8 East Asian acts to catch at Clockenflap, from NewJeans producer 250 and Taiwanese rockers No Party for Cao Dong, to kooky Korean group ADG7, live at Hong Kong’s biggest music festival in December 2023

todayNovember 25, 2023 1

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Remember when people called Clockenflap an “expat festival”? Not so many people are throwing that groundless slight at Hong Kong’s biggest, best musical happening any more.

Not since the festival made a triumphant return in March 2023, anyway. With a growing awareness of festival culture reverberating across social media, the event was fully embraced by boomer rockers and Gen Z fans alike, and sold out for the first time in the fest’s 15-year history. Soon after, it was announced that the brand had been acquired by global entertainment company Live Nation.
Perhaps not coincidentally, we’ve also seen more regional and local acts occupying headline slots on the bill – chiming with the growing (and long overdue) global recognition of Asian talent.

Now, we realise that might leave some jaded international listeners feeling a little lost – so to save you time and short cut all those industry plants, we speed-listened to (nearly) everything on the bill to present this guide to some of the regional acts you really might want to consider checking out.

Bombay Bicycle Club performing at Clockenflap festival in March – the first edition of the Hong Kong music festival in four and a half years. Photo: Handout

All of this is deeply subjective and far from complete. We’ve also avoided picking any Hong Kong acts – because there’s too much talent to fairly choose between. And there are, of course, international acts you shouldn’t miss (hot tip: this is your last chance to see D4vd and Tom Grennan before they explode – and Idles are dynamite live). But there are eight acts we’ll vouch for right here, right now.

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1. Wang Wen 惘闻

It’s worth knocking off work early on Friday night to catch the suitably foreboding sounds of Chinese post-rock titans Wang Wen. Formed in Dalian in 1999, the largely instrumental band captures the urban alienation of a transitional generation – caught between the rigorous rigidity of old China and the merrily smartphone swiping, on-demand colour-bop of its emergent Gen Z. In other words, expect things to unfold slowly, moodily and with abundant sonic nuance.

For a rawer, more contemporary slab of the Beijing underground, run straight to catch Gong Gong Gong (工工工), a scuzzy, DIY Pitchfork-approved bass/guitar duo on the Tommy stage from 6.45pm.

Friday, 6pm on the Harbourflap stage

2. Idiotape

Loud, tectonic and euphoric – Korean electro trio Idiotape channel the energy of dance music with the bite of rock ‘n’ roll. With live drums and percussion driving the swirling sonic mass of beeps, blips and drops, it’s a bright-coloured psychedelic pill which might make your festival peak early – and the only set during which any self-respecting hipster should take a blurry IG Story on the opening night’s closing stretch.

Friday, 9.30pm on the Tommy stage

3. ADG7

Remember how much fun Leenalchi were at March’s festival? So, apparently, do Clockenflap’s promoters – perhaps why they’ve booked a troupe of kooky Korean folk revivalists. While Ak Dan Gwang Chil, or ADG7, were formed in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of South Korea’s National Liberation, the nine-piece’s upbeat antics, wailed vocals and traditional instruments (including gayageum, ajaeng and saenghwang) have gone on to be embraced on international festival stages, where befuddled critics have labelled them psychedelic, ritualistic and, er, shamanic. Check out their recent, riotous stop on NPR’s Tiny Desk series, above, for a taste.

Saturday, 2.45pm on the Harbourflap stage

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4. Omnipotent Youth Society 萬能青年旅店

Formed up in the chilly climes of Hebei back in 1996, when mass entertainment and rock ‘n’ roll really weren’t a thing, the ironically named Omnipotent Youth Society have gone down as one of the pioneers of China’s rock scene – even though (or because?) it took them 14 years to come up with their self-titled debut LP. Released a decade later, follow-up Inside the Cable Temple took a largely acoustic, folksy bent with jazzy, progressive build-ups, but on stage they still present a stadium-sized horn-stacked sound. Earlier this year performing in Shanghai, the band performed a purely instrumental version of “Kill the One from Shijiazhuang”, leading some online to speculate whether there were political considerations behind the decision.

Oddly, the band’s 100-minute Clockenflap slot is split “back-to-back” with Chinese punk rockers The Fly, with lead singer/guitarist Dong Yaqian appearing in both bands. Shame they’re going head-to-head with Pulp …

Saturday, 9pm on the Orbit stage

5. Kamaal Williams

OK, so it turns out that London-bred hipster favourite Kamaal Williams was born to a Taiwanese mother – something regional observers have been keen to jump onto. Whatever – we can’t get enough of his squelchy “Wu Funk’’ grooves. You what? The keyboardist born Henry Wu made waves back in 2016 amid the then-burgeoning UK jazz scene as one half of Yussef Kamaal, alongside drummer Yussef Dayes, with the peerless duo wig-out Black Focus. When that pair suddenly stopped working together, Williams then founded his own label (also called Black Focus) and copped the duo’s iconography for solo outing The Return (2018), before turning clubbier for the perhaps unwisely named 2020 follow-up Wu Hen, and drawing a line with this year’s pandemic-era leftover Stings. A trippy Sunday afternoon guaranteed.

Sunday, 3.45pm on the Orbit stage

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6. Otoboke Beaver

Hell yeah – this all-girl Japanese garage-punk quartet threatens to be the sleeper hit of the festival. They have a song called “Dirty Old Fart is Waiting for My Reaction”, for one. But this band is more than just cheap tricks – its music is precise, punchy and primitive, in all the right ways – a jagged fake fingernail slap round the face, and an intoxicated high-heeled foot to boot. Credentials? They’ve played Coachella and South by Southwest, and toured with The Cribs. Oh, and they’re named after an Osaka love hotel. Because why not?

Sunday, 5pm on the Tommy stage

7. 250

It would be oh-so-easy to miss this gem hiding in plain sight – what with the forgettable moniker and the absence of a word of description on Clockenflap’s own website at the time of writing. Well, we’re here to tell you that 250 is in fact the South Korean producer born Lee Ho-hyeong – better known as the brains behind NewJeans, with writing and arranging credits on around half of the girl group’s two albums to date. His production prowess has also bolstered tracks for Itzy, NCT 127 and E Sens – although Lee’s glow-stick electro-rave instrumentals might offer few clues of this prodigious K-pop moonlighting.

Sunday, 8pm on the Robot stage

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8. No Party for Cao Dong 草東沒有派對

It’s an East Asian showdown on Sunday night, but rather than settling down with a picnic rug for mellow Japanese R&B songbird Joji on the main stage, may we politely suggest elbowing your way to the front for Taiwanese alt-rock outfit No Party for Cao Dong. Named after Taipei’s Cao Dong Street, the quartet has been on regional tastemakers’ radars since dropping a debut EP in 2015. The band returned with a new album, The Clod, this May – a follow-up to its hugely popular debut LP The Servile, and in the aftermath of the tragic death of their drummer in 2021.

Veering from moody soundscaping to strutting chord-bashing, it’s the kind of emphatic fist-pumping festival finale that any kind of indie kid can get away with guilt-free.

Sunday, 9.45pm on the Orbit stage

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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