Burgeoning; aspirational; crap; brilliant; severely limited – the conversation surrounding live music in Hong Kong often descends into hyperbole, no matter who you speak to. True, it’s a disappointment that our compact city of seven million people isn’t home to a more relentless, all-encompassing live music scene the way it should be. We’ve covered the trials and tribulations of Hong Kong’s underground venues before.
But don’t think for a second that there’s not a lot going on here. There’s a company of dedicates powering the scene on a daily basis, like these five scene stalwarts, and a slew of great live houses still hanging on. These are the venues and live music nights built by such champions. These nights are happening every day or every week and they’re all worth your time.
The best recurring live music nights in Hong Kong
This wouldn’t be much of a list without perennial live music hang out The Wanch. This Hong Kong institution has been at the heart of the city’s live music community since 1987. There’s a live performer/band on every night and it’s always free to get in. Any night’s a good night to get down to The Wanch, but for a jumping off point if you’ve never been, go to their acoustic happy hour. Delivering delightful covers and huge crowd-pleasers (and maybe the occasional tune you’ve never heard of), as well as the odd original played by whoever really feels like getting up on stage and belting one out, it’s ground zero for Hong Kong’s live music scene.
Featuring local jazz outfits playing sets in a decidedly organic, experimental way (jamming’s probably the word), this night is always good fun. You never really know what you’re going to get, which makes it a much more dynamic proposition than hearing the same old house band every week. Not that there’s anything wrong with a regular house band, as evidenced by the following crew...
One of Hong Kong’s oldest and best-loved bars, Ned Kelly’s house band plys its trade every night and has achieved legendary status. You’d think the same band doing roughly the same thing night after night would get stale, right? Not so. These boys are proper old-school showmen, changing the makeup of their performance every night, adding fun little skits – using a tea pot as an instrument with amazing success comes to mind – and interacting with the audience. If you have any interest in live music and you’re new in town, Ned Kelly’s is an initiation.
From the minds behind BackStage Live, which sadly closed last year, 1563 at the East is an ambitious, 6,000sq ft space purpose built for live music. As such, they’re no mugs when it comes to putting on a gig. You’re in for a treat most nights but our pick of their weekly bunch is the Wild Wild West night that takes place every Wednesday. Not related to the Will Smith classic, this is a kaleidoscopic, all encompassing journey of live music that takes in folk, rock, jazz, funk, R&B, soul, latin, reggae and everything inbetween. Very cool.
One of the city’s best kept musical secrets (considering that Visage One is actually a hair salon, the music is quite literally a secret). But every Saturday owner and live music fanatic Benky Chan opens the doors to this tiny, intimate space and turns it into a jazz bar with some of the city’s best musicians playing nose-to-nose with the small group of plucky music lovers that manage to squeeze in. Best of all, entry is free, provided you pay for a drink on entry. When we said it’s a secret, that’s not strictly true – there’s usually a queue down the alley. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, get there early. Maybe a get a trim while you’re waiting.
This quirky venue is the very definition of grass-roots according to the live music lexicon of Hong Kong. Sense99 has garnered a reputation for creating an incredibly intimate and inclusive atmosphere, and this is especially true of their drum jam sessions that take place on Friday and Saturday nights. Free expression is the name of the game here, so get up there and smack a bongo about if you want. Even if you’ve never picked up an instrument in your life you won’t be shunned and booed off. Rather, you’ll be applauded and welcomed with open arms for having a crack. That’s what it’s all about here.