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Don’t Sleep on Hong Kong DIY Record Label Sweaty & Cramped

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In the past few weeks, Hong Kong label Sweaty & Cramped has been seriously active, releasing three different projects during the relative peace of the Chinese New Year holiday. These include the label’s second Asian Emo Compilation, Emotional, Too; a fantastic new EP from emo punks DAVID BORING, entitled VICTIMS; and some hardcore punk in the form of a split by The Squawk and The Tracy Lords.

Currently, the label is managed by just one guy, Lok Sum, who is also a member of bands Wellsaid and Emptybottles. That’s a lot of work for one man, but word is that Lok is about as passionate and knowledgeable a guy as you will find in the indie music scene.

Wellsaid

Tomii from math-folk band Stranded Whale tells a little story illustrating Lok’s driven approach to releasing new music:

We got the music done, he then got the pressing of records done. We got the printing of record jackets done, he then got the distribution done while we kept half of the products hoping to sell them ourselves. I would say I’m impressed because Lok is diligent and fast.

Sweaty & Cramped started in 2015 after a series of gigs of the same name. Around that time, there was a prevailing sense that live music in Hong Kong was becoming a bit to civilized and stale.

Lok says of the initial concept:

The idea is that many shows in Hong Kong can be kind of stagnant, in that people will go there and only stare and clap. Some friends and I wanted to introduce more interaction and passion to live music, and we hosted a number of no-stage shows. It was great seeing some people “unthaw” and really throw themselves into the shows.

Many of the bands who joined in on shows under the Sweaty & Cramped name subsequently have gone on to release under the label, driven to work together after discovering their shared qualities.

In the words of Laujan of DAVID BORING:

I think we are both fighting against the ubiquitous mainstream music/indie music scene in Hong Kong in our own ways. I think indignation and disappointment toward the greater society act as a great motivator for the both of us. It is not something you can exactly pinpoint like an exact moment of recognition, but instead something that one can actively practice, every day, in small unsexy little ways. I suppose that was how trust and respect was built between us.

Sweaty & Cramped group photo

With a number of their previous releases, including Wellsaid’s EP Setbacks and the Emotional, Too compilation, the label has teamed up with Guangzhou’s Qiii Snacks Records, Taiwan’s Petite Alp Records (run by former Touming Magazine frontman Hom Shen Hao), and Japan’s Sango Records (run by Xubo, the frontman of Wuhan post-rock band Chinese Football).

This grouping of DIY labels represents some of the most experimental and DIY outfits operating in and around China at the moment. Each of these labels has shown a willingness to create something a little bit different from the trends dominating indie music today.

Sweaty & Cramped made waves last year when they announced This Ain’t Gonna Cut It!,  a run of lathe-cut vinyl records for four bands (Oh! Nullah, Stranded Whale, Wellsaid, and DAVID BORING).

They chose lathe-cuts as the run of vinyls for each band was set to be quite small, with as few as 20 cuts for each release. Getting music down in physical formats is something that remains important for both Lok and for the artists on Sweaty & Cramped.

Emotional, Too brought the label a step further in terms of reach, as ten countries were featured on the compilation. Indonesian’s Settle, Japanese band by the end of summer, Taiwan’s VOOID and China’s Foster Parents and Nein or Gas Muss, amongst many others, are all featured.

Sweaty & Cramped represents an eclectic mix of independent music, with math rock, post-rock, emo, punk, hardcore and folk represented in stages throughout the label’s growing catalogue.

Most recently, Sweaty & Cramped released a split featuring hardcore punk acts The Squawk and The Tracy Lords. That meant teaming up with another regular on the indie scene in Hong Kong: “Arthur of The Tracy Lords is a very good friend of mine and is constantly an inspiring person to work with. He also runs DIY label ARTEFRACTURE in Hong Kong,” Lok explains.

The Squawk (photo by Vicko Hui)

(For those interested in this kind of thing, ARTEFRACTURE is another label worth checking out. With a backlog of records running as far back as 2012, there is plenty to wrap your ears around.)

In 2018, Sweaty & Cramped is lining up another interesting series of releases, including a cassette series called Don’t Sleep on This. According to its Facebook page, the first band to be released under this series will be The Elk Locker, an emo-punk band from Australia.

This new tape series will focus on international bands who have never released in Asia. The Elk Locker and an indie rock duo from Berlin called Hiding will be the first two releases of four, but Lok remains secretive about the final two.

In this era of hyper-connection through technology, Sweaty & Cramped takes advantage of its unique qualities — hard work and creativity — to transcend imaginary borders.

Clear upon inspection is that Lok is tireless in his pursuit of good and honest music. Perhaps his years as a gig organizer have made him immune to the nitty gritty, task-driven enterprise of sourcing and emailing new bands.

In short — to echo Sweaty & Cramped’s newest musical venture — don’t sleep on this record label.

Cover image: Oh! Nullah

Seamus Moore
    Seamus is a Shanghai based editor and writer with an interest in health, technology, science, the arts, culture and everything in between.