. We are inviting all music lovers and all eco-conscious people in town to join us for a little dance under the sun, or a chill nap on the grass. We will also host an online 20-hour live music streaming marathon on March 21st together with the SSS partners in Paris, Tel-Aviv, Lausanne, and the Basque Region in Spain.

A major objective this year will also be to get more involved with schools and children’s organizations. We are designing educative programs and practical workshops for students to learn more about the energy challenges of society and how to face them in the future. We ultimately want to increase our tangible impact on Hong Kong society by helping the installation of solar systems in disadvantaged parts of the city. This is still at the brainstorming stage and we welcome anyone interested in the topic to reach out to us and take part in the discussion.

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJI contributor