Clocks are a-flappin’

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Jay Forster and Mike Hill have probably done more this morning than you. In between running design studios, creating websites from scratch, and pulling family duties while shuttling back and forth between Lamma, the pair have managed to put on what is arguably Hong Kong’s only real music and arts festival for over 5 years now. Along with co-founder and music scout Justin Sweeting, the duo are about to put on what is likely to be the biggest, baddest, and loudest music festival Hong Kong has ever seen. We sit down with them to discover what makes them tick.

So what’s the story behind Clockenflap – how did it all begin?

JF: There was a point at which we collectively decided to organize a festival, though what that was I can’t quite remember; someone or something triggered a desire, probably a lovely lady with a flower in her hair strutting through Sheung Wan for all I know. We just wanted to go to a festival in Hong Kong and if no one else was going to take up the Rockit Festival reins then we would.

I was minding my own business in the office enjoying my new found freedom, playing with computers and then Jay started going on about doing a music festival and before I knew what was happening we were in it… My poor future wife, Kumiko, was also working with us on it. In fact, all our friends and family were involved in some way.

What inspired you to go from putting on small parties to large scale festival?

JF: The history is somewhat more colorful than a simple transition from small to big. The largest ‘small party’ we organized under the monocle of Robot was around 1,000 people, and the first Clockenflap had just 2,000 people, so actually it wasn’t such a jump.

But it’s risky – previous music festivals have failed in the city. What makes Hong Kong ready for Clockenflap right now?

JS: It’s important to look back at history with the correct context, and rather than seeing those events as pure failures, we’d rather draw on the fact that there’s elements that helped form why things are where they’re at right now.  If there wasn’t a Rockit Festival for example, there would arguably be no Clockenflap (that’s where I met Jay and Mike).  It’s an evolutionary process and we’re in this for the long run.

JF: I would rather ask whether it’s that festivals have failed in the city, or that the city has failed to support festivals. A mixture of both would be my assessment. I think we’ve battered Hong Kong around the head by simply not giving up. We’ve lost money every single year we’ve done this and yet the prevailing desire is to keep going. As we do so, we learn along the way – we fine-tune, we stand our ground and we put on a great festival each year. Audiences are becoming more sophisticated. Perhaps coming to the realization that they are not actually the audience, but rather participants. These definitions are worlds apart – and denote the very essence of what’s makes a festival.

What does Hong Kong have that no other city or festival venue has?

JF: Hong Kong is a true melting pot of cultures and identities – which helps propagate a diverse and people-focused festival. The skyline, which we sometimes overlook as residents, appears magnificent to everyone when you’re over in West Kowloon.

What’s the best part about your job as Clockenflap organizers?

JS: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, and it is our home. Feeling like we’re hopefully making a positive difference to the community is immensely rewarding, beyond words. Just watching the expressions of pure joy scrawled across festival-goer faces makes it all worth while. In fact, our company is called Proper Job, and the fact that this is our proper job is something we continually need to pinch ourselves over.

JF: Personally, I’ve grown a lot since the inaugural Clockenflap. It was all fun and games back then – whereas now, I think we’ve all sensed the need to step it up and do the best we can. I would echo Justin’s comment, about Hong Kong being our home – it’s a true honour to be contributing to a project such as Clockenflap.

MH: Being an instrumental part of something which is making a positive impact on the city I’ve chosen as my home is a unique and extremely rewarding experience. Life’s richness comes from experiences such as these and I feel very privileged to have this incredible opportunity.

Is there anything that Hong Kong lacks that stands in the way of putting on a world-class festival?

JF: Currently no. Having said that – the availability and access to large open areas of space at the West Kowloon Cultural District is the key to sustaining any festival into the future.  In fact, loads of cultural events have taken place there before the building’s even been built! I just hope that wisdom prevails and we get to keep using this incredible venue.

MH: Over the last 6 years the most challenging aspect has been the lack of a guaranteed venue. We’ve been grateful for all the support we have had from Cyberport, LCSD and the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) but it will be wonderful when we are in a situation that we know that we have a permanent home for the foreseeable future.

Okay, how about some of your favourite memories from previous Clockenflaps? What made them stand out so much?

JS: Bombay Bicycle Club’s set during the lunar eclipse in 2011 was a very special moment indeed.

JF: Last year’s inaugural silent disco was hilarious – I couldn’t stop laughing. The eclipse wasn’t too shabby either.

MH: Sunset acoustic set watching Rivermouth in 2011.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone going to this year’s Clockenflap, what would it be and why?

JS: Come with an open mind.  Personally speaking, the best thing about festivals is discovering the unknown, so to get the most out of it, festival goers should come open to new experiences, sights and sounds.  Leave your prejudices at the gate.

JF: Clockenflap is possibly Hong Kong’s least pretentious event and as such there’s a distinct lack of snobbery or exclusive-coolness. It’s genuine and all about people meeting people and having a good time, but if I had to say something it would be to pace yourself! This is the first time that Hong Kong has had a 3-day festival of this ilk and consequentially people may overdo it on the Friday night and scupper the rest of the weekend.