Deer – The Mexican Invasion

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All the way from Mexico city, this classically trained duo is  bringing a breath of fresh air to the venues of Hong Kong.

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Formed just over a year ago in Hong Kong, Deer is the wonderful musical collaboration between Adriana Martinez and Miguel Bastida. Martinez studied ethnomusicology back in her native Mexico where she found herself drawn to and involved in the folk music of the overseas Chinese community. “I learned a bit of drumming, especially for the lion dance. I love Chinese percussion,” she says, “What I like about it is that it’s so powerful. In the context of the lion dance, it’s the sound of the drums that wakes the lions up.” Intrigued by this, she uprooted herself and decided to study for her PhD here in Hong Kong, bringing her long-term partner Bastida with her.

Once here, though, they felt a need to start making their own music. “When we arrived here, we went to see a lot of concerts, in particular Blur and Sigúr Rós, and something just clicked and we said to ourselves we just had to start a band.” They spent the next two weeks composing and recording three songs and, liking the results, they decided to forge ahead. Now, they are constantly on the road, and have played dozens of gigs both here and all over China where they recently went on tour. “We played in some pretty small places, but the crowds who came were amazing and we were surprised by how appreciative they were of our sound,” says Bastida. While China is certainly more open-minded about music is than Hong Kong, it’s easy to understand their surprise as their music is more trip-hop by way of PJ Harvey (one of their major influences) than pop-rock.

That said, their backgrounds are in classical and folk music, so the dreamy, luxurious tracks they’ve composed are a distinct departure. “We played in orchestras back in Mexico and maybe we played a couple of weddings. Even so, I’m a huge fan of rock acts like U2 and Radiohead and in Mexico we went to all their concerts. So perhaps when we came to work out what music we wanted to make, we really wanted to do something very different to all that,” explains Bastida.

One of the most fascinating aspects of talking to Deer is their outsider’s view of the music scene in Hong Kong. As Martinez puts it, ‘it’s very interesting’. She goes on to explain, “You have Cantopop with its huge pop sounds and then you have this underground scene with more local bands as well as European bands. So you have these two very distinct styles. The European, or more properly British, bands all grew up with a certain musical background, like for them The Beatles is in their blood, whereas the Chinese bands have a very particular way of reinterpreting this music. For example, they extend the forms, so they don’t stick to the verse-chorus-verse tradition of European music. Instead, they blur the division, inserting melodies between them, for instance.” When asked where they stand, they laugh and say they stand firmly in the middle. “We weren’t English and we weren’t Chinese, so we started to experiment with both sides. It’s very hard to say which side we are on. Often people ask us what kind of music we’re making, and it’s a hard one to answer because we’re trying to do so many things that we like. Currently, we’re doing stuff that’s a bit more Latin, but before that it was more trip-hop or downtempo. That said, we’re now working with some drummers and more electronic music as well. After a year of working together and refining our music, I think we’ve finally found our sound.”

With influences ranging from classic U2 to the pop strains of Britney Spears, from the wrenching vocals of PJ Harvey to the urgent rhythms of Chinese percussion, Martinez and Bastida have a huge musical repertoire to draw from and it serves them very well. Make sure you go and check out these true Hong Kong originals when they’re next playing.