By Vivian Yeung
Festival line-up announcements are always exciting until one remembers that seeing every single act is not a feasible option. Clockenflap is killing it this year – the sheer number of quality acts being put onstage at West Kowloon this November makes the event a worthy rival for even the most prominent Asian music festivals. The best case scenario is that your two favourite bands play consecutively on different stages, so that at the end of one set you have to run from one end of the venue to the other; in the worst case, the two slots completely coincide and you only get to view a bit of both.
Here are a few slots I’ve had difficulty in choosing between. Since music is remarkably subjective, your own tastes will no doubt be affronted by my discussion of choices that seem like no-brainers to you, and on the other hand, some names I haven’t mentioned will seem unmissable; this is just my take on this year’s Clockenflap clashes.
Friday, November 27: Flying Lotus (Atum Stage) vs Subyub Lee (Your Mum Stage)
Friday is a busy day; many would be content just with seeing Sun Kil Moon (who doesn’t want to meet the grumpiest vocalist in folk rock, Mark Kozelek, in person?) and shoegaze gods Ride, occupying the Harbourflap stage, and perhaps Damien Rice too if there aren’t too many annoying hipsters on show during his set. Flying Lotus and Subyub Lee, both starting at 8:30pm, are also very much worth your time. Subyub Lee is a budding local pop-rocker who deserves more recognition for his catchy riffs, smooth vocals and fun stage presence. Flying Lotus, on the other hand, makes experimental electronic music and hip hop that would excite even the snobbiest of indie music snobs.
I myself will probably be nodding my head to the beats of FlyLo’s “Never Catch Me” while feeling guilty about not being able to see both at the same time, but if you haven’t caught Subyub Lee at a Hong Kong show before, you should. On a side note, a lot of great local musicians including Jing Wong, OWK and ANWIYCTI are programmed quite early in the day, so do check them out if you aren’t too hungover from the night before.
Saturday, November 28: The Libertines (Harbourflap Stage) vs Mercury Rev (Your Mum Stage)
Personally, I prefer Mercury Rev to The Flaming Lips (who incidentally headlined last year’s Clockenflap), and that is saying a lot. The underrated band made some of the best psychedelic rock and dream pop in the 90s, and if they had clashed with anyone else I wouldn’t even consider skipping them.
But this is The Libertines we are talking about, versus post-Baker Mercury Rev. Even now that I’ve grown to realize that Pete Doherty and Carl Barat were not necessarily the musical geniuses my younger self made them out to be, the band’s punk-influenced sound, complementary vocals and notoriously rocky relations were still definitive of an era. The fact that they even reunited at all in 2014 was surprising; they have looked and sounded tired in their recent performances, and their new Anthems for Doomed Youth holds very few memorable tracks. Would I still recommend them over Mercury Rev? Yes, because they were such an integral influence on many people’s journeys of music discovery, including my own, because it would not matter to me even if they botched their set, and above all, because we all suspect deep down that the reunion is unlikely to last very long.
Sunday, November 29: Kiasmos (Electriq Stage) vs. Bo Ningen (Your Mum Stage) vs. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (Atum Stage)
Music festivals often make scheduling choices that perplex me. Why put Sleep Party People, one of Denmark’s creepiest, dreamiest and best musicians, on at 2:30pm? Why make it impossible to see Kiasmos, Bo Ningen and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart in full at the same time? Kiasmos’ self-titled 2014 debut, with their minimalist ambient tracks, are lush, intense and soothing all at the same time. Plus, member Olafur Arnalds’ name alone might be enough to convince some attendees to choose them over the others. Bo Ningen on the other hand is a noisy, energetic acid-punk band whose live performances have earned them the reputation of being among the hardest-rocking Japanese bands out there.
Then there is The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, the indie pop outfit who played at Clockenflap in 2011 and hold a special place in my heart because their first two records were pure and heartfelt pop gold, back when the indie pop scene wasn’t anywhere near as saturated as it is today. The solution: start with Bo Ningen, then sprint over to Kiasmos’ set halfway through, then finally go for The Pains, who have played in Hong Kong before anyway. Sure, you might be so tired by the end of the three days that you are barely able to walk, but with names like Neon Indian and New Order lined up for the night, there isn’t much cause for complaint.
Clockenflap will take place November 27-29 at West Kowloon Cultural District. Vivian Yeung is a music journalist and event organiser at local indie showcase The Underground HK. She is a law and literature student at the University of Hong Kong.