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Artist Feature | Ollie Rodgers

There are many people to meet, many stories to hear in Hong Kong (or life in general). That's why it's always nice coming across like-minded artists moving towards the same goal of creating and inspiring. We take a minute to chat with Ollie Rodgers, a skater-turned-creative and how skateboarding was the springboard into his journey into artistry. 

'Just keep on going, keep pursuing, keep creating.'

Gahyao Clothing | Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 

Mr Koo Radio 



Gahyao : Why don’t we start from the top – take a minute to introduce yourself.

Ollie: My name’s Ollie Rodgers. I was born in London then moved to Hong Kong when I was 6 with my Mum and my brothers. I went back to England every once and a while. Basically, I grew up in Hong Kong - I’m Eurasian, a halfie.

I moved back to Hong Kong last December, been back for a year now. I was away for five years.

G: How different do you think it is?

O: A lot has changed, I think in some ways for the better, in terms of people creating and starting new things. Like when I was gone my friends started this brand called Victoria HK which is basically a clothing brand rooted in skateboarding, for skaters by skaters. So its cool to see them pursuing that.

It’s different being back as a young adult and not being a student anymore. When you’re a student, you take so much notice in hanging out with people in the same age group but when you’re out of uni age doesn’t matter anymore. It’s been nice meeting different people since I’ve been back – you know locals and other internationals.

Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 


G: You know, you’re well traveled. You’ve lived in HK, been back to the UK and studied in US - Would you say Hong Kong is your home?

O: Well right now it’s my home, for now I wanna be around and make the most of it for the next few years. You know I was born in England and I have a lot of family there, my brother’s there, who knows what will happen in the future. But right now, yes, Hong Kong is my home.

G: You mentioned a lot of your friends stayed here and started up their own thing, was that a little bit weird being away for 5 years and coming back seeing people have moved on? Did you feel left behind?

O: I feel it’s normal, it’s natural for that to happen, you just got to embrace the change. A lot of my friends have also moved out of Hong Kong, you know, people evolve into their own person which is cool to see.
Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 


G: From memory skating boarding in HK really kicked off in 96 – 97.. was this around the time you started? How’d you get into it?

O: I wish man! I’m from a different generation I guess. I was born in 95! I started skating around 2006? Maybe 2008…. I remember that day in 08, I posted a video called 9 stair attempts (it’s still on youtube!) it’s me and my older brother trying to jump a 9 stair.



It was below my place in a public carpark, I tried on a skateboard and my brother tried on a scooter – it was a carcass toss.. I didn’t land it. Now there’s blind bumps on it so it’s impossible to skate it unless you go hella fast.

G: It must have been nice skateboarding in that era of Hong Kong before they started putting blind bumps up and blocking off all the benches.

O: Definitely, it was so different, I think also it’s because it was before Instagram / before social media, youtube was the main medium – so I had a lot of friends doing a lot of video montages. It was around that time where technology started changing and you could get a camera and put something together quickly.

Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 


I remember there were skaters from other schools and I would see their videos, like Seb Batty, I used to see videos of him skating the streets and thought to myself ‘oh shit it’s possible! Why don’t I go out and skate the streets with my friends..?’ I knew some guys at French International, Xander and The Harteman brothers and they had this thing called French Fries Entertainment, they would make these little montages. Then there were some guys from the Kowloon side, and a lot of other people getting into it.. In those days we were just discovering the street spots and you would see new spots in the videos – it was a different time, was really cool.

I feel HK street skating is still really sick, I actually found a great spot in Tsuen Wan recently by the water, it had these new wave ledges which were untouched.

Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 

G: I know you do a lot of photo and video work – was this in relation to being a skate kid? How did you get into the whole creative culture?

O: Skateboarding definitely played a part in it, I did get into video making originally through filming skating and editing it to music. Hong Kong is so cinematic, it’s a concrete jungle, it was so easy to film trams and everything going by.. I made something like 50 skateboarding videos for friends, I used to make silly youtube videos with my brothers as well.

I was deciding between music or film for my creative course in IB, they had film studies in Island School and from there I majored in film & tv production and minored in advertising at Boston University

I wanted to combine film and tv and advertising in some way, making content.

Photo by Gemma Harrad
Photo by Gemma Harrad 

G: So is that your day job, content creator? Film Producer? What do you do?

O: I’m a videographer / video editor, I work for this small agency in Sai Ying Pun called 24 Frames. Just trying to rack up experience, on the side I play music on weekends and I’m trying to find time to shoot my own online documentaries on interesting people, the art scene and music scene in Hong Kong

G: Why don’t you tell us about your music – what were the beginnings of Mr Koo?

O: I’ve been playing music for a very long time, my dad and brothers played guitar. When I was in year 6 at Bradbury School, for my graduation I covered Holiday by Green Day with some class mates. Very early on I was open to playing on stage, I felt comfortable on stage and it made me feel alive, so I just tried to keep at it.

The whole Mr Koo project started in my last year in college. I realized I wasn’t creating as much music and I was playing other people’s stuff, so I just started writing my own music again. I was shooting a film for my class and one of the guys in my film group mixed and mastered  music, he liked my stuff so we got together and recorded a little EP.



Photo by Gahyao Clothing

 

At that time i was still releasing music under Ollie Rodgers,  I wasn’t sure what to call it. When I moved to New York after graduating, I thought Mr Koo would be a cool name to use. It’s definitely more mysterious than Ollie Rodgers and was also an opportunity to reconnect with my Asian roots.

I didn't want to sound like John Mayer or Justin Bieber you know? Mr Koo is the overall name for this musical project, I never know where I might end up – so I could change the band members if need be and still keep the music going.

After seeing what Kevin Parker has done with Tame Impala, where he records and writes the music himself but has a band when he plays live, I was kind of inspired by that. Mac Demarco is also a big inspiration.

G: How is it playing with other band members now? It’s a different vibe when you start a band with your friends and you’re covering Green Day and Blink as supposed to getting a bunch of musicians who are in it to perform the music in somewhat professionally.

O: For the most part, like the structure of the songs, I’ve got those down. But when we’re practicing and trying them and there’s input from the other band members I’m all for trying out new things, I’m a yes man and I want to see what input other people have. I guess I know how I want the song to sound, so going into a session I’ll know what I want and what I need to teach the guys.

But from then on, so much can change with the song when you start playing it live or in front of people. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to get back into playing live music because when you record an original song right off the batt, it is its own being - but if you write a song and play it at a lot of shows over the span of the year, by the end of the year you hear the song in such a different way.

 

Photo by Gahyao Clothing

 

First of all with a band and second in front of people, the energy is so different.. Sometimes I’ll hit notes in terms of vocals that I wouldn’t necessarily hit if I were singing them alone.. I really love the energy of that live performance, hearing my music in a different way and also the crowd being able to hear my music.

G: Do you find it difficult as an artist in Hong Kong? It’s such a small scene out here, it’s a lot harder now a days to break through into that mainstream success.

O: It’s very different, overall Hong Kong is more of a corporate city, there’s not as many musicians and artist. But I really appreciate it how the small scene here is so friendly and everybody is very nice. There are things going on but not as much, and I feel there’s not as much original music, it’s less competitive so in some ways it’s good and in other ways it’s not so inspiring that there’s not a lot of indie rock bands out there putting on shows and doing stuff. It’s a bit of a struggle after getting a taste of the music scene in Boston and New York.

At least there is some sort of scene out here in Hong Kong, it’s really nice to be apart of it. Let’s just see where it goes. 

Photo by Gahyao Clothing

G: What’s next for Mr Koo?

O: I’m going to keep on doing shows and putting music online. Maybe eventually  tour.

I’m always open to new opportunities, trying to take Mr Koo as far as it can go.

We got a gig on new years eve at Terrible Baby in Eaton hotel, they’re setting up a few stages.. Putting out more singles maybe an EP towards next year.

G: Last question to wrap this up, what does Ga Yau mean to you?

O: Just keep on going, keep pursuing, keep creating.


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