Three overseas bands have cancelled their scheduled performances at independent live house Hidden Agenda this week after members of two of them were questioned by immigration officers at the Shenzhen border on Wednesday.

The cancellations came a week after the members of British band TTNG and American musician Mylets were arrested for performing at the beleaguered Kwun Tong venue without a work visa. Owner Hui Chung-wo was also charged with immigration offences.

Insomnium Finland Finnish metal band
Insomnium in Hong Kong. Photo: Insomnium via Facebook.

At around 12:50pm on Wednesday, Hidden Agenda said on Facebook that immigration officials had detained members of Finnish and Australian metal bands Insomnium and Orpheus Omega for questioning “for no reason.”

Having successfully performed earlier in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, the two groups were scheduled to perform that night, although it is unclear whether they obtained work visas prior to arriving.

They were released and allowed into Hong Kong at around 2:30pm. Speaking to HKFP, a source with knowledge of the matter attributed the long questioning period to the large number of band members who had to be individually interviewed.

‘Big thanks’

Following their release, the bands said in a joint statement: “Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances out of our control Insomnium and Orpheus Omega are unable to perform in Hong Kong and for that we are extremely sorry and disappointed.”

“They cannot even have a gathering with friends,” added Hidden Agenda. “If not, they will be deported immediately.”

See also: CY Leung defends raid on live house Hidden Agenda, hails success of industrial building revitalisation

The following day, Hidden Agenda announced that the performance by American indie band Low scheduled for next Tuesday was also cancelled. “Big thanks to HKGOV again,” it wrote.

The venue added that it would arrange refunds for audience members who purchased next week’s tickets.

Hidden Agenda
Hidden Agenda. File photo: Tom Grundy.

As a unit in an industrial building, Hidden Agenda officially operates as a food factory, having obtained a licence from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. However, the department has not approved its applications for a place of public entertainment license.

The venue has been subjected to numerous raids at each of its four locations since its establishment in 2009, primarily related to violations of the terms of its industrial land lease.

The most recent raid in May led to seven arrests. The four musicians from overseas bands TTNG and Mylets must return to Hong Kong next month to report to the Immigration Department, as does venue owner Hui.

Immigration ambiguities?

Earlier, pro-democracy legislator Jeremy Tam had said he believed that the Immigration Department changed its policy on issuing work visas over the past few months – denying entry to artists scheduled to perform in industrial buildings.

A department spokesperson, however, told HKFP that there was no definitive rule as to whether foreign nationals participating in artistic or cultural activities constituted employment.

“The practical situation of each activity or competition would be considered,” she said. “Factors considered include whether the activity or competition is of a commercial nature, whether an employment or service contract has been signed, and whether there is any remuneration.”

immigration tower wanchai
File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

The spokesperson said that the department has always treated immigration applications related to cultural and artistic activities as practically as possible within the confines of the law, providing “practical conveniences” to foreign nationals.

See also: Hidden Agenda raid: All 7 released, as UK band laments Hong Kong’s ‘difficult’ creative environment

“[These conveniences] include the use of discretion in approving urgent applications,” she said.

The spokesperson declined to comment on the two individual cases of Insomnium and Orpheus Omega.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.