Three basses, no guitar. It was almost unthinkable.

The electric guitar has long been the instrument of choice for aspiring rock gods – the traditional centre of the rock sound. Yet, one indie band in Hong Kong decided to throw it out and put three basses on lead instead.

In doing so, ANWIYCTI unwittingly became music pioneers, something few would expect to emerge from Hong Kong. But it was more than just a gimmick.

Formed in 2012, ANWIYCTI – “A New World If You Can Take It” – is Joey Pui on vocals, bass and keyboard, Edward Chiu on bass and programming, Eqqus Lee on bass, and Pie Wong on drums. Two days before their performance at Clockenflap 2015, ANWIYCTI spoke to HKFP about the story behind their name, their most unforgettable shows, and how it all (accidentally) began.

Photo: HKFP.
The beginning

Joey: In the beginning we didn’t plan to be a band – it was merely a project of mine. I had written some songs and I wanted to produce and record them. Then I talked to Edward about it, showed him the demos and he thought the concept was interesting. We just took it step by step. We had day jobs, and it was a side project, so we put in time whenever we could. When the production was complete, we realised there’s something there. Then I decided I wanted to make it into an album. That’s when I met Eqqus, who’s a designer. He said, why don’t you send over the songs?

Eqqus: I was quite surprised when Joey approached me – I’ve never done anything related to bands or CDs. I wanted to listen to the music, because it wasn’t like the other commercial projects I had done in the past. I wasn’t part of the band at first.

Joey: We thought we were just going to produce the album, book a venue and play a show for the CD release, then this project would be concluded, and we’d go, “Bye!” The whole thing feels like an accident, but we all took it very seriously. We started thinking about forming a band, and Eqqus began dropping hints. I thought, why not, since he seemed pretty enthusiastic, and he understood what we were trying to do.

The drummer back then was my younger brother and the other member was Edward. When we first started playing together, the frequency was too similar and the whole thing didn’t go that well musically. But it was exciting, because every time we played we would make these small improvements. We didn’t have any predecessors to emulate, so we were kind of finding the way on our own.

We were going to play at Clockenflap 2013 when suddenly my brother said, I’m not playing anymore, I’m going to New Zealand to become a pilot. [laughs] Then we met Edward’s classmate Pie, and invited him to join us. The first time he played, we were relieved because at that point we were almost giving up. Before the Clockenflap show, we only jammed together four times, each time with a different drummer.

ANWIYCTI’s band room at Wong Chuk Hang. Photo: HKFP.

Eqqus: [After the tour] we have a better idea of what we need and want. We’ve pretty much played in all kinds of venues and live houses, we’ve tried working with the best and worst equipment. To us it doesn’t make that much of a difference now.

The story behind the band’s name and logo

Joey: I like listening to New Age stuff like UFO and conspiracy theories on online radio. One of the stories I listened to was about this American called Philip Corso, a high-ranking military officer. When he was lost in a mountain cave somewhere, he met something that was not entirely human, but communicated with him telepathically. He said that the being asked him to turn off his radar for ten minutes. Corso asked, “what can you promise me in return?” Then the being told him: “A new world if you can take it.” I told Edward immediately, and I said, this is our band name!

Eqqus: When I met him to discuss the project, I asked, what’s your band name? And he said, “A new world if you can take it.” Then I asked him, what’s the name of the album, and he said, “A new world if you can take it!” [laughs] We thought, since it’s weird anyway, why don’t we just take the initials and put it together? And then our problem was, how do we pronounce it? In the end, Joey asked his sister.

Joey: My sister said, you can pronounce the word “an-wic-ti”!

ANWIYCTI’s logo. Logo designed by Eqqus Lee.

Eqqus: In our first year, every time there was a show or an interview, we would have to explain how to pronounce it. As for the logo, every component has a meaning behind it. To me, a triangle is something that gives off energy, which is what I want our band to do. The eye is how we look at the world, and how the world looks at us – if you look further, or if you look at it from another perspective, there’s something new for you – just like the name of the band. After every experience, we would look at things in a new way. And there are four dots, because there are four of us.

Musical influences

Eqqus: Like we said, we don’t really have a reference for bands with three basses, but all bands do have bass, so we learn from all of them. In the beginning we listened to more post-rock and instrumental, but lately it’s mostly been electronic music.

Richie Hawtin. Photo: Wikicommons.

Joey: For me, the first album has also been influenced by electronic music. I grew up listening to 90s grunge rock, and at some point around 2011 I wanted to explore something new. For the songs on the album, some of the format and songwriting is electronic music and minimal techno: stuff like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode – and Richie Hawtin as Plastikman, which a Canadian friend introduced me to.

Best and worst performances

Joey: The worst was the release party, in terms of the vibe. We had been looking forward to it for so long, and put in so much work. When we didn’t do as well as we expected, I felt like we had let those who had come to support us or got to know our music for the first time down.

ANWIYCTI CD release show at Hidden Agenda, 2014. Photo: HKFP.

Eqqus: As for the most unforgettable, there were three instances – one of them was when we performed at the Midi Music Festival in China. Because it was a huge event, even if no one knew your band there would still be quite a bit of people in the crowd. The second was the Xihu Music Festival – it was the first time all of us performed with in-ear monitors on, and it was quite a fresh experience. The third one was the Open Sesame festival – during the last song, the sun was just setting, and the tech crew kept blasting fog onto the stage, so the lighting was amazing.

Touring in China

Eqqus: In China, you know with certainty that the crowd won’t know your band. At the live houses it’s about 100 people each time, but the response was surprisingly positive. They were very receptive – if there was an opportunity for them to listen to or try out new music, they’d take it. We also learnt that there must be encores at China – there was once when we didn’t prepare for one and they were yelling at us.

Joey: It was like they were going to beat us up [laughs]. They said, “What on earth? That’s out of line!”

ANWIYCTI at the studio. Photo: Emily Hui.

Eqqus: The point is, they ask for more, and they want more from you. We thought, “wow, and they didn’t even know us before the show.”

Joey: That’s not to say Hong Kong fans aren’t as enthusiastic. After shows, there’ll suddenly be a lot more likes on Facebook, and they really pay attention to your stuff. Maybe you can’t tell from the expressions on their faces, but they’ll buy your CDs and ask you lots of questions. As for crazy fans – someone tattooed our band name onto their wrist! That was incredible – I would never expect something like that to happen.

Eqqus: Yeah, when we weren’t even sure whether we would tattoo it onto ourselves [laughs].

Joey: I was quite touched.

Eqqus: Then, afterwards, at every stop we toured at in China, we would see him at the show. We’re friends now actually, when we go out for a meal we ask him along.

The future of ANWIYCTI

Eqqus: After the Clockenflap show, it’ll be the beginning of a new chapter for us. We’ll be putting out an album, new songs. The show is the end of phase one for us.

ANWIYCTI at Clockenflap 2015. Photo: Emily Hui.

Joey: It’s quite meaningful for us to play at Clockenflap again – that was where we began. We’ll be performing less – we want to spend more time putting songs together, especially since we all have our day jobs as well.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.