"Hong Kong is like a special delicacy - one that should only be played every so often," says Bernard Sumner, in a backhanded compliment to the city whose harbour and flashing skyline backs the stage he is now so comfortably and somehow quietly standing upon. It's been thirty years since New Order last played Hong Kong, and with that, Sumner excuses this absence; as the band headlines the eighth annual edition of the city's pre-eminent (and only) three day international music and arts festival, Clockenflap.
2015 marks Clockenflap's biggest and broadest line-up to date, as it again occupies the forty precious hectares of Hong Kong real estate that is the West Kowloon Cultural District. Set on the edge of Victoria Harbour, the order, spaciousness, and rare view of the open sky is an uncommon delight for the denizens of Hong Kong. And since we're at a festival in Asia, specifically in this Special Administrative Region of China, proceedings are much more conservative than if it were a European, American or even Australian festival.
Here, people love lining up for everything. There are smiles whilst festival-goers wait their turn to refill water bottles, and they chat easily and coherently as they queue up to go into the various interactive art exhibitions that dot the festival. Prams and pubescent teens rave alongside locals and expats. The port-a-loos are perplexingly free of the stench of piss, though a sizable portion of them are in fact, squat-a-loos. No one is that wasted either, even when spirits are free poured and cheaper than beer. Despite a zero tolerance rule, the pungent smell of weed seems to freely perfume the air. All the acts start and finish on time, and there is no camping here – everyone exits the grounds in an orderly fashion well before midnight, to amp up the party elsewhere.
But let's begin at the beginning. Clockenflap opens on a regular work day Friday, with this year's drawcard of the night being the legendary Flying Lotus. His epic Hypercube is in full effect in accompaniment of his exuberant set, which includes a crowd pleasing nod to Drake's inescapable – and brilliant – 'Hotline Bling'. On an audio-visual FlyLo high, we head over to support locally based promoters Fresh Off the Boat ft DJ Woodtek, who are whipping out classic garage and 2-step to a small, but enthusiastic crowd.
Saturday turns up a bigger crowd than Friday's action, and by the time twilight rolls around, Future Brown takes to one of the medium sized stages. As edgy an act as it gets on the Clockenflap line-up, they do not disappoint (and on a side note, neither does Ma Nguzu's off-site DJ set in support of performance artist Boychild's farewell to Hong Kong show, at the once-popular gay club Propaganda). On at the same time as Future Brown are the well established and locally grown band Life Was All Silence, delivering their muscular interpretations of shoe-gazey and cinematic post-rock. Afterwards, the Earth Wind and Fire Experience ft Al McKay is as warm and comforting as the raclette we devour as we head over to see Ratatat's searing guitars shake the festival's second biggest stage.
The Libertines are scheduled head to head with A$AP Rocky, so we catch the opening few numbers of The Libertines' boisterous performance until we can no longer escape the feeling of uncomfortable nostalgia at the music, and bounce out to see how A$AP and his mob are faring. As pretty and as charismatic as he is, Rocky delivers a somewhat lukewarm performance for his virgin time in Hong Kong. Though he and the mob do give Hong Kong the debut of 'Yamborghini High', a track that pays homage to the late A$AP Yams.
We don't make it to the W Hotel for the after-party where Carl Barat was DJing (though word has it he managed to have a good time), but instead head back to Hong Kong Island for an unofficial afterparty at XXX, a renowned local venue that is a music and arts scene incubator. Deejayed by Kid Fresh, Tom Yeti from Yeti Out (Shanghai) and XXX masterminds Enso and Yao, the crowd in attendance are treated to the most interesting cuts you'll hear around Hong Kong on any given night.
Sunday brings the pain, but we roll up in time to find bean bags to drag to the edge of General Levy's dancefloor. The riddims are infectious though, so we use the bean bags to form a buffer between us and those with two left feet instead. The awkwardly polished stage stylings of Neon Indian is next on the agenda, someone remarking, "He's put a lot of effort into that powerpoint presentation, but it seems like he's a little moody from a bad day in the boardroom, doesn't it?" Brilliant.
We catch the tail end of Chic ft Nile Rodgers, and, similarly to the Earth Wind and Fire Experience ft Al McKay, is another easily enjoyable drawcard on the line-up. We go to find DJ Yoda at a smaller tent, and his visible delight at simply playing is as smile-inducing as his cleverly referential and hip-pop driven set. From there, we run to hear the opening strains of closing act and long awaited headliners, New Order. They've drawn the biggest crowd we've seen this weekend, and deliver a performance that's powerfully connective and quietly emotional. And relevant. The new songs stand up next to their classics, and as a sentimental visual flashes 'FOREVER JOY DIVISION' to accompany 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', the crowd erupts with nostalgia and elation.
The band are reluctantly drawn out for a two song encore, which gives parts of the crowd a flashback to their own adolescence as Sumner remarks, "In Hong Kong everything runs like clockwork, but I won't be the one to end this." It is, in fact, a truly great end to another year for a festival that is rapidly emerging from it's own adolescence into what promises to be a strong adulthood of cultivating music and arts in Hong Kong.
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Words: Christel Escosa
Full information on Clockenflap HERE.