Clockenflap Music Festival

Clockenflap headliners the Chemical Brothers aiming for a sensory overload

Band’s first appearance in Hong Kong to wrap up the festival Sunday night is part of a renaissance after a five-year break from producing albums

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 9:16am

For more than 20 years the Chemical Brothers have dominated dance music, with big beats, big hits and big stage shows. Now they’re ready to bring their immense firepower to Hong Kong’s biggest musical event – headlining the final night of the Clockenflap festival on Sunday.

The original superstar DJs, whose hits include classic floor-fillers Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Block-Rocking Beats and Setting Sun, are the biggest name on a stellar bill at this year’s three-day event. Other big hitters set to play the eighth instalment of the international gathering include controversial rapper M.I.A. and Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros.

Over the festival’s three days, fans will be treated to dozens of bands from as far afield as the US and New Zealand. For rock fans, there’s British guitar band Foals, while local pop pioneers Huh! will launch their comeback after more than 20 years apart. Party monsters will be able to get down to the funky tunes of George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic and the knockabout reggae of Fat Freddy’s Drop.

Friday at Clockenflap Hong Kong – the bands to see

It promises to be the weekend of the year, but without doubt the biggest draw will be “The Chems”, whose brand of dance and rave has delighted audiences all over the world.

“Music for me is that moment when you’re not really thinking of anything or conscious of what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it – if you think about it too much, you get into your own head,” Ed Simons, one half of the British duo, told the UAE’s The National newspaper this week of how he and partner Tom Rowlands approach their art.

“We’re trying to create a really psychedelic, sensory overload for people so they can really immerse themselves and have an experience,” he said earlier, in Scotland’s Daily Record. “It’s full throttle.”

After attending the same London school, Rowlands and Simons became firm friends when they went to Manchester University. They bonded over a love of music and began playing in rock bands and DJing in pubs and clubs together.

Under the moniker The 237 Turbo Nutters, the pair began making their own music, later changing their names to the Dust Brothers. Their first cut, the self-produced “Song to the Siren”, was picked up by legendary DJ Andy Weatherall in the early 1990s. From there it was fast-track to international fame, via a name change (after two US producers who went by the same name threatened to sue), a residency in some of London’s biggest clubs and the release of a handful of influential white-label records.

“We’ve been on that path that we’ve always done things independently, the feeling we’ve generated our own vibe and connected with people off our own back,” Simons told Dubai92 Radio earlier this week.

Saturday at Clockenflap Hong Kong - the acts to see, from M.I.A. to Fantastic Day

The key break came in 1995, with their debut album“Exit Planet Dust”. Released to rapturous reviews, it was filled with club bangers, massive beats and collaborations with some of the hippest names of the day, including folk popster Beth Orton. “That album we recorded in two weeks – it has that feeling of being carefree, the arrogance of youth and not too deliberate in how you go about things,” Ed told Dubai92.

It was the record that put them “where we are now” and gave us “the things we take for granted”, he says.

“The main thing was feeling really proud of that album. It had a lot of depth to it, it was not just a dance album, and we were able to work with some great vocalists. We were enjoying the first flush of success.”

For the first time in its eight years, Clockenflap 2016 has moved to Hong Kong Island after starting life in Cyberport and then setting up shop at the West Kowloon Cultural District. Its harbour-side location this year promises to make for a stunning backdrop to The Chem’s legendary stage show, which features lasers and robots.

“From the early days we’ve always had this big visual element to make the experience an audio-visual, sensory overload,” Simons told the Dubai radio station. “We have a huge light show and there are little surprises that happen as the show wears on. But I suppose the main thing that happens is the connection between us and the people in the crowd. That’s the really special thing.”

Clockenflap Hong Kong – the acts to see on Sunday, from Chemical Brothers to Charm Charm Chu

The duo’s first appearance in Hong Kong is part of a renaissance for the band as a duo after Simons took a break to return to academia. Even though one half of the team had his head in books, the pair were still able to release their eighth album, “Born in the Echoes”, last year – their first in five years. It saw them return to the big beats that marked their emergence on the world stage.

Simons describes their return to the live scene as something of a revelation: not only has the sound of dance music changed, but so has the environment in which it’s made.

“We want that sense of escape and transcendence,” he said in the Daily Record of the global series of gigs they embarked on in the summer to promote the new record. “The idea is you come into the concert hall in one place emotionally and leave in another entirely. That communal, bringing people together thing has always been at the heart of what we have been doing.

“It’s even more important these days as the politicians try and divide us by making us look inwards and against each other. Suddenly rave culture seems even more important, that sense of being kindred and affected by the same thing.”

Despite their time off the touring circuit, the band are fiercely determined to remain current, keen for the latest album not to be regarded merely as a nostalgic treat for fans.

“We’ve stayed around long enough and remain relevant for people, so I don’t think of our band like that,” Simons told The National. “You don’t think like that when you’re in the studio making music. You just do your thing.”

For a 10 per cent discount off three-day Clockenflap tickets (excluding student tickets), visit and enter the code DOITWITHSCMP in the promo code box

Get the full line-up for Clockenflap 2016