Remembering Triple X — Hong Kong's Underground Mecca
Audio by Elphick Wo
Audio by Elphick Wo
Gone before its time, XXX (known popularly as “Triple X”) was a club not far from the MAEKAN Office that was a hotspot for underground culture and music on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side. The venue of choice for acts like OKOKOK, Yeti Out and Eric Lau, among many others, it closed in late 2018 amid a background of public noise complaints, sky high rents and lack of official support from the city. When street culture meccas like this one go down, it deals a serious blow to the independent community, especially one eking out an existence in a decidedly creatively inhospitable city like Hong Kong.
In this story, Elphick and Charis sit down with James Acey and Cassady Winston, the club’s co-founders, to remember XXX, the people that came through its doors and the music that blasted through the iconic venue’s walls and into the streets around.
At MAEKAN, the story defines the medium. Some stories function best as written text, others hope to capture the emotion through an intimate audio experience. In cases such as this audio story, the transcripts we provide are done to the best of our ability through AI transcription services and human transcribers. We try our best, but this may contain small errors or non-traditional sentence structure. The imperfection of humans is what makes us perfect.
Charis: So Elphick, we’re here with James Acey and Cassady Winston of XXX. XXX is a music—er, sorry—was, unfortunately, music, art, design, everything space. Over the last seven years moving between three different venues and having its last show just over a month ago. Thank you for coming, guys. Thanks for taking the time to be here.
Charis: I saw you gave me a look when I said was. ‘Cause I know that XXX, though the space might be gone, does live on.
James: The spirit lives forever.
Cassady: Well, we’re trying to be a little bit less literal little, little bit less visible. You know, things go up, things come down like the rain. Water condenses, it becomes solid.
Charis: What does it look like now, if it’s not a space?
Cassady: Well, we’ve been doing like some pop-up events definitely lately both in Hong Kong and in Shenzhen. Atually Doing one in Chengdu. So we’ve got two events in China next month in April and like. So basically ,we’re carrying the brand around and doing events that are related to the same concept, the same mission, in different spaces. So the only thing that’s different is that physical space is not there. But we’ve already moved twice, so that space was never really about one piece of wood and concrete. It was about something else. So that hasn’t changed.
James: No, I agree. It’s kind of like we can take it on the road, so to speak and then hopefully, bring some like “XXX presents” you know. So right now, what we’re tonight included is a pop-up, kind of like a victory lap if you will. But it’s like the race is still going and we’re still involved, but it’s just like you said, the brick and mortar is no longer attached to it.
Elphick: I guess this is also a good chance for the audience that don’t really know what Triple X is and you know, maybe you can clarify like who’s doing what—what kind of role do you guys play in the brand.
Charis: ‘Head of operations’ is a title I saw floating around the Internet.
Cassady: ‘A and R’ tooI.
James: Yeah, just do what needs to be done, basically. So that includes everything from making flyers to maintenance to.I don’t know. Sometimes picking up guests actually from the airport. So yeah, just being there for the brand, I guess.
Cassady: And to be fair you’ve had a big role in programming. First of all, the movie nights were largely your baby. And a lot of other things that have gone on. You put together or you connected with various crews in Hong Kong to put them on.
James: So I’m kind of just like a behind-the-scenes guys. I don’t like to be upfront, but yeah–
Elphick: –both of you are pretty behind the scene.
Cassady: I followed you behind the scenes, man. Like, people always said: “he’s the underground guy, the behind-the-scenes guy just because I take stupid photos and post themn. But besides that, I don’t even go out. I’m behind the scenes.
James: Yeah, your life is more domestic. But I mean, as far as like, on the scene, I’m behind the scenes, so I’m not front and center—I don’t like to be, at least. You know me.
Elphick: Yeah, I know you (laughs).
Cassady: I would say Triple X has been a space first and foremost for different people, artists, crews to experiment creatively. So that means putting on events, that means using the space for classes or study sessions, dance classes. We show drum classes. I mean, there’s been such a variety of things that have gone on there over the past seven years. When I actually think about it now, it’s shocking. James did a great job in putting this XXX zine together and it was amazing and we probably put—you probably put like five percent of what actually went on.
James: Yeah, I mean it wasn’t an exhaustive zine, but just for people who don’t know what XXX was, it’s a good starting to just show that to them instead sort of like trying to explain it. But yeah, going through all the all the iterations of XXX all of the events we did. It’s crazy, just the sheer amount of things.
Elphick: It was very emotional. I had a good read. It was heartfelt. You guys throw a lot of community events too.
Cassady: Yeah, we tried to. I mean we can definitely say personally, it’s been a very important part of my life and I’m sure yours too over these years. Definitely, it’s been a commitment in terms of time, energy, passion, everything. And it’s been so so worth it. But just as importantly, a lot of other people have invested experience, time into this space. I know as someone who’s threw parties before there was a Triple X in other venues that you create your own space, you create your own event whatever the space is, and oftentimes you just want the venue to get out of the way.
I think we’ve been probably staying out of people’s way in terms of creatively. Like, we put on all kinds of events over these years. Like I don’t care if I like all the music. That’s not what it’s about. It’s not about me. Let it live.
But we’ve hopefully at the same time been able to partner a little bit because we also do events. So we try to also push the envelope in terms of our own programming.
So we use the space obviously over those years so much to try out ideas and I think that that in an indirect way, creates more of an environment for other people to try these things out, whether it’s at Triple X or at other spots over the years.
Elphick: I think it’s that kind of mentality that really makes people feel very quickly comfortable in approaching you guys and do like all sort of ideas because you guys are very down to do whatever events that host, that use that space too.
James: Yeah, I think it should be little freeform and experimental as far as trying new things, especially in Hong Kong, you know, where they might not be used to two different forms of partying.
Charis: Yeah, on that note. When you first started in 2011, did you feel like people weren’t really getting it. Did it take a bit of time for people to understand what you were about?
Cassady: I found people were pretty thirsty, actually. They are pretty interested pretty early on. I mean, it was something new, and people always say you know, in Hong Kong people love something new. But the fact that it had a bit of staying power, I think that was due to the fact that there wasn’t really anything like that. There was the hyper commercial club scene and then there was a tiny bit of underground events, but they didn’t really have a home or it might be like a restaurant or something like that and it would have to move in a few months. So big kudos to the crews that made that work over those years. But we were able to kind of create a little bit of a semi home as much as people wanted it, but it became that so quickly, so that was one of the surprises that how much people latched onto it and it felt like this is really important.
It became an integral part of the Hong Kong cultural scene and that was surprising to me how well that worked.
Charis: Yeah. Do you think something that you guys have had a lasting impact on is growing that base, growing that feeling in the city? You said already, when you started people were thirsty and now seven years, it’s an even greater hunger for that.
James: Yeah, I think it’s part of the story of the city, so to speak and how it lives on and how it manifests itself like we talk about ghosts, you know. Ghosts are basically what what sticks around —like what sticks around from what a person—the experiences you had with a person or a place. So in that respect , I like it’ll have some reverberations, hopefully. At least within like the crew people I know like you and within our team, it has reverberations. So yeah, I think so.
Cassady: Yeah, and in terms of how people adjusted to it and if people were ready for it generally, but a few people had to get get the message. Like there’d still be people early on that would walk in the door and be you know not quite understand what this was. What is this space? Is it commercial, is it not? Is it a house party, is it like a bar and does that mean I can do anything I want?
Does that mean I can I grab girls’ asses and I can go take a piss in the corner?
Charis: Are there both things that have happened?
Cassady: Of course.
Charis: Just for the record.
Cassady: A hundred times and it’s horrible to see. And I mean I think that happens in clubs all over the world. I would say the thing I realized is that it’s a lot less. And we certainly supported proper behavior and respect. And I think it was just a factor of people not understanding what kind of space they were in.
Charis: Because it’s almost like a “no rules” thing in some regards, but that doesn’t mean like all the rules are out the window.
But the fact it had a bit of staying power, I think that was due to the fact there wasn't really anything like that. There was the hyper-commercial club scene and then there was a tiny bit of underground events, but they didn't really have a home or it might be like a restaurant or something like that and it would have to move in a few months.
Cassady: Exactly and this is a really key point. You know. Anarchism is not “no rules.” Anarchism is we create the rules that make sense for us here. That means more responsibility to stand up and be human and be a part of our society. And I think that what we built a little bit of is people have to treat each other with respect. Otherwise, we’ll keep them accountable.
James: We actually know each other from a co-op. So that’s where we first met like that. So that’s kind of in line with that. Like corporative living and actually like self-governing— like a block from the UC Berkeley campus.
Elphick: You guys do any parties back then?
Cassady: Yeah. We Opened for Eek a Mouse (note: party name).
Charis: To give some background for other people, both of you are from SF and you get moved here 11 and nine years ago. Something like that.
James: Eight years for me. So yeah we had a record label called Solos Records back in the day, like in the university years.
So we would throw events around that and then even before then, he would have his own drum and bass parties for Paradise Hellfire.
So actually, we’ll get into that later when we present the music, but part of this was trying to continue that and bring music that we like, including some of like our old crew to Hong Kong and present them with this new market and present people here with different sounds or whatever.
Charis: Why Hong Kong. Why did you decide to move here?
Cassady: It’s kind of random. I mean it’s a very interesting place. There’s nowhere like this city in so many ways.
And it just kind of like a random situation where I’ve got an opportunity to come here in like ’06 or whatever it was and just went for it. You know sometimes you just follow opportunities and you have to see what comes of it. So when I first arrived, I didn’t know anyone here.
Charis: You didn’t come necessarily with this mission to do something for culture in Hong Kong.
Cassady: There’s just always been dual parts of my life going at the same time, so I’ve had you know multiple projects and I started DJing when I was 18. You were probably even younger.
James: Yeah I was 16 when I went to uni—or no, how old was I?
Cassady: You were 17.
James: My sister was sixteen.
Elphick: That’s pretty young, going to uni at seventeen.
James: Yeah, but me, I came to Hong Kong because basically, he came to Hong Kong and then I visited him andit was just like a trip. And then I went back to the States and then kind of like the economic crisis recession happened.
So, I was unemployed on unemployment, just like chilling, making music, partaking in other activities during the daytime.
And then he was like, “yeah, just come out here,”.
Cassady: I was like, “yo, James. Let’s do this.”.
James: Yeah, he was like, “Come out here and see how you like this.” And at that time, a lot of my friends were leaving the Bay Area already.
So I was just like, “yeah, why not.” And I guess, the years went by so, hyperspeed. I was actually just talking to Glen’s mom at the event I was DJing before and I was just saying I didn’t plan to be here for eight years, but it’s just like—.
Elphick: It just happened.
Charis: Now it’s a commitment.
James: It made sense to just continue the journey here.
Elphick: I feel like a lot of people are like that too like coming to Hong Kong and I feel like the momentum is if you really have something going on, it just keeps going. You building things with people.
James: And that doesn’t mean that all the years were easy. It’s difficult sometimes for various reasons, but I just stuck with it and just continued doing it. You have to be somewhere.
Cassady: And it is less from me about why I came here than it is why I stayed. Because every year of the past decade, I could have left. SmartTone (note: Hong Kong telecom) contract notwithstanding and Netvigator (note: Hong Kong Internet provider) contract notwithstanding.
James: Oh yeah, I gotta pay that off.
Cassady: It gives you like these “two years [contract], two years [contract].”
Elphick: I’m actually in the middle of a dispute right now.
Yeah just the Internet like never worked for me. It was just like break down every month. Yeah, I pay like a month and then I’ll need to wait for two weeks to get some guy to wait for another two weeks to come here and fix it and then it will just break down again, so I terminate my contract, but now I need to like paying for like a four thousand dollar bill. I’m like, that doesn’t make sense. He was like, “well, if you want to disregard that you just sign a new contract.”
Charis: That’s how they get you.
Elphick: The old problem hasn’t even been solved yet. Why would I do that? So I’m just in the middle of this bullshit.
Cassady: You have to eventually just pay off the lump sum, I think. As your financial advisor.
Elphick: Well, Triple X doesn’t have gigs anymore for me, I can’t pay it off.
James: I have fiber optic right now, which is super exciting. Just wanna say that.
Charis: Every year, you can evaluate if you’re gonna stay or not.
Cassady: You make it, “No. I don’t have to be here. I’m leaving! I’m tired of this!”
But I stayed here—one of the main reasons, obviously, these past seven years has been Triple X. It’s been kind of the as a surprise to me, it’s become this like noble thing in my life, like, this is what I’m doing. It’s like one of the things that I’m doing in my life. And you know every time we would move to a new space that meant that our last lease had expired. And every time we had to think, well, what are the options? What should we do? Should we continue? Should we not etcetera? And every time it was like, “wow. If we were to shut it down, it wouldn’t only impact our lives. It would impact a lot of other people’s lives.”
And that’s been the main reason, why it’s continued for those seven years.I don’t always feel like owning a nightclub. Like, I hate nightlife. And I nightlife like 90 percent of the time.
Elphick: Has it always been like. Was it was just the first time it happened, like you need to close down that space and everyone have a really good response saying you need to continue this and that’s why you’re trying to find another space.
Cassady: That’s why we double down and when we went bigger for the second space, it’s actually a big change. That was really a double-down because the first base for two years was like a very DIY, just throw some stuff in a room and see what happens and put like signs on the wall and sell “art”. But then going to the next place we’re like, “oh shit. Maybe we can do this right and not worry about the police all the time,” get a liquor license. You know, Do everything to be legit.
And that meant a lot more expenses that definitely. But we did it. That’s why it was a double-down. It was a three year three-year double down and you can’t get out of those contracts either. Not so easily especially when you put so much money to the renovation. So you might as well work it out.
Elphick: Do you guys have a lot of like Polese complaints. Once you’ve done, all the like, legitimizing the business running. Yeah.
Cassady: So we had like five times more police contact after being legit. Thing Is when we were able to fly under the radar some of those years ago, but when we were actually licensed, that’s when they gave us the most shit. That’s when they came by weekly to check the same goddamn license that they checked the previous week that expires in seven months. So it’s kind of like, once you’re in the system those cops have a list. They have to mark so many on their quota per week. So we’re on that list, so they have to come by and they have to do something. Whereas when we don’t have a license, we just kind of fly to the radar unless there’s real complaints.
I've cleaned up a lot of y'all throw-up out there. I know what your insides look like. And then, so I was like, "okay, I'm done with that." I'm pissed already. And then as I open the door and it's some guys just like pissing in the corner and just like went off on him. I was just like, "what the fuck, you think this is like a bathroom now?" That's the type of stuff that we had to deal with.
Charis: I want to bring it back to what you said about how the last seven years turned into this noble thing you were doing, ’cause I kind of saw it—or just my understanding of your financial situation is that—you weren’t soluable necessarily for a lot of it, right? Like I think just people who’ve been there would realize the same thing, which makes it almost seem like a mission that you guys are on.
Cassady: Like you said, if we were trying to make money we’re not open up that club. Probably invest in bitcoin ten years ago. Like seven years ago. There’s other ways to make money. This was not about that. This was about having a space and then secondly, can we make a stand up on his own? That was always difficult.
Charis: And also I think you said this earlier that there were a lot of personal sacrifices that you made, which you said you don’t regret them, but those exist right for both of you. That there were some things that had to give way because of doing this.
Cassady: I mean what’s your biggest sacrifice?
James: My biggest sacrifice was just time. Not as big as his sacrifice. His was time and bankrolling it. My biggest sacrifice was just time and a lot of times, it’s a thankless journey, especially when, like we mentioned earlier, you catch someone peeing in the corner or.
Cassady: And it’s your friend that loves Triple X.
James: That wasn’t my friend! I mean I remember it. I remember one time I was closing up and I’ll probably just clean someone’s throw-up for like the millionth time. I’ve cleaned up a lot of y’all throwup out there. I know what your insides look like. And then, so I was like, “okay, I’m done with that.” I’m pissed already. And then as I open the door and it’s some guys just like pissing in the corner and just like went off on him. I was just like, “what the fuck, you think this is like a bathroom now? That’s the type of stuff that we had to deal with.
Charis: It’s not time and all that heart and effort that you don’t get feedback from necessarily, right. It’s have to constantly be telling yourself like, “the time I put into it is worth it” and you’re somehow like continuing that narrative in your head.
James: I guess that’s why I like doing things like the movie night. It’s for everybody, but it also was just for me because I want to watch those movies like revisiting the classics or like a new movie you know. So you can kind of kill two birds with one stone in that way. It’s true what you said is true, for sure.
Charis: What about you?
Cassady: I agree with all that. I mean it is a lot of time. Just going through that zine, it was shocking just how many flyers both of us have made over the years and how much excitement you put into certain events over the years.
I do feel like it’s easy to get burned out when you do it regularly for so many years.
James: But then you do have a formula if you do it regularly. You have your templates and—.
Cassady: —oh I’ll knock out a new flyer in fuckin’;Z, five minutes.
Charis: But that formula can grind on you too, right? ‘Cause then you’re like, “aww, now it’s just repetitive.”
Cassady: When you’re brand new, you get a lot of like positive reinforcement and then once you become part of the wallpaper— taken for granted then, maybe a little bit less—but I don’t do it for that. To your point like. I do tell a story, I do paint a picture for myself why I’m doing this. Why am I doing this thing that is really a pain I don’t feel like doing right now. It’s for this other thing. It’s for building upon what there is already and you know hopefully like…It’s communal a communal exercise. What we do is hopefully encouraging other people to push it into a new direction.
James: Especially when you inject or when promoters and organizers inject new concepts into it. Like so Gavin from Absurd Tracks. Yeah, that was a huge boost, like that made me happy that we had a space to provide for him and Tedman with the Dragon Town. So that’s like a re-invigoration to what you’re originally set out to do. It’s rewarding.
Cassady: And it is it is exciting to see new crews coming up and pushing the envelope in some ways. When we started you know I wanted to do my events, but I was thinking more about Lai Fai, Heavy Hong Kong these kind of reggae, drum and bass parties. That’s what I had in mind. Like, will he do events here. If yes, then I’ll get the space.
And I just think about the landscape back then, and who was doing events and what types of variety and what kind of numbers they were turning out etcetera and how it is now. And you must see how much how much more diverse it is how much has gone on over these years. Obviously you know, people come and go when it’s foreigners. But for the most part, I do think there is a scene here that has grown and diversified over these years we’ve has something to do with that.
Charis: I think when you were saying about ghosts, you live in those people’s stories as wel, especially at the beginning of a lot of people’s stories.
James: Yeah. Not every dream that you show up in is that of your own. Absolutely. I guess that’s like a living ghost in that case because we existed then, but when you think about somebody like Kelvin T or YoungQueenz, you know we helped. We were part of their coming out into Hong Kong. Tried to nurture and fostered their talents and give them a space.
Charis: I know you don’t have regrets, but is there something looking back on now after a little bit of time has passed that you would have done differently?
James: We have a page of regrets and the zine!
Cassady: That was more events that we had an idea that never came to fruition. But actual regrets, things we wish we had done differently—oh, there’s a couple of bookings I would’ve probably held back on! No names.
Charis: Is there a way that this could have been a money-making proposition without having diluted the vision. That’s something I think about myself, like is there a way to make a thing that is true to what you want and sustain itself or does that commercial part of it then taint the thing that you’re doing.
Cassady: I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always had other projects on. I’ve never gone full time into this. And if I had, if I woke up at 8a.m. and worked on Triple X until 5:00p.m. and then did more events in the evening and that was my life like that, then I’m sure we would have done more. I’m sure we would have brought in more revenue. Would it have been enough to cover my own rent and everything? I don’t know. Probably not, but I think we all have to try and there’s more than one model.
I think that is one of the keys here for me is that, you know, you can quit your day job and then go pro or you can like have other sources of income and have “projects.” I mean they’re all projects. And that’s also valid as a way to try to do things. We only have a limited number of years and days, so we’ll try to do as much as we can.
Elphick: But I also feel like as the years passed, you guys also feed off a lot from the community that people really like trying to help out. And they would do a lot of things to make their ideas successful. And then also help you guys, right.
James: I think for a lot of those cases, it was mutually beneficial. Like Tedman wanted like a venue for his party. So I think, it’s just mutually beneficial.
Cassady: There were times when we didn’t want people to come to our club, like, whatever small voice we had over these years, there have been a couple times when we were using it for a different purpose then come to this event a Triple X. Like during the Umbrella Revolution days or Umbrella Movement, during those weeks at certain key points, we used our voice to say “don’t come to TripleX. Don’t come to any party. We’re closing our events are canceled. Do something else.”
James: Yeah, it’s like, “it’s not a time to party right now.” It’s maybe be time to come together, but not—him.
Elphick: —in this form.
Charis: It’s interesting because after you’ve been in the city a while, you have a voice, you have influence that can be pointed towards different things that you support and I think that you still have that now without the space. You still have that voice and influence.
Cassady: Still got a little cred, yeah. Oh definitely something you guys said and you’re the end of the new media views that you might have been tongue-in-cheek. You were pointing back to the videographer and like, “oh you guys should do this.” Like more people in Hong Kong need to do this.
James: Yeah. Why not. It’s funny because they were like two guys and a girl. So it’s like that scene in Shaun of the Dead when they like run into the exact people that are just like them running from the zombies. “You guys take over now. You’re just like us. We’re the videographers now.”.
Cassady: I didn’t get the joke. That’s funny. But yeah. I mean, that is the thing, like you see a lot of competition a competitive mindset in Hong Kong. Like it’s all a zero sum game. I’ve never seen it that way. We’ve never worked that way. You know there’s there’s room for us to build a larger pie in terms of the cultural output in Hong Kong. We don’t need to be fighting over our chunk of the drum and bass nightlife pie and fight about that. I mean it let’s just build everything you know. So I think whenever people were doing events in other spaces clubs or whatever, we’d let them advertise at our place, which seems normal seems basic to me.
But I was shocked when I came to Hong Kong first like that is never done. People don’t play about that. But at the end of the day, let’s think a little bit longer term. We’re trying to build a community and a vibrant social social and creative scene that’s going to make money for people if we build it bigger. So you know we’ve worked on definitely relationships and less about transactions.
There'd still be people early on that would walk in the door and be you know not quite understand what this was. What is this space? Is it commercial, is it not? Is it a house party, is it like a bar and does that mean I can do anything I want?
Elphick: Talking to you guys, it reminds me like it’s crazy how like seven years ago, like I was in Vancouver and just found out about like a producer that I look up to Eric Lau and K-Mello, like you know the Get Up, which is like the soulful funky, vinyl kind of nights. And it’s like Triple X is always in the background. All of the flyers and everything is always there. So I was like very curious like, Hong Kong is like doing something big and now it’s like fast forward, everyone’s chipping into this community and I think it’s a very good way of you guys selling it. It’s like be collaborative. Everyone trying to be involved. Do something bigger than yourself you know.
Cassady: So if someone else opens up a club that’s like Triple X. We want more, honestly. We want more and more and more options and more variety in the city. That’s the main thing.
Elphick: But it’s also kind of cool because I feel like a lot of cities that I travel to and not many cities have our mind set in Hong Kong where it’s very open mind to collaborate ’cause we always felt like there’s a void that’s like not enough.
Charis: It’s fine though because Cassady was saying that he feels like Hong Kong is competitive—if I didn’t mishear you. But you’re saying that you feel like it is open-minded.
Elphick: It’s like competitive in a sense it’s more money driven, like how you’ve got to do like the cost-benefit and everything. But in terms of like cultural output, I feel like people always want more than it is in a lot of cities like Taipei or like Japan, I feel like they’re very content already. They have like their own market and you know they have their own form of putting out. That’s just how I see it and wonder if it’s because we don’t have.
Charis: I wonder if Hong Kong hasn’t really established what its sound is or what is the Hong Kong scene.
Elphick: Do you think there will ever be one, though? Hong Kong is so international. Do you think to ever be like a defined sound?
James: Or what’s the sound of Shanghai, for example?
Cassady: you have to look to the people who grew up in Hong Kong if you wanna about the Hong Kong sound, I think. And that’s why the events that really I think were actually the best events were like 80 percent-plus local turnout like the Dragon Town events. Like a lot of the events where like—even things that are a little bit on the face of it—a little bit corny like some the b-boy battles and stuff, like teenagers, like high school kids with the battles and they start at 2p.m. and go to 9p.m. etcetera. But like that’s the youth, though.
That’s the youth. If you wanna talk about the Hong Kong scene, I don’t really want to talk about white people who came here and they leave in two years and then you know. You know what I mean? I mean of course, there’s the influence of international people here and I’m speaking as one of them, absolutely. But all I can do is to come here and maybe like foster a space? But I can’t speak for Hong Kong in that sense.
Elphick: And what do you see like Hong Kong. Is there new sounds coming out, a new culture that’s coming out from Hong Kong for the past few years.
Cassady: A lot of bands that have gone one for years, pretty hype scene, but also for us, we’re probably more exposed to the trap scene.
James: Yeah, I would say I guess that’s the biggest movement that’s out of Hong Kong, and I guess the Greater China area. That’s a pretty gray area.
Cassady: Pearly River trap music.
James: But Pearl River Delta and beyond region.
Elphick: It’s interesting, as I went to China this year and end of last year and felt like there’s a lot of pressure into going to R&B. Like China is already kind of like moving on—trying to move on from Trap just because of that the big show—.
Cassady: —huge market. I think they’re diversifying. I think is going to solidify. I mean, even I mean if the government is not outlawing hip-hop.
Elphick: I don’t think they can ever stop it. They’re gonna stop the commercial aspect of it.
Cassady: Do you remember James when we went to Guangzhou for that event like a year ago or something? We DJ’ed in Guangzhou?
James: Is that the Hangover?
Cassady: Hangover, yeah. Exactly. And we went to this after party. And you remember this event, right? And it was random as all fuck.
James: The fashion event beforehand. Yeah, that was funny.
Cassady: And we’re like in this studio of this Guangzhou rapper and he had a huge scene going on. He had like, dancers, he had like so much gear everywhere and that was like playing videos of like their friends and it was popping off.
James: I would say just hip hop in general, because I mean, we don’t want to be like a trap venue either or we didn’t want to be when we hosted Tedman’s stuff, but that’s one of the things we like. But I think we’re in the broader sense that we’re fans of hip-hop as among other things, of course, but that’s why that appealed to us.
Charis: We’ve been talking a lot about like being organizers on the artist side of things, but we did mention the fact that you guys used to get a lot of police checks right? Do you think it’s possible for the Hong Kong authority figures to ever change their attitudes about the music scene about culture in general and Hong Kong?
Cassady: Is it possible? It’s possible but, unlikely.
Charis: What would it take for it to change, do you think??
Cassady: All the funding and organization, all the institutional structures that are supporting culture in Hong Kong like the West Kowloong Cultural District, the LCSD (note: Leisure and Culltural Services Department). I mean basically all this needs to be put in the hands of people who are actually doing it. They need to actually “co-opt” or partner with actual people who are doing events and actually have their fingers on the pulse of real things in this city culturally. Instead, what they’re doing is they’re creating a sanitized version that they can get approved through their approval chain.
And to have to go hire people who kinda look the part and can jump through all their hoops. But it creates this like shadow culture—shadow window into culture—they have some good people involved, but more often than not it looks really toy and corny and that’s because, the people that are actually doing things that are actually relevant are not always involved in those official events. And they need to bridge the gap if they want to really represent the people. They’ve shown absolutely no interest in representing the people though.
Elphick: But do you think that’s also coming from the ground up, like audiences just don’t get it. For example, so recently there’s a during Art Basel week, there’s public music event in Hong Kong park, the visual center where it’s like pairing audio and visual, it’s like the live band. I don’t know if you guys know the name, it’s just like a timer with 19 musicians like playing the music right. And color triggering at the same time, this guy’s playing percussion in the prison cell.
It’s all Hong Kong musicians everything, Hong Kong producers, everything from local. But then turns out there’s a lot of complains from the surroundings saying, “hey, this is noise.” There’s noise complaints, police come here and shut it down. But this is an Art Basel event. So people from Hong Kong are actually putting money in this and actually growing these artists. But the audience just don’t—”I don’t want to support this,” but they will go down to Art Basel and buy million dollar fucking paintings.
James: They need to complain when the DAB (note: Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) has their megaphones. Because that’s Public Nuisance or whatever party that is. yeah. I’ve Always thought about that. So it’s an issue when people are playing music publicly, but when these political parties are basically promoting their person to vote for and they have their megaphones out in the wake you up like at 9a.m. on Saturday or Sunday morning, that’s not….
Cassady: I think there’s just some kind of a situation here where people look at things in a black and white way. I mean, they’ll see value of their dollars you know attached to it. People think that someone’s sick, if they can see lab report that shows that they’re sick, but if they have mental illness, then they might not have accepted that yet in Hong Kong. I don’t know exactly why. I’m not trying to sound too judgmental, but I mean I think I would love for people here to kind of understand the softer value, the indirect value of artistic expression and you know risk-taking in general. And I think that as an artist, you need to take risks. You need to have space to do that and because of the commercial environment here it’s very hard to do so. Even academically, people don’t have the chance to take risks because of all the pressure. So there’s something economic, there’s something cultural. And I can’t say too much more about it except that. I do think that it’s important to build this space and to encourage risk-taking amongst the youth and amongst everyone.
Charis: I wonder if there’s something that us like regular folks can keep doing that would eventually change the people with authorities’ minds and I know, I totally hear you have and I’m on board with it not be likely, but I still wonder, is there something you and I, the people in this room, can do it that would further—that would make it incrementally more likely to change.
James: Just like the political process, that he probably believes in more than I do. I get more frustrated with it, but I still follow it. But I think it’s just incremental change, you know, just like you can’t wave a magic wand and just have things be more in your in your eyes, more progressive. I think it’s just like, just for the same reason that Hong Kong is different than it was six or seven years ago when it comes to music and art. And that’s not just what’s happening in Hong Kong, but that’s what’s happening globally as well, which I feel a lot of people locally fail to see.
Cassady: I think for this kind of stuff, you need to think generationally. I think you can’t go and try to change someone’s mind to living a certain way for 50 60 years in these ways. I think you have to have like, really important experiences for youth, you know, as children. And then need to carry those experiences with them and have some outlet, some way to kind of work through those experiences in a positive creative way and then need to get older. And then they need to have children (laughter).
And those kids are the ones that are influenced by that.
James: That goes back to the ghost thing.
Cassady: Yeah, absolutely. You can’t just go fight for that change right now. And unfortunately, it is as you said James, it’s incremental and I say it takes time and generations.
James: It’s like the people of the ’60s, students of the 60s. They grew up, they had like purchasing power, bought a house. Some of them got probably a little bit more conservative than they used to be, but they had an effect probably on the generation that came next and they were better or more forward-thinking than the generation that came before them.
Cassady: Exactly. That ’60s generation brought drugs onto the scene—recreational drugs. That changed everything.
James: Needles in the ’60s. Is real. Inside joke
Cassady: My whole life is real (laughs)!
Elphick: Because I know Hong Kong. TST, that area, they’re pumping a lot of money into building new cultural spaces. Did you guys see that as a step up in doing cultural events. You know really pushing that boundary or is just another way of getting tourists in?
James: In a form, I guess. I mean, didn’t you go to like the opera last night or the symphony? So that’s a cultural event. Yeah, sure that counts.
Cassady: It’s infrastructure. It’s great. It’s good. Build more art spaces. That’s a good thing. It’s just a matter of how do we use it. Who has access to it? Can the people that we work with, can they do an event there. Or what types of criteria are they looking at in terms of choosing who is going to be using the space?
I mean this is where the rubber meets the road and you know, it’s great to have more spaces.
Charis: But it is interesting speaking about physical space, while we’ve been talking about how Triple X isn’t tied to the space. It’s true that performances match spaces in certain ways, when you know that something is happening at a certain venue then you have a preconceived notion about what that thing is going to be like, what that night is gonna be like.
Which is why it is important still to have small underground places because we can’t all be like, in hotels or in fashion stores where we have all been to that.
James: Yeah I was just telling Cassady how it’s hard to just take the XXX crowd, and put them in a different space and just like, “do what you normally do. Dance!”
Elphick: So why I actually I’m kind of interested in, probably segway into, I know James you’re taking on a new chapter in your life to promote cultural events. Maybe you can talk a little bit about after Triple X, you take on another role in Eaton House.
James: Yeah so Eaton Hotel is re-branding and hopefully the spirit of XXX can live on in some form and my colleague Chantal, who had a gallery named Things That Can Happen in Sham Shui Po for two years and it closed down I think about nine months ago, same for her. So a lot of these places that are closing are—Holy Motors as well, Luke’s thing—for those type of projects to live on within Eaton, because Eaton has a mission and pillars of creativity, sustainability, wellness and would like to foster local talent, but not in the exact same way as XXX. It’s not going to be people throwing up or peeing in the corner. But yeah, in some form.
James: So we’ve been partnering with some clubs to do one-off pop-up events. Those will continue on top of that. There’ve been a couple spaces in Hong Kong that have been contacting us about doing something more regular like a weekly or monthly there and using the Triple X brand and all this, so looking at some options. But just like James was saying earlier, I mean, you gotta be thoughtful about it. You can’t just expect people just go there and feel the same. It’s a different space. Any partnership is always a brand new thing. Your A plus B is always going to become C. You can’t expect like A or B to be part of that equation anymore.
So just trying to you know pick and choose and see what makes sense. There’s always that thirst, there’s always that temptation to go, “hey, lets go get a new warehouse space. Let’s go do something.” (laughter)
Charis: I mean knowing the two of you have been with Triple X all this time, you two clearly have an appetite for risk, right. That’s my understanding, to stick with it that long, you must like risk to some degree. And right now what’s in your future? While I’m really excited to see what happens, it doesn’t say “risk” to me. So are you taking a break from that right now. Or is it gearing yourself up for the next big one?
James: (singing) “The calm before the storm. Riders on the storm.”
Cassady: I mean, I could stand to have a few months to chill out. Exactly. I definitely want that. I need to get my mind in order. I need to focus on my family for a few months. I need to get things sorted. I need to chill the fuck out for a bit. But a really funny thing that happened a couple of weeks ago at Sonar Festival. I was walking in like I ran into Ah Kung, you know him.
Elphick: He’s like the cultural director of Hong Kong pretty much like the ultimate guy, right.
Cassady: And he does work at West Kowloon space. I think he’s a cultural director there if I’m not mistaken. And like he’s the guy that plays the violin, you know. He’s a special dude. He ran into me and he was like, “(inhale) You can’t hide. Don’t hide. You can’t go into hiding.” And I was like, “Oh my god. I cannot believe you said that.” That is like incredibly flattering to get that from a guy like that. He’s basically we need you to do this. You can’t just like hide. This is what you do. Is what you need to keep doing. And that really did. I did feel that close to my heart.
But at the same time, you know, someone else can step up and do something. I put up with a good seven years on this. Like, I got a white hair and shit. Like, 21-year-old kids rocking these streets. They can do some shit.
James: Obama. Barack Obama.
Charis: It’s like he’s knighting you. You’ve been knighted with this duty. This encounter kinda sounds like that.
Cassady: He’s an awesome dude.
Charis: I totally hear you. I mean, who knows? Maybe over the past seven years, what you guys did ignited something in a young person. He’s like 17, 18 right now and they’re gonna have the ability or they’re going to have that, “to hell with it. We’re gonna do it regardless.”
Cassady: I mean, this is the thing, honestly. We all live our lives day to day. And maybe you care about people and about society and change, more or less. But we all probably have an impact on people around us and hopefully a good one. Family and friends et al. But because of this project—that wasn’t me, that wasn’t you. It was its own thing—it did kind of have a megaphone effect to have a larger impact on tens, hundreds, thousands that is special. And you just hope that that’s positive and take some take heart in some of that.