If I hadn’t gone to Hong Kong I wouldn’t have seen such a lack of theatre, live music and art. Coming from London I know I am spoiled by these things but even my Swedish home village with 15,000 inhabitants has a better culture life than Hong Kong.
The Fringe Club, next-door neighbour with Lan Kwai Fong’s mainstream clubs in central, is the only exception. As one of Hong Kong Fringe Club’s (HKFC) statement it says: “The arts have a vital role to play in the transformation [of] our city from a former colony into an open society”.
The club offers Hong Kong people theatre, art galleries, live music, talks, a bar and a gourmet restaurant – all under the same roof. But that is not only it. Above the same roof it has a garden to enjoy the drinks and food in.
Surrounded by high buildings and green plants the roof garden is always full of Hong Kong people who are thirsty and hungry for drinks, food and culture.
Benni Chia, who founded HKFC in 1984, says: “It’s unique that it [HKFC] came about and has grown organically and not created by an official decree. It’s kind of laid back and keeps things pretty open. There’s also a palpable love for the arts. Like what they say about Paris, everybody can claim a part of it and call it their own.”
Places like HKFC can be seen anywhere in Shoreditch, Dalston or Bethnal Green in East London but there it attracts a completely different kind of people. In Hong Kong, rather than flannel-shirt wearing, fixie bike-riding, red stripe-drinking hipsters, the Fringe Club is full of the dressed-up middle-aged Westerners you’d see on the ballet.
Mr Chia says the club has a good mix of people from near and abroad. He says: “Different shows bring different folks. No-one is ever foreign passing through our door.”
The club’s goals are to “nurture local emerging artists by presenting their work and providing them with a supportive and open environment to create and hone their skills”. It says it ”engages in cultural heritage work, community outreach, and regularly collaborate with overseas arts organisations to showcase and promote Hong Kong and its artists”.
Mr Chia says high rents and long working hours are two factors that makes it hard for more places like HKFC to open. Hong Kong’s lack of space is also threatening the 1890s building that is much lower than the skyscrapers around. The director, Mr Chia, says: “There had always been a threat to be torn down or taken over by a tasteless commercial operator. Since it’s been declared a grade one heritage recently, the threat seemed to have receded somewhat.”
The live music has to be kept on the first floor, as it would get the Fringe Club in trouble with neighbours and police if it moved up to the cosy roof garden. Mr Chia says: ” Whenever we play rock music there, the cops come. Classical music tends not to get the rap.”
The club is currently being renovated and will shortly have a new free space, a cabaret theatre, an extended art gallery and multi-use basements.
The Fringe Club, with its rooftop and ambition to feed Hong Kong with some other entertainment than the shopping streets and stock rates, is a great thing. But what is the younger generation doing if it is middle-aged Westerners who are creating a culture scene here.