By Hans Ebert
@hanseberthk

THE DARK SIDE OF HONG KONG NIGHT LIFE 1

There are two ways of looking at it; from a business point of view, everything Morrison Cafe in Queen’s Road East has initiated recently appear to have been huge hits.

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From being a little known restaurant and bar, it’s getting traction on Facebook and has suddenly emerged as one of the more popular hangouts for a certain group of consumers- largely local and reasonably young. This is at least the perception based purely on having attended the venue’s Open Mic nights around 4-5 times and which are held every Tuesday and having seen a few updates online of different events held at Morrison Cafe on other days of the week.

So, with snacks and drinks available including what the SCMP named The Best Veggie Burger in Hong Kong and a free floor show of various activities thrown in, business must be good.

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Anyone doing well today in Hong Kong’s notoriously fickle food and beverage industry where restaurants, bars and clubs open and close quicker than a hooker’s legs, are few and far between, so those running Morrison Cafe should be congratulated.

If, as some say, this success has somewhat changed the attitude of management to when the venue was struggling to get noticed, that’s just life and it’s everyone for themselves. A little success goes to most heads and it’s how one accepts it or gets rid of it like any other irritant.

However, looking at these Open Mic sessions as someone trying to improve what isn’t even a music “scene” in Hong Kong, but more of something still waiting to happen, these nights are a mess. They’re not pleasant viewing.

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Though understanding that here’s a platform for those not good enough for prime time to perform in a relaxed atmosphere without being pitted against professional musicians or even reasonably good musicians, what’s now happening are ‘live’ karaoke sessions for often mediocre talent bordering on the gawdawful. But as a business, it’s attracting an audience and audiences spend money. Cash registers ringing are music to anyone’s ears.

Getting back to the music, let’s face it, Hong Kong isn’t exactly overflowing with good, young talent- the keyword here being young as in below 25. If there are any diamonds in the rough, they’re well and truly hidden unless one gets down to The Wanch on a night when a bright light shines on them and they make you feel like Indiana Jones.

As far as other venues go, Peel Fresco has become old and predictable. Going by the last time there, which was around two months ago, it’s also looking tired. It might have had to do with not really being into drunk performers thinking they’re channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison and being Rock’n Roll. It’s not. It’s just being drunk, dumb and out of tune.

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Meanwhile, the hotel lounges are a snooze zone needing a pulse whereas the bars and clubs are for those who don’t mind hearing cover bands playing the usual hits while they try to chat up working ladies.

But where’s the originality going to come from? Regurgitating everything that’s come before isn’t the answer. So there’s a Chinese band that can perform a note for note cover of “Yellow” in affected English. And then what? There’s been a Coldplay around for well over a decade. Must there now be a Hong Kong version, too? Plus, when at EMI, we had a very good singer-songwriter from Mainland China- Zheng Jun- record “Yellow” in Mandarin well over a decade ago. At least we were taking some chances. We weren’t suffering from A&R shrinkage.

This is what irritates and disappoints me about Morrison Cafe and its Open Mic nights. Though not their job to try and improve the music coming out of this city, it- and others- CAN play a role in helping this along.

How? By being more selective. By perhaps auditioning those who wish to perform by having them send in some rough demos before foisting them without knowing if they are good, bad or fugly on those perhaps there for that Veggie Burger and dinner and just wanting to chill. The last thing this group of customers who are willing to spend $2-3,000 on a dinner for 3-4 people want is caterwauling passed off as “music” in the background.

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The last time I was there was with my business partner from the days when we ran EMI Music and Universal Music in the region. I wanted him to see what was going on in Hong Kong and Morrison Cafe was one of the stops along the way. After sharing a tandoori pizza, we had to escape the musical shamateurisms happening in front of that open mic made all that much worse because of a crappy sound system. It was an unmitigated disaster with seemingly no one in charge. At the fore was Amateur Hour. It was more of an embarrassment than the irritation of the previous visit.

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This was when I called ahead to ask the manager whether if I brought down one of the main attractions performing at the HKJC owned and hugely popular venue Adrenaline would he be able to sing a few songs.

It was done as a favour to Morrison Cafe- to give it some quality. Despite being told this would be no problem, and so bringing along a group of friends plus a small film crew and a writer with an international publication, what happened? He was given cursory time to sing one song because there was apparently a queue waiting to get up onstage. A queue of what? Another musical mosh pit comprising those using their time onstage to rehearse. It was like band practice after school though we at least knew what the hell we were doing. Like good Boy Scouts, we were prepared.

This is where common sense should prevail. Rules are meant to be broken. Stick to them and one can lose good customers forever. It’s why certain restaurants are deleted from the memory bank of many. If they want you, a paying customer, to suit their seating schedules, hello, but no one in Hong Kong serves good enough cuisine that one obediently waits for an opening or returns the next day to go through the same dance. Same with these Open Mic sessions which appear to be “trending”. But “trending” is a social media misnomer. Nothing is “trending”. It’s putting up false fronts and thinking things are happening. They seldom are.

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Somewhere along the way, those organising these events have forgotten about quality control and that what Hong Kong needs is good, original music and not more of what’s come before. This regurgitation process from the sausage factory will only keep music from Hong Kong in its own little shoebox that the rest of the world really doesn’t wish to hear.

So, what’s the point? Open Mic? More like a closed road to nowhere.

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#MorrisonCafe #OpenMicSession #Facebook #SCMP #TheWanch #PeelFresco #Coldplay #EMI #UniversalMusic