Despite being small in size, Hong Kong has a big appetite for live music. Chart-topping bands stop by on their world tours, and the city hosts its own homegrown music festivals, including Clockenflap and The Weekend by Wow and Flutter.
There’s also an underground music scene that has blossomed in recent years, thanks in part to an increase in small-to-mid-sized venues catering to all comers: local talent and exciting regional acts, up-and-coming international groups and globally renowned performers.
Here’s a guide the Hong Kong music venues consistently hitting all the right notes, whatever your tunes of choice.
Open-mic nights can make for the most enjoyable evenings, as you never know how they might play out. Since 2007, Peel Fresco in Soho has featured a selection of regulars like local jazz pianist Allen Youngblood and guitarist Eugene Pao. But it’s also encouraged performers to come along, get up on stage and jam at its regular open-mic nights.
The Wanch, a Wan Chai institution where both original rock bands and covers groups take to a tiny stage and get up close and personal with the audience, hosts regular jamming nights for up-and-comers to make their mark. There are also jamming sessions at The Aftermath in Central, where bands play anything from swing, rock and metal, to punk, funk and pop. Long-time favourite Sense 99 has reopened in a new space on Central’s Peel Street, retaining its shabby-chic vibe and welcoming open-mic free-form jams, with a keyboard, drum kit and other instruments available to play.
All that Jazz
You can find a surprising variety of jazz styles played in Hong Kong music venues. Ned Kelly’s Last Stand in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of Hong Kong’s oldest pubs – established in 1972 – and its house band does Dixieland jazz punctuated by amusing banter every night of the week, attracting an enthusiastic crowd to its saloon-style setting. Meanwhile, on Hong Kong Island, the Fringe Club is also steeped in history. Set in a Grade I listed building that dates to 1892, it’s home to the Fringe Dairy, which hosts live acts – predominantly jazz bands – several nights of the week in an intimate space.
Just down the road from the Fringe is what appears from the outside to be a bespoke umbrella shop. In fact, Foxglove is a speakeasy offering great cocktails and live music in upscale surroundings. The venue hosts musicians from Tuesdays to Saturdays, many of whom play jazz standards, though there are also funk, soul, RnB and rock performances, all of which can be enjoyed alongside creative cocktails and modern Cantonese cuisine. To enjoy jazz in an even more sophisticated setting, Blue Bar in the Four Seasons Hong Kong has excellent jazz bands every Friday and Saturday.
Hong Kong concerts come in a quirky variety of spaces, too, whether it’s Central’s Salon 10, where whimsical interiors are the backdrop for jazz, reggae and Latin music; Hostel Wontonmeen, a guest house, art space, bike shop and all-round creative living room where budding jazz musicians from around the world congregate and perform; or Visage One, run by Benky Chan, a barber by day and a music promoter by night, who transforms his small barbershop into an informal venue that welcomes jazz and blues musicians playing to an intimate, first-come, first-served crowd.
Hong Kong has two key orchestras, the HK Phil and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, both of which put on regular classical performances. Additionally, there are frequent concerts from international musicians, ensembles and orchestras, most of which take place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong City Hall in Central or the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts in Wan Chai. These venues attract visiting orchestras and performance groups from around the world, particular during the annual Hong Kong Arts Festival, which takes place over February and March.
At the West Kowloon Cultural District’s new Xiqu Centre, audiences get a taste of more traditional music in a performance space dedicated to Cantonese opera and other forms of Chinese theatre (xiqu).
Late-Night Cover Bands
Night owls will be pleased to know that there are plenty of bars offering a late-night escape, where live covers bands entertain revellers with rock classics and the latest chart-toppers. Some of best crowds and bands are found at Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong in Central, and sister bars Dusk till Dawn in Wan Chai and All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui. These spots are perennial late-night favourites for dancing and unabashed singalongs to the bands’ energetic performances.
Indie and Acoustic Acts
Poppy, mellow crooners can often be found at Lost Stars Livehouse, a full-service cafe, restaurant and live music space in Tai Kok Tsui. Another West Kowloon newcomer, Freespace, opened in 2019, offers several spaces for the performing arts – including Lau Bak Livehouse, which has since welcomed many a breathy singer armed with an acoustic guitar (as well as jazz musicians and experimental rock bands) to perform for punters enjoying a coffee or a craft brew. In Tsim Sha Tsui, Aux serves small plates, cocktails and craft beers alongside a schedule of live performers that includes low-key acoustic acts as well as more energetic indie bands and stand-up comedy nights.
Underground Music Scene
Music outside the mainstream has long had a place in Hong Kong, even if there have been times when the Hong Kong music venues that support it have struggled. Finally, it feels like underground music is having a moment in the city.
Hidden Agenda first made a name for itself as a live music venue when it opened in 2009 in Kwun Tong, hosting bands that played anything from rock and heavy metal to folk, reggae, hip-hop and techno. It was forced to relocate three times due to rent hikes and land usage violations (as it occupied former industrial spaces), but today has rebranded as This Town Needs with a new home in Yau Tong, in southeast Kowloon, where it continues to showcase underrated acts, bands on the up, blasts from the past and ones to watch from all walks of music.
Then there’s MoM Livehouse in Fortress Hill. Hidden in the basement of a nondescript shopping mall, it might have an unlikely location but inside, when live bands take to the stage, they are often met with a heaving mass of bodies moshing to the heavy or punk-styled tunes of those who play there.
Meanwhile, Mong Kok’s MacPherson Stadium often hosts visiting rock and indie acts – including Death Cab for Cutie and Honne in recent years – and Music Zone @ E-Max in Kowloon Bay has hosted lauded acts like Glaswegian indie godfathers The Jesus and Mary Chain, Düsseldorf punks Die Toten Hosen and up-and-coming Sydney singer Ruel.
Hong Kong also knows how to accommodate headliners used to packing in the stadium seats. The Hong Kong Coliseum has been a regular stage for Cantopop royalty like Joey Yung and Sammi Cheng; AsiaWorld-Expo attracts the likes of Guns N’ Roses, Blur and Metallica, and Elton John is among the superstars to hold court at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.