Situated in one of the few remaining open areas on Hong Kong’s famous harbour line, surrounded by some of the world’s most iconic sky scrapers, Clockenflap is without doubt one of the most unique and picturesque settings for a city festival in the world. Having now evolved from a one day concert of 1500 people in 2008 to what is now a fully-fledged festival of seven stages and 25,000 people, there was a lot riding on this weekend for all involved. Along with a big logistical challenge, Hong Kong’s curious mix of expats and local Cantonese music fans represented an incredibly diverse audience to keep entertained.
An unseasonal dose of poor weather had threatened to dim the early anticipation as the masses turn up, fresh from their Saturday brunches, to see Azealia Banks (9/10) demonstrate why she has shot to such stardom, topping NME’s “Cool List” of 2011. The rapper performed with a confidence and energy beyond her years, completely mesmerising the crowd and giving the entire event a shot of adrenaline that set it off and running until late on Sunday night. Her lack of longevity within the scene was very much made up for by her involvement with the crowd and suggestive stage presence, building the audience into a frenzy before dropping the tune that launched her career, ‘212’.
Australian dance group Sneaky Sound System (8/10) were keeping the party firing on all cylinders at the other end of the site, with Connie Mitchell wearing a typically loud costume to accompany her highly engaging set. ‘Kansas City and ‘I Love It’ were well known by the crowd but even the less recognisable tracks kept the arena at capacity to the point that revellers were climbing the fencing to get a view of the show.
Primal Scream (9/10) were the Saturday headliners and didn’t disappoint, especially considering the number of gigs they have played over the past 12 months. The set opened with ‘Movin On Up‘ before launching into several tracks from their upcoming album. The crowd warmed to the new tunes, showing their appreciation by hurling several bras onto the stage, which Bobby Gillespie took great pleasure in twirling over his head, like the true festival veteran. However it was the Screamadelica classics that of course defined both this band and the night, so a late combination of ‘Loaded’ and ‘Come Together’, performed seemingly with as much passion as when first done in 1991, was the culmination of the night that capped a truly polished set.
Local band Ni.Ne.Mo (7/10) brought on the Sunday programme with some electro pop-rock before DP (9/10) really brought the new day to life. Their tongue-in-cheek heavy rock has a large dose of the always entertaining Tenacious D about it. Combine this, after an ear bustlingly loud rendition of their hit ‘Supermegadon’, with an extra drummer, electric guitar, sax and trombone and the results were incredible; one of the most unexpected highlights of the festival as their ‘fusion rock’ had every reveller who’d made it out of bed very glad to have done so.
Bastille (9/10) have had a fantastic 2012 and future-tipped superstar Dan Smith was clearly keen to make an impression. Joining the crowd on the dance floor and climbing all over the stage as he sang the hit ‘Flaws’, he brought an incredibly energetic and enjoyable vibe to the set. The band finished with their own version of ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ which again showed their originality and confirmed they are unquestionably a band to keep your eye on.
Kid Fresh (7/10) played an intriguing set of dubstep, grime and bass. Arguably Hong Kong’s most famous dance music DJ, the technical ability and diversity in tune selection was a pleasure to see and appreciated by all, although the set did slightly lose its way towards the end as a mixing experiment went wrong and the questionable MC became more vocal. Following on from the DJ was Brandt Brauer Frick (8/10), a 3 piece German band, who brought something of the unusual to the stage with their sampling and looping of live instruments (including a harp and a glockenspiel!) to create their live dance act. Despite losing the crowd to Alt-J they provided a very welcome dose of Sunday eccentricity that complimented the line-up well.
The first headliner of the night was Alt-J (6/10) who had been heavily advertised yet were largely disappointing. Their music has been awarded one of the highest honours via The Mercury Prize but they failed to bring any passion to the stage. Whether it was nerves or exhaustion from a long flight, the monotone interaction with the crowd summed up a set that really lacked any character. There is no doubt they make imaginative and thought provoking music, and from one in particular new song they are continuing to do so, but this failed to translate into a live performance with real vigour. Accordingly it was not so much of a surprise that the other big stage ‘Your Mum” was packed to the point that people were once again scaling the iron walls as De La Soul (10/10) came storming on stage with their hands in the air repertoire of hip hop classics. This was really the highlight of the whole event with a party atmosphere and superb setting overlooked by Hong Kong’s tallest building. Full of character they showed 25 years of experience performing at the top and getting a tired Sunday crowd to forget about the week ahead via classics ’Much More’ and ‘Oooh.’ Instigating a huge battle amongst the crowd of clapping, chanting and inflatable balloons the dynamic trio created a care-free vibe that threw wide grins throughout the arena.
The Klaxons (9/10) finished off the event on the main stage and showed their pedigree as seasoned festival headliners. ‘Its Not Over Yet’ and ‘Golden Skans’ being two particular highlights of a setlist predominantly made up of tracks from their own Mercury Music Winning album Myths of the Near Future rather than many tracks from Surfing the Void. Either way their ability and presence shone through to close the stage in grand style.
So overall a success, thanks in most part to the intelligent planning of the organisers; three Mercury Music Prize winners were guaranteed to bring in the crowds, interspersed with a pleasing variety of both local and international bands. Rumours abound that the same venue will have been demolished by 2013, but with such a winning formula put to use in 2012 and mostly positive feedback, the future looks very bright and exciting for Hong Kong’s latest offering to the global festival scene.
By Oliver Allcock