MUSIC FESTIVALS ARE HARDLY new to Asia, but in recent years Hong Kong has had to watch as the music scenes in other cities - Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo, to name a few - have passed us by. Asian cities are hosting more festivals, with bigger names and larger turnouts than ever before. With the exception of Clockenflap, our home-grown event that in six years has put us on the global music festival map, Hong Kong has long been behind the trend. Now another festival, Blohk Party, hopes to change all that.
Blohk Party, the brainchild of concert producer Alex Ng and fashion and lifestyle entrepreneur Kevin Poon, wears its Hong Kong identity proudly - note the HK in its name. Ng says the idea is to "bring a New York block party" to Hong Kong. "I've spent a lot of time in Manhattan and I see a lot of similarities with Hong Kong. It's an urban thing. We're not Glastonbury."
Ng, who has more than 20 years' experience in producing concerts in Asia, handled the logistics - a task made easier because she is also producing Clockenflap the weekend before, so she can use some of that festival's infrastructure for Blohk Party - and Poon used his considerable industry connections to entice big names.
Ng first reached out to her friend Pharrell Williams. Williams is a busy man these days, having appeared on this summer's two biggest hits - Blurred Lines with Robin Thicke and Get Lucky by Daft Punk - but he jumped at the opportunity to put something together in Hong Kong. "[Hong Kong is] awesome," he gushed when we spoke. "It has a unique energy compared to the rest of the world. I'm grateful every time I visit."
In terms of music, Blohk Party was expressly conceived for young Hongkongers who both Poon and Ng agree are underserved. Clockenflap was already bringing the big names in rock music to Hong Kong, and both Ng and Poon are long time fans of hip hop and electronic dance music. "After 25 years of doing other peoples' shows I figured … I can only do so many Air Supplys and Elton Johns," Ng says, laughing, "I do have my own musical interests."
Together with Williams and Poon, she envisioned a festival that would be more than just an exhibition of big names from America and Europe. Taking into account Hong Kong's history, they designed Blohk Party as a bridge between East and West. When we spoke to Williams, he said he was in the process of listening to a stack of records from Hong Kong's best-known hip hop acts and, with Poon's guidance, they were able to put together a veritable Hong Kong hip hop summit.
With Hong Kong giants such as 24 Herbs and Fama alongside some of the biggest names in the game, the line-up is enough to make a hip hop fan boy squirm. The possibilities are endless: imagine Hong Kong hip hop pioneers LMF sharing the stage with the grandfather of the genre Grandmaster Flash, or MC Yan and American rapper Pusha T trading verses. That's the most exciting thing about Blohk Party for Williams. "The idea that people are communicating," he says, "bringing people together. What's better than that?"
For those who have followed Williams' career, a concert such as this is a long time coming. He has repeatedly professed a love of Asian fashion and music culture. "The Asian community has amazing style. They're purveyors of so many different fashion histories. It's just awesome," he says. He says he has a special affinity for Hong Kong. Where other people complain the city lags behind others in the region culturally, Williams sees opportunity. "Hong Kong is the next hub ... on the rise. This city is on the come up right now."
It would be impossible to talk about Blohk Party without mentioning the controversy that surrounds it and Clockenflap. Rumours have swirled that there is bad blood between the organisers, who fear Hongkongers don't have the stamina to attend two weekend music events in a row. At least publicly, both parties have distanced themselves from any drama and taken a more-the-merrier approach.
"Competition is healthy," says Ng. "Hong Kong people always complain there's nothing to do and now we're giving them things." As for fears that the two festivals will cut into each other's ticket sales, Ng isn't worried. "When I was young I had the energy to go out every day of the week … anyway, we're not trying to vie for too many of the same customers."
Even Williams weighed-in on Clockenflap saying, how much he regretted not being able to come to Hong Kong a week earlier to check out the show. "I heard that it's supposed to be a great experience."
Even with huge names such as Steve Aoki and the Ed Banger crew, HK$888 may seem a lot of money to pay for one day of music. But Ng says the event will be even bigger than what we see on the poster. The late addition of Grandmaster Flash is not the last surprise Blohk Party has in store. Ng confirmed that after the festival ends, some artists will make their way into the city and perform at after-parties at some of Hong Kong's best venues. "After 10pm, we'll go to all our nightlife partners and carry on in the nightclubs," says Ng. Details won't be announced until the day, but Ng said both Dragon-i and Volar would be involved.
If all goes according to plan, Blohk Party may come to represent a turning point for Hong Kong's reputation on the festival scene: a moment when we not only played host to some of music's greatest talents but also proudly showed the world our homegrown culture, music and sense of style. "There's very much a sense of pride from being from Hong Kong." It's time, says Ng, "to show them what we've got."
Blohk Party 2013, December 7, from noon, West Kowloon Cultural District, HK$788 (advance), HK$888 (door), HK$1,288 (VIP)HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 9168 9713