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Live offers escape in “hurting” Hong Kong

“We’ve just got to be positive": IQ catches up with Hong Kong-based industry professionals to find out how protests are impacting the city’s live scene

By Anna Grace on 15 Aug 2019

Hong Kong protests impact on live

Hong Kong skyline by night


As weeks of anti-government protests continue in Hong Kong, the city’s live music scene is a tale of mixed fortunes.

Millions of Hong Kong citizens have participated in ten weeks of protests, sparked by the introduction of a controversial extradition bill. The proposal has since been retracted, but protests for democratic reform continue.

One Hong Kong live music industry insider, who asked to remain anonymous, tells IQ that venues in the vicinity of the protests have been temporarily shut down, leading to the rescheduling or cancellation of multiple shows.

It has also been difficult to shift tickets for some events, says the source, with much of the concert-going demographic occupied with protest activities or “not in the mood” to attend a show.

“Audience buying motive is very low,” the insider tells IQ, “no-one knows if a show scheduled for next month or even next week will go ahead, so people are not willing to buy tickets in advance.”

Nick Willsher, founder of event consultancy firm Entertaining Asia and nightlife guide HK Clubbing, agrees that uncertainty is leading to some event cancellations.

“Audience buying motive is very low – no-one knows if a show scheduled for next month or even next week will go ahead”

“Chvrches were meant to perform here next week,” Willsher tells IQ, “but they cancelled the show due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’”.

American singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin and K-pop star Daniel Kang also cancelled upcoming shows in the city, in light of disruptions caused by the protests at Hong Kong airport.

While Willsher points out that most large scale events scheduled for the coming months – such as Clockenflap and Live Nation festivals Creamfields Hong Kong and the recently launched Rolling Loud – are still going ahead, he questions whether more international acts may be deterred by the footage they see online.

At the best of times, says Willsher, it can be hard to book certain artists due to the lack of medium-sized and multifunctional venues in Hong Kong. It is also “costly” to put on an event in the city, as little pre-existing event infrastructure exists, driving up ticket prices.

“Peoples’ attentions are understandably focused on other things right now,” Justin Sweeting, co-founder of Hong Kong festival Clockenflap and music director at promoter Magnetic Asia tells IQ.

“Although, with our own shows,” Sweeting adds, “we’ve seen an uplift in ticket sales over the period,” reflecting continued local demand despite the political uncertainty.

Magnetic Asia has promoted shows including Yo La Tengo, Yaeji, Alvvays and American Football in the past weeks, “which have all either been sold out, or close.”

“Peoples’ attentions are understandably focused on other things right now”

Although Sweeting notes a “more muted response on announcement” and a “slower sales arc than normal” in a city with already relatively late purchasing trends, he states that all shows picked up closer to the time.

Strong sales have not been the case across the board, however. Sweeting admits that some smaller capacity events have been selling more slowly than expected, with some other promoters’ events “being cancelled or more often postponed”.

International industry support for those in Hong Kong has been in no short supply. “I’ve had messages from industry people from around the world, asking if I’m safe,” says Willsher, adding that “we’ve just got to be positive and hope it all gets sorted out.”

For Sweeting, it has been “heartwarming” to hear from friends and peers in the international industry community, whereas another source says some artists are trying to organise benefit concerts to raise money for “arrested protestors and independent media”.

A recent event raised over HK$50,000 (US$6,400) in support of protestors.

In the long term, Sweeting states that civil unrest insurance cover for this year has skyrocketed.

“More broadly speaking,” says Sweeting, “the city is hurting, and the root causes don’t have quick fixes.”

“We believe that it is more crucial than ever that Clockenflap exists, giving the opportunity for people to come together for collective, positive inspiration”

Although it is “not easy to find positives at this time”, Sweeting hopes that “great art” may come from “great pain”. Recent concerts have provided a noticeable “release” for Hong Kong citizens, “with more energetic and enthusiastic audiences coming out.”

“We believe that especially given the current situation, it is more crucial than ever that Clockenflap exists,” continues Sweeting, “giving the opportunity for people to come together for collective, positive inspiration and quite frankly to have something to look forward to.”

The Clockenflap co-founder says sales for the festival are up 17% from the same period last year and audience feedback on the first line-up announcement has been the “most positive yet”.

“We will continue on our path, with sensitivity, and mitigate the risks wherever we can,” says Sweeting.

Taking place from 22 to 24 November, the Clockenflap line-up so far features artists including Mumford and Sons, Halsey, the Kooks, Superorganism, Lil Pump and Babymetal. Past headliners include the Chemical Brothers, New Order, Interpol and the Libertines.

Tickets for Clockenflap 2019 are priced from $104 for a day ticket and $177 for a weekend pass.

 


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