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Clockenflap Festival: Hong Kong

Tuesday 10 January 2012

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Considering that the majority of festivals I’ve attended consist of extortionate ticket prices, mud-sodden wellington boots, decimated English farmland and getting to see 50% of the bands that you wanted to because of a culmination of your own self-induced haplessness and idiotic line-up clashes (not forgetting the severe, borderline suicidal, comedown that tops it all off), visiting the relatively subdued but no less entertaining Clockenflap Music and Art Festival, was something I was ecstatic to be a part of. It was completely free, situated in inner city Hong Kong, the sun was shining at a cool twenty degrees, and there was a line-up that could impress even the most seasoned of music critics.

An easy ten minutes on the metro from the city centre, Clockenflap was perched on the edge of the Waterfront Promenade in West Kowloon, and the five music stages, film tent and various art activities were each dotted along the circular park that over looks Hong Kong Harbour. This meant that the views were fucking mind-blowing. To the extent that, at the Peoples Party Stage, I’d find myself looking back at Hong Kong Island across the water, with its futuristic skyline lighting up the night sky like a scene from Bladerunner, rather than watching the spectacular light show that accompanied Chad Valley’s synth-heavy chillwave set. The PP stage also boasted eclecto-dance performances from the likes of US electro-pop hipsters, French Horn Rebellion and China’s own math-rock outfit, Duck Fight Goose.

Nestled in one corner was the Acoustic Stage, which promoted singer-songwriters like Tilly, whose vulnerable persona added depth to her endearing lyrics and folky guitar. Larger acoustic groups such as Sun Eskimos and Rivermouth also played on this stage against the backdrop of mountains and mist-cladded skyscrapers. The Robot Stage and Sideflap were the two DJ tents adjoining the Main and PP stages, playing a variety of alternative-dance, minimal, techno and anything else to keep the frenetic atmosphere alive between main acts (and keeping those partial to chemicals with wide eyed, I-can’t-stop-grinning-this-is-immense looks, stuck tightly to their contented little faces).

The main stage was that which mostly resembled your more commercial festival (oh, apart from the shit-splattered portaloos which, adding an interesting element to the experience, featured not seats, but squatting holes) and the artists on the bill encapsulated that.  Amongst others, the main stage saw: wailing indie-rock trio, The Cribs, Brooklyn based indie poppers, Pains of Being Pure at Heart and uber fun Indonesian pop-funk group White Shoes and Couples Company. But the headliners were sure to steal the show, Saturday night saw London’s indie/folk quartet, Bombay Bicycle Club (featuring their friend and favorite, Lucy Rose’s vocal and instrumental talents), wow an audience who were undoubtedly eager for their arrival. Jack Steadman used his space as the front man well and involved the audience during Always Like This by handing the mic to the crowd and guitarist Jamie MacColl gave every bopping teenager something to scream at by occasionally mounting his amp. It was an intermittently eclectic set and the climax of their last song What If assured a commendable live performance. On the Sunday, adorned in black and gold, Santigold’s musical energy exploded into the audience, and she swept across the stage as much as her songs sweep genres, blasting hit after hit at an adoring crowd, concluding predictably with a huge sounding L.E.S Artistes.

Minus a few organizational mishaps including missing programmes, it was a very admirable effort for an event barely in its fourth year, and the only one of its kind in Hong Kong.  The beer was cheap, the location was beautiful and the music was exceptional. I even got chatting to eccentric French filmmaker, Vincent Moon of La Blogoteque/Take Away Shows after his exhibition and Q & A in the film tent, he mused, “Hong Kong has an amazing vibe, it’s a lot like New York in that sense. I think it is because both cities are built on marble. Is Hong Kong built on marble?”

Finally acquiring the press pass on the eve of the sold-out festival didn’t kill my enthusiasm the slightest bit either. It was a wonderfully constructed and truly original festival, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Hong Kong this time next year you really ought to check it out.