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Cheers to the Music: Alan Chung and Andrew Spires

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Alan Chung and Andrew Spires are throwing their hats into the local music ring with the upcoming Rotten Head Music & Craft Beer Festival in Tung Chung. Elizabeth Kerr reports.

To say that Hong Kong-born marketing executive Alan Chung is fond of beer is an understatement, but one that also makes him seem like an out-ofcontrol Wanchai lad when taken out of context. He’s not. He’s just sat down at the Starbucks in ifc mall after a long day a short MTR ride away in Olympic, taking time out of his already truncated evening. It’s nearly 8pm and he has two young children. He’s not the irresponsible type.

But ask Alan what he’s looking forward to most about the upcoming Rotten Head Music & Craft Beer Festival in Tung Chung,that he’s co-organising with best mate Andrew Spires, and he doesn’t hesitate. “For me it’s about the beer. You know where I’m going,” he says with a laugh. “Hopefully I’ll be able to sample all the beers.”

That could be a challenge given Alan hopes to have upwards of 30 local suds available at Rotten Head on October 26, and that Alan and Andrew are running the event. They’ll likely have a million little things to do on festival day. But Alan lives in perpetual hope.

Co-chief festival dudes

As co-chief festival dudes – “Director sounds so dry. We have no idea how this ‘should’ be done,” says Andrew of the pair’s unconventional title – Alan and Andrew hatched the idea of Rotten Head in much the same way most creative entrepreneurs in Hong Kong do. They wanted something that didn’t exist, so they made it.

The duo met through their children; Andrew is also father to two toddlers. “Alan’s wife and [my wife] Nancy had a baby around the same time, so coffee mornings led to beers. Just sitting in the park, watching the kids running around and realising there’s nothing to do in Tung Chung… that’s where the idea for the festival was born,”he recalls.

“It started because we both wanted to do something on our own that was fun,” adds Alan. “We were talking about what was happening in and around Lantau  and we thought there was room for something like this.”

After a quick couple of messages the next morning to confirm each was committed to the idea, the pair fleshed out a plan. Initially considerably more ambitious – Alan admits he flirted with multiple, spread out, themed shows – they settled on a one-day event in Tat Tung Road Park, right beside the cable car station. It helped that the bureaucracy, cost and logistics forced them to keep the first year’s event a modest one. After all, they both worked full time, though Andrew recently resigned (from his senior graphic designer role here at Around DB) to be a freelancer, ‘househusband’ and chief festival dude.

Securing the location and endless permits, and then cosying up with local brewers and bands was plenty to deal with. Regardless, they were undaunted. “All these factors mean it doesn’t make sense to organise something like this unless you’re as mad as we are,” chuckles Alan.

Of his background, Surrey-born Andrew says he “went to university for 12 weeks, studying rural resource management, and then dabbled in 17 careers before landing at the Metropolitan Police in London” working in the graphic studio, where evidence was visualised for trial. He met his Hongkonger wife in the UK, and the two settled in Tung Chung four years ago. “I was supposed to be doing with the Hong Kong police what I did in London but it never happened. That was my Plan A,” Andrew says. “I didn’t have a Plan B.”

Alan was born and raised in Hong Kong, returning in 2009 after studying market research – “Technically ‘management science,’ but I still don’t know what it means,” he quips – in London. He met his wife Rebecca here, and like Andrew and Nancy they’ve put down roots in Tung Chung.

A winning combination

Alan and Andrew struck upon the idea of Rotten Head – whose name comes from the literal translation of Lantau Peak – not only due to Alan’s fondness for beer (he’s an amateur micro brewer) but because live music could use a boost in the SAR, and local business (breweries) could use the exposure.

They were heartened by the response they got after floating the idea on Facebook, and by the reaction of the artists they wanted on board. “What’s inspired us is how helpful other festival organisers have been with advice,” Andrew says. “We spoke to the guys at Clockenflap about the inner workings of festival organising and their help has been invaluable.” Mix music, beer and a Handmade Hong Kong market, food vendors, a kids’ zone and an effort to go single-use plastic-free and the attention comes naturally.

Yes, the idea is to make Rotten Head a low-impact festival with zero single-use plastic. “We’re working with Dana Winograd of Plastic Free Seas to create the best eco-festival possible,” Andrew says. “Dana introduced us to lots of people who are also trying to be green. She is realistic about the expense and effort involved but has urged us to either try and find alternatives to plastic or to reuse. We’ll be serving beer in cups that were used at the Hong Kong Sevens. The aim is for Rotten Head to give to the community, without taking from the environment.”

Despite how solid the idea is – craft beer producers Moonzen, Gweilo, Hong Kong Whistle, Yardley, Water Buffalo and Brew Commons are among the 10 local craft breweries who will be showcasing 30 of their labels – Alan and Andrew know they have their work cut out for them at a busy time of year. Rotten Head (October 26) will be swiftly followed by The Big Picnic (TBP) here in Discovery Bay (November 9) and Central’s big ticket Clockenflap (November 22). More music is never a bad thing but Andrew admits to a certain amount of anxiety.

“I have anxious dreams about this. I had kind of a nightmare the other day where there were just 200 people milling about looking a bit disappointed,” he jokes with a nervous laugh. He’s over-reacting.

Rotten Head was early bird priced at HK$250 – for the record that’s less than the cost of one adult ticket to see Avengers: Endgame in 3D IMAX on a Saturday night or a standard Ngong Ping cable car ride – and it’s HK$300 for advanced admission and HK$350 on the door. Kids under 12 get in for free, and 12 to 17-year-olds pay HK$100. Alan and Andrew are looking for sponsors, and hope their green credentials go some  way to support this. And the call is out for volunteers – in exchange for a five-and-a-half-hour shift, you get free park entrance, food and drink.

On the bill are 11 music acts, including The Pistons, The Sleeves and headliner Ari Clan from Macau. DB musos will be happy to see TBP regulars Glen Alfred, 852, Jack Rabbit Slim, Case Sensitive and The Taken on the Rotten Head line-up, as well as Powerful Moss, a DB-based band that has yet to play at TBP.

“You can’t always find all this talent in one spot, on one day in Lantau,” says Alan. “We’re sticking to local too, and people are responding to that.”

If things go their way, the duo may expand Rotten Head in the coming years into a year-round event, and ultimately turn it into a second (or 18th) career. But for now, they’re sticking to their single location, focusing on music and malt, and bringing a little of that festival culture to Tung Chung. All that’s missing is the grass.

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