The problems in Hong Kong’s DJ scene are well-documented: high rents, expensive drinks, lack of support from authorities (and frequent police raids), crowds that seem to care more about looking cool than the music. We could go on and on, and although the underground is in good health, the reality is that many deejays are seeking alternatives.
On the gay club circuit, deejays are on the lookout for parties happening all over Asia; underground deejays chase festival bookings and seek parties in the likes of Bali and Vietnam; while many younger deejays are foregoing clubs and hosting parties online, either via Facebook live on their own or through radio stations.
For some, China has become an attractive destination, with Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Chengdu emerging with viable alternatives outside of Shanghai and Beijing. And since we are all supposedly part of the Greater Bay Area now, I could assess if this concept made any sense when I deejayed at Oil in Shenzhen.
I had not played in China since 2013, so was intrigued to see the changes as part of a China tour organized by Hong Kong-based Pomegranate Sounds. Joining Uppercutz’ Chongqing DJ Slim Doctor, an impressive scratch deejay; the talented Lovetron; and LeKSs, who helps run Pomegranate Sounds, we enjoyed a crazy night across the border.
Knowledgeable local crowds, great sound system, a spacious dance floor and a nice fit-out made Oil a place that would automatically rival or better most clubs in Hong Kong.
The flipside, however, is that deejaying in China can be a perilous business. We heard stories of clubs shut down, with audiences and deejays being compelled to have drug tests, and allegedly detained (locals) and deported (foreigners). And these stories are not just from Shenzhen, but coming out from Chengdu and Shanghai as well.
Despite the enthusiasm of Chinese crowds, foreign deejays face the uncertainty of crackdowns, difficulties in promoting shows, insecurity in getting paid, and very little legal or commercial protection.
With visas taking time to process, and port-issued single-entry visas slow to get and expensive, or not available for certain nationalities, the extra layer of red tape adds to the obstacles. For the Hong Kong DJ, playing in the mainland is not that easy overall, particularly if you don’t have a home return permit.
It’s an issue to highlight because the new concept of belonging to a Greater Bay Area requires integration of currencies, jurisdictions and legal systems, along with freedom of movement. At the moment, the money and taxes are different; rules are often unclear on visa prices, where they can be issued and the eligibility for certain nationalities; and bringing across audio equipment might cause trouble at the border when assessing how much worth you are carrying – God help you in cases of commercial, legal, or police disputes.
You can apply for a long-term visa but many traveling deejays touring with Hong Kong artists don’t have the financial luxury and time. Having an integrated city system means being able to act spontaneously, and with deejays just flying in for one or two nights in Hong Kong, getting them to travel to China at short notice is difficult.
When Hongkongers are bombarded with the virtues of being part of this so-called Greater Bay Area, systemic inefficiency only highlights the fact that it looks like a bum deal.
With the potential of Chinese clubbing only growing, greater flexibility and clarity would be much welcomed.
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