Hong Kong’s music scene returns

After After Party
MaryJane & the Gang Girls with Guitars
Band polaroids at Aftermath
Yardleys Old brewery
Open mic band at Konfusion
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Hong Kong Live Music

Following several years of disruption, including pandemic restrictions, performers and audiences are finally beginning to re-emerge at Hong Kong’s live music venues. While the scene did not emerge unscathed, dedicated fans can now once again find a rich variety of options, whatever vibe or genre they prefer.

Clockenflap

International acts and major local stars are returning to Hong Kong’s mega-venues. At Asia World Expo, this season will see British legend Morrissey, Vietnamese-American lo-fi artist Keshi, and Hong Kong vocalists Hins Cheung and Terence Lam performing in the hangar-sized space. Popular Korean performers bring out the largest crowds: rapper Lee Youngji performs at the KITEC in Kowloon Bay, while girl group Mammamoo can fill an entire hall at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. Hong Kong’s biggest live music extravaganza, Clockenflap, attracted more than 80,000 visitors in its most recent incarnation; with bands on multiple stages over the course of several days, the next event will be held from 1-3 December 2023 at Central Harbourfront.

VenueHub

However, as James Beacher, Managing Director of VenueHub, explains, “It’s rare that you see international acts doing more than one or two nights in Hong Kong.” Instead, “There is quite a good amateur, underground scene. Lots of venues weren’t able to have any performances throughout COVID, but now a lot of them have come back, some in different locations.” Hong Kong is ready for a new sonic soundscape.

Lau Bak Livehouse

Every weekend, smaller venues around Hong Kong host live music, ranging from acoustic and folk to jazz, ska, pop, hard rock, and even punk. The key word is livehouse: a venue where performers can show their chops in front of a live audience.

Most smaller livehouses are privately owned and operated. However, government-managed Lau Bak Livehouse in West Kowloon has become a popular venue for jazz, indie, and R&B, with weekly gigs curated by the Freespace Music Team.

Fringe Club

At the Fringe Club, an iconic venue in Central, local cover bands play regularly, with occasional visits by stars like famed Mandopop performer Jay Chou. The Fringe is also the place to find larger original music events. One is Rock Show for All, organised by local promotion platform The Underground. Founder Chris B points out the unique appeal of original music: “It’s absolutely fantastic; there’s such creativity.” The Underground regularly promotes original music shows ranging from solo singer-songwriters to metal bands and guitar arrangements.

The Wanch

It gets loud at The Wanch, a stalwart of the live music scene where audiences flock to hear heavy metal and rock bands. Sherry, a music lover from Hong Kong, says, “I have been going here for 20 years. I’m here for the music.”

The Aftermath

With temperatures (and rents) sky-high, it’s time to head underground. A dark doorway on Wyndham Street near Hollywood Road leads to the lively basement club The Aftermath, co-founded by Alicia Beale. After several years organising junk boat tours with live music, she discovered that the customers’ favourite part of the tours was the bands. “So many people liked the live music that I decided to do it on land. At The Aftermath, we find independent bands, covers, originals, all kinds of genres.”

Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery

Live music shows can also be designed as part of an overall cultural experience. Yardley Brothers Craft Brewery, which operates the Beer Shack on Lamma Island as well as a tap house in Soho, serves local craft beer and invites local artists to perform. Josh Abrams, Chief Experience Officer, says, “Our focus is on artisanship, locally produced, unusual beers, and high-quality ingredients, and we try to support the arts scene.” The Beer Shack holds a bluegrass Sunday brunch every two weeks, followed by a bluegrass jam. The company’s tap house in Central focuses on acoustic, jazz, and folk.

Chez Trente

Joe Lung operates the private jazz venue Chez Trente, hidden behind an unmarked, locked door in a dark alleyway. He explains, “I was always wondering why young musicians were better than the locals when coming back from overseas. They said they got a lot of chances to play every night, at open jams, and at a lot of clubs where you can get inspired. So, I wanted to give people a chance to play a little bit. It’s more like a community thing, organised by word of mouth.” Occasionally, major stars show up anonymously, to the surprise of grateful audiences relaxing in a space slightly bigger than an average living room.

MOM Livehouse

A larger private venue, with capacity for more than a hundred people, is accessible in the evening at the bottom of an unmoving escalator in an empty shopping centre: MOM Livehouse. Inside, major shows happen ten to fifteen days out of every month, as production companies book the venue for private events. According to its manager, Mr Lam, to find out what’s going on, “You just need to know someone.” Shows range from K-Pop for teenagers, to live local bands, a cappella groups and even oldies.

The Red Stripes

Paul Stripe is the founder of ten-member ska band The Red Stripes. “We play the original ska music from Jamaica from the 1950s and 1960s. This type of music had a big influence on contemporary music. That means we’re not just going on and playing. We’re educating people.”

Yvonne Barrie Quintet

The Yvonne Barrie Quintet, meanwhile, is pushing the boundaries of jazz. Andrew Kemp Collier, its drummer, says, “It’s a very creative band that combines straight-ahead jazz with Scottish folk tunes and singers like Joni Mitchell. We try to experiment with the music.”

The Aftermath and Konfusion

Aspiring musicians often try out new material at open mic sessions at The Aftermath and Konfusion. Francesco, a Hong Kong-based musician, plays keyboard and drums for these sessions. “As a musician, open mic nights are very dynamic. I never know what I’m going to play; people sign up for what they want to sing, and it could be Cantopop, the Beatles, Filipino songs, etc. Sometimes, we make up the songs on the spot.”

Tess Hogue, a popular Latin singer from Australia, emphasises that musicians need the space to develop. “When I first started coming here, I was yelled at. And now, you can hear the difference. I recently did a hugely popular show at Chez Trente in five languages. It’s all about perseverance: the singers who try their hand today might actually become good.”

Hong Kong A Cappella

An up-and-coming genre in Hong Kong is contemporary a cappella, an intimate style encompassing pop, rock, or jazz-style tunes performed solely using the human voice. Because it does not demand huge sound equipment during performances, it is highly suitable for the smaller confines of Hong Kong livehouses. Andrew Wong, who sings with local group Boon Fay Sau, explains, “We are a group of eight, and in a cappella music, people should feel we are very local and very close.”

A Cappella Academy

Jo Jo Pang of A Cappella Academy confirms this, “People who listen to classical or jazz and have some musical background really like a cappella. The tastes of the new audiences have changed a little bit; they like the performers to be doing their own thing.”

The live music scene in Hong Kong is in transition. Francesco comments, “The recovery wasn’t immediate. Then, we started to get a lot of new people. It eases the pain of losing the old regulars!”

Text & photos by Jan Lee