"Rule number one: you do not talk about Bunker. Rule number two: you do not talk about Bunker." As a nod to Fight Club, these were the first words I read in an email from an anonymous sender about an event happening later that day.
The event was being thrown by Bunker Club, Hong Kong's infamous and notoriously secretive pop-up party organization. Bunker was conceived over five years ago as an effort to bring something unconventional to Hong Kong's party scene. Within those five years, Bunker has matured into the city's most renowned pop-up, earning itself an impressive roster of resident DJs in the process and becoming a techno-head haven for expats and locals alike. Despite this reputation, the organizers have managed to maintain the hush-hush, wink-wink status that makes these experiences what they are. "Bunker is made special by the people who come and by virtue, the people that don't," reads the email.
Even with the anonymous nature of the organization, Bunker's manager agreed to a Skype call. At request of anonymity (obviously), he will be referred to as Peter* in this article.
"We wanted to make it more about the people," he tells THUMP. "For true underground you need something more social, something different. And I think we've done that. What we are doing is contrary to everything else going on."
In 2008, Peter came to Hong Kong from the UK with a marketing background and contempt for clubs that were uninteresting, expensive, and bloated with commercialization. Eventually, he became close with a group of people that were throwing free parties and got involved. By borrowing equipment from friends, Peter and the group threw a party at an abandoned fort. When forty people came, Bunker was born. They've now held 27 parties.
"It's a grey area in legal restrictions," he admits. "Think of it like a flash dance in a mall. Bunker is just a flash party outdoors. As long as there are no noise complaints, it's all good." Bunker errs on the side of caution by referring to their events as 'night hikes' rather than full-on bush parties. Each of their locations is left cleaner than it was found and they never sell alcohol.
They steer away from traditional marketing completely, relying instead on guerrilla tactics and word of mouth. Peter and the other organizers consider creativity to be the most important element of the planning process. They try to push the envelope and bring something new to every single Bunker party.
"It's totally non-profit and we are ready to take risks. All of the donations we receive are reinvested into future events," he says. "Getting Nick [Warren] to play for us was the first time we've ever paid a DJ." Nick's agent caught wind of Bunker and wanted to book him for Bunker's last event of the season. Although reluctant at first, they agreed. Peter wouldn't disclose how much they ended up paying, but presumably, it wasn't cheap.
The scene itself though, has grown exponentially. From interns, expats, and exchange students, the audience at pop-ups is broadening. "I think the pop-ups have opened music up massively [in Hong Kong]. It's evident from the copy cats."
Needless to say, Bunker doesn't exist without challenges. Safety is always an issue, despite free water and an on-site first aid crew. Jokesters trying to steal equipment is another issue. But Peter says that the biggest challenge is maintaining a proper crowd. Bunker is intended to be a community—groups of friends, or at least friends-of-friends is what they strive to attract. Mutual respect for one another while having fun is critical to the Bunker experience, and that can only be accomplished with a certain audience turnout.
Peter doesn't want the Bunker events to expand; rather, he wants the organization move back to basics, cool down, and retreat back underground. Currently, Bunker has 500 emails on their mailing list, but only send emails to a select 50 each time. "We don't want to piss anyone off," he jokes. "It just takes one person to call the cops." That isn't to say that the cops haven't shown up to Bunker events before. The organization has complete respect for the authorities and obliges without resistance if asked to cease. "Our reputation matters," he adds.
Bunker events have occurred in multiple remote locations in and around Hong Kong. Dark forests, mist covered mountaintops, and most famously, decrepit WWII bunkers. Even an abandoned village in Sai Kung has seen the light of Bunker's tripped out laser arsenal. The Bunker 'season' runs from October to April and during the summer, when it's too hot to throw parties, the team scouts new locations. As for the music, resident DJs M-Theory, Hyphen Python, Sean Rogers, and Zelazowski, take care of the audial side of things.
At my first encounter with Bunker, getting to the secret location was not an easy task. It required circumventing security checkpoints and cameras, entering a closed park, hiking up a mountain, and skirting a graveyard.
Luckily, I wasn't on my own. A group of ten of us made a stop at the local market to pick up fifteen-packs of HuiQuan Beer before shuffling onto Hong Kong's metro system for the first leg of our mission. Once outside we began our urban trek to the mouth of a city-edge trail that led us around the security-guarded park gate and up a mountain. There are no lights, no English signage, and no other people on this trail.
We stumbled upon some enthusiastic greeters waving glow sticks. After collecting a $200 HKD entrance fee from each of us, we were given wristbands. Climbing another few hundred feet and passing a whirring generator, we found ourselves looking down on what was literally a collapsed bunker.
Only a truck could have carried the plethora of glow sticks that littered the ground. Sparkling strings of lights adorned railings, trees, and concrete walls. Techno notes and in-your-face bass echoed from the inner part of the bunker. Man-made mist crept through cracks, covering the ground while lasers danced along the walls and ceilings. Everyone seemed to have been mesmerized into a brainwashed, trancelike state.
Bunker is not just an event, an organization, or a place. It's a state of mind, an experience akin to some kind of mysterious post-apocalyptic dance party. And I loved every second of it.
The night only got better. Hordes of people poured into the bunker as midnight passed. I even got my hands on a Stormtrooper helmet. Nearby, you could cool down while enjoying a view of Hong Kong's shore below, one worthy of your desktop background.
At 1:30 AM, we had been gifted a special guest. All the way from Bristol, Nick Warren had stepped behind the decks and thrown the crowd into frenzy as he belted out the best set of the night. The rest of the night's lineup included Bunker regulars Sean Rogers, Jamie Rogers, and Hyphen Python. All of them had our musical palettes buzzing with mixes that blended techno, deep tech house, trance, breakz, and what can only be adequately described as spooky house.
The crowd thinned as night faded to day. Highs were wearing of, hangovers were setting in, and plain exhaustion claimed the majority. But even as the clock hit 7 AM, the DJs showed no sign of slowing down. After one last time hoorah, we dragged our feet back down the mountain. Asian elders frowned at us as they went about doing their unusual morning exercises.
As soon as I got back to my dorm, I crumpled into my bed. It was 9 AM and I needed to be at another pop-up in four hours.
To be continued...
Parker Buckley is on SoundCloud.