Future Festivals

Clockenflap 2012

Clockenflap 2012. Photo by Chris Lusher

Construction has only just begun on Hong Kong’s multi-billion-dollar West Kowloon Cultural District, but the 100-acre waterfront site has already become the city’s most coveted venue for outdoor events, with a string of festivals set to take place over the next three weeks.

Among them are Clockenflap, a three-day music-and-arts festival with a mix of international performers like Four Tet and Cantopop musicians like Ellen Loo; BloHK Party, a hip hop and electronic music festival featuring Pharrell Williams; and Freespace, an eclectic weekend event that will pair local music with dance performances, films and an informal market where visitors can buy artisanal crafts, clothes and food.

The three events will set the tone for the future cultural district, about a third of which will be set aside for a park, the first phase of which is slated to open in early 2015. “These festivals are totally related to the future of the park,” says Louis Yu, executive director of West Kowloon’s performing arts program. “We haven’t hired an architect yet, so when the architect arrives, we will be able to tell [him or her] very specifically what kind of space we need to do what we are already doing.”

For event promoters, the site’s allure is hard to resist. “People were blown away by the actual piece of land, this open space right in the middle of the city,” says Clockenflap festival director Mike Hill. “Standing in front of a stage and being able to see the water and the skyline, it’s gold,” adds music director Justin Sweeting. “It’s what makes us unique.”

When it first launched in 2008, Clockenflap took place at Cyberport, a high-end residential and office district on Hong Kong Island, where it suffered from constant noise complaints. “We were asked to turn it down, which didn’t really make sense. So it was literally Google Maps trying to find a suitable piece of land,” says Hill. They were drawn to West Kowloon’s open space and waterfront location, along with its proximity to the MTR, and moved the festival there in 2011.

Clockenflap 2012

Clockenflap 2012. Photo by Chris Lusher

The move was not without its share of complications. At the time, the site was still managed by Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which did not allow Clockenflap to charge for tickets, leading to a large budget shortfall. “The LCSD are set in their ways and they’re quite rigid,” says Hill. He says things are easier now that the site is managed by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA). “They’re more open – there’s never really been any particular requests or limitations.”

This year’s Clockenflap will be the biggest yet, with 50 musical acts over the next three days, along with art, film and cabaret programs. Headliners include Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand, American guitarist Nile Rodgers and Chinese rock legend Cui Jian, along with lesser-known acts like Hong Kong hardcore band Qiu Hong and Syria’s Omar Suleyman, who performs traditional dabke music – normally found at Levantine weddings — with an electronic twist. Hill is hoping to sell 20,000 tickets, about the same number as last year.

BloHK Party, which will be held the weekend after Clockenflap, is aiming for a crowd of around 10,000. Along with Pharrell Williams, its lineup includes acts from French electronic music label Ed Banger Records as well as local hip hop stars LMF, MC Yan and 24 Herbs. “We’re the cool kids on the block and we’re bringing in all our cool buddies,” says music producer Alex Ng, who is organizing the festival with design entrepreneur Kevin Poon. She describes the atmosphere as glitzy and sophisticated: “Like going to a nightclub outdoors. You won’t be queuing for greasy hot dogs.”

Freespace will be decidedly more grassroots. Run by the WKCDA itself, with no ticket charge, its first edition last year was a kind of creative free-for-all that drew 20,000 people, a larger turnout than Louis Yu expected. “It was very diverse,” he says. “There were a lot of families coming after yum cha. On the second day, I saw more people picnicking on the grass – they had wine, dogs. I even saw someone with a cat.”

Ten independent curators will oversee this year’s edition, which will take place on December 14 and 15. “We decided not to do the programming ourselves,” says Yu. “Instead, we found experts in the community and let them do their part, with their own personality and style. It makes the whole event less official, less institutional.”

Yu describes Freespace as a “pressure test” to see what works at West Kowloon and what doesn’t. Pets are allowed; so are bicycles. Picnicking is encouraged. At last year’s festival, a miniature rover designed by artist Nadim Abbas made its way through the crowds, recording video, while a dancer tied to a large balloon floated up and over an enraptured audience.

Going ahead, the challenge will be translating that freewheeling atmosphere into a permanent venue. Clockenflap’s organizers say the less done with the site, the better: “Lots of open space, some grass, some trees, but very few bushes or flowers,” says Hill. “As flexible and scalable a space as possible,” says Sweeting.

Ng agrees. “This is almost the perfect site,” she says. “It’s going to be a great place.”

Freespace 2012

Freespace 2012

Freespace 2012

Freespace 2012

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday November 28 2013at 11:11 pm , filed under Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Music, Public Space, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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