I've been spending more and more time in Singapore. The city once heavily maligned as being dull, uninspiring and too hot is now becoming increasingly different from this stereotype (apart from still being very hot). It's sadly leagues ahead of Hong Kong as a cultural destination; it's every bit a world city where Hong Kong isn't. Hong Kong's policymakers have failed to understand the importance of a sustainable cultural ecosystem and creating an attractive place for the regions most innovative companies and talent to operate.
During a recent visit to Singapore, I went to a free arts event in a downtown carpark with some friends. The program included a number of local artists and performers. Speaking to the organisers (Invasion), I soon became aware that the event itself was not only endorsed by the government but organised by them. Taking steps to utilise this sizeable unconventional space on the weekend might be seen as commonplace in many countries like the US, UK and other parts of Europe. However, in Asia, it's less common, and in Hong Kong virtually impossible.
'Underground' events which utilise interesting spaces are doing so often at the risk of being shut down. The city's outdated regulations mean engaging multiple stakeholders (landowners, government departments and tenants) and gaining approval is often impossible as there's usually someone in the decision-making chain that objects, or more often than not, can't be arsed to take on the perceived risk. There are obvious issues around noise, and understandably so. We need to manage these effectively and understand that ruling out cultural events with broad brush strokes isn't going to cut it. Construction sites in Hong Kong run for years and cause far more issues to society. There's a clear distinction to be made here. We're placing too much emphasis on short term gains than long term societal improvement. Ultimately no-one wants to live in a boring place with no culture or entertainment, so do the math. The perceived risk in putting these events on often relates to something going wrong and unwanted attention being drawn to a venue or landlord - a bit scary really. Music events are often marginalised so much in Hong Kong we're forcing promoters and event producers to take on risks that further damage their reputation and the industry as a whole.
The city needs to make a shift in its priorities to grow, something Singapore has seemingly already done. On a more commercial level - Singapore’s slick Harbourside development comes to life at night. It’s pristine architectural developments make up a tapestry of cultural spaces and modern retail concepts. In many ways, this is similar to Hong Kong, just newer, cleaner and better designed. However, the debate we should be having is around the ecosystem rather than the glamorous show pieces of either city. I think both cities still have some way to go, but right now, Singapore takes Hong Kong to the cleaners with its progressive culture strategy.
When people across the world think of Hong Kong, they often think of flashing lights, sky scrapers and bustling communities. The city has long benefitted from people travelling here to enjoy the majestic views the city has to offer; however, dramatic cityscapes are becoming more and more common throughout the region. Clockenflap has done a great job of harnessing the harbours iconic views by having acts perform with the city as a backdrop. Content like this resonates, both locally and internationally and provides real value to the economy. Many events continue to use the Central Harbour Events Space, and these events will soon be joined by regular programming at the West Kowloon Cultural District as it finally opens up. We also have some fantastic sites in Hong Kong away from the harbour that have never been used, green locations on the islands, in the new territories as well as heritage sites like - The Peak Lookout, The Big Buddha and HK Museum of Coastal Defences Museum to name a few.
We also have beaches on our doorstep; Repulse Bay is used for touch rugby tournaments with a light music offering, why shouldn't it host more serious music programming in the future? Capturing events in great locations through digital content can be very powerful in building the destination's brand as much as the rights owners themselves. Should we encourage Cercle to do a music session here? Alternatively, develop our own series of iconic events with support from the government or tourism boards. It's worth noting Boiler Room have done something successful but minimal in Hong Kong with local crew Yeti, will we see more from Boiler Room as part of their new China push?
It's hard to predict if changes are on the horizon given the cloak of mystery shrouding the governments long term policies on culture and the elitist out of touch approach many of the landowners seem to be adopting. However, it's not too late to take steps to make things happen. The news that The Festival de Cannes Film Week is coming to Hong Kong is a fun and a solid tactical play to enhance the notoriety of K11 Musea and the city's association with global cinema. The event will no doubt provide a set of iconic images, with a fusion between the red carpet and the HK harbour. For the rights owners, they're able to develop some decent licensing revenue as well as build the 'Festival De Cannes' brand in Asia. They will also provide valuable opportunities to actors and those international film makers who make it into the region to do the same. Hopefully, the festival will benefit local/ regional talent and give a much-needed boost to the film industry here. That's the challenge, to remain credible and develop broader participation and advocacy. One thing is for sure, in true Hong Kong fashion, lots of money will change hands, and it'll be a big night out.