Explain this: What happened at Road to Ultra and what’s next for Hong Kong’s festival scene?

The city’s music events scene is young and growing, making it difficult for security to prevent drugs being smuggled into venues

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 10:12pm

Hong Kong’s international music festival scene was thrust into the spotlight after one reveller died and three others were admitted to hospital following the Road to Ultra festival on Saturday. Police said three of the victims tested positive for controlled drugs – a hallmark of many electronic music festivals worldwide.

While this incident has put a black mark on the music festival scene in the city, the events are still crucial to Hong Kong as they import culture, publicity and tourism dollars.

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How popular are large music festivals in Hong Kong?

In 1993, Hong Kong held its first major international music festival. The Wan Chai International Music Festival brought in acts such as Apache Indian, reggae band Nogabe and One Horse. But many reviews of the event were negative and it would take a decade before another international music festival was put on in Hong Kong.

HarbourFest was held in 2003 to help bring tourism back to Hong Kong after the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak. The festival was mired in a corruption scandal and also was criticised for its high costs and low attendance numbers despite signing big acts such as the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Santana.

Clockenflap, which was launched in 2008, is Hong Kong’s signature music festival. The festival has come a long way from when it was first held at an empty housing estate in Cyberport, attracting just 1,500 people. It was later moved to the West Kowloon Cultural District, where 60,000 people attended in 2015.

Police probe drug link in death at Road to Ultra EDM festival

The Road to Ultra electronic music festival made its return for the second time on Saturday. The festival was part of a global tour known as, Ultra Worldwide.

What is the music festival scene like overseas compared with Hong Kong?

The city’s music festival scene is still in its nascent stages but is maturing because of the recent expansion of venue space at West Kowloon and Central Harbourfront.

More international festivals are also making Hong Kong a destination, such as Ultra Worldwide.

But music festivals in the city still have a long way to go if they wish to reach the same level of recognition as Coachella in California, Tomorrowland in Belgium and Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom.

What happened at Saturday’s Road to Ultra music festival?

Police were still investigating what sent four Hongkongers to hospital, including one who died and three that remained in critical condition. Authorities said the three in critical condition tested positive for drugs.

Officers found two small plastic bags at the event site, with one containing a red tablet and the second containing a blue pill. The Post has learned the red tablet was ecstasy and the blue pill was the tranquilliser Midazolam.

The weather was also very hot on Saturday with temperatures as high as 33.5 degrees Celsius in nearby Tsim Sha Tsui.

Drug tests positive for Hongkongers who collapsed at festival

According to concertgoers, water availability was limited.

If the drugs found by police were ingested, combined with dehydration from the hot weather and lack of water, it could lead to severe health effects, William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said.

Safety must come first at all events

How prevalent is drug use at music festivals and can it be prevented?

A fan who attended Ultra, who identified himself as Tony, said on a radio show on Tuesday that he believed “50 to 60 per cent” of people at the venue were under the influence of drugs.

He said there was a prevalent smell of what he suspected was marijuana, and that people were openly “rolling” joints.

“Drug use kind of goes with the territory for festivals,” concertgoer Stephen Lee said.

Numbers released in June by the government’s narcotics division, showed an 18 per cent decline in the number of drug arrests – from 2,692 to 2,212 – in the first quarter of 2017, compared with the same period in 2016.

Not enough water and shade at Ultra concert, revellers claim

Ben Cheung Kin-leung, chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics, said the presence of drugs was widespread at certain entertainment events.

Because of the large number of attendees at music festivals, security checks are often rushed so revellers do not have to wait in long lines. Checks at Hong Kong concerts usually involve a bag search and occasionally the use of a metal detector. Drugs are often smuggled into venues on a person’s body.

What are some of the most widely used drugs at music festivals and why?

While marijuana is common at festivals in other parts of the world, Chui said the top drugs taken at local music festivals are methamphetamines, MDMA – known more popularly as ecstasy – amphetamine and tranquillisers, such as Midazolam, also known as “Blue Gremlin”. All these drugs give an enhanced sense of euphoria. The feeling is enhanced even more so if these drugs are combined, Chui said.