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Get your groove on: Live music on Lantau

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Sleepy, laid-back Lantau is not known for its banging nightlife but be that as it may, its live music scene is buzzing thanks to welcoming venues and a brand-new festival. Beverly Au reports

“Oh the music! Lantau’s likely the only place in Hong Kong with such a concentration of world-class musicians,” said local songstress Debbie Mannas when she was interviewed in this magazine back in 2018. Questioned further, Debbie, who is known for her work with Syzygy and The Soul Sessions, and is releasing her second solo album Magician this month, reels off a list of fellow Lantau-based musicians without pause for thought.

“Most of the bands I work with live in Lantau, including my music director, Agnes Q, who also directs the Vienna Boys’ Choir, and Sandra Leung Waters, my Syzygy partner,” she says. “But when I start to think of it, the list is endless! There’s Daphne Villaneuva and Matt Collingwood; there’s Satur Tiamson, who tours regularly with Lea Salonga; and Aaliyah Capili, who’s performed at Carnegie Hall. And of course, there are a ton of wonderful musicians who work for Disney living here.”

That’s quite a list already, and off the top of her head, this writer can add singer-song writer Glen Alfred, conductor-composer Colin Touchin, film composer Robert Ellis-Geiger, and Sam Ferrer of Hong Kong Philharmonic spin-off Shaolin Fez. Widen the net a little bit to include DB-based musicians and saxophonist Blaine Whittaker, Helium3 frontman Nick Flavell and guitarist Jay Apungan all spring immediately to mind.

Clearly Lantau is a place that appeals to creatives; it’s quieter and less corporate than other parts of Hong Kong, there’s room to ‘breathe’ and get in touch with the muse, and of course, for struggling musicians, the housing’s cheaper.

“Artists go from gig to gig working with each other doing covers, just to survive,” says Debbie. “There’s not much space for originality. The jazz bars are good and I know a few fabulous artists doing their own thing, but all in all, Hong Kong has a fair bit of space to grow musically. I love venues that treat musicians well and respect the study, time, hard work and heartbreak that goes into being an artist.”

Local live music venues

An alternative bunch (at least by Hong Kong standards), Lantauers are the sort of people who enjoy live music and, as it turns out, there are a good number of small, welcoming local venues that host new and/ or upcoming bands. More intimate and low key than the popular Hong Kong music spots, like The Wanch, The Fringe Club, 1563 At The East and Orange Tree, local bars and restaurants are finding they can boost business by offering live music as a side.

A Tavola Bar & Grill has taken over from Zentro Garden as the place to enjoy live music in Tung Chung. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s almost always a band to watch, likely Rita and the Oracles, and every Thursday it’s salsa night.

Over in Mui Wo, Bahce Turkish Restaurant headlines live music every other Friday, with several bands, like Greyhound and the folksy Mary Jane, playing on a rotational basis. Cafe Isara is also in on the act, hosting a number of bands, notably the 11-piece ska-mod act Red Stripes. The China Beach Club arranges live music for private events.

While you can occasionally enjoy live music at Treasure Island, Water Buffalo and JK Club in Pui O, Tap Tap Bar & Restaurant, in the heart of the village, is known for  rockin’ weekend jam sessions held in its corrugated outhouse. Depending who’s playing on any particular night, you could get a loose improvisational jam, or songs from across the spectrum of modern music. The official home of local musicians’ collective The Swamp (previously The Ad Hocs), Tap Tap also regularly hosts Pui O rockers The Banded Kraits.

If you’re in DB and looking to catch a gig, Hemingway’s on D’Deck is well set up for live music. Owner Gary Stokes brings in a real variety of bands, including those that perform each year at The BIG Picnic (TBP).

The brand-new music festival

Speaking of TBP, ‘Hong Kong’s biggest community music and dance festival’ is now performed on Tai Pak Wan and in DB Plaza, across three stages. Funding issues almost led to TBP being cancelled last year but Nick Flavell and his team of organisers saved the day with some well-timed crowdfunding, and they are already looking for sponsors for this year’s event, scheduled for November 9.

Closer to home, South Lantau music lovers have also been known to rock out at community-based local festivals, like the Silvermine Bay Music Festival, Mother Earth Groove and Imagine Peace. Difficult to organise – and to fund – these events, though hugely popular, come and go, but this is something Alan Chung and Andrew Spires the organisers of the all-new Rotten Head Craft Beer & Music Festival are hoping to change.

The idea for Rotten Head came to the Tung Chung-based dads when they were hanging out one afternoon with their kids – with nothing to do. Lantau, they concluded, was lacking in fun, culture and entertainment, and it needed its own… Green Man.

“Rotten Head is set to become the most exciting thing to happen to Lantau since the Mongol invasion of 1276,” opens Andrew with a grin.

“With over 10 Lantau and Hong Kong craft breweries representing, delicious food stalls, pop-up shows, the Handmade Hong Kong market, dance performances from Lantau’s premier studios, a baby disco, a totally awesome kids’ area and some of the best music Hong Kong has to offer, it’s going to be an event to remember.”

Rotten Head is making its debut at Tat Tung Road Park, Tung Chung on October 26, and tickets go on sale on June 23. Popular local artists already on the line-up include Glen Alfred, Jack Rabbit Slim, The Sleeves, Powerful Moss, Rockstars Anonymous, The Rivals, Case Sensitive, The Pistons and The Taken, plus ‘the Voice of Macau,’ Ari Clan.

“It’s been easy enough to get the artists on board because they really liked the idea,” says Andrew. “And what’s inspired us is how helpful other festival organisers have been with advice. We spoke to the guys at Clockenflap and TBP about the inner workings of festival organising and their help has been invaluable. Seems like everyone is excited about our bringing a new festival to Hong Kong.”

Andrew and Alan would love to make Rotten Head a free event but as Alan says, “music festivals are very expensive things to run! We want to keep the price as low as possible to allow everyone to attend, so we’re charging HK$250 for early-bird tickets, HK$300 for advanced admission and HK$350 on the door to cover costs. Kids under 12 get in for free, and 12 to 18 year olds pay HK$100.” The pair are looking for sponsors, and hope their green credentials go some way to support this.

Since Rotten Head is first and foremost a family festival, the idea is to make it low-impact, with zero single-use plastic. “We’re working with Plastic Free Seas to create the best eco-festival possible,” Andrew says. “It’s costly but we’ll persevere. The aim is for Rotten Head to give to the community, without taking from the environment.”

In the months leading up to the festival, Andrew and Alan have already been ‘giving back’ to local music lovers through a series of rockin’ warm-up events. In addition to a silent disco at Resto Restaurant in Tung Chung, they’ve organised regular quiz nights at the Seaview Cafe on Tung Chung pier with live performances from local musicians Glen Alfred and Case Sensitive. These ongoing events are intended to engage the Tung Chung community, provide a space to showcase local musicians, and create a buzz ahead of the party on October 26.

Find it 

•A Tavola Bar & Grill, 2321 5500
• Bahce Turkish Restaurant, 2984 0222
• Cafe Isara, 2470 1966
• JK Club, 2984 0220
• Resto Restaurant, 2886 3156
• Rotten Head Craft Beer & Music Festival, www.rottenheadfest.com
• Seaview Cafe, 6972 2338
• Tap Tap Bar & Restaurant, 2984 9091
• The China Beach Club, 2983 8931
• Treasure Island, 2546 3543
• Water Buffalo, 2109 3331


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