Clockenflap Festival, Central Harbourfront, Hong Kong, December 1-3, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, June 25th, 2024  

Pulp, Leah Dou, Omnipotent Youth Society, N.Y.P.D.

Clockenflap Festival, Central Harbourfront, Hong Kong, December 1-3, 2023,

Dec 06, 2023 Photography by Irina Shtreis Web Exclusive
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One of the entertainment options on the twelve-hour Cathay Pacific flight from London to Hong Kong is the Clockenflap Spotify playlist introducing some of the artists. It starts with “Common People” by Pulp, the festival’s headliners. The song from the 1995 Different Class album, the year’s number 2 on the UK Singles chart, could be a smash hit elsewhere but not in this part of the world. Finally, in 2023, Hong Kong falls under the spell of the band and, particularly, their inimitable frontman. Jarvis Cocker’s impeccable stage presence impresses as much as his stamina to deliver a great show despite two fractured ribs. “I have to tell you a sad story”, he confesses to the audience in his low velvety voice. “I fell down some stairs when I first arrived in Hong Kong”. “I might not be able to jump around as much as possible, but you can help me, actually. I have a question for you… [in Cantonese] Could you clap your hands?”. “Follow my lead and something magical will happen”. And, then, indeed, the magic does its job.

Seeing the band this evening is an experience close to observing a successful alchemical experiment. From the solemn start of the show, with “I Spy” and the band carefully watching over their shoulders (apparently to check if the frontman is OK), to the celebratory closer (undeniably, the festival’s anthem) “Common People” and Jarvis seemingly vigorous as ever. The transition is remarkable.


Nearly half of the crowd are newly converted fans. Sisters Yumi and Yuki, both in their early twenties, tell Under The Radar that Pulp had never been on their music map and that they discovered the band a few weeks ago while listening to the aforementioned Clockenflap playlist. 99,5% of the band’s material at the show is new to them. Yet, the two jump and cheer as much as do the long-time fans from other countries. Shower and Shelley, both 40, travelled from Taiwan to see Pulp whom they have been listening to since the late 90s. “They were trendy in Taiwan back then and I liked Jarvis’s lyrics instantly”, says Shower. During the show, he sings along with the fervour of a dedicated follower.

Pulp, whose image and sound are emblematic of the late 90s Britpop movement, can be new to Hong Kong. Yet, Britain is an integral element of the SAR’s history and the city’s psychogeography with all its trademark elements, e.g. litter bins, double-decker buses (and trams), and names of the streets such as Gloucester and Grosvenor roads. British culture pervades the air of the place. The Westernised special administrative region of formidable neighbouring China still maintains the spirit of diversity and independence. Most of the residents speak English fluently. Thus, expats from different parts of the world feel at ease in this welcoming environment quickly absorbing new cultures.

Harbourflap Stage
Harbourflap Stage

The unique geographic location and history of the place where West meets East defines the culture and the music scene. At the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, a permanent display titled Hong Kong Pop 60+ lifts a lid on the local entertainment industry with its idiosyncratic take on all aspects. Within the music, Cantonese pop emerged as a response to more oriental and traditional Mandarin pop prevailing in China. Cantopop was more influenced by European music acts and the lyrics often featured Cantonese slang words. Even to a foreign ear, the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin is obvious, with the former having six phonetic tones in contrast to the four of the latter. It is an inherently melodic dialect.

Although now the boundary between the two genres is less clear, some artists exercise their linguistic skills by switching from one dialect to another. Chinese singer Leah Dou communicates with her audience in Cantonese, occasionally peppering her monologues with words and phrases in her native Mandarin. Born to Hong Kong pop singer Faye Wong (who starred in Wong Kar Wai’s iconic film Chunking Express), Leah seems to feel at ease at her spiritual home. Balancing between Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop and the smooth fusion vibes of Arlo Parks, she exudes confidence and gratitude.

Leah Dou
Leah Dou

Taking place at the Central Harbourfront, a recreational area and park by the waters of the Victoria Harbour, Clockenflap seemingly reflects the genius loci ensuring international trade and cultural exchange. Fittingly, the event’s name is a pun referring to standard titles of German techno records. Visitors from the UK, the US, Australia and Taiwan, to name a few, come to see local and international bands from all over the world. Apart from Pulp, the list of foreign names at Clockenflap 2023 features hip-hop duo De La Soul, J-pop darlings Yoasobi and indie-pop producer Caroline Polachek.

Central Harbourfront
Central Harbourfront

Along with the international focus, the festival team keeps its fingers on the pulse of East Asia’s music scene. Tommy stage (sponsored by clothes brand Tommy Hilfiger) is a showcase with up-and-coming acts and unconventional emerging talents galore. One such is Science Noodles, a charming six-piece collective from Hong Kong and Taiwan, mixing nerdy aesthetics and avant-pop sound with a pinch of sci-fi – the tracks feature mysterious radio fragments and keyboard parts nodding at Broadcast. The texture of the music is vapour-like and dreamy as if it was born out of the balmy Hong Kong air.

Hailing from South Korea, the trio Idiotape exercise the power of synths and propelling beats. Their stylish suits evoke the recent Devo reunion while the dense sound and EDM drums are not far from Nitzer Ebb. At least, the dance vibe is similarly infectious.

Watching bands like Chinese venerable rock outfit Omnipotent Youth Society or South Korean alternative rockers SURL provides insight into the regional fandom culture. The interaction between the audience and the bands is strong. SURL, whose music oddly balances delirious Pixies-esque guitar riffs and Maroon 5-style vocals, easily encourages the crowd to sing along in a polyphonic fashion.

Omnipotent Youth Society
Omnipotent Youth Society

Other stages such as large-scale Orbit also generate surprises. The name of the five-piece Hong Kong-based collective N.Y.P.D. (Nan Yang Pai Dui) translates as Drifters of South Asia or South Pacific Party. While many of the songs are built in a recognisable angular post-punk framework, the overall intensity and lyrics conjure up the urban spirit and towering architecture of their native city with its alien network of overpass bridges. Live, it’s a wild whirlpool of energy and the most perfect soundtrack to a row of glowing skyscrapers in the background.

Although on a somewhat different plate musically, Taiwan’s indie rockers No Party For Cao Dong fits in with Hong Kong’s crepuscular colours. They appear before the ecstatic local audience five years after the band’s previous show in SAR. The reception is beyond emotional.

No Party For Cao Dong
No Party For Cao Dong

The three days at Clockenflap give a pretty good idea of how creativity and music can bridge various and sometimes seemingly incompatible cultures. On Sunday, the day Hong Kong political activist Agnes Chow announced she had fled the SAR for Canada, hundreds of people occupy central streets and bridges, sitting on the ground in what looks like a peaceful protest. The psychogeography and current affairs translates into the festival’s mission. Clockenflap is clearly one of those overpasses which despite the world’s dangerous tendencies and commotion maintains the connection.


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