Hong Kong’s cultural highlight: high rents

Yesterday’s South China Morning Post gave a big splash to a tycoon who runs a failing company with an outdated business model, saying Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive must put the city on the global map. (It was yet more One Belt One Road blather, bringing a swift and near-blasphemous riposte from Jake Van Der Kamp.)

Anyway, within hours Hong Kong was indeed on the global map of the cool, hip and trendy, after authorities busted underground night spot Hidden Agenda and some extremely groovy and with-it bands for immigration and other alleged infractions.

One is British band This Town Needs Guns. In recent years they have styled themselves TTNG, but the original full name is better and perhaps even aptly suggestive on this particular occasion. If you listen to the first half-minute of this you can make up your own mind. (Quiz question: what time signature is the song in?)

Officially, Hong Kong’s government supports the arts, culture, entertainment and creative industries. However, it does so on the understanding that they are important possible contributors to GDP, rather than having any other purpose in human existence. This means they need bureaucratic involvement, and this means big plans and budgets, which is why our major museum and performance-venues hub at West Kowloon is a real-estate project, largely devised as a tourism concept, and somehow unviable without luxury apartments.

As well as being a trough for the construction-developer interests, ‘culture’ accounts for a range of slots in the vast spectrum of Various Sectors, co-opted via public handouts and corporate Functional Constituency votes to be loyal to the Hong Kong government appointed by Beijing. Not only predictably ‘patriotic’ art forms like Chinese opera, but supposedly ‘edgy’ cultural groups and events subsist on public grants and venues, and are suitably grateful and not-too-controversial as a result.

So to official establishment Hong Kong, culture is about enriching our landlords rather than our lives. To the extent that it is something people do for themselves by way of self-expression or enjoyment, it is irrelevant. Unless, of course, they start making money.

Hidden Agenda’s crime is operating in an ‘industrial’ building. Ostensibly, the problem may be building safety-as-obstacle-to-work-visas, or a broader breach of zoning/premises-use rules. But these are excuses – other civilized cities manage to find affordable space in accordance with fire codes for gigs.

The real issue here is that Hidden Agenda aren’t paying the property tycoons any (or enough) rent for their venue. They’re not even supporting the landlords indirectly by attracting tourists.

This isn’t just about gigs but any economic activity that needs affordable space. Government lease conditions (which can be changed only through payment of an unaffordable ‘premium’) create an artificial shortage of usable premises, meaning a startup or entrepreneur must rent from a narrower choice of premises/landlords. And then the government wonders why we don’t have more entrepreneurs, startups, diverse businesses, etc.

Next Chief Executive Carrie Lam actually proposes a slight concession: allowing certain startups to operate legally in a small number of floors in ‘industrial’ buildings. It is a tacit admission that the government, through its zealous control over building-use, harms the economy and reduces local people’s opportunities – but benefits the property tycoons.

As if they knew this would happen, TTNG has called their new album Disappointment Island.


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12 Responses to Hong Kong’s cultural highlight: high rents

  1. Wheedon says:

    I am flabbergasted but also enthralled as usual by the plethora of hilariously unimportant minutiae and trivia unveiled here.

    Reading you today is like examining one’s belly button, finding the fluff and staring at it for a whole hour.

    That said, it is also becoming more and more a sort of Pooteresque.remake set in East Asia. In this sense, it may bcome a classic.

    Keep it up!

  2. det1mark says:

    TTNG, it would seem, have a bright future, thanks to all the free publicity and inspiration provided by the HK government. How wonderfully ironic…

  3. It appears that Dr Adams is so busy contributing critical comments to your blog that he has no time to update his own these days – except of course when he has a new book to promote.

  4. Red Dragon says:

    What would be the point of Adams updating his blog?

    Nobody has read it for years.

  5. LRE says:

    Colour me massively unsurprised —689 thinks this shameful tawdriness highlights all the best bits of his government. He’s probably right — but not in the complimentary way he thinks.

    Time signature question — it’s maths rock: there will several different ones — expect odd and high numbers, because they’re cooler and more fiddly.

  6. Laguna Lurker says:

    IKEA’s furniture displays are stocked with unsold and unreadable books imported from Sweden. I have little doubt that Adams’ self-published “works” will soon enough be sharing the shelves.

  7. Real Fax Paper says:

    I think the first measure is 11/8, the next 13/8 and after that they proliferate. Rather like undercover officers at Hidden Agenda.

  8. Joe Blow says:

    Please stop talking about you-know-who. What I want to know is: what happened to 689 lover Real Tax Payer ?

  9. Real Fax Paper says:

    @Joe Blow, he still pops up in the SCMP comments zoo from time to time.

  10. WTF says:

    ” certain startups ” Code for those with a back door.

    Note how the ICAC isn’t investigating the failed Digital Radio Broadcasting, failed because HK government insisted that a certain connected “start up” group’s untested and untried compression technology had to used instead of well established European or US Digital Radio standards. The delays, and grasping by the “monopoly” holders to license reciever equipment vendors has stuck HK citizens with yet another expensive white elephant which will be shut down instead of being auctioned off (to protect yet other corruption).

  11. Nutter says:

    @WTF – how jolly interesting? Pray tell more ….

  12. Joe Blow says:

    @TCL:not Mark Peaker, The Peak ?

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