Noise complaints force out buskers in Mong Kok in Hong Kong

File photo showing a busker performing on Sai Yeung Choi Street South, in Hong Kong, on July 21, 2018.
File photo showing a busker performing on Sai Yeung Choi Street South, in Hong Kong, on July 21, 2018. PHOTO: NYTIMES

HONG KONG (AFP) - The street performers who have long claimed one of Hong Kong's busiest shopping districts as their informal stage took their final bow on Sunday (July 29) night after authorities caved in to noise complaints.

Under the glow of Mong Kok's neon signs, buskers have been entertaining crowds - and irking residents - for nearly two decades in Sai Yeung Choi Street South, an area which has been regularly closed to traffic to make way for pedestrians and performers since 2000.

Over the years, a motley line-up, including an acrobat in his 60s and bands surrounded by fans clapping along, gave ear-splitting shows.

The street performers have received 320 noise complaints in the first half of the year, according to police, with local media reporting 1,200 complaints last year.

The pedestrian zone will reopen to traffic on Aug 4.

But while some will be relieved that the plug is being pulled, others fear authorities are killing off the city's vibrant street culture.

Just next to the freestyle performance area, official attempts in 2016 to remove unlicensed hawkers triggered some of the city's worst clashes for decades as protesters used the occasion to express their anger towards Hong Kong's dwindling autonomy.

Ahead of the shutdown of the busking zone, bands in glittery outfits, elderly men and women dancing the cha-cha, and "singing aunties" from mainland China - who have joined the pack over the years to the displeasure of some local residents - came out over the weekend.

WiFi Band members, who have performed in the area for the last few years, said the group might relocate to Causeway Bay's Times Square or Tsim Sha Tsui - also busy commercial districts thronged with tourists and shoppers.

Drummer Miss Cheng told local news site HK01 she was sad about the busker community's dissolution as performers could get more interactive with the audience in Mong Kok.

"Perhaps we would only bring guitars (over there) because transportation is less convenient, plus you can't be as loud," she said of the new locations.