By Lauren James
Hong Kong’s longest-running music festival finished its 11th year in style, with performances from Erykah Badu, Khalid, Wolf Alice and The Vaccines. The annual event, which has been held at Central Harbourfront since 2016, saw more than 100 international and local artists presented on five stages over the three days.
Arguably the weekend’s most rapturous welcome from the crowd came for Khalid, the 20-year-old from Texas who is currently one of the hottest properties in modern R&B. This was the performance that most young Clockenflappers came for, and they got what they wanted, with the talented young vocalist delivering signature tracks Young, Dumb and Broke, and Location on Sunday night.
Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne was the highlight on Saturday, staging his latest acclaimed live show in full on the Harbourflap stage. The US singer’s artistic, perfectly choreographed 90-minute routine, in which the 66-year-old didn’t even pause for a drink, was the stand-out moment of the weekend for many mature members of the audience.
Although nearing the end of a 146-date tour to promote his latest solo album, “American Utopia”, Byrne didn’t disappoint his long-term followers by also performing a handful of Talking Heads classics such as Burning Down the House and Road to Nowhere, reimagined by a coordinated troupe of musicians and dancers.
Former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker also took to the stage on Saturday, presenting his latest touring band Jarv Is, an experimental collective featuring musicians on violin and harp. However, unlike Byrne, who made room for his classic hits, Cocker stayed focused on his current material, and only performed one Pulp song, His ‘n’ Hers.
During a segment in which he interacted with members of the audience, Cocker asked what the crowd were afraid of. “The Chinese government”, one festivalgoer responded, drawing a deafening roar from the crowd.
The weather stayed fine and dry for the entire weekend, which was kick-started on the Friday by comedy grime star Big Shaq, ambient pop group Cigarettes After Sex and gloomy post-punk band Interpol. As well as flying in musicians from outside Asia, the festival also showcased artists from Hong Kong and the rest of Asia.
Taiwanese singer-songwriter Wu Tsing-fong headlined the FWD stage on Sunday, in one of his first high-profile performances since he announced he was taking time out from his band Sodagreen to focus on solo work earlier this year. And rising Chinese-American rapper Bohan Phoenix put on a surprisingly deep performance, combining the musical heritage of hip-hop with lyrics drawing from the experiences of the Chinese diaspora.
Kids react to Clockenflap acts
The 2018 line-up had a greater focus on gender equality than in previous years, at a time when the balance between male and female performers on festival bills is under scrutiny. Organisers gave prominent billing to acts featuring women, including Sunflower Bean, Wolf Alice, Lydmor, Instinct of Sight, GDJYB, and Sunday night’s closing act, Erykah Badu.
The addition of Badu just two weeks ago added a jolt of excitement to a line-up that up to that point had been fighting to energise the Hong Kong festival crowd. The US R&B singer’s booking was a boon for organisers, who, according to Clockenflap director and co-founder Mike Hill, was an artist they been trying to secure for years.
The 2018 Clockenflap was the third edition of the festival to be held at the Central Harbourfront Event Space. For the previous five years, Clockenflap was staged at the West Kowloon Cultural District, where the festival enjoyed unprecedented growth from a niche indie event into Hong Kong’s biggest annual celebration of music and art.
The development of the West Kowloon Cultural District forced the relocation of Clockenflap to the waterfront events space in Central in 2016, but the new venue still hasn’t been fully embraced by many long-term Clockenflappers. The event organisers were expecting around 35,000 attendees on each of the three days this year, and while official figures haven’t been released, the crowd sizes appeared to have fallen short of this estimate.
As the curtains went down on Clockenflap 2018, a euphoric crowd gathered for an uplifting closing set by Badu. In keeping with Clockenflap tradition, the Sunday night headline slot was filled by a timeless artist who enjoys multi-generational appeal and whose popularity endures regardless of whatever sounds are trending at that moment.