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Hong Kong: Indie Music Made Illegal by Contradictory Policies

Hidden Agenda has been rated as one of the best live music venues in Hong Kong by CNNGo. The indie music space has been in the industrial neighborhood of Kwun Tong for many years, as the factory district is planned to be a hub for local cultural and creative activities.

However, contradictory to the government's policy to promote cultural and creative industries, since 2010, some government departments have kept harassing performance venues and live concerts, as autonomous creative space in Hong Kong is unprotected by existing law. In the past two years, Hidden Agenda has been harassed by the police at least twice, before and during their music shows.

The latest police harassment happened during the weekend of March 18, 2012, when two overseas indie bands, Israeli “Art Rock” Eatliz and Turtle Giant from Macau [zh], were about to perform in the venue.

Quncy Lau posted more than 30 photos showing the police officers “carrying out their duty” on Facebook:

Police entering the building. Photo by Quncy Lau.

Police entering the building. Photo by Quncy Lau.

Quncy Lau explained [zh] the situation in the comment thread:

Hidden Agenda. Mar 18.
楝岩開show 時間來查消防,幾十個警察陪一個消防上去

Hidden Agenda. Mar 18.
They intentionally picked the time when the show is about to start to check the fire alarm system. Two dozen police officers accompanied one fireman to carry out the duty.

Hidden Agenda has been forced to relocate twice because of the lack of legal protection on their creative activities. Wong Chun Kok explained the background [zh] at inmediahk.net:

2010年一月,在政府活化工廈政策刺激底下,孕育Hidden Agenda的工廠大廈被財團整棟收購,並被要求在限期內遷出。臨行前舉辦了一連兩天的「馬上封音樂會」,超過二十隊樂隊與及街頭藝術界的好朋友參與。遷出至今兩年,舊址仍然空置。…

兩年以來,大家投放的心血漸漸被外界肯定。除被評為最佳音樂展演場地外,更令我們驚訝的是法國文化協會、康樂及文化事務署等都開始使用此場地,儘管這裡沒有適用的牌照可以申請。在現行政策底下,工廠大廈裡所有的音樂展演空間、展覽、劇場等等都違法。一方面Hidden Agenda主動聯絡政府部門商討對策,另一方面,地政署、食環署,甚至連屋宇署都不斷作出滋擾。

Back in January 2010, under the stimulation of government's policy on revitalizing the industrial buildings, the warehouse where Hidden Agenda was founded was bought up by a developer and we were forced to leave. Before we left, we organized a series of music concerts under the title “About to be Blocked” and more than 20 local indie and street performance groups joined us. Two years later, the old venue was still empty…

In the past two years, we gained recognition from society and have been rated as the best music performance venue in Hong Kong. Even the France Culture Association and the government's Leisure and Cultural Services Department have started renting our venue despite the fact that we do not have any license that authorizes us to run the space. According to existing regulations, all music performance, art exhibitions and theatrical performances in factory buildings are considered illegal. We have tried contacting the government to deal with the problem actively, but the Land Department, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and even the Building Department keep on harassing us.

The second relocation happened in September 2011, this time under the pressure of the government's Land Department. Before they left, they organized another series of indie music concerts under the theme “East Kowloon Industrial Space” [zh] to ally with other artists in the industrial district. Below is a video recording one of their show:

Leung Lai Yin, an indie musician and a fan of Hidden agenda got fed up [zh] with police harassment:

事實就是這樣 搬去邊都摷你出來
Hidden Agenda搬到新竇 今晚警察又再來騷擾
如果我們都真的認為香港需要有HA這間Live house
甚至要更多更多分享和孕育出創作的空間的話
我們做觀眾的 除了俾錢入埸支持HA捱貴租都要撑落去外
我們是否應該組織起來做行動?
媒體的報道夠多了 結果還是這樣子被欺負
一起想像一下行動 然後組織起來去實踐吧
向社會回應我們的聲音、態度
藝術歸於人民

The fact is no matter where you would have moved, they would follow you.
Hidden Agenda has moved to a new location now, the police come to harass again.
If we really think Hong Kong needs indie music live venues like Hidden Agenda
Or more space for creative activities
As an audience, apart from supporting HA by paying the ticket prices to shoulder the expensive rent,
Don't we have to get organized and defend them?
The media has a lot of reports on this, but that doesn't stop the harassment.
Let's figure out how to take action
Society has to give feedback to our voices and demands
Art must be returned to the people.
Police crackdown on a rooftop indie music concert in September 2011. Photo from inmediahk.net

Police crackdown on a rooftop indie music concert in September 2011. Photo from inmediahk.net

Indeed, Hidden Agenda is not the only victim of the policy contradiction. Back in September 2011, another indie music performance in a more remote industrial district in North West Kowloon was subject to a crackdown by police officers.

Wong Chun Kok described the situation [zh] at inmediahk.net:

9月3日,朋友於寂靜無人的葵涌工廠區,挑了一天台位置舉辦音樂會。此舉靈感來自美國樂隊Jefferson Airplane於1968年的天台音樂會,也就是英國Beatles傳奇性天台音樂會的前一年。最大分別,就是Jefferson Airplane的音樂會是在紐約曼克頓市中心,Beatles那一次是在利物浦鬧市,從大白天開始。但是,我們都已習慣深夜走到沒人逗留的工業區玩音樂。

因為多數香港人,對音樂活動是不理解的。

經驗告訴我,其實無論你去到多麼偏遠,警察都會說有人投訴噪音而會強行終止音樂會。就算你有一千人、一萬人享受音樂,只要有一個警察口中說的投訴,你便要乖乖識趣。…這次,為保護音樂會,觀眾築起人牆。結果警察連防暴盾牌也出動了,可能天太黑,誤以為結他是牛肉刀。然後警察強行拘捕觀眾,禁錮其他人於天台。有朋友怒罵:「玩音樂嗟,駛唔駛咁呀?」然後遭到警察怒目相向。

On 3 September, my friends picked up a remote spot in Kwai Chung Industrial District for a rooftop music concert. They got the inspiration from the American band Jefferson Airplane's 1968 roof top performance, a year before the Beatles’ rooftop performance. The biggest difference was that Jefferson Airplane's concert was in the center of Manhattan, the Beatles’ was in the center of Liverpool and they started in broad daylight. But we are used to hearing our music in remote industrial districts at night.

Because most Hong Kong people do not understand music.

My experience has told me that no matter how remote your concert spot, the police will stop a music concert by force whenever they received complaints about the noise. Even though more than 1,000 or 10,000 people are enjoying the music, one complaint would ruin the whole thing. And you have to obey whatever the police say… This time, in order to protect the concert, the audience formed a human shield, then the police brought their anti-riot shields. Maybe it was too dark and they mistook the guitars for some huge swords. Then the police officers arrested the audience and locked them up on the rooftop. Some of my friends were yelling: “we are just playing music, do you have to do this?” The police officers only returned angry stares.

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