HKFP Exclusive

The co-founder of Clockenflap, the city’s largest music and arts festival, has spoken out about negative comments made by festival-goers in a survey conducted by organisers, following the conclusion of the festival’s tenth annual edition last weekend.

Mike Hill, managing director of local promoter and events organiser Magnetic Asia, spoke exclusively to HKFP about his grievance at the tone of feedback received since the close of the three-day event.

The 10th edition of the festival was headlined by Massive Attack, The Prodigy and Kaiser Chiefs and saw over 100 international and local acts perform across five stages.

clockenflap mike hill
Mike Hill. Photo: Magnetic Asia.

“Criticism is good, that is how we get better and better over the years,” Hill emphasises. “We are not narcissists, and we want to hear when things can be improved… but what is challenging is there is this sort of baseless whingeing, or baseless lecturing would be a better word for it. [People tell us] how to do things, when they don’t have the base of knowledge themselves of how to do things.”

While the overall mood of feedback gathered in a post-festival survey conducted by Magnetic Asia has been “amazing, overwhelmingly positive,” according to Hill, he draws attention to an undercurrent of griping.

Factors bemoaned the most this year include the quality of the line-up; the newly introduced umbrella ban, which saw umbrellas confiscated at the entrance; a lack of subsequent rain poncho provision on-site; and a lack of covered stages. The Saturday evening of this year’s festival saw light rainfall.

“We’ve been doing this [survey] for two or three years,” says Hill. “That’s why we changed things this year – things like how we laid out the food, and it definitely worked. There were a lot of complaints about umbrellas last year [blocking views], and so we banned them.

“There were issues about people wanting more covered areas, so we worked with the sponsors on that. But there are things that people are complaining about that we can’t just fix – if we put every stage under cover, that’d be a bit weird! And giving people coats? I don’t think that’s our job.”

Revellers at Clockenflap, 2014. Photo: HKFP.

Hill is adamant that, for reasons unknown, Hong Kong promoters are subjected to a “higher degree of lecturing and entitlement” that is not experienced elsewhere. “Trolls will be trolls, but lecturing without knowledge is tiring,” he says.

“Promoters over the world tell us it’s odd and that we really do suffer from it, and fellow promoters in Hong Kong say that we [collectively] do have to put up with a lot of moaning here. As a city we have problems, and we need to work together to fix them.

“But when there are good things, we need to come together and celebrate them rather than just being whiney. People do tell me to just ignore it, that ‘haters will be haters’, but I don’t know – maybe we should have a poke back at this.”

Some of Hill’s frustration, he says, stems from the work his team puts into the festival. “We focus on detail and you have multiple moving parts … [for the music teams], dealing with one band is challenging, dealing with 120 is astonishing. Staying on budget, selling tickets, marketing, modelling the crowds so that when everyone comes on site they’re all super safe, training staff and security: it’s a massive beast.

“People [on the team] are passionate about what they do, and so in the last few weeks the office is working until midnight every day. But they’re passionate and the atmosphere is amazing.”

A member of Sleep Party People crowd surfs at Clockenflap. Sleep Party People.jpg
Sleep Party People. Photo: Clockenflap.

Tickets for next year’s festival are already on sale as, for the first time in the festival’s history, the venue (Central Harbourfront) has been booked one year in advance. “It’s always been rough to get a venue booked a year in advance, people don’t understand that,” says Hill, adding that this development will allow organisers to book bands a full year ahead of time.

Government support

The government is often criticised for its approach to live music culture, a point exemplified by the fact that Clockenflap’s third edition, in 2010, was forced into a warehouse for a one-day event after noise complaints in the original Cyberport venue.

But how much is the government responsible for some of the issues that festival-goers have taken to heart? As it stands, “the government is not unsupportive, just somewhat passive,” Hill says.

“We have exactly the relationship we want with them. For example, in Australia, every member of staff has to have a bar licence, even the toilet cleaner! We don’t have that [sort of thing] here, and frankly, it’s good.”

Photo: Dominic Phua.

Regulations laid out by the Environmental Protection Department mean monitoring stations are placed around Central throughout the festival, to ensure noise at particular locations remains five decibels below the ambient noise. This year, that task included guaranteeing that The Prodigy’s headline slot did not interfere with a simultaneous performance by a solo violinist at nearby City Hall.

As a retort to some complaints he has received about sound levels throughout the festival, Hill explains that “What people don’t understand is that the sound engineers travel with the bands, and you can’t really tell them what to do, we only give them guidelines. We have to encourage them to turn it up sometimes!”

He continues: “We spent around US$100,000 (HK$780,900) to enable us to have the two [main] stages next to each other. Bands like Massive Attack are super, super concerned about noise pollution; they want it to sound amazing [and not be disturbed by noise from another stage]. If you were standing right in the main audience area during Massive Attack, it sounded amazing.”

The Prodigy.
The Prodigy. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Despite the negative outlook held by some, Hill says that many acts – including grime sensation Stormzy and Australian psychedelic rockers Pond – were amazed at the enthusiasm and size of the crowds they played to at Clockenflap.

“There’s this energy and excitement you don’t find anywhere else in the world, and that’s amazing to hear,” says Hill. “As organisers, it just clicked, it just worked. And because of that overwhelmingly positive sentiment, and because we know what we do is world class…[it’s even worse] when you get these trolls.”

Whether you like it, love it or merely find it an overrated exercise in getting damp, Clockenflap is coming back to a Central Harbourfront near you next year.

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Hong Kong Free Press

Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.