Tag Archive for underground

Hong Kong underground scene part 2

At midnight on NYE I was in Hidden Agenda again (it’s turning into my favourite place in Hong Kong), surrounded by hundreds of happy Chinese moshers going crazy to some fine local music. This time, I actually ran into a local friend (it’s good to already have a local friend) who could translate the intros for me, as well as clue me in on which bands were locally famous. The place was absolutely rammed, but sadly, a large part of that is apparently the relocation effect. I’ve been told the place is far emptier normally, as the only real promotion is done on Facebook and the website. The relocation parties were listed in the local Time Out and in HK Magazine, so I guess everyone in town into indie music knew about it. The crowd was a cool combination of the hip and casual – some girls (and guys) were very fashionably done up, but there were also lots of people in T shirts and jeans (and black leggings, which seem to be the most popular item of clothing for women here). Everyone was incredibly friendly, polite and smiley. Even when people got really drunk and the whole place went off in one big, crazy pogo dance it was all friendly and fun. People apologise for pushing past you or accidentally moving you or stepping on you and it doesn’t seem to be the autopilot response you get in the UK but an actual thought-out response.

The biggest band on the bill was apparently Chochukmo, which is apparently one of the very few bands whose CD is sold in the HK HMV (if that fact is indeed true then what gives, HMV? There are so many awesome HK bands, you’d think there’d be a whole section dedicating to supporting local talent!). They sing in English and sound not entirely unlike the Chili Peppers. They certainly seemed to have plenty of very keen fans who rushed to the front to see them play.
Then there were More Reverb with some really beautiful instrumental pieces. Hidden Agenda is actually relocating, rather than closing down forever, which is super good news for people in Hong Kong if you ask me. They’ll be moving somewhere nearby and their opening party will be on February 2nd. Shame I’ll miss it.

The night actually finished some time after midnight, so I headed off to a different underground Hong Kong venue altogether – the XXX Gallery, for a dancehall / reggae night.
Most foreign people I’ve met in HK so far seem to have fallen into the trap of going out in horrid Lan Kwai Fong which seems to be the local equivalent of going out in Leicester Square, or worse – some blown up version of the going out area in some super chavvy UK town. It’s full of loud, tacky bars where fat middle-aged Western bankers sit with their Asian hookers and drunken foreigners fall all over each other to the sound of mainstream hits. I went to an OKish bar there (Le Jardin) for the CouchSurfing meet up a while back and although it was pretty loud, the music didn’t suck too badly and there was actually a good deal on some very delicious martinis (plus the bar staff were cool and they sign you up for free “membership” at the entrance so they can serve you booze). Still, the area itself reminds me of all the sides of London I avoid like the plague. Apparently the going rate for a drink in the area can be as high as $100 HK (£8). I’d rather sit at home counting hairs than go out somewhere like that.

Anyway, if you thought going out in HK needs to be this foul, then I have great news for you. The XXX gallery is small in UK terms, but apparently a good size in HK terms. It has signs saying “private party” for that extra underground “not entirely licensed for this” feel and you need to bring your own booze cause they don’t sell anything there. It’s in Sheung Wan, so not too far from the vileness of LKF, really, but it feels like going out in London 15 years ago. There’s no dress code, no annoying drunks and everyone is incredibly friendly. At this particular party There was a mix of Chinese and non-Chinese (though, frankly, more foreigners than Chinese), the sound was good and the DJs were great. If you want to get an idea of what the vibe was like, then you can draw inspiration from the mother of all TV clubbing scenes. Just imagine a smaller venue, different music and no cheesy rave gear:


Going underground in Hong Kong part 1 – Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda toilet

This is what an underground toilet should look like

Most people I spoke to about Hong Kong before I came here didn’t know much about the underground music scene here. Actually, a few people were quite doubtful as to whether there even was a scene here at all. I was pretty sure there would be, because you don’t get a massive urban area populated by millions of people without at least a modicum of dissent. So the good news is that yes, there is definitely a scene here and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s damn good. The bad news is that the scene is quite small and the truly underground places are facing the same sort of hassle underground places always face all over the world.

Hidden Agenda out in deepest darkest Kowloon Bay is not an easy place to find, even though it’s possibly the most famous underground venue in Hong Kong and a favourite of the local Time Out. It’s going to be even more difficult to find soon, because they have been forced out of their location by the government putting pressure on their landlord. At the end of this month they have to find somewhere else, or cease to exist altogether. Apparently the government is keen to redevelop this dead light industrial area into yet another collection of the massive commercial buildings and identical shopping centres most visitors associate with Hong Kong. It’s the same old story and it’s a real shame, because Hidden Agenda is the sort of genuinely cool, unpretentious, true underground place any city in the world ought to be proud to have.

It operates, without a license (not for lack of trying) out of the 6th floor of a big old Chinese factory building. The street it’s on is pretty much dead on a weekend’s night and lit in that dim sort of way half-deserted industrial places often are. The place is close to two different MTR station and if you choose one of them you get to go through a massive, glitzy shopping centre full of high end designer stores and happy shoppers loaded with shopping bags and tiny little dogs. Then you exit the busy building into a practically deserted industrial wasteland and you’re on your own. When you get to the building, you can hear the music coming from above you, but the door is locked and you can’t get in. Eventually you work out how to get to the back alley, where you can take a big, old service lift (with two sliding manual doors) up to the 6th floor. It takes so long to get up there that you have plenty of time to think about how Angel Heart-esque or David Lynch-like the experience is, especially if you get to share the lift with some of the other curious residents the building has (nobody’s meant to be living there, so what are they even doing here at 10PM on Christmas eve?).
Then you open the lift’s doors and find yourself inside the venue itself, with street art on the walls, loads of stickers everywhere and, of course, well cool underground toilets.

My first visit here was actually what you could call a complete disaster. Following a tip from Time Out’s website about a dubstep party happening there, five of us piled into a taxi and had somewhat of an epic journey trying to get to the venue. It took about an hour, a detour to the wrong MTR (the local tube) station and an angry driver who didn’t let the fact that he was going to get extra money stop him from being pissed off about having been right all along about where it was we needed to go. Throw in some extra comedy in the form of the driver trying to navigate by my Google Maps while I was actually sat behind him (while driving, of course) for good measure. We got dropped off in seemingly the middle of nowhere – a deserted street by a half deserted highway. Then we get there and the party was last week. Oh, but actually there was a really good gig tonight, but it just finished.

At least it gave me the opportunity to speak to the cool (and very apologetic) people who run the place and learn more about it.
I came back for the first of their Relocation events – a few long days and nights of live fundraising events featuring a huge list of local underground acts. They’re hoping to make enough money to be able to afford to rent another place in the area, where they hope to be able to stay a little bit longer before undoubtedly being kicked out again (this is going to be their second relocation in 2 years). I only got to see three or four bands, but they were all remarkably good. It was apparently the metal part of the evening. If you’re wondering how Chinese lends itself to metal then the answer is very well. At least, one assume they sing in Chinese. Metal lyrics are pretty much impossible to figure out no matter what language they’re sung in. These guys, Evocation, were my favourites. Tight guitars, awesome frontman  with a really impressive vocal range and they even do that head banging thing where their hair spins round and round in a circle. This is proper shit.

Evocation at Hidden Agenda

Evocation at Hidden Agenda's Relocation

I really hope this place manages to survive. The world needs more places like this. I’m not sure how people can support them from outside of HK (as in how to give them money without attending next week’s gigs on the 31/12 and 1/1), but talk to me while I’m here if you want me to buy you a T shirt 🙂