By Hans Ebert

We’ve said it here before and we’ll say it again, but Hong Kong – and especially the Government and the Hong Kong Tourism Board- must really really try and understand that this city has no music scene- and what this means to the Hong Kong brand and image of what once was described as “Asia’s World City”.

1100525_AWC Instand

Music gives a city and its people a Voice, a Voice offers Hope and Hope brings about Change. Just ask everyone from Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye and John Lennon. Music can never ever be trivialised. It can never ever be ignored. And if there are some in the government who might think that Hong Kong youth having a musical voice is something to fear, they’re bringing censorship into a form of entertainment. And if this is true in the remotest way, this would be very wrong and can backfire badly.

Hong Kong might pretend to have a music scene, and make the odd mewing sounds that it does, but there doesn’t exist one for the very simple reason that no one with any clout- especially, creative and financial clout- cares enough to make something happen. Why? Probably because they cannot see any return on their investment from a long-term point of view, or else, feel that this would be going on a senseless Quixotic quest fighting other people’s battles and losing the war to some windmills.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

There are some passionate local musicians trying damn hard to create something approaching a “scene”, but, sadly, without a sizeable investment in not only venues, but, far more importantly, local talent- and with this being in short supply-importing good young music talent from overseas, and not another crop of those who’ve passed their Use By Date- innovative musical talent from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, the U.S. etc- nothing of any significance will ever happen. The hamsters will go around and around the treadmill with nothing to show for their efforts. There is no music scene because there are only a handful of worthwhile talent. With only this handful of talent, there is no demand as there is no supply, and the power of music has been silenced.

hedgehogs on turntable

For what’s mentioned above to happen, the Hong Kong Tourism Board must work with the various international consulates in town so that there are no roadblocks and red tape when it comes to issuing work visas for overseas musicians, and that all necessary funding will be in place for there to be an ongoing cultural exchange programme with the key driver being Music with a capital M.

HK Music

Music: It’s really not a bad word and Hong Kong audiences need to reminded that there’s more to music than Canto Pop with its forty and fifty year-old “idols”, and the so-called “Jazz” singers putting customers to sleep at every single five-star hotel lounge with their musical doodling. It’s embarrassing. But, if it’s the only show in town, it’s meekly accepted as just one of those things.

The Four Heavenly Kings

These days when people talk about Hong Kong’s “Can Do” spirit, it comes across as empty words. This “Can Do” work ethic and looking at ways to create and introduce the city to things new and exciting and needed, packed up and left with entrepreneurs like Alan Zeman, Andrew Bull, Gordon Huthart, Michael Pope, Sylvio Wang, Nicole Garnaut, Christian Romberg, Daniel Ng, and Hong Kong’s original visionaries in Run Run and Runme Shaw, Li Ka-shing and Raymond Chow.

Alan Zeman

Andrew Bull

Run Run and Runme Shaw

If not for these trailblazers, Hong Kong would never have had Shaw Brothers Studio, HKTVB, Golden Harvest Films, Bruce Lee, Lan Kwai Fong and discos that gave this city a nightlife and a heartbeat- Disco Disco, Canton, Manhattan, Hot Gossip…

Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow

What’s there here today? Grappas? Peel Fresco? Orange Peel? The Fringe Club? And what’s the reason for supporting or frequenting any of these venues other than the occasional “favour” because a friend might be performing? Even then, how many times can the enthusiasm for this support system be revved up before utter boredom sets in as you’ve seen the same shtick for decades? From attending- for the price of a pretty expensive admission ticket- a gig/party/concert to celebrate some singer’s thirtieth anniversary in Hong Kong, it’s now their fiftieth anniversary, and we’re being coerced to sit there amongst dead people reminiscing about the good old days. It’s not exactly fun. There’s something eerily similar to being in a scene from “The Shining”. It’s spooky. And when “Unchained Melody” is bellowed out along with a “big band” version of “I Feel Good”, which would have Soul Brother Number One disappearing into Papa’s once brand new bag while we cower as some old dears are wheeled out for a simpatico duet of “Endless Love”, you realise that you’ve just paid to enter Le Rue Morgue Of The Lounge Lizards.

Hong Kong desperately needs new musical talent- good musical talent, and not more of those we all know might be “enthusiastic”, but enthusiasm and talent are two very different things. And this new talent is not in Hong Kong. Gawd knows it’s tough to name even five above average Hong Kong-based singers. Original singers in Hong Kong? Please.

No Harry

As for the usual suspects who keep popping up like zits at all the usual places armed with their well-known and insipidly uninspiring repertoire of covers that should stay locked in some time capsule so future generations can hear just how tedious the Hong Kong music scene has been for over thirty fucking years, they should be let out sparingly. The scary thing is this: Actually applauding fake Rock God posturing at a dump like the Hard Rock Cafe while some Filipina tries to channel Axl Rose and Robert Plant and accepting average- and even mediocre- as something special because that’s all there is. The only option is to hit a club, knock back a few shooters and watch someone twiddling a few knobs and pump their fists in the air. If this is Ecstasy, then Ecstasy must be doubling as Hades.


Gawd knows what’s in the water in Hong Kong these days, but there’s way too much reminiscing, far too much procrastinating and posturing and not enough doers getting things done. Speak to people about getting involved and making things happen, and the answer is, “we’re with you, bro”. Look behind and these “bros” and “dudes” are never there. It’s like discussing ideas. Many “love” them. And then what? They wait for these ideas to become reality and, suddenly, you’ve inherited new “business partners” who are under the delusion that they’ve contributed to the whole and have their hands out wanting their palms greased.

cool story bro

Sadly, the new Hong Kong might be missing the boat on many things, but not when it comes to many with very transparently obvious selfish agendas mixed with dollops of entitlement. Where and how did this happen? Through all the ways in which a music scene has been left to its own means for decades. The days of teamwork is gone, there are trust issues, and the city’s creative community rarely if ever comes together. It’s as bad and dysfunctional as Hong Kong’s political parties. The pettiness, gossip and jealousies in every industry is tearing this city apart. Humpty Dumpty is an omelette.


Yes, the annual Clockenflap festival took place in Hong Kong last weekend and hats off to the organisers for making this happen. And now what? Has this event help advance the present and future state of the Hong Kong music industry? Wait: Has there ever even been a Hong Kong music industry beyond the “Four Heavenly Kings” and all those Hello Kitty Canto Pop guys and dolls?

canton pop

Where is Hong Kong’s Sia- not another covers singer butchering “Chandelier”, but a bona fide original talent like her, like Pink, like Rihanna, like any of those bands in Scandinavia and other countries creating great original work and giving their countries a vibrant music industry with considerable government support and which leads to so many other forms of innovation and forward thinking?

don't let me get me

Look at how the brilliant Annie Leibovitz has just changed the Pirelli calendar. How Amy Schuster has changed the face of comedy. How Adele has changed the way music is consumed.


Everything is intertwined, but music is the tie that binds. For Hong Kong to remind itself what creativity is, this city must start to import original talent from overseas and create this ongoing cultural exchange programme that showcases the best of all worlds in the what still is the most cosmopolitan city in the world.

A message to Chairman Peter Lam and the Hong Kong Tourism Board: Let’s not have Singapore and Shanghai steal this USP from us as well. And instead of over-thinking everything to death, the business model and marketing strategy is given to you here on a silver platter. As Nike would say, Just Do It.

just do it