When three friends decided Hong Kong needed a music festival in 2005, many of their friends said they were crazy. Now, 11 years later, running Clockenflap is a full-time job for Justin Sweeting, Mike Hill and Jay Forster. Over the eight years since the first festival in 2008, the trio has welcomed 122,000 visitors and 450 artists (313 local, 144 international) to the ever-growing three-day event. Of course, things started small – and free – but aside from a little polish and better organisation these days, that first edition was a sign of where things were headed.
“In vision and intention, it wasn’t too different to how it looks now,” Sweeting tells Young Post. “Right from the start, we had a clear idea of what we wanted Clockenflap to be.” Namely, that vision was a fun and family-friendly celebration of culture. Music certainly takes centre-stage, but the festival actually involves a lot more than that. “There’s music, but there’s also art and film and food, crafts, family activities,” explains Sweeting. “All these elements come together to create a whole. It wasn’t an event that already existed – the kind we were craving in Hong Kong. Rather than complain about it, we thought we should just do it ourselves!”
Last year, Clockenflap was held beneath the ICC, at the West Kowloon Cultural District. But 2016 will be the year the event makes the leap to the Central Harbourfront. As well as making it slightly easier for fans from all over Hong Kong to get in and out of the festival, the move will also place the bands at the beating heart of the city’s iconic skyline. “Being in the open air under the neon skyline of our iconic city and harbourfront is going to be a wonderful experience. Seeing the acts we have playing in that kind of environment will be truly special,” Sweeting says.
“The beauty of festivals is in those magical moments you only experience when you’re there stood next to other festival-goers, and you’re all having this collective experience.” He fondly remembers Bombay Bicyle’s twilight set in 2011, which coincided exactly with a lunar eclipse. “As the set went on, the moon started to disappear. It was absolutely magical. Everyone there in that moment in time knew they were witnessing something that was never going to happen again,” he remembers.
It’s not just international bands who get booked to play on the main stages: every year, there are countless local acts that take to the stage to show off the local scene. In fact, local indie band My Little Airport’s 2014 performance was hard to beat. With a lot of behind-the-scenes work to do, Sweeting doesn’t really get to ease off at the festival. However, he made an exception to check out their set. “I felt proud that this local act didn’t just play, but really brought something extra to the festival,” he says. “Everyone who saw them couldn’t stop talking about them and saying how special they were.
Many small bands may feel like they’re insignificant to the wider Hong Kong scene, and would never be able to attract the attention of a major music festival. But Sweeting understands that the city isn’t the easiest place to maintain a band, and his team spends months each year sifting through all the applications to play that they receive.
“I’m a great believer that talent will rise to the top eventually,” he says. “It’s our jobs to go out and find you. There’s no shortcut to it – you have to put in the hours, in terms of songwriting and performance. You have to be incredibly good, and the only way to be that good is to work at it.”
The Chemical Brothers, Sigur Ros, Crystal Castles and Foals are all poised to bring the house down on the main stages this year. But festival-goers who tear themselves away from the musical superstars will be rewarded with an eclectic array of visual art, theatre and dance.
This year’s theme is “Future Human”, and performers and artists from all over the world will work to represent it in unique ways. Blind Robot’s intriguing installation involves an android feeling your face; you can experience surrealist cabaret at Yeti’s Demon Dive Bar, and escape the city to 360-degree virtual reality woodland from Iteota.
For newcomers wondering how to stay comfortable over three days outdoors, Sweeting advises, “Clothing is important – comfortable shoes, because you’ll be doing lots of walking. The key to getting the most out of Clockenflap is arriving early and staying late, and coming with an open mind. There’s so much to see, do and discover beyond the music.”