Going underground: the city's hottest hidden venues
Want to escape the music mainstream? Hong Kong's industrial buildings hide venues hosting drum 'n' bass nights, experimental rock and emerging local acts. Pavan Shamdasani presents the top five
Hidden Agenda was the first on the scene - and the first to face the scrutiny of government officials. Forced to close down its original site, it soon reopened down the road, with a bigger space and a better sound system. Four years on, the venue has defied red tape and kept the crowds coming to Kwun Tong.
Hidden Agenda's musical focus is a strange one, going so far past the mainstream that it defies classification. At times hosting jazzy big bands and at others riling up the crowds with hardcore music that's almost a wall of sheer noise; the owners literally march to their own tune. Some of the biggest names have included US rockers Thee Oh Sees and Russian Circles, while longstanding local act King Ly Chee are regular favourites.
2A Wing Fu Industrial Building, 15-17 Tai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, tel: 9170 6073, hiddenagenda.hk
BeatingHeart came into existence with one goal in mind: to give Hongkongers the best sound system money can buy. Originally launched as a cheap and comfortable place for sound-obsessed founder Craig Lomas to jam, the location was immaterial - the focus was exclusively on the space's acoustics.
But soon the city's starving music fans caught on, and the grimy grit of the Shek Tong Tsui industrial space began to add to its Berlin club-like vibe. A concert-ready lighting system here, a couple of professional smoke machines there, and soon BeatingHeart was transformed into the most exciting new rock venue in town.
It's all about the sound for bands desperate to play here, and the studio space has already publicly hosted such names as Aussie favourites Regurgitator, US dance-punkers !!! and The Libertines' Carl Barat.
8/F Cheung Fat Building, 7-9 Hill Road, Shek Tong Tsui, tel: 5190 1851
XXX's success in the face of adversity also proved that a hidden performance venue could actually work. While money-minded copycats fell by the wayside, XXX pulled in the electronic music-loving crowds through a simple philosophy: you don't need a great location, stunning atmosphere or even a bar. You just need a big space with bigger music.
From major international DJs to fun-loving retro nights, the underground venue kept music obsessives happy with a range of dance-friendly events. But even XXX wasn't immune to the rising rent bug, shutting down its original Wing Lok Street location early this year. But a new XXX has risen from the ashes - located in the burgeoning Sai Ying Pun district, the venue has kept its industrial vibe firmly intact, starting slow with a series of art exhibitions but promising to return to its rocking roots in the coming months.
Basement, 353-363 Des Voeux Road West, Sai Wan, xxxgallery.hk
Love Da Café
As a veteran of Hong Kong's music industry, Tommy Chan has fought long and hard to transform his little Love Da Records label into a major name. Fifteen years after its founding, it's arguably the biggest distributor of choice indie music in Southeast Asia. It only made sense that the next step would be a venue.
Love Da Café was the result. While the 1,000 sq ft location in San Po Kong might be too far away for many partying Central-dwellers and the by-the-numbers sound system doesn't stand up against others, what separates it is right there in the name: the love of local music. Combine that with Chan's endless industry contacts and Love Da Café is slowly building its name as the go-to-place for seeing homegrown bands play live.
And that's something to love.
Unit A, 14/F, 114 King Fuk Street, San Po Kong, tel: 2264 1025
Culture Industries Association
The newest venue on the industrial block, Cultural Industries Association - or "CIA" to those in the know - opened just a couple of months ago in Kwai Hing in Kowloon. Its founder, Chris Lum, is Hong Kong born and bred, but spent the past two decades in London, building a strong mental framework for what an artistic performance venue should look like.
The result is like a journey through a blue-collar rabbit hole: a submarine-like entrance revealing a vast space, with lime-green floors and oversized picture-frames masquerading as doors. The word is still spreading in terms of its music, but unlike most places eager to bring in revenue through any means, CIA is picky about its acts, only selecting musicians who meet its particular artistic criteria. It's a bold move and one that might just pay off.
8/F, Block B, Wah Tat Industrial Centre, 8-10 Wah Sing Street, Kwai Hing, ciahk.org