In 10 Tracks, we link up with and get to know the movers and shakers of nightlife, then we ask them for a mixtape. This week, we talk to M.N.G. (aka Mr Nice Guy) about DJing, being a third-culture kid and how there’s more to Hong Kong music than “sappy Cantonese ballads”.
Mr Nice Guy has gotten a bad rap over the years. He’s usually the one who was too kind, too relaxed, too forgiving — too nice — until it was well, too late, a point of no return, and often not mentioned until there was no going back. Too bad.
But for Hong Kong recording artist and DJ M.N.G., there’s nothing wrong with the proverbial “Mr Nice Guy” at all — a perspective he’s gained with time and experience, even adopting the moniker as his artist name to reflect an evolved outlook on the world.
“Growing up, I’ve always had a conflicted upbringing,” says M.N.G. “Mum was very joyful, friendly, honest — my dad, however, sees the world as unfair: You need to keep things to your chest, cannot be too nice to people. After much internal debate, it is only now that I have developed a belief that being nice and being a leader are not mutually exclusive, hence Mr Nice Guy, or M.N.G. for short.”
While in normal, non-lockdown times you can find him spinning hip-hop and R&B hits at local haunts like Peel Street’s Candour, M.N.G. also produces his own music, sings and writes, and even offers courses on guitar, songwriting and production through Thinkific. We bonded over the lack of Hong Kong artists currently represented on a global level, and learned a bit about M.N.G.’s journey to where he is today. And as always — he made a mixtape to take us into the weekend.
10 Tracks: M.N.G. aka Mr Nice Guy
How would you describe your sound – both personal, and what you mix?
I have a background in blues, listening to artists like John Mayer and Eric Clapton, but what I enjoy producing is more dark R&B inspired by the likes of The Weeknd, Chris Brown, Craig David.
What sparked your interest in music? Did you play any instruments or perform growing up?
My first experience in music was when I was 6 years old, during a birthday party. I don’t know how I ended up with a mic, but I started singing to it whilst the other kids were running around, chasing balloons, causing all sorts of trouble. I was very comfortable and that was it. I was hooked on the idea of singing and performing — even when no one else gave a damn — that led me to being obsessed with the guitar at age 13, and then DJ in my early 30s.
Do you remember the first party you spun? How did it go?
I played small gigs previously, but one of the first in Hong Kong was when I got to play Candour on a Saturday night. It gave me this platform to share my favourite hip hop and R&B tunes with the dance floor — plus, they make great cocktails.
What was your best DJ gig? What was the worst?
Best one was the recent New Year’s Eve gig at Candour. I remembered letting out bullets after bullets — hit after hit — towards the countdown, and the whole crowd just went wild! Worst gig was when I did this gig on boxing day. At most, 10 people showed up. But hey, as they say: “The show must go on!”
How did you develop your appreciate for house and urban music?
The urban side came as early as listening to the likes of Michael Jackson in the ’80s, and I got progressively obsessed with it when I was in the UK in the early 2000s listening to the likes of Craig David, Artful Dodger, Shola Ama and Damage.
For House Music, definitely it came from me hanging out in places like Fabric in London and getting exposed to DJs such as Francois K, Pete Tong, John Digweed, Above & Beyond.
What inspires you creatively? Is it other musicians, art, film, so on?
For lyrics, it usually comes from a place of hurt and the lyrics provide me an outlet to express that hurt. On the music side, it’s simple: If a particular songs moves me, then I’ll figure out a way to adapt or re-arrange that track to suit my own style.
Who’s another artist (or a performance) that had an important, lasting impact on you?
I think Where the Light Is: John Mayer Live in Los Angeles is up there. The other is just watching YouTube videos of Craig David singing and DJing at the same time. That guy is insane.
Is there any artist in Hong Kong who’s work you’re currently excited about?
I think the indie hip-hop scene in Hong Kong is interesting, and that it’s blowing up is really unforeseen. The likes of JB, Novel Friday, The Low Mays and so on, is proving people wrong that Hong Kong only cares about sappy Cantonese ballads. I think this speaks well to third-culture kids such as myself.
What’s your creative process?
I normally start with a groove, then the chord structure gives me that “space” to play around with. Then I start to experiment with different top lines (vocal melodies) and see what works, what doesn’t. Always challenge yourself — don’t believe in the first melody that you come up with.
What makes or breaks a set?
When people start dancing… then you’ve made it! What breaks a set? When the police come into a club and turn on the lights. (laughs)
Any music guilty pleasures?
I’m a pop guy at heart and I’m proud of it.
Karaoke — what’s your go-to?
Sappy love songs. Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds”, George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”.
What’s next? What are you working on?
There are a few things that I’m looking at. I think platforms that speak to third-culture kids like 88 Rising are interesting. I also think the intersection of music and animation is also interesting as we enter into the metaverse era. Last but not least, I’m also giving back to the next generation by offering private tuition for anyone that needs help on guitar, songwriting, music production and DJing.
Anything else you want the world to know about M.N.G.?
That I’m always up for a good chat on any music related opportunities; you just have to buy me a bowl of ramen or soup noodles.
Check out more of M.N.G. here.