Clockenflap 2015 in pictures: Hong Kong gets its groove on
Legendary international acts New Order, Chic and Earth, Wind and Fire join Canto-pop stars Denise Ho and Leah Dou, EDM giants Flying Lotus, DJ wunderkinds Mr Scruff and Kid Koala and a plethora of local and international acts to make Hong Kong’s premier music festival the biggest and most succesful ever
They came in their thousands; in their oldest and most treasured band t-shirts, in their finest glamour wear, in bunny suits, high heels, flip-flops and Doc Marten boots.
They came to see the latest and greatest bands and musicians Hong Kong has to offer playing on a bill featuring the finest of British rock , Japanese psychedelia, Taiwanese death metal, Canadian turntablism, American hip-hop and Irish balladry.
Friday evening kicked off with Hong Kong acts ANWIYTCI and The Anello; the former standing out for their unique line-up of three bass players, drummer and keyboards.
One of the biggest and most popular drawcards for the weekend played on the opening night: Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice held a huge crowd in the palm of his hand as he delivered his impassioned songs of love lost, love scorned and love unrequited.
The full moon shining down upon Hong Kong only served to add ambience, with the crowd up the back of the arena taking in the evening
A wild mosh to the electronic chaos of Flying Lotus gave way to collective nodding of heads as British guitar band Ride took to the stage, some 20 years after being labelled the chief propagators of the ‘shoegaze’ movement of bands.
While Ride took the audience gathered at the Harbourflap stage back to the 1990s, the fresh, hip act drawing the younger crowd was Japanese rock act Love Psychedelico, whose cute, snappy guitar pop drew huge cheers from the massed audience.
Deemed one of the acts to watch at the world-renown music convention SXSW in the US earlier this year, Love Psychedelico won hearts and new fans with their mix of cute vocals and deft guitar lines.
Lead singer Kumi and debonair guitarist Naoki Sato enthralled the crowd with their onstage interplay; their pledge to return to Hong Kong soon was met with joyous screams and shouts.
The weekend dawned with the promise of sunshine, warm November weather and a whole day spent in the presence of wildly diverse musical acts, again kicking off with local acts; Jing Wong and Owk drew critical response while elsewhere people gathered on the lawns to imbibe and get in the swing for a big Saturday night.
Large experience-based art installations attracted many young families, while wandering performance artists kept the audience on their toes as to what they might see appear spontaneously around the site
Meanwhile Cantonese chanteuse Yoyo Sham won herself many new fans with her mix of folk, jazz and pop that had some describing her as the Chinese inheritor of the legacies of Ricky Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell.
One of the benefits for those attending during the day - and one of the attractions for parents bringing along children to the festival - was the amount of space available for allowing young ones to freely run about and dance to their heart’s content while mum and dad got to enjoy some live music in the sun.
Japanese-American singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata was one of the many overseas acts having both their first experience of Hong Kong and their first time onstage at the Clockenflap festival. Her world-weary and passionate songs of strength saw in a balmy afternoon, preceding what would be a boisterous and raucous Saturday night.
The sound of the 70s was preceded by the sound of the 60s; influential proponents of Jamaican ska music The Skatalites got the crowd up and dancing before the resurrected Earth, Wind and Fire brought their brand of disco-funk to the main stage.
Second only to the anticipation of rock’n’roll badboys The Libertines was the mood for the appearance of Denise Ho and her band H.O.C.C. It was her first major appearance on a Hong Kong stage since about this time one year ago, where her very public appearance and support for the Occupy protests lead to her being banned from mainland China and inspiring her to turn her career away from Canto-pop towards the individuality and freedom of indie-rock.
Ho’s appearance was welcomed wildly by the crowd, to which she returned the sentiment.
Saturday night ended with a three-pronged choice of huge international acts: the Harlem gangster hip-hop of A$AP Rocky, guitar rock traditionalists Mercury Rev, and the bad boys of rock The Libertines.
Were the crowd there for the music or to see if Peter Doherty had recuperated, recovered and regenerated? The band’s delivery was wild, boisterous and over the top, disappointing none and delivering a huge end to the second night of Clockenflap.
The crowd’s response could best be described as ‘rambunctiously energetic’...
A few sore heads on Sunday for those who’d followed the rumours on social and attended the after party at a hotel with the Libertines after the previous evening’s performance. The day began again with a showcase across different stages of the diversity and wealth of musical talents in Hong Kong, from the gospel infused Canto-pop of The Chung Brothers to the world ambient fusion of the Interzone Collective and the indie rock of Prune Deer.
Perhaps the act with the most members to play this year (and the only act to boast of two French horn players) was Shaolin Fez, consisting of several classically trained musicians playing a mix of acid jazz, disco and funk style music.
Cantonese hip-hop was well represented across the weekend; Heyo Doughboy and his Homies delivered a humorous and energetic set in the early afternoon.
Japanese multi-instrumentalists Shugo Tokumaru brought the kooky back to rock’n’roll, threatening to outdo the legend of Stephen Malkmus and Pavement with their tightly executed collage of sound, and employing of strange and unusual instruments wrapped up in alt-pop and angular guitar riffs.
A cover version of Video Killed the Radio Star only enhanced the love generated from the crowd for Shugo Tokumaru.
The music of Mali is possibly not something many in the crowd would have been familiar with going into this weekend; after the energetic and exuberant performance of Songhoy Blues this has changed for those who witnessed their set. A uniquely Mali-made approach to rock, reggae and dance tunes got the crowd to their feet and dancing with their hands in the air.
Over in the small Club Minky tent the crowd was stunned, then electrified by the entry of rapper, poet and Afro-futurist Saul Williams, who made one of the most interesting entrances upon stage for the weekend.
His set delivered a searing series of poems and raps, backed by a wail of electronic funk and samples; his material drilled into the experience of people via social media and the internet, and what has happened to the identity of the individual.
At the other end of the musical spectrum were a band from Taiwan, known Flesh Juicer.
Purveying a mix of grindcore and death metal, their lead singer’s unique headgear and the band’s aural assault made for a a visual and sonic experience to remember.
While the death-metal merchants from Taiwan were finishing up their set, a choir known as Unsung Heroes were just starting theirs - consisting of mainly Filipina domestic helpers working here in Hong Kong, they were roundly applauded by an enthusiastic crowd, but the biggest surprise for them (and the audience) was yet to come.
While disco/funk legend Nile Rodgers lead his band Chic onto the Clockenflap stage for the second time in as many years and US-based alt-electro prettyboys Neon Indian delivered their set, another Hong Kong band took to the stage at the other end of the Clockenflap precinct - and it wasn’t just the young lads who were keen to hear some distorted guitar and double-kick drums.
King Ly Chee have been purveying hardcore punk in Hong Kong for over 15 years, but their biggest audience is in mainland China. Their lead singer, Riz Farooqi is ‘straight-edge’ - a strict no alcohol, no drugs life style - and his passion for Hong Kong was evident in the manner he walked onstage.
The sound washing over the stage from the adjacent Neon Indian performance only seemed to spur King Ly Chee on to more furious intensity; their jumping, thumping set of hardcore punk was at odds with the smooth, dance-friendly nature of the acts playing at the same time, and attracted a strongly devoted crowd of folk dressed mostly in black t-shirts to share in their high-energy music.
With legendary DJs Kid Koala and Mr Scruff spinning long sets in the dance tent, the man responsible not just for several records in their collection but perhaps an entire musical genre was stepping onto the main stage. Announcing that ‘many people think we’re a cover band - we’re not - we actually wrote these songs - Nile Rodgers lead his band Chic through timeless dance classics both from their catalogue and from the colossal history of partnerships and collaborations Rodgers has engaged in over the decades.
Only Nile Rodgers can get his band to perform songs made famous by the likes of David Bowie, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Madonna and Daft Punk and be able to claim co-authorship of the songs.
Showing his passion for collaboration is not just with famous musicians, Rodgers surprised and delighted the audience by bringing on the Unsung Heroes choir for two numbers, forever etching his name into local history.
With the night closing, and three days of music about to come to an end, the audience was left with two choices: the legendary Manchester guitar sounds of New Order, or the towering giants of hip-hop, Blackalicious.
New Order worked through their set from the 1980s through to their latest material, then took it all the way back to their original classic hits Blue Monday and Bizarre Love Triangle to close out the show.
Meanwhile Blacklicious were energetically leaping about the stage delivering their ground-breaking rap style, constantly name-checking Hong Kong and encouraging its residents to jump up, dance and wave their hands.
After a set that included their own enduring classic, Alphabet Aerobics, Blackalicious left a song in the hearts and a smile on the faces of their audience by finishing their pumping, kinetic set by singing happy birthday to Jumble, one of their rappers - only to have the birthday boy turn around, invite his girlfriend onto the stage and propose marriage.
She said yes...
A marriage made in heaven, indeed - music festival heaven, alongside the harbour in Kowloon.