Hong Kong's pop-up parties and underground events shaking up city's nightlife scene
It's a rave new world as spontaneous outdoor events shake up the party scene
Text: Charley Lanyon
A proliferation of spontaneous, outdoor pop-up parties and events has transformed Hong Kong's party scene during the past year.
For a city with a reputation for paralysing red tape and corporate saturation, these independently run, off-the-grid events are shaking up our city's nightlife in a serious way. It may surprise you that Hong Kong is something of an impromptu partier's dream with no regulations limiting events held in public spaces as long as there are no noise complaints.
Part of what makes these events so exciting is that they are secret and often come together at the last minute. Don't expect 48 Hours to draw you a map, but we can show you who to follow and what to do to get your finger on the pulse of Hong Kong's hottest pop-up events.
Heavy is probably Hong Kong's most ragtag crew putting on pop-up parties, but they are also the most true to the pop-up party ethos. Heavy is an amorphous, ever-expanding crew of drum 'n' bass promoters with a DIY sound system that has gained something of a reputation among Hong Kong's DJs: assembled over years from mismatched second-hand components scrounged from the electronics markets in Sham Shui Po.
Heavy's pop-ups are unabashedly urban, taking place in lots and carparks in Kowloon and the New Territories. Their first parties in Kwun Tong were straightforward affairs: if the sun was shining, the crew would post an invitation on their Facebook page, assemble in an empty lot, set up their sound equipment and spin drum 'n' bass and reggae for any party people willing to make the trip.
Although Heavy's stature has increased, the idea is still the same. "We still go by the weather," says Lai Fai, one of Heavy's founders, "and most outdoor parties are still free."
You'd think a guerilla party group would have lots of trouble with the police but Fai says that isn't the case: "The police only come if there are noise complaints. The party can go on forever."
Because their events are always last-minute, it is vital to follow their Facebook page (Heavy HK) and keep an eye on their website heavyhongkong.com.
Bunker Club parties are the most buzzed-about pop-ups of the moment - and also the most secretive. They have been going on under the radar at remote locations in Hong Kong for more than four years with a growing following of passionate devotees. The parties get their name because in the past they have taken place in abandoned world war two bunkers.
Apart from over-the-top lighting and lasers, and some of Hong Kong's most talented DJs, Bunker parties' biggest draw is their secrecy. The only thing the organiser known simply as Bunker was willing to share with 48 Hours was a modified line from the movie Fight Club: "The first rule of Bunker Club: you do not talk about Bunker Club. The second rule of Bunker Club: you do not talk about Bunker Club."
So perhaps it's best to use this description posted online by a Bunker devotee named Noodle: "A rave in the middle of a forest up a mountain should never be missed. As we turned the final corner of an ear-popping climb, the music began to drift through the trees. Then we saw some disco lights falling like multicoloured jewels over the dark canvas all around us. Torches at the ready, we steered single file towards the sound of fun: music, cans of beer spraying everywhere, whelps of delight, reverberating basslines. Turning a final corner and into the dance area proper was something akin to a religious experience."
For details on the next happening check out Bunker Club HK's Facebook page.
Secret Island Party
Amusingly, the best-known pop-up events are the not-so-aptly-named Secret Island Party organised by Hushup Events.
The event got its start when founder Rachel Frost, thinking she was going on a yoga retreat, found herself at an abandoned villa in a remote corner of Hong Kong. She knew she had found the perfect place for a festival.
Secret Island Party is the only Hong Kong pop-up designed on the model of a Western festival, where participants are encouraged to camp out overnight and form a sort of temporary community. "The vision is to create a community festival environment with interaction being a primary focus," says Frost, "We want the people to be part of what the festival is."
The previous festival last November saw 700 party people descending on the secret location. The next festival - which Frost says will "encourage all facets of health and well-being, music and theatre", and will feature "healthy food as a main focus as well as more workshops, yoga and meditation classes" - will take place on October 18 and 19, with tickets going on sale in June. For more information go to hushup.hk/sip.
One of Hong Kong's newest and most grass roots groups putting on pop-up parties is Paragon, a casual collection of friends who came together officially in 2013. "It's great there is so much happening in Hong Kong now," says founding member John Mahon. "It didn't seem that good when I arrived in early 2010."
During the past year they've put together a small sound system and a few projectors, and gained a following for their laid-back vibe and love of music styles not often heard at Hong Kong parties. "Afrobeat, Cumbia, gospel, '60s R&B and soul," says Mahon, "other times Ethiopian jazz, gypsy ska, roots reggae, rocksteady, funk and hip hop".
Their next major outdoor event will be the open-air Summer Solstice/ "Fete de la Musique" party on June 21, followed by "an outdoor festival on July 5, with different stages", which Mahon says will be "co-organised with some of the best DJ crews and party organisers in Hong Kong". But if you're hoping he will spill all the beans, he won't; for details join the growing legion of Paragon fans and head to the Paragon Sound System Facebook page.
If you've ever been walking home after a night out in Lan Kwai Fong and found the LKF amphitheatre packed with drunken revellers, you've seen a Botellon.
"Botellon is a cultural phenomenon," says Tony Verb, who brought the practice to Hong Kong in 2012. Botellon, Spanish for "big bottle", is an impromptu outdoor drinking event that got its start in Spain. The idea is simple: everyone descends on a square or outdoor space with a bottle - and proceeds to drink with abandon.
"In Spain it is just part of everyday life," says Verb. The trend has taken off in Spain where Botellons routinely attract crowds of more than 10,000.
In Europe, Botellons tend to be the purview of the young, but in Hong Kong the most enthusiastic supporters seem to be white-collar workers tired of the scene on Wyndham Street.
Also, Hong Kong's has yet to match the size of its sister events in Spain. "In 2012, we just invited 100 friends - and 250 came. The next one 500 came. At the last one there were between one and two thousand people."
Verb says there are only two rules: "Bring a bottle that you would share with the person standing next to you and come with a good spirit and a great sense of humour. That's it."
Verb is planning something big in the coming month so keep an eye on the Botellon Hong Kong Facebook page.