These Hong Kong Musicians Are Ready to Rock Clockenflap

Clockenflap is back. And if you’re thinking, “Didn’t it make its big post-pandemic comeback last March?” don’t worry, your memory is not failing you: Hong Kong’s biggest live music festival is back for a second time this year, from December 1 to 3.

And people are no less enthusiastic. After selling out last March for the first time in the festival’s history, this year’s tickets are going fast. Three-day passes are gone, Friday is already booked up and only single-day tickets for Saturday and Sunday remain. 

Many people are eager to see the headliners, including rising pop star Caroline Polachek, Japanese superduo Yoasobi and Britpop legends Pulp, back for a 2023 reunion tour. But Clockenflap is also the best opportunity to witness the full scope of Hong Kong’s growing independent music scene. “Local acts always make up a majority of the Clockenflap lineup,” says music director Justin Sweeting, one of the festival’s three co-founders. This time around, there will be 46 Hong Kong-based acts on the bill. (That’s 47 if you include Gong Gong Gong, an art rock band based between Beijing, Montreal and Hong Kong.)

When we last spoke to Sweeting in February, he was pumped about how Hong Kong music had evolved through the pandemic. Despite off-and-on restrictions, “various scenes in Hong Kong really blossomed during this time,” he told us. He attributed this in part to travel restrictions. “Everyone’s been forced to concentrate on what’s available locally,” he said. 

That translated into more prominence given to local acts at Clockenflap’s comeback edition. “The key question for me is how can we justify putting more local acts higher up the bill?” says Sweeting. “That means playing at later times and on bigger stages. It was certainly a real joy in the March edition when we had more choice than ever of artists that really made sense to go into those higher tier slots. We had local acts closing stages. We’ve looked to continue on this in the December edition.”

For example? “We’ve got the Yack Studio collective,” says Sweeting, referring to the rap group described in Clockenflap’s programme as having “slick beats, infectious hooks and a heady dose of lyrical wizardry,” with local rappers Novel Fergus, Dai$hin, SoWhat Novel Flash, Lay-zG, Teddy Beer and Para-T 四子 combining their talents alongside singer J Jelly. “They’re closing one of the stages on the Saturday night. That’s going to be a really raucous and energised set,” says Sweeting.

“We also have a very new act called Xs Gacha,” he says. “We’re also putting them really high up on the bill – on the third stage but at a key time because we think it’s going to be a really interesting set. They’re very forward thinking in terms of what they do with their visuals and production setup. We’re excited to see how people respond to that.”

Other local highlights: lo-fi dreamcore group Science Noodles, DJ duo JVSY, singer-songwriter Subyub Lee, indie electronic group Bad Math, R&B crooner Derek Dali and ska group The Red Stripes, who will be playing with yet-to-be-unveiled special guests from overseas. 

“And we’ve got so many more,” says Sweeting, including many local DJs who will be playing the Electriq tent. “We’ve become a showcase in the truest sense of the word,” he says. “People come to check out stuff they’ve never seen before. I hope they come check out local acts they don’t know and then go to those acts’ own shows.”

Thinking back to Clockenflap’s first edition in 2008, Sweeting remarks on just how much has changed. Live music was relatively rare back then, and it was a struggle to get anyone out for concerts that weren’t on the weekend. Now there are more shows — even if Hong Kong still has a shortage of venues for a city its size — and most importantly, more artists playing a wide variety of music. 

“There’s so many more artists across the spectrum of genres. There’s just a lot more,” says Sweeting. “There’s still a long way to go. It’s not like a fully functioning music industry in the indie world because it’s still not an industry that can sustain careers yet for many. But things have continuously moved in a relatively positive direction. We’re in a real growth phase and it’s super exciting.”

Clockenflap runs from December 1 to 3, 2023 at the Central Harbourfront Event Space. Click here for tickets and the full lineup.

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