I wouldn’t call this trip a holiday. The sole purpose was to see Massive Attack, and I didn’t care much about visiting Hong Kong as I’ve been here a couple of times, and wasn’t too keen about extending this into a more elaborate holiday.
So it was just an in-and-out thing to attend 1 day of the Clockenflap music festival, where the Trip Hop legends were the main closing act. It was their only Asian stop for this tour, and who knows when they’ll ever come back to this side of the world! Will forever be grateful to June for egging me on to fly all the way there to catch the band.
Hong Kong island was a Blade Runner-esque scene when we descended on Saturday night. The streets were chaotic and drenched under the incessant drizzle, and the fog and low-hanging clouds obscured the peaks of the tallest buildings.
The free airport-to-hotel shuttle bus we were on navigated through the dense business district towards our stay at Wharney Guang Dong Hotel, and I quite enjoyed the sight of towering skyscrapers and gargantuan digital billboards flashing ads and season’s greetings.
Our triple room was clean, comfortable, roomy by Hong Kong standards, and had the most seductive beds. Glad I snagged this room at a good price on Agoda, at SGD150 a night.
Not wanting to waste the night, we headed out in search for the famous wanton noodle store that was recommended by a local. It was then I realised that our hotel’s located among a cluster of dodgy KTV lounges and distasteful sports bars, which sadly reminded me of Clarke Quay.
Wing Wah Noodle Shop (永華麵家) was just round the corner, and I was quite pleased that it was a no-fuss, very local coffee shop kinda place. At our first glance of the menu, the prices seemed rather steep for a casual place like this, but we brushed it off and convinced ourselves that we were making the currency conversions in our heads wrongly. So we happily ordered our mains and dessert.
Turns out the prices were indeed that high. Our noodles ranged between SGD 8-10 a bowl. At least they were good noodles. The fish balls in my soup noodle had a nice bite and was delicious, nothing like the usual processed ones. Shanna enjoyed her shrimp wanton noodles too, but June wasn’t too impressed with her green onion with ginger noodles with oyster sauce, and was outraged that her meatless dish was slightly more costly than ours.
The kicker was the walnut paste and black sesame glutinous balls we had for dessert, and had the cheek to order 2 servings to share. Each tiny bowl cost SGD 9.70! The glutinous balls were soft and smooth, but the walnut paste was meh.
The last time I visited Hong Kong was 10 years ago, and I remember that it wasn’t cheap. But I was truly shocked at how much more expensive it has gotten over the years.
The following afternoon, we took a cool, lovely stroll from our hotel to the Clockenflap site at Central Harbourfront Event Space. I didn’t expect much of the festival, and wasn’t surprised that it didn’t have the blissful holiday festival vibe I got from music festivals I’ve attended on the other side of the globe. Perhaps Hong Kong was just not foreign enough.
Cosmos People, a Taiwanese band, was the first act of the day to draw crowds. It’s so heartening to see locals supporting regional acts. The fans were so into it, jumping and singing along to the upbeat songs.
The party officially started when Ibibio Sound Machine came on! I discovered them some months back on NPR, and was pretty excited to see them live. Go hear Give Me a Reason, the danciest track from this English band that blends African and electronic styles.
Lead vocalist Eno Williams can really groove and sing, but the best part was watching how much the entire band enjoyed performing. It’s impossible not to dance to their music.
Crowds came in as the sun set, and the venue filled up quick. But I was so relieved to learn that Hong Kong’s festival goers are a civil bunch that prefer to keep to themselves. No sign of rowdy groups, drunks who can’t handle their shit, or rude people. They can ruin any festival experience, and I’m always grateful when people leave me alone.
The food choices were also decent at Clockenflap, albeit insanely expensive. I had a skinny 12-inch wrap packed with mushrooms and veggies that was very satisfying, but set me back SGD20. Later in the day I also had a sizable falafel burger that tasted much better than your run-of-the-mill food truck stuff, and it cost about SGD15.
But coming back to the music, Jungle was fun too! It sounded like they previewed some new material as well. Can’t wait to hear the new album.
Now, it’s time to freak out over Massive Attack. We squeezed our way to the front about 20 minutes before the gig started. And the anticipation was palpable at this point.
When they walked on stage, I screamed like a little girl because I couldn’t believe they brought Horace Andy, who lent his rough, distinct reggae vocals to so many brilliant tracks. I didn’t think that they would bring the original vocalists along for this one gig in Asia, so I was just over the moon. He did Girl I Love You and Angel later on.
The bass shook me to the core, vibrating and igniting every cell, giving me auditory and physical pleasure like no other. It’s been a while since I felt this way about a gig. In fact, this is the best one yet.
Their music is intense. And when you hear it live, it just puts you on another dimension all together. At certain points, watching and listening simultaneously sent me on overdrive. I had to close my eyes and let the music carry me into deep, dark depths in order not to suffer a cardiac arrest.
The visual backdrop depicted serious issues such as the refugee crisis, world poverty, war, the dark side of technology, and politics, including anti Chinese government messages that garnered some fervent cheers. It got me feeling down, and then guilty for enjoying myself so much at this gig while there’s so much troubles beyond. It’s a weird mix of emotions. But I decided that Massive Attack was more important than world peace, so I stayed.
I’m glad I did because out came Azekel for Ritual Spirit (such a sexy tune); Young Fathers for Voodoo in my Blood; and then lo and behold Deborah Miller for Safe from Harm, one of Massive Attack’s first big hits in the early 90s. And what a beautiful closing track it was.
I found it pretty funny that they didn’t play Teardrop. But that didn’t matter. This gig transcended everything I expected and know of live music performances. Even after it was over, I was still reeling from the fact that I didn’t just see all of that on YouTube.
I love you Massive Attack. I might even love you a little, Hong Kong, for hosting this amazing band.