The Mixmag Asia guide to underground clubs & venues in Hong Kong
Revealing the vibrant and diverse culture under those neon lights
In a bustling city like Hong Kong that operates on a 24/7 clock, where 10 hour working days are short and the stress of making ends meet reigns high, a creative and cultured nightlife scene is flourishing. In the case of Hong Kong, there are a few standout and stellar venues which make a constant effort to build and nurture a community around their musical ethos, whether it be techno to drum ‘n’ bass and everything in between. However, due to high rents and wages, and a lack of larger spaces, underground venues fight every weekend to keep themselves alive, all for the love of quality music and late-night experiences. From jazz bars that throw eclectic parties to raw and industrial spaces that pride themselves on all variations of techno, here is a list of where to expel your dance floor cravings in Hong Kong.
Nestled in an escalated nook above Lan Kwai Fong is where OMA has lived in one way, shape or form for well over a decade. Its predecessors were Phi-b, Yumla and Midnight & Co, and were all operated by some of the city’s nightlife entrepreneurs, and of course the city’s leading DJ talent. DJ Koze, Axel Boman and Daniel Bell are some of the selected few international talents the club has hosted as well. There are a few things that will make you quickly fall in love with about Oma — the first is their intimate dance floor that holds no more than about 90 heads, all locked into a wide spectrum of underground music sensibilities ranging from hypnotic techno to acid house. The second would be the club’s motto — “never ever stop dancing”. And finally, their reputation for epic late nights that turn into warm sunny mornings. Oma and its location have stood the test of time in a city where the underground music scene faces a million obstacles, or rather, millions of dollars in obstacles.
2. Social Room
If it's electronic, rides on a four to the floor groove and makes feet shuffle, it will be heard and played at Social Room. A nicely dug out and comfortable club space that keeps things simple and minimal, Social Room is spearheaded by one of Hong Kong's forefront talents, Ocean Lam. She's been curating the club since opening and supporting local DJs with their own promoted nights while building friendly bridges with clubs, labels and artists in Berlin and from the rest of Europe. The uniquely balanced mix of local and overseas guests keeps punters coming back regularly.
Just like the no-bullshit ethos in the club's decor, which has a semi-industrial feel from raw elements, including their iconic red brick wall, the music policy is one that is purely for electronic music heads. Do not arrive expecting to make requests like you would round the corner in Lan Kwai Fong — be warned; they won't be entertained.
3. 宀 (Mihn)
More than just a nightclub, Mihn is more of a community-based platform for the free-thinking and open-minded. Their music programming is effectively rigid with a strong trust given to their resident DJs. Hidden up in a commercial building past the Central business district and away from the drunken stupors of Lan Kwai Fong, just as their Chinese name 宀 suggests, Mihn is a ‘safe space’ from all forms of prejudice. The club proactively promotes electronic music in all its esoteric forms while serving its space as an art gallery with regularly curated exhibitions. Whist breeding residents like Sunsiare (the club’s music director) Mr. HO of Klassewrecks and Youry, they’ve also invited plenty of heavy hitters from around the world including Gonno, S.O.N.S, Bell Towers, Hunee and General Ludd.
What we love most is the efforts made by the club to connect with regional counterparts, making it a music venue for Asia, not just for Hong Kong. Mihn teaches us that a deep philosophy of love and care with music can be easily converted into positive impact on the local community and beyond. It’s also worth reminding you that no photos, including selfies, are allowed in the club. Thank f**k for that!
4. Potato Head Hong Kong
The award for Hong Kong’s most conceptually creative music outlet has to be The Music Room at Potato Head Hong Kong. Like its counterparts in Bali and Singapore, Potato Head in Hong Kong is a multi-disciplinary outlet composed of impeccable flavours of Indonesia in the forms of food and beverage and a retro-fitted, vintage-style room designed by Johnny Hiller, who is a walking music library and an immense audiophile.
The cosily built room is powered by a pair of vintage JBL Pro 4350 at the front, Macintosh tube preamps and amplifiers, Klipsch Horn speakers at the back, a pair of 1210s and a customised Alpha Recording Systems rotary mixer. What more do you need? How about 6,000 records handpicked by Johnny Hiller, and on display for listeners and DJs to get their hands on for a few spins? If you’re looking for a laid back atmosphere with sophisticated aesthetics, with the wee chance of a closed-in late-night happening with a bunch of music heads, The Music Room at Potato Head Hong Kong is your place to be.
5. Salon 10
There are limited creative resources available in Hong Kong, especially in the music field. So music director of Salon 10, Ahlaiya Young, decided to use that scarcity as a valuable resource in his programming of one of the few jazz and soul bars in the city. Young's ethos is "to focus on live music that has room for spontaneity in terms of communication between musicians and the audience… jazz and Latin happen to be the forms of music that have had the most history and repertoire for this."
The space is filled with artsy and Victorian style furniture and contemporary artwork that complements the music programme. It's more like a social club than a dance club, where everyone can "socialise and mingle in a carefree but sophisticated atmosphere with diverse cultural programming", serving both the curious and the curiouser. Once the weekend approaches, Ahlaiya swings away from the easy and laid back jazz-forward nights, and turns to some of Hong Kong's most eclectic and wide-minded DJs who effortlessly select energetic and soulful dance tunes into the wee hours that take you in and out of deep pockets of music knowledge. Some of the selectors include Moroccon-French vinyl trader and collector, DJ Brahms, Jazzy Sport HK's K-Melo, Romain FX of Fauve Records and Roy Malig — a Chinese-Filipino DJ who's been labelled for years as the godfather of DJs in Hong Kong.
Probably one of the city's more premium music outlets, Cassio bridges European-style partying (think Cannes and Monaco) with Asian aesthetics. Created by Gilbert Yeung, the founder of Dragon-i and sister-club Tasmania Ballroom, Cassio exudes luxury and intimacy at the same time. The club is dimly lit, with a foliage-filled terrace, with numerous artefacts and wall designs that are reminiscent of Spain in the 60s.
Big spenders often translate into big-name DJs, and that's how Cassio has been able to host the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Seth Troxler, Tensnake, Solomun, David Morales and plenty more. And if you're looking for a supper club-style experience, Cassio has teamed with one of the world's finest Spanish restaurants, Barrafina, for an elevated and authentic tapas experience — an ideal way to set off your night of indulgence.
Formerly known as FLY, the space reopened two years ago as Mudita by Buzz Concepts Management. It's now a chic club where your night can really go either way: super laid back with neo-funk and soul performers reigning the stage, or you'll be fist-pumping to a night of deep and tech house via their resident DJs. The decor and layout of the space was envisioned by celebrity designer Joyce Wang, who gave the space previously known as FLY a much needed and elegant facelift.
Weekends see some a mix of new and experienced DJs laying out a variety of styles, and every now and then, the city's top promoters step in to bring in some bigger talent, like Breakbot. Although their music policy isn't strictly underground, they make a strong effort to stay away from the easy and accessible chart hits.
If you’ve been out on a big night, there’s a 99% likelihood that you’ve stumbled through the alley, argued your way with the bouncers and fallen into Drop. For the last twenty years, Drop’s owner Joel Lai has maintained a rigid music policy that only bends a wee bit to the left or right of house music, which means that you can expect the resident DJs to be of a stellar background, with fierce dance floor know-how that keeps you gyrating till past 6am.
Drop is one of the first dedicated house music venues in Hong Kong, and pretty much still is. It’s also known for where celebrities passing through the city choose to let their hair down. From the infamous night when Jamiroquai announced at the end of his Hong Kong concert that the after-party would be at Drop, to entertaining Sting, The Black Eyed Peas, Pet Shop Boys and plenty more music celebrities, the go-to spot is always Drop.
The only thing we can prepare you for a night out at Drop is a little advice on getting in. Don’t get testy with the bouncers — they have a zero-tolerance policy for troublemakers.
From Laurent Garnier to TIGA, Volar has been an established and integral venue to Hong Kong’s clubbing scene. For years, the club has fuelled the market with international bookings that caused plenty of noise and very long queues to get in. Volar is split into two rooms, with the smaller room focusing on hip hop and other urban styles, while the main is dedicated to being a four-to-the-floor electronic wonderland. A long room, with a correctly portioned sidebar, builds in intensity as you move to the front, with your head usually getting knocked by elbows of Russian or Brazilian models who play a large part in the club’s routine. Aside from showcasing top international talent, local promoters like Spin Sum, PUSH and HKClubbing.com step in to showcase the club in new ways with new sounds that range from deep and minimal to banging techno.
Volar has one of the largest spaces in Hong Kong for an underground-orientated club, being able to host up to (and sometimes over) 400 people. Drinks may not be cheap, and neither is their cover charge, but you’re probably not going anywhere for a few hours once you get lost in the maze-like design of the space — the dark corners and passageways that connect the two rooms of the club are a great way to lose your sense of placement.
10. Buddha Lounge
For those battling with themselves to go home or not, Buddha Lounge is where you’ll probably find them. Conveniently located, and not hard to find simply because of the mixed bag of late-night prowlers swarming about, Buddha Lounge keeps it strictly house and techno, usually on the harder, after-hours side of things. Local DJs belt out fat grooves till almost lunchtime, which you will have absolutely no clue about as the once the heavy door closes behind you, you then realise you’ve stepped into a time warp.
The little after-hours bar is decorated with a mix Nepalese-inspired artefacts, hangings and wall drawings, as well as statues of fictional creatures that make for a fun name-guessing game late at night. There’s a kebab shop right outside for when you step back out… for lunch.
11. Terrible Baby
Named after the French expression "L’Enfant Terrible", Terrible Baby is a great amalgamation of underground art and music curated by James Acey, a DJ and spiritual creative that has been carving up a unique programme of avant-garde content that relates strongly to growing and changing sub-cultures around the city. The venue is located in the newly refurbished Eaton Hotel in Jordan, Kowloon, and has a lush terrace that overlooks the madness on the bustling streets of Kowloon below.
The whole venue lives and breathes esoteric vibes, with genre-defying sets being the preferred style of music. Terrible Baby has played host to eclectic bands like Japanese post-rock group Tokyo Shoegazer and US indie singer and songwriter Naia Izumi. There are plenty of nights dedicated to new and undiscovered talent from the local scene, and their community-style approach to running the venue really helps to bring musicians and artists together. Only operating for two years, Terrible Baby has become a prominent nightspot in Kowloon, that is forward-thinking and highly supportive of the city's music scene.