Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Clockenflap is a unique snapshot of a city defined by razor sharp contrasts

07 December 2023, 10:00

On 16 June 2019, two million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest a proposed bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

As political unrest mounted, Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival was cancelled. Since its inception, the event has played a defining role in shaping Hong Kong’s musical landscape and has platformed Asian talent while bringing established Western acts to new audiences. Clockenflap was back after a four year hiatus in March this year and returned last week for its thirteenth edition.

The festival's success lies in its cultural pluralism – an eclectic lineup reflects the tensions between east and west, tradition and renewal, that are at the heart of the drama and beauty of Hong Kong. Clockenflap acknowledges that music at its best has the power to transcend cultural barriers. In its melting pot of acts are the big stars you’d expect – Pulp, De La Soul, Caroline Polachek, Swae Lee, – but it’s the rising stars of J-pop that stand out as some of the festival’s most persuasively infectious talent.

Clockenflap Fri YOASOBI Sommerley HA 3 Large

“We are the first ever japanese headliner at Clockenflap," Japanese superduo Yoasobi tell me before their Friday performance: “We think it’s a really meaningful chance to represent j-pop to the world”. Unlike many other J-pop acts, producer Ayase and singer-songwriter Ikura have catapulted to fame through TikTok, and it shows. The pair draws a crowd beyond the gates of the festival and out into the streets of the island. It’s easy to be hypnotised by their rapid fire bubble-gum freneticism. The sweetness of Ikura’s vocals are shrink-wrapped in dizzyingly complicated rhythms and harmonies. Ikura confesses her love of Char Siu pork to the audience and closes their set with their hit "Idol", the opening theme of the Japanese anime series Oshi no Ko.

Atarashii Gakko!

Atarashii Gakko! deliver Clockenflap’s most memorable J-pop performance over on the Orbit stage. The group's manifesto reads: "In a time when only exemplar citizens are acknowledged, we strive to defy a narrow-minded society by embracing individuality and freedom." The result is a J-pop group that high-kicks its way through the kawaii and delivers a sound with more bite. J-pop stars are often criticised for their lacklustre choreography compared to their K-pop counterparts but this can't be said for Atarashii Gakko! who launch themselves across the stage like precision timed rock-star cheerleaders. Half way through their set they transform from their sailor-suit school uniforms into the Gakuran, traditionally worn by men. Shape-shifting between the masculine and feminine, the girl group adopts J-pop tropes only to playfully subvert them into their own universe.

If you stroll beyond the festival gates into Soho, it’s easy to see why J-pop’s hybrid musical stylings resonate so well in Hong Kong. The indelible handprint of its colonial past sits in parallel with the city’s appetite for change. Just off the central escalator the 160-year old Graham Street market unravels through the city’s heart like a strand of DNA. Here, it is easy to imagine oneself running errands like Faye Wong in Chungking Express. On Sundays, women line the streets of the city’s Central district and sit on cardboard boxes. Here they spend their one day off sharing food and playing cards, teaching each other dance routines. To watch this all play out on the doorsteps of Bulgari and Hermes seems to underscore the city’s central tensions.

CF2023 DEC SAT Caroline Polachek CHRIS LS 3759
Caroline Polachek

The western music offerings of Clockenflap are lapped up by expats and Hong Kongers alike. Caroline Polachek blushes at the handwritten signs her fans have penned which delightfully read, “SIT ON MY FACE MOMMY”. The orgasmic rallying cry of "Welcome to my Island" feels fraught with possibility. She tells the audience how long she has waited to perform in Hong Kong and the emotion and overwhelm on her face is visible. Polachek soaks in every moment, placing her hand on her chest and taking a deep breath before dedicating "I Believe" to SOPHIE. Having never toured Pang in Asia she throws it back with "Hit Me Where It Hurts" and "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings", the immediacy of her sound radiating, a clarion call to pain and pleasure.

Clockenflap Dec 2 Pulp Sommerley HA 3

Saturday night welcomes a bruised and battered Jarvis Cocker to the stage after falling down the stairs at Hong Kong record store The Listening Room earlier in the day and breaking two ribs. He projects a scan of his x-ray up on to the screens and makes a bargain with the audience: “Could you clap your hands?” he asks in Cantonese, “follow my lead and something magic will happen." What happens next isn’t exactly faith healing but it does carry with it all the sorcery of a Pulp show. There’s something very beautiful about listening to a song you’ve heard a thousand times sung by a crowd of people who don’t share your language, your history or any of the cultural baggage you’ve brought with you.

For those who don’t want the fun to stop after the headliners have gone home, there’s an afterparty at Soho House and everyone at the festival is invited; Crimes Against Pop closes the night with a set of deliciously silly indie worldies. And if you’re looking to continue dancing long after the Clockenflappers have called it a night, Hong Kong is more than willing to oblige.

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