Clockenflap 2023 review: Hong Kong’s long-running music festival comes back strong

Phoenix, Arctic Monkeys, Wu-Tang Clan and more end Clockenflap’s four-year hiatus with a bang

For four years, Clockenflap fell silent. Protests and unrest in 2019 and pandemic restrictions of the last three years held Hong Kong’s biggest music and arts extravaganza back for what felt like an eternity for festivalgoers in the region. When Clockenflap finally announced its comeback last year with huge names on its line-up, you could already tell that this installment of the festival was going to be different.

And Clockenflap 2023 did live up to its hype. Both exciting and well-planned, every element of the festival made up for the years lost: you could tell that organisers made the most of their hiatus to plan this triumphant comeback.

And its return couldn’t have come at a better time: COVID restrictions in Hong Kong were loosened that same week, allowing everyone – 83,000 people over three days (March 3-5) – to roam unencumbered by face masks. Located at Central Harbourfront, the festival site was easily accessible and offered stunning views of the harbour, the iconic Observation Wheel, and the city skyline – a treat for tourists only in town for the festival.


Credit: Clockenflap

Festivalgoers left each night in awe of the talent, specifically Phoenix, Arctic Monkeys and Wu-Tang Clan. The strong multi-genre line-up catered to diverse audiences while mixing it up with local and regional acts, reeling in all kinds of attendees.

The festival also offered some interesting installations, such as a sound collage game by Hong Kong-based design lab PauseRecPlay. On what resembled a mahjong table, players dealt out sound samples housed inside 24 loop tapes to form a unique sound collage. “What if music is just a game? Can we all have fun?” they asked their audience.

It was an appropriate question to ask at Clockenflap. From stages to installations, every part of the festival felt like a moment.

Phoenix. Credit: Clockenflap

Phoenix stole the show on the first day. Backed by trance-inducing visuals referencing European design studies, the French synth-rockers sprinkled singles off their new album ‘Alpha Zulu’ in between classics ‘Lisztomania’ and ‘Lasso.’ Frontman Thomas Mars dove straight into the crowd to ‘1901’ to end their set, putting everyone in a frenzy.


This was followed by everyone’s favourite lads Arctic Monkeys, who had the crowd dancing and screaming throughout their Hong Kong debut. Though touring Asia in support of their latest album, ‘The Car’, they made sure to include classics like ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ and ‘Teddy Picker’. The band have been a staple headliner for festivals globally, and seeing them do what they do best in Hong Kong proves why: they know how to command an audience.

Arctic Monkeys
Arctic Monkeys. Credit: Clockenflap

Dodgy sound is always to be expected at music festivals, but that wasn’t the case at Clockenflap. The beat dropped hard at the dance stages, while at the main Harbourflap stage you could hear every high and low note that came out of Alex Turner’s mouth as he sang a beautiful new arrangement of ‘505’. It was only the FWD stage that didn’t deliver, despite having an amazing line-up. Situated too close to the main stage, its varying volume levels had some listeners barely staying through some sets.

Technical difficulties also occurred during the main stage closing performance by The Cardigans on Saturday night, which led to frontwoman Nina Persson walking out and returning only once her mic had been fixed. The energy was awkward, but that didn’t stop the crowd from having a good time.

The Cardigans
The Cardigans. Credit: Clockenflap

Locals and tourists danced, clapped, and sang along at all stages. It also helped that all acts played on time, which made hopping to different stages easy. There was no pushing or shoving; everyone had enough room to dance, to breathe. The only sign of chaos was the leftover plastic cups scattered on the floor after the first day, which the organizers brought attention to after.

Other international standouts included Ezra Collective, who had festivalgoers young and old grooving, and Kings of Convenience, whose soft acoustic melodies had everyone feeling tender, especially when singer Erik Glambek Boe told the crowd about a beautiful ferry ride they took around the city. There was also Korean hip-hop group Balming Tiger, who got their audience enthusiastically chanting along to their songs throughout most of their set despite playing at the one of the least accessible stage.

Balming Tiger
Balming Tiger. Credit: Balming Tiger

Local acts shone as well. Hong Kong rapper Tyson Yoshi’s strong local fanbase showed out, demonstrating why he is so beloved for songs like ‘4 GET ABOUT U’ and ‘In My Dream.’ There was also girl group Collar, who performed in a special collaboration with Rubberband – their set, of a dancing pop group backed by a live rock band, felt unlike any other at the festival. The DJs at Clockenflap excelled too, especially during Yeti Out and Friends’ takeover at the Robot stage, whose selection spanned garage, hip-hop, house and techno with rare finds peppered in between.

Wu-Tang Clan
Wu-Tang Clan. Credit: Clockenflap

To close the festival, Wu-Tang Clan performed their hits (and a Nirvana cover), replacing iconic cities in their lyrics with shout-outs to Hong Kong. They expressed their thanks to Hong Kong for accepting hip-hop, highlighting the impact Asian culture has had on the genre. This heartfelt statement of appreciation came before fireworks and pyrotechnics went off, the audience putting up peace signs up as they walked off stage – a fitting end to a core cultural moment in the city.

The mix of an amazing line-up with a crowd yearning for a good time truly made Clockenflap 2023 a success, and what felt like a start of Hong Kong’s post-pandemic renaissance.

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