Hong Kong’s newest music festival Altn8 kicks off in Central on Saturday, and it is aiming to become Asia’s first carbon-neutral multi-venue music festival.
The day-long event is being held simultaneously across eight venues in Lan Kwai Fong, including Ce La Vie, Volar, Mercedes Me and Rula Bula. The line-up features international acts such as German techno legend Stephan Bodzin, house producers Tube & Berger, grime composer Preditah and house icon Danny Rampling, a pioneer of the UK’s original rave scene.
The festival’s co-founders, Roger de Leon and Charlie Toller, have both worked in the events industry in the city before, but say they have never done anything on this scale. The duo decided to launch the event to offer an “alternate” option for dance music fans in the city – a concept that gave rise to the festival’s moniker.
Kicking off at midday and running into the small hours, the festival features an integrated system of screens allowing attendees to keep an eye on the action across each venue throughout the day.
Hong Kong Free Press spoke to Toller and de Leon to find out exactly how Altn8 was born, and what they’ve got in store for revellers this weekend.
So we hear there’s an interesting story behind how you two met?
Roger de Leon: To be honest, we didn’t think it was that funny! Charlie was doing an event for a fashion brand and I was the first DJ he booked in Hong Kong. The event just so happened to be on a junk boat, and I had to take a little dinghy to get out to it. It was a really choppy day, and my boat sank!
Charlie Toller: Roger was sinking in the water and just holding his laptop up to stop it getting wet, because he needed it to play his set. It was a bit of a disaster.
And what prompted you to come together to organise this new music festival, Altn8?
de Leon: We both knew we wanted to do a big music event. We went through the process of thinking about doing a festival in Central on the harbourfront, what something on that scale that would take. And we decided maybe we could be a bit more innovative about it.
Then randomly we were walking through Lan Kwai Fong one night and we were like: “This place sucks! It could be so much better, it could be awesome.”
What don’t you like about Lan Kwai Fong?
de Leon: I have an opinion about it because I used to have a restaurant there (Little Burro). It’s a correlation of rent – because the rents are so high, venues can’t afford to take risks, so they do exactly what the formula is, which is to have shitty music that people don’t have to digest with too much difficulty. People can go and have the exact same Asahi or Carlsberg at the exact same place, and you can’t tell one bar from the other.
Toller: It’s a vicious circle – venue owners allow that sort of entertainment to be on show and then people get used to it. Lan Kwai Fong used to be a real hive of activity and it’s just not any more. It’s got bad connotations, it stinks, it’s pretty rank. But the actual infrastructure there is pretty cool and it’s fairly unique to Hong Kong, to have so many spaces in which you can party all night long in one place. And that played into how we structured the festival.
What are your hopes for Altn8 on the day itself and going forward?
Toller: To basically have a lot of people in a lot of venues having a really good time. We are not trying to be one size fits all, in fact quite the opposite. We want to appeal to discerning music fans, to people who want a different experience than your classic harbourside event. We want it to be a bit different.
And will Altn8 be annual?
de Leon: We have some big plans, honestly. But we know we have to take it one step at a time. Let’s see how year one goes.
Events are being held in a mix of eight bars, clubs and restaurants throughout Lan Kwai Fong during the festival. How did you choose the venues?
de Leon: It’s the physical layout based on where they fall in LKF and also the sizes – we needed bigger venues. And also venues we have a strong relationship with. We want to help create a community between businesses – the economy is kind of slow at the moment.
Toller: Without going into detail, the guys we’re working with are the ones who are forward-thinking enough to get on board with what we are doing. A lot of the others were like “We’d rather just not take any risks, because it’s what we’re used to”.
How is Altn8 going to be different from a normal night out in LKF?
Toller: Each venue will be slightly differently themed, and in some of the venues we are putting in big LEDs, big lighting and sound systems. We’re also tapping into all of the TV screens that there are everywhere and streaming the content around the festival, so if you’re at Halcyon picking up your ticket you can see what is going on in each venue.
de Leon: There are definitely different design elements we’re bringing in that will help set the scene for people. For example, we have these really cool clouds in Mercedes Me with LEDs inside that light up in time with the music.
The acts performing at Altn8 are pretty diverse. How did you decide on the line-up?
de Leon: There’s something for everyone; it’s not too hip-hop, it’s not too techno. We started out by signing people from our contacts but as soon as we booked a couple of big acts, it all kind of snowballed and we had agents coming to us.
Zooming out, what is your opinion on the burgeoning festival scene in Hong Kong?
Toller: We really want to support the scene and seeing things pop up, it’s cool! The penny has definitely dropped here. Clockenflap has done a brilliant job of building a big festival in Hong Kong but if you look at Malaysia, or Thailand especially, you see there’s still a lot more that could be done.