Fredie thinks any attempt to understand how independent artists are using industrial buildings in the pursuit of their musical dreams will not be complete without meeting his friend Lai. So I went to meet the man at his loft.
Lai is a vocalist, lyricist and drummer in an independent band. He has been living in various lofts for more than 10 years and is one of the pioneers of loft living in Hong Kong. “My first loft was on the rooftop of an industrial building. There were four of us sharing and the rent was HK$1,400. Since then, the number of bands using industrial building units as studios has mushroomed. Only a dozen or so bands did that 10 years ago but now there are over 1000,” Lai said.
Despite the fact that there are now many more bands in Hong Kong and that turning formerly industrial spaces into band studios has become an established phenomenon, Lai assured me there are big enough crowds to support the bands. “The problem we face is there are too few spaces for us to perform live,” he said.
The space Lai now occupies is a one-bedroom apartment conversion in an industrial building. Second-hand furniture and audio-visual equipment are tidily placed around the 200-sq.ft space. His home is one of the 11 studios he and his flatmates “built” out of a 3000-sq.ft space in the 40-year-old industrial building.
A sofa, a table, some drums and a piano are scattered along the wide corridor that runs between the rooms. There is also graffiti on the walls. Lai said the ‘occupation’ of the corridor would fail them in a fire safety inspection because the furniture obstructs the fire safety escape. “Why don’t you move them back to your rooms?” I asked. “But we did this with a purpose. It is about sharing and a communal way of living. This is where we chit-chat.”
They share a toilet and a shower. The size of the rooms varies: some are used as storage, or as studios of independent bands, while others have been converted into residences, like the one where Lai lives. At least two independent bands share each studio so for some users, the monthly rent can be as low as HK$100.
“The quality of sound insulation we have here is rather low. So it is rather noisy when someone is practising. But it bothers no one because it is a way of living,” Lai said.