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City Weekend

Hidden Agenda’s relaunch sparks hope for Hong Kong’s underground indie clubs

A first look inside indie club’s new venue in Kwun Tong as it reopens with tuck shop to avoid further licensing disputes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 9:15pm

The organisers of revived indie club Hidden Agenda say they are “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the underground music scene in Hong Kong as they prepare to relaunch at a new venue.

The music showcase was forced to move out of its former venue at the Winful Industrial Building, Kwun Tong, in mid-October because it had been operating illegally.

Founded in 2009, it has previously been forced to relocate over similar battles with the Lands Department for operating without a commercial licence.

But on December 15, it will relaunch at the Hung To Industrial Building, also in Kwun Tong, with a headline set from American punk rock band Anti Flag, after crowdfunding more than HK$500,000.

And in a bid to avoid further licensing issues, it hopes to legally host music acts alongside a food trading business. It will reopen as a “tuck shop” serving international cuisine by obtaining a Food Factory licence. The venue is planning a soft launch for the takeout service on November 16.

Kakei Ng, Hidden Agenda’s media spokeswoman, said she was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm from the club’s supporters.

“We are flattered because people wanted to keep Hidden Agenda alive,” she said. “We wanted to give back to the people”.

Ng said the club’s founder, Hui Chung-wo, had attended constructive meetings with lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, who is convening discussions about the future of Hong Kong’s disused industrial buildings on behalf of the sports, performing arts, culture and publication functional constituency.

“It seems like a move from the government to understand how these industrial buildings can be used,” she said. “I am cautiously optimistic. But we are not sure about the government’s intentions because at the end of the day, they play by their own rules. We are just trying to attend and be supportive of their meetings.”

In a written statement to the South China Morning Post, Ma said vacated industrial buildings should be “revitalised and fully utilised”, and he hoped the government could amend policies to enable this, particularly for cultural enterprises.

He said the Lands Department should grant arts groups longer grace periods if they breached venue licensing restrictions as they were currently only given a maximum of 14 days.

“The shortage of space in Hong Kong is a major problem faced by the local arts and cultural groups,” he said. “The rents of industrial buildings are still lower than those of commercial buildings, thus making them a better option for artists and arts groups with limited resources.

“In the long run, the government should evaluate and amend the current policies, relaxing the restrictions on industrial land use to allow greater freedom for art and cultural, recreation and sports activities to take place in industrial buildings.”

Ng said she had only started to become seriously interested in indie music about five years ago, adding that when she joined the Hidden Agenda team in 2014, it had “opened up [her] world”.

She said she was encouraged by the surging popularity of indie music in the city but hoped it would not become so mainstream that it was exploited by more commercial venues such as shopping malls. This might have negative effects on the industry in the long-term if small bands were eventually expected to play for free.

“It is really interesting to see the sub-culture of Hong Kong,” she said. “More people are trying to listen to different types of music.

“But what I worry about is in Hong Kong, when something becomes popular, it is commercialised very quickly. Thankfully I think most indie musicians are quite smart about playing the right gigs.”

Previously, indie fans were limited to watching gigs at the Hong Kong Fringe Club in Central or the Wanch in Wan Chai, and bands were often asked to play more than one set in an evening to fill time.

Hidden Agenda’s revival marks just one of the successes of Hong Kong’s flourishing indie scene. Other interesting indie venues include:

MOM Livehouse in North Point

Focal Fair in Causeway Bay

The Orange Peel – hosts alternative acts

The Underground HK – venue for up-and-coming indie bands from Hong Kong and abroad.