In the 3rd of his 10-part essay, fresh graduate Elliott Wan accounts for 5th-generation Hidden Agenda’s turned This Town Needs to profile the shape of localism this live house project has illustrated. 從 Hidden Agenda 衍化為 This Town Needs,2008-2020 並不是香港獨立音樂的完結篇。新冠肺炎從天而降,或是另一種生機的萌發。

*feature image: photographed by Galileo Cheng

 

Fifth-generation Hidden Agenda: Legacy of an Events Venue

What distinguishes fifth-generation Hidden Agenda from its previous phases? Fully licensed venue’s operation… Official status as a live-house venue achieved for the first time with full recognition…

…from a recognized live house to an international event venue…

In the summer of 2018, the venue obtained a temporary liquor licence as well as that as a temporary place of public entertainment. An in-house bar constructed to officially sell both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks was a major form of subsidies for the project to cope with escalating costs in rent and utilities. The venue can also be officially rented out to event promoters and organizations for a sum of money, thus transforming the status of the venue from a live house [see Notes 1] to an international events venue. Furthermore, this edition of Hidden Agenda was in a commercial building in Yau Tong, a few kilometres away from the industrial zones of Kwun Tong and San Po Kong. The monthly spending was much higher than before: rent and utilities cost reportedly totalled around 320,000 HK dollars per month, according to the organizer (Zhou and Peng, Reuters).

Hidden Agenda (2009 – 2018) rebranded This Town Needs (2018-2020)…

Perhaps what prompted the name change and the rebranding of the venue to This Town Needs was the complete shift in operation method within the management. Compared to the several generations of Hidden Agenda, the outlook of This Town Needs was primarily international. Rather than focussing on the showcase and curation of local independent bands and artists, This Town Needs turned to international artists. Popular artists from around the world, such as Alvvays, The Marias, Metz, Intervals and so on were invited to This Town Needs to perform. Showcases of local independent artists were still held, such as This Town Needs Noize, where new local independent artists are showcased and curated in partnership with local promoter The Void Noize (Time Out Hong Kong); however, it operated at a lower frequency and attendance rate than previous events held at Hidden Agenda.

This Town Needs, too, faced the threat of closure…

Even with various improvements to the infrastructure and its status as an international events venue, This Town Needs could not escape the fate of closure, which was announced two years after its official opening. The last event, titled “This Town Needs Farewell,” featured six local independent bands on 27 February 27 2020. However, tickets sold out just hours after the announcement (Coconuts Hong Kong), and despite the risks posed by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, over 600 patrons attended the event, making this event one of the most attended shows of This Town Needs and in Hidden Agenda’s history (Zhou and Pang, Reuters).

During the event, co-founder Hui Chung-wo (Steveo Hui 許仲和) explained to the event audience that financial troubles resulting from the lack of shows due to COVID-19 forced This Town Needs to cease operations. However, Hui also expressed that if each event at This Town Needs attracted as much patronage as this last show, then perhaps indie music in Hong Kong might not have suffered as much. Furthermore, industrial areas in Kwun Tong and around Hong Kong have gained a certain degree of recognition through the relative success of Hidden Agenda and its relevance for a broader community (Zuser 58), a possible future remained.

 

poster of This Town Needs Farewell, 24 February 2018

 

COVID-19 from above: disintegration incites a new mindset to be…

Hong Kong’s independent music scene experienced stagnation in the Post(-Punk) noughties. The decrease in number of independent event venues capable of promoting local and trans-local bands facilitated the disintegration of community clusters and decline in exposure and popularity among existing local bands. With the closure of Hidden Agenda and This Town Needs, Hong Kong’s independent musicians lost one of the defining venues that successfully centralized performers and audiences. 

With the multiple closures of Hidden Agenda and the change in operational method within This Town Needs, bands and artists have lost an opportunity to share their music with a wider audience, while the audience lost an opportunity to discover and find new music from independent musicians and bands. Ultimately, Hong Kong has lost its “indie scene Hung Hom Colosseum (林京賢).”

Currently, Hong Kong still has performance venues that regularly host independent bands and artists, albeit not as flourished as previous years. (See Appendix below.) These venues include private flatted industrial spaces, commercial store fronts as well as youth centres and bars located around Hong Kong. However, even with a large percentage of these spaces residing in Kwai Hing and Kwun Tong, both being industrial spaces where independent artists and bands reside, none of these venues currently are on the path of replacing or recovering what was lost with Hidden Agenda’s closure (Underdog).

Furthermore, Charrieras, Darchen and Sigler (Charrieras et al) concluded that Kwun Tong was a target for rampant gentrification and redevelopment projects promoted by the government. Within the local community lies an intricate and fragile ecosystem, supported by the community of artists, diverse trades and eateries (138). However, government-led projects, places and spaces provided with financial and economic incentives such as low rent and subsidies to citizens, further sped up the disintegration of existing clusters and communities.

As the disintegration of the local music communities hastens, both venues and artists increasingly turn away from the independent music scene and look for opportunities elsewhere. Whereas financial factors such as the steady rise of rental prices and increasing unemployment rate may cause a shift in economic priorities in musicians and artists, some social factors have pushed musicians, artists and venue owners to change their mindset entirely. These factors include the absence of a strong cultural cluster, new production methods emerging, a rise in localism, and more. The impact of these new social phenomena will be discussed further in the coming essays.

 

Notes

  1. Live house is a term used originally for specific Japanese music venues, often occupying the basement level of a building. They usually showcase lesser-known independent artists. As the popularity of these artists are not as high, live houses are usually smaller in size.

 

Appendix

List of Current Local Independent Venues

Venue Name Location Venue Style Capacity Legal Status
Sai Coeng 細場

[link]

Kwai Hing Private event

space

100 n/a
The Wanch [link] Wachai  Bar 50 Registered business
SAAL

[link]

Kwun Tong Private event

space

50 n/a
Music Zone @

KITEC [link]

Kowloon Bay Private event

space

600 Investment company of

Hopewell Holdings Ltd.

Y-Concept

Stage [link]

Kwun Tong Youth center 50 n/a

 

Source: Zuser, Tobias. Hidden Agenda? Cultural Policy in Hong Kong’s Urban Revelopment, Lingnan UNiversity, Lingnan University, 9 Jan. 2014, commons.ln.edu.hk/cs_etd/21.

Source: Personal Field Visits, 2021, by Elliott Wan

 

Citation

Charrieras, Damien, et al. “The Shifting Spaces of Creativity in Hong Kong.” Cities, vol. 74, 4 Jan. 2018, pp. 134–141., doi:10.1016/j.cities.2017.11.014.

Coconuts Hong Kong. “Music Venue This Town Needs Closes Following String of Canceled Performances amid Outbreak.” Coconuts Hong Kong, 28 February 2020, https://coconuts.co/hongkong/lifestyle/this-town-needs-hosts-final-farewell-show-following-string-of-canceled-performances-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/

林京賢:「【Indie 界紅館】許仲和:我們做音樂,不是做黃賭毒。」《香港 01》,香港, 23 July 2018, [link 

Time Out 香港 . “This Town Needs Noize.” Time Out Hong Kong, Time Out, 6 June 2018, www.timeout.com.hk/hong-kong/hk/%E9%9F%B3%E6%A8%82/this-town-needs-noize.

Underdog. Personal interview by Elliott Wan. 27 Mar 2021.

Zhou, Joyce, and Jessie Pang. “Hong Kongers Turn out for Indie Club’s Last Performance as Coronavirus Forces Closure.” Reuters, 28 Feb. 2020, www.reuters.com/article/us- china-health-hongkong-nightlife-idUSKCN20M1MX.

 

Biography. Creative media graduate Elliott Wan is a co-founder of local promoter group Ying Dak Collective as well as the front-person for local indie rock act Strange Lives and post-punk project KVYLE. Elliott ended their bachelor’s studies by analysing how events in recent years, namely the closure of This Town Needs, the rise of localism, and the pandemic have affected the local independent music industry. They will begin their postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds fall 2021, aiming to continue their studies and research regarding the sociology, economy, and psychology within the music industry and ecosystem.

To read Part [1] and [2] of the essay.

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