Tastemaker: Craig Lomas of BeatingHeart studio
BeatingHeart studio helps fill the need for a quality recording and rehearsal space
Although it has been discovered by the switched-on circle who caught the November performance by The Libertines' Carl Barat or watched American dance-punk outfit !!! warm up for their December appearance at the Clockenflap festival, BeatingHeart studio remains one of the Hong Kong music scene's best-kept secrets.
Located in an industrial building in Shek Tong Tsui - that odd hinterland joining Western district with Kennedy Town - BeatingHeart offers local bands an opportunity to rehearse and record on a world-class stage with professional sound equipment and lighting, and also occasionally hosts live gigs.
BeatingHeart was opened last March by Craig Lomas, who arrived from London in 2006, with a successful career in the software industry - and a guitar. Born in Melbourne to a Tahitian-Chinese mother and a father from outside Manchester, Lomas is a poster boy for the third-culture blend Hong Kong is known for.
"I had just come out of a relationship in England and one day was walking past a guitar shop. I went in, picked up this guitar and started playing again after so many years away from it because of my job. I brought this new guitar with me when my job took me to Hong Kong and I just fell in love with the city and started playing music with some friends," he says.
But like other budding musicians in Hong Kong, Lomas was frustrated by the search for a suitable rehearsal space. "If you're a band rehearsing in Hong Kong, your choices are basically limited to a 100 sq ft studio in either Mong Kok or Wan Chai where the equipment has been thrashed to pieces and you can't really hear yourself."
So he decided to do something about it. "I was looking for a space where I could carry on doing the same kind of thing, and also doing production, recording and so on. I had been looking around Chai Wan but miraculously found this place in Shek Tong Tsui. It just took off from there as a project. I focused on creating a place that would allow myself and other bands to come and play, and also be a comfortable place to hang out, write, record and also do small performances."
Asked why Hong Kong is so short of live music venues, Lomas proves to be well versed in the city's notorious licensing and zoning laws. "If you allow zoning for industrial spaces, you're just going to end up with cafes and more of the same bars and restaurants we have in Central because that's just the cash-flow nature," he says.
"Because property is so expensive here, every minute of every day the venue has to be making money. A cafe and a restaurant can do that, but a dedicated live music venue can't.
"The other thing is the noise ordinances. Hong Kong's noise restriction laws are not based on any measurement. If you receive one complaint because someone perceives you've made too much noise, you can be shut down. Every other major city says you take a sound meter, measure how much noise you're generating, and there's an absolute number."
But even if the red tape were to disappear, Lomas is not convinced that venues will multiply and fill up quickly. "The foreigners tend to only go out on Hong Kong Island. It's crazy - if you live in London, you'll travel halfway across the city, which will take you an hour or so. Punters should be a bit more adventurous and perhaps travel for 15 minutes rather than five.
"Also, it's funny that people are willing to spend HK$100 on a drink and have maybe six drinks per night, but they're not willing to spend HK$100 on a door charge."
Lomas is careful to point out that BeatingHeart is not a gig venue but a studio where bands can rehearse, record and - crucially - prepare for a proper gig on high-quality equipment.
"The idea is that a rehearsal space allows bands to practise an entire set and hear themselves on extremely clear monitoring. It's a space where you can do songwriting and recording on an amazing live rig and, if bands need it, we have an awesome guerilla recording rig," he says.
"The other thing we can do is professional lighting. We can also throw smoke at you, too, because there are aspects of performing live that can be startling to someone the first time they get up on stage: you can't hear anything, you can't see much - it can be disorientating - so we've tried to cover that aspect as well."
BeatingHeart isn't just for those brought up on rock'n'roll, either.
"We've had some Canto-pop musicians in here, some corporate events, dance events, theatre - we even had a Moroccan stringed instrument gig," Lomas says, before adding, with a cheeky grin: "Do you know any cabaret acts that might be interested?"
BeatingHeart, Unit A2, 8/F Cheung Fat Bldg, 7-9 Hill Rd, Shek Tong Tsui, tel: 5190 1851