Xsgacha are veterans of Hong Kong’s underground music scene

THE FACE meets the shadowy duo at Clockenflap festival to talk about surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

Tonight’s a big night for Xsgacha, but you can’t really see them.

On stage at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap festival, the duo are mere silhouettes behind a screen that’s playing surreal, dystopian visuals. As the audience watches deer being stalked through night vision and drone footage of Gaza being destroyed, Xsgacha perform brooding trip-hop tracks that build towards a pulverising finale. Behind the stage is Hong Kong Harbour’s neon-lit cityscape, punctuated by enormous skyscrapers belonging to Bank of America and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Forces.

Xsgacha (pronounced ex-ess-gah-sha”) always perform behind a screen and never reveal their faces in photos or music videos. But when I meet Lilly and Treasure Autumn at a touristy harbourside cafe the morning of their set at Clockenflap in November, which also has massive acts like Swae Lee and J‑pop stars Yoasobi on the line-up, the producers and vocalists aren’t as aloof as their stage personas might suggest. They just want to separate their art from their personal lives.

In this society, people have certain ways to look at you,” says Treasure, who also speaks in English on Lilly’s behalf, on the subject of their semi-anonymity. “[Your] mum has some way to look at you, your boss does… So we want to take all this away. And then what is left is just the visuals that we want to express, and also how we sing.”

Xsgacha are key players in Hong Kong’s small but resilient alternative music community (“These guys are Hong Kong legends,” a local photographer tells me while shooting them for THE FACE), which also includes post-punk five piece David Boring, experimental club producer Kelvin T and riotous garage-punk band N.Y.P.D. Modern day Hong Kong isn’t exactly fertile ground for a subcultural music scene, either: the rent prices are notoriously high, as is the cost-of-living (in 2023, it was listed as the second-most expensive place in the world). And between 2019 and 2020, there were widespread anti-government protests against a proposed bill which would extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. The bill was eventually withdrawn, but it’s believed that Hong Kong has become increasingly authoritarian since.

These past few years in Hong Kong, a lot of people [in the scene] left,” Treasure says. Everybody here has to think about surviving… There [was] so much you could say, and now you can’t.”

Lilly and Treasure met in 2009, when they joined a movement opposing plans to extend an express high-speed rail link in the Choi Yuen Village, which was expected to be disruptive to the livelihoods of the locals. The people there [were] very kind and connected to each other, we learned a lot,” they later explain over email. Many artists and musicians participated in the movement, too. At that time, the government came to take back some of the lands during the New Year holidays. A bunch of people gathered and did a two day festival, band shows and an outdoor exhibition, to protect the place and also to cheer everybody up and have a bit of fun.”

During the mid-late 00s, both musicians had been part of a vibrant cultural scene in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong district, where artists could rent cheap accommodation and studios in industrial buildings and factories. Lilly and Treasure fondly remember Kwun Tong being home to illustrators, people doing woodcraft, DIY gig promoters and an unlicensed radio station which broadcasted tongue-in-cheek adverts. But soon, gentrification swept the area, transforming it into a business district. Lilly and Treasure then moved around seven miles east to Kwai Tung.

Lilly and Treasure started working on their debut Xsgacha album, 冇​有​形​狀 (no shape), during lockdown. The tracks sound smoky, sensual and eerie, primed to soundtrack late night walks around the city, while lyrics are whispered or wailed in Cantonese. Xsgacha’s sound brings to mind 90s Bristolian trip-hop acts such as Tricky and Portishead, but they draw inspiration from film as much as music, citing Hong Kong screenwriter Lee Chi-ngai and the late actor/​singer Leslie Cheung as influences. He’s actually a very important LGBT figure in Hong Kong,” Treasure says of Leslie, smiling warmly. In Hong Kong in the 90s, you [couldn’t] really say I’m gay’ if you were a celebrity. And he was the first person to really have this attitude.”

Since releasing their debut album, Xsgacha haven’t played as many shows as they’d have liked to. This, they explain, is partly due to a lack of small venues in Hong Kong, where live music licences and rent are eye-wateringly expensive. But there remain a few countercultural hubs, such as 20 Alpha and Foo Tak Building, where alternative musicians and artists can congregate.

Xsgacha met members of N.Y.P.D. at Hidden Agenda, a much-loved venue in the Kowloon district that’s now closed. But the bands remain friends to this day. After watching NYPD instigate huge moshpits during their Clockenflap set, I take a cab to the N.Y.P.D. after party organised by night life collective Yeti Out, who also run a local radio station and the Silk Road Sounds label. There, it seems like the roots of Hong Kong’s alternative culture are strong enough to survive the drought.

Do Xsgacha agree? Treasure’s not so sure, but even surviving here counts as a victory. It’s hard to say if it’s good or not,” she shrugs. It’s more that the [the fact] that it’s existing.”

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