Yesterday’s South China Morning Post gave a big splash to a tycoon who runs a failing company with an outdated business model, saying Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive must put the city on the global map.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.