Hong Kong audience showing greater openness to indie and overseas acts

Hongkongers showed more openness to international and indie acts in their choice of live shows this year, writes Adam Wright

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 4:56pm

With performances by many of the world's biggest acts taking place alongside concerts by some of Asia's most famous faces, Hong Kong's music scene adopted a truly international perspective in 2013.

The city has in recent years witnessed a sharp rise in the number of live concerts - mainly because music downloading has forced labels and bands to seek more revenue from touring - and in 2013 this resulted in a steady stream of not only by big-ticket acts but also some of the most influential performers in independent music.

The more acts that come to Hong Kong, the more acts are going to hear about the fun times, so they will want to come too
Emily James, Events manager

However, for many music industry insiders, 2013 will be remembered as the year the average Hong Kong music fan fully embraced both international and alternative music.

While Eason Chan Yick-shun sold out more than 20 dates at the Coliseum, and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and Joey Yung Cho-yee experienced similar successes, organisers of shows by more underground and independent acts also reported strong demand for tickets among local music followers.

Perhaps one number best sums up the development: 50 per cent of the crowd at this year's Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival at West Kowloon were Hong Kong Chinese, for the first time ever. This was music to the ears of the Clockenflap crew, who for years have been frustrated by claims that music festivals were "just a gweilo thing".

Clockenflap music director Justin Sweeting says the development confirms a growing appreciation of international and alternative music among Hongkongers. "The demand is certainly growing in this area and we're seeing it in the audience demographics. It's really encouraging as this is what the long-term mission has been from the start," he says.

Similar audience demographics were also seen at the concerts held by promoters Your Mum, a live music event company set up by the creators of Clockenflap. During the year, Your Mum brought in influential indie acts such as Dirty Projectors, Yacht, Mum, The Cribs and Deerhunter, and the events sold out in increasingly short timeframes - partly due to stronger demand among local music aficionados.

And it wasn't just indie gigs and festivals - including this month's Blohk Party also at West Kowloon - that reported increased interest among Hongkongers: faster ticket sales were also reported for concerts by A-list international artists.

Nora Wong, senior marketing manager of international events company Live Nation, says: "The growing demand for festivals is definitely hard to ignore, but the biggest development in 2013 was the evidence that talented international acts can appeal to both the local and foreign markets. For example, all tickets to the two Bruno Mars shows [being held in March next year] were sold out within a few hours. This proves that an international artist doesn't have to be someone like Lady Gaga to sell out more than one gig in Hong Kong."

Capacity or near-capacity crowds were reported at most of the big-ticket shows of the year, including the performances by The Killers, Kraftwerk and The xx, and also at the stand-out indie gigs featuring Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions In The Sky and Grimes. Plus, of course, tickets to the big K-pop shows including Girls' Generation, 2NE1 and G-Dragon were in huge demand.

Sweeting sums up the factors behind the increase in one word: choice. "There has been more choice than ever for live music lovers, which is a very healthy sign. More bands, more promoters and more venue options mean there are ultimately more shows to choose from - and this has resulted in higher attendance rates."

When asked how Hong Kong can maintain the momentum in the music industry over the coming years, Sweeting says: "I'd love to see more local acts understand their value and say no to scenarios that may not make the best sense for them. Of course it's a balancing act, but local bands must start standing up more for themselves."

And Wong says: "We need more venues supported by the government. There have been many times we've had huge demand for a tour, but there has been a lack of venues. This is preventing promoters bringing even more acts to Hong Kong."

Another area of the Hong Kong scene that saw strong growth in 2013 was electronic dance music (EDM). This once-marginalised scene achieved a newfound legitimacy and shed most of the negative connotations it had been associated with since the early days of rave in Britain.

While the mainstream stars of the EDM world such as Tiesto and David Guetta played in the same venues and to similarly sized crowds as the biggest international bands, the city also regularly played host to more underground acts such as Loco Dice, Nicolas Jaar and Roman Flugel.

Emily James, events manager for dance music company Small & Tall, says an increase in the number of EDM promoters is to thank for the rise in events.

"I think it's due to more people keeping their ears to the ground, working hard to bring quality acts, and that's having a bit of a snowball effect. The more acts that come to Hong Kong, the more acts are going to hear about the fun times, so they will want to come too - especially in this scene where a lot of international DJs are friends."

But echoing Live Nation's Wong, James also points out that more venues are needed to maintain the momentum. "This is our biggest complaint about the nightlife scene in Hong Kong. People - including us - get bored with the same venues so we need to keep it fresh. We could also use more government support for alternative venues such as beaches and outdoor areas. It's changing - but very slowly."