Every year, thousands of Hong Kong residents, young and young at heart, take to the West Kowloon Cultural District for another glorious Clockenflap Festival. The warm November air and bright city skyline stew together a weekend of celebrating music, art, and people. The best of Hong Kong shines for seventy-two hours of light and sound, and I wonder: what now?
It took me three years, but last winter came to an understanding: for all the gargantuan acts that attract the masses to this part of the city, something else entirely keeps us there: community. Now, as a visitor – frequent that may be – I’m curious to see what Clockenflap actually does for the city of Hong Kong. Does the magic of the Harbour Flap Stage flicker out with the Sunday headliner, or does it linger just long enough to inspire real action?
English producer Paul White stood behind a table of controls and a bass, laying beats and crooning hooks. Not to be outdone, American MC Eric Biddines lay the flow on R&B and funk tones. Together, the duo known as Golden Rules shined for the Saturday afternoon crowd.
"These guys are really design-based graffiti work. We try to have balance, and we figured it's a good time to have theme here this weekend. After they're done, the public will understand what they've done."
"It's nothing too abstract, nothing too letter-based. Regular people can appreciate their design in an event like this; we just want people to understand, whether you're old or young, male or female, this art can appeal to everyone."
Clockenflap goes out of its way to make the kids feel welcome, from interactive art to a stage tailored just for them. Tykes have a habit of moving around, which one-man band Pete Moser welcomes with a foot race with his audience, accordion gasping for air with each stride.
"My way is to write Chinese songs now. My previous albums were in English, so this is my very first Chinese attempt. The music style; at least the first one, called 'Tango,' that one is totally unlike any Cantopop that’s like in the scene. I thought, 'Alright, I’ll write a Chinese song, but I won’t give people what they normally listen to.' So I hope I could somehow instill some kind of alternative energy into the scene."
One gets accustomed to Hong Kong's rapid-fire street crossings and platform queues. On the other hand, groups of Clockenflappers made deliberate their snail's pace to set meditation with every barefoot step through the floor path.
"This atmosphere is so electric, supportive, creative, inspiring; why not dress up like something or someone - some element - to get people excited about visual representation? Everyone here is excited about music, but I want people to tap into the visual aspect of it. Is that too deep? I love disposable art. HK is small; I like creating costumes, but I don't have the space in my apartment to keep them. I want to create something beautiful and magical that can be worn for a weekend, and not feel bad about throwing away recycled cardboard papier mache."
The Fire Nation
"We've got about 20 people dressed up as different interpretations of fire. And I'm the campfire. Come by and sing 'Kumbayah' with me!"
Among the interactive art works, kids naturally set base camp at Spanish artists Itinerania's metal marionettes, whose interactively moving parts challenges its young puppeteer to manipulate carefully.
"A lot of people - even me before I moved here - have preconceptions and misconceptions of Hong Kong, so this has been a good opportunity for me. I didn't really understand the protests at first. This is a pretty affluent place, and I thought the protests wouldn't last.
I think in order for a protest to succeed, you almost need to have people struggling. But [the Occupy Central movement] really made me change my tune on that note. I first couldn't understand why these young, rich Hong Kongers were so angry, but researching and speaking to the people involved, it's so straight-forward: democracy. I admire them greatly, since they're willing to put their own future on the line in order for Hong Kong to have one."
With suitcases' worth of playtime musical instruments, Shugo whipped the crowd into the cutest pop frenzy. If this thirty-minute set proved anything, it's that a child-like approach to any activity is often the most worthwhile.
"Boomshack was founded on American food truck culture, but it's illegal to have a food truck in Hong Kong. So we decided to take that culture and distribute it to the world. There's a law proposed this year to allow food trucks, but it seems it will be heavily regulated. There would be so many rules that it wouldn't actually be a food truck, but rather a pop-up store. But as soon as it's legal, we are there!
An annual mainstay of the festival, The Silent Disco is always a spectator sport for passers-by. Which makes it a perfect opportunity for parents to embarrass their own.
As the Harbor sky grew pink with the setting sun, a commotion followed as a neo-tribal band of color guards marched a slithering path of gold flag into the festival crowd. I was never able to determine the purpose of this display, but to echo Campfire Kit's sentiments, it was a memorable use of visual representation.
King Ly Chee
"In Hong Kong, the problem is while that while we have Clockenflap, it's a wonderful event that goes on once a year. Sixty thousand people don't show up anytime else. What about all the other shows? There's so many here, and people need to come, not only to this one."
"In Asia in general, Indonesia is the biggest market for hardcore music, but no one will know because it's all local. We're the guest band, and five to six hundred kids, twelve to thirteen, are losing their minds. All those shows are huge, because the local kids came together and made something great."
"Some people think that Clockenflap is some sort of 鬼佬 gweilo (foreigner) event, you know. But how do you really define Hong Kong? It’s this.
This belongs to us. It’s our music, our people, and I’m really proud of it."
Now, what's a festival without your classic potato sack race?
"I don't think about my presence with the audience. I’m aware of it, but I relate it to my theatre, and I’m working with that openly. It’s a workshop. I’m workshopping an idea, and I’m ritualizing with music, with interpretation. And so I’m aware of my presence, which I see as an acting thing."
"This is our fourth time here, and being able to bring the family is our favorite part. We can come together, and it's a great opportunity to teach the boys about music. I wanted to make sure we got to see the Skatalites because I grew up listening to them. I even used to be in a ska band in one point in my life!"
The Family that Skas together
"I think Clockenflap is a big community. I've lived here for 11 years, and I think HK can be flaky and pretend in a lot of ways, but this is an event where everyone actually comes together and no one's too worried about anything except for the lines in the porta-Johns. And I love that it's the weekend of Thanksgiving."