On a quiet Monday evening, I trekked to Tai Kok Tsui after work to visit what would be a new livehouse. This was part of an old residential district, its streets offering restaurants from Northern Chinese eateries to bars serving nearby office workers their happy hour pint. But lately, the neighbourhood saw the addition of a boutique property project, and located on the ground floor of its new shopping center was my destination—Lost Stars.
Operation director Dylan Leung and technical director King Kong Fung greeted me in the pitch dark space, lit only with their cell phone torches, while they struggled to locate the main light switch. We waited for marketing director and the last musketeer Natty Cheng to arrive, and staged what our visual editor MC calls the “most un-Still / Loud” photoshoot yet.
The past decade has seen the rise, fall, and reincarnation of many beloved local music venues: Backstage Live, 1563 at the East, XXX, Hidden Agenda, to name just a few. What would prompt these three long-time friends to join the fray? We sat down with them to find out.
Still / Loud: How did the idea of opening a livehouse first come about?
Dylan: Henderson Land Development first approached 牧羊少年 the Alchemist [a group of 6 cafes owned by Dylan] when they had plans to incorporate a cultural unit in their new property. When I opened the Alchemist I was hoping to recreate the vibe of Taiwanese coffee shops; it hosted a number of performances, but the venue and hardware wasn’t optimised for that.
Originally I didn’t want to open another branch in a shopping mall. But I was hoping this venue would cater to music performances, so I brought a new team together.
King Kong: Dylan used to joke about opening up a livehouse when we retire so I can be the in-house sound guy. And here we are.
Why “Lost Stars”?
D: It’s a song from the movie Begin Again that really spoke to me. We want to provide a stage, a platform for undiscovered talents.
Natty: One of the lines is “Are we all lost stars, trying to light up the dark.” The lost stars not only refer to the undiscovered talents, but everyone. We all have the ability to light up someone else’s day.
Natty and Dylan, you are both alumni of Fullcup Music. What did you learn from your previous experience?
N: I started with a clean slate when I worked at Fullcup Music [a Mong Kok cafe which featured weekly live performances by local musicians, now closed]. Being earnest and keeping your promises are key. But there are other criticisms that I kept in mind, for example how people find the blender noises during the performances disruptive.
D: We’ve talked about opening a livehouse for years, but I think this is the best time and age for us to do it. This wouldn’t be a thing if we hadn’t learnt the ropes.
What are you hoping to achieve with Lost Stars?
N: Hong Kong lacks intermediary venues between small cafes and stadiums, and we’re here to fill that gap. Most Broadway shows started with warehouse runs before they get funded.
I’m not a trained musician, just a picky listener at best. I hope Lost Stars is more than a stage for local talents, but also a place for them to grow and improve.
D: We’ve looked at different locations, some of which are far more spacious, but we still chose Tai Kok Tsui because we hope to engage with a variety of audience members: from music enthusiasts to folks living in the neighbourhood to office workers from the HSBC centre. Although we want to focus on music performances, we’re also hoping to host screenplay read-throughs, workshops, master classes etc.
What are some challenges you’re anticipating?
KK: We want the audience to give the musicians the respect and attention they deserve. I worry about people not abiding by our house rules. This isn’t a theatre where you can just kick misbehaving audience members out. One bad review could ruin our business.
D: Hong Kongers have such packed schedules, so I understand they’d want to catch up if they meet up with their friends. If they talk through a performance, we’ll have servers kindly reminding them to wait until the end of the set. Through these practices, I hope we can foster a better etiquette among listeners.
With the Alchemist, people were enthusiastic about activities or workshops we hosted but it eventually plateaued. We want Lost Stars to be a long-term project and we need to be able to keep things fresh for the audience.
D: There shouldn’t be a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow culture. We want to create opportunities for the audience to discover new music and interact with musicians they might not have heard of before, instead of preaching to the choir and providing an entertainment venue for people who are already in a certain scene.
N: Introducing these new sounds to the masses is simply bringing them the sound of the future.
Lost Stars is located at Shop G506, Square Mile, 11 Li Tak Street, Tai Kok Tsui. Their soft opening will be March 19th. Still / Loud’s Holmes Chan contributed editing.