January 13, 2012

Hong Kong: Milkteeth

From the second of meeting Milkteeth, a self-professed freak-folk group, I was absolutely captivated by frontman Joey Basha, a charming 25 year old former sex writer from St. John’s, Newfoundland, who originally moved to Hong Kong for a boy. The romance didn’t last but Joey’s love affair with Hong Kong was serious and he decided to stay to finish university and start Milkteeth with friends Jeroen Brulez, Theo Chan, Dixon Chan, and Paul Yip. 8 days after shooting with us, Joey was found dead in a public toilet near his home in HK. It’s not the type of news you expect to find out over the holidays and needless to say, it was beyond shocking and saddening to hear about the tragic end to such a bright young talent. I’m incredibly thankful that I got the chance to know Joey during his last few days and happy that he got to meet his goal of being on MTV one day.

I met Milkteeth in the Kwun Tong district on top of the Jumbo Industrial building where they had set-up for a special rooftop performance. There are tons of abandoned factories that are made into rehearsal spaces by artists in this area. Milkteeth usually find themselves grabbing some beer at the nearby 7-11 and lugging whatever instruments they can carry up the twenty-odd story buildings and just chill and play music as loud as they want, for as long as they want. Joey tells me this is the essence of “dirty-pretty” in Hong Kong. Luckily for me, the building they chose for this particular day had an elevator…in some way, I’m sure my super-athletic-self secreted this.
After playing a few songs for me, I chatted with the guys about their racey band name (Milkteeth is Asian porn slang meaning ‘barely legal’) and how their honest and at times downright dirty subject matter fits into popular music in Hong Kong, which is dominated by the usually squeaky clean Cantopop. Joey explained that just playing music as opposed to choosing more money-making careers like banking or engineering, let alone being openly gay, is seen as rebellious here but at the same time, Hong Kong is an encouraging environment for artists like Milkteeth to continue to push the boundaries. It’s a world of contrasts and contradictions… it’s dirty-pretty.
To cap off our day, the boys took me to Senses 99 in Soho for a few celebratory drinks. Senses 99 is a two-story bar that is supposedly someone’s house in an old run-down building with a kitchen-bar/serving area and a stage on the second floor that looks like a rehearsal space. Once you buzz in and walk up the stairs, you'll see pieces of art on the walls that have been donated by its artist-patrons, a TV fish tank, and the young (like kid-young) bartender will do a Jedi mind-trick to ask what you want to drink. Weird but cool, right? Senses 99 is such a rad space and the perfect spot to wrap our shoot and time together.

My love and thoughts go out to Milkteeth and Joey’s friends and family, Joey was indeed an incredibly special soul.