Beyond Structures
A photo by author Khee Hoon Chan of the main Clockenflap stage, draped on both sides with comic art and behind by the buildings of Hong Kong, and a screen that shows a musician playing hard

Clockenflap 2023 Day 1: Uchu Yurei, Wang Wen, Envy, Yoasobi

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Clockenflap lacks the glitzy pizzazz that other bigger (read: international) music festivals like Lollapalooza, Glastonbury and Summersonic possess; in terms of scale, it doesn’t seem quite as big or grand. But it’s a bona fide music festival, one that’s set in Hong Kong, that I’ve always wanted to attend. Which I did – in 2023. When I heard that some of my favorite Asian and regional acts were congregating at the end-of-year Clockenflap festival, I knew I had to pack my bags and head on right there. Despite the exhilarating festival experience, I also came back home with a serious bout of influenza that knocked me out for two to three weeks. Give and take, really. 

Of course, the roster of musicians in Clockenflap 2023 also includes several western acts such as post-hardcore band IDLES (who I wish I could have caught, but they were playing the same slot as Envy, unfortunately), post-rock legends Caspian (I adore Caspian), and art pop singer Caroline Polachek (a fan apparently made a sign for her that says something to the effect of “please sit on my face”). Not that they weren’t great, but I won’t focus on these acts here.

So here it is! Clockenflap 2023 was three beautiful days long, and here are the highlights of the festival’s opening day.

 

Uchu Yurei (Hong Kong)

A photo of the band Uchu Yurei playing with some skyscrapers behind them. They're looking down at their instruments as if they're playing some engrossing, challenging music

Before Clockenflap, I read that Uchu Yurei is a local jazz-infused progressive rock band, and this description immediately ticked all the right boxes for me, a pretentious snob who embraces almost everything jazz, prog rock, and music with fucked up time signatures. As the very first band I caught in this festival, Uchu Yurei set the bar incredibly high. Their eclectic tunes were an explosive, yet immaculate mix of the above genres, with the band blending the rich, brassy hooks of trumpets and saxophones with the tight, intricate grooves of metal. Above all, it’s clear that Uchu Yurei takes ample influence from the jazz-fusion virtuosity of Snarky Puppy, with Uchu Yurei’s songs radiating the same bombastic, energetic fluidity of Snarky Puppy’s jams. When played live, their songs are excitingly turbulent. In other words, Uchui Yurei is just bloody fun to watch.

To be honest, the band’s music isn’t particularly groundbreaking (I mean, I think every prog rock musician in this vein wants to be Snarky Puppy), but they’re also a very young band that also just released their first single “Phantom” about a year ago. And if this is the quality of their first single, I simply can’t wait to see their subsequent releases.

 

Wang Wen (China)

A photo of the band Wang Wen on stage with thousands of festival goers watching the stage and a large screen where a band member plays a trumpet

Ah, Wang Wen. This prolific Chinese post-rock veteran was one of the reasons why I wanted to attend Clockenflap in the first place. The titans of China’s post-rock scene, Wang Wen’s cinematic blend of twinkly synths, dynamic guitars and palpitating drums during their Clockenflap set may waver from deeply melancholic to unrelentingly hopeful, but their songs are always beautifully cathartic. And having thrown in some horns as well, this resulted in an even more expansive, textured soundscape. 

But it was when they performed “Eight Layer of Hell”, with raw, abrasive vocals making a rare appearance (as with most post-rock music), that Wang Wen’s performance felt like an otherworldly experience. As the song’s Chinese lyrics – abstractions about nihilism and despair – cascaded through the monitor at the side of the stage, the intensity of the moment felt all too consuming, akin to a pressurized valve that was finally released. All in all, Wang Wen’s set was a very moving, transcendent affair.

 

Envy (Japan)

The band’s sonic journey has always been rather intriguing, even as an unabashed Envy fan. They’re well-loved in post-hardcore circles, welcomed in post-rock communities, and staunchly embedded within the emo sphere. This could, of course, point to the band’s tendency to weave these genres together while still remaining undeniably Envy, veering from wildly raucous screamo to melodic, ambient interludes. 

This is, of course, what Envy brought to Clockenflap that night. The set was chaotic, unrelenting, and intimate, the crowd filled with enraptured headbangers fist pumping through every song like their life depended on it, all as Tetsuya Fukagawa howled his vocal cords sore. I do wonder how folks walking into the set in Clockenflap, having heard Envy for the first time, felt about the crowd alternating between colliding into one another in circle pits and walls of death and tearing up at the band’s soaring, post-rock climaxes. I loved every single minute of this.

 

Yoasobi (Japan)

A photo of the band Yoasobi on stage, mostly of the large screen and the towering neon-lit buildings behind the stage. The singer is wearing a stylish outfit and commanding the microphone

I have known for a while that Yoasobi is ridiculously popular; you don’t get to write some of the most infectiously catchy anime theme songs without garnering a legion of zealous fans along the way. But I didn’t realise just how immense the Jpop duo’s following is until I found myself in the midst of the massive crowd gathering in front of their stage. Oh, and they are the only band that had a separate booth for their merchandise at Clockenflap, with a long, snaking queue gathering near the entrance of the festival.

Then there’s their performance: an exceedingly polished display, with Ikura’s saccharine vocals perfectly complimenting the band’s exuberant synth-pop melodies. Unfortunately, the set was marred by a faulty sound system, which means that fans standing at the further end of the crowd were barely able to hear much of Yoasobi’s set, which sounded severely turned down. Those of us at the back were more than happy to sing along to whatever songs we could hear, however.

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Khee Hoon Chan is a freelance writer from Singapore, and writes for publications like Polygon, Edge Magazine and Bullet Points. Ask them about the weather at @crapstacular

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