KEVIN MA remembers Ellen Loo and Eman Lam’s groundbreaking Cantopop duo
death last month has, I’m sure, led many to reflect on what her music meant to them.
I certainly have. I rediscovered Hong Kong music through her group, at17, when I was in high school in the US.
It was 2002 and karaoke-friendly pop tunes dominated the charts, but I was captivated by the rule breakers like Anthony Wong Yiu-ming and his label People Mountain People Sea.
The PMPS seal became synonymous with quality and naturally attracted me to at17, which consisted of 19-year-old Eman Lam and 15-year-old Loo. Their first single, One of These Days, was a lyrical folk-rock antithesis to the ubiquitous over-produced pop. I bought their debut album, Meow Meow Meow, later that year, and was hooked.
The group was named after Janis Ian’s 1975 hit At Seventeen, and their music mirrored the sentiment of schoolyard crushes, embracing individuality and being social outcasts. Their music provided solace to a generation who preferred spending after-school hours in a darkroom instead of shopping malls.
After half a dozen albums and EPs, Loo and Lam would embark on solo careers. But last year, to mark 17 years since they’d met, the two reunited with a concert and the release of a new compilation album.
The carefully curated Everybody Sings highlights their lesser-known songs, such as Lam’s Drawing You or Loo’s 101727. It shows how at17 evolved as they entered adulthood and hints at their diverging musical directions.
While Lam segued into a career that also included acting and chat shows, Loo held tightly onto music. She successfully carved out a career as a singer-songwriter whose melancholic electronic rock was light years from her at17 persona and more in keeping with her nickname, ‘rock mui’ (rock girl).
I never saw at17 live, but I did see Loo solo three times. During her first show in 2011, I was amazed at the sight of Loo standing alone on the stage as she built a song layer by layer with a loop pedal until it sounded like a full band. This is how I prefer to remember Ellen Loo – but I know there’s a whole generation out there who will remember the at17 days just as fondly.
人山人海這個品牌本來就是質素的保證，自然也吸引我去聽它旗下樂隊 at17 的歌。這個二人唱作組合由當時19歲的林二汶和 15歲的盧凱彤組成，推出的首支單曲《始終一天》是一首抒情細膩的搖滾民謠，在千篇一律的流行歌之中獨樹一幟。那年我買了她們的處女大碟《Meow Meow Meow》，一聽鍾情。
這個組合是以 Janis Ian 的成名作〈At Seventeen〉命名，她們的音樂反映出情竇初開的情懷，擁抱獨特的個性，無懼偏離主流。她們的音樂，為那些放學後寧願躲於房間裡也不逛街的人帶來慰藉。
《Everybody Sings》的歌曲經過精挑細選，輯錄了二人較不為人熟悉的作品，例如林二汶的〈畫你〉和盧凱彤的〈101727〉，展現出 at17由少女時代進入成人階段，以及在音樂路上各自發展的演變。
當林二汶作出演戲和節目主持等多方 面發展時，盧凱彤繼續專注做音樂，成功開拓出唱作歌手的事業，憂鬱的電子搖滾音樂風格，跟她在at17時代的形象南轅北轍，但卻忠於她「rock 妹」的外號。
我從沒看過 at17的現場演出，但卻看過盧凱彤三次的個人演出。在2011年其首次個人表演中，她獨自站在台上，用 loop pedal效果器逐層逐層地建立起一首歌，最後恍如有一隊樂隊在演奏，令我讚歎不已。我希望以這種方式去記住盧凱彤，而我更相信at17亦是我們這一代窩心的集體回憶。
Queens of offbeat Everybody Sings (below) features songs written by at17: Ellen Loo (above left) and Eman Lam (above right)