When a group of friends decided to organize a music and arts festival in 2008, little did they know they had struck the right note.
The inaugural concert, to begin with, drew 2,000 people — not a shabby start.
But as it turns out, Mike Hill, a Yorkshire-born Englishman, Justin Sweeting and Jay Forester were only scratching the surface.
Last year, 40,000 attended the event and Clockenflap Music and Arts Festival would become its own brand.
Hill, a 17-year Hong Kong resident, and his friends are confident about the local music industry.
He estimates that Hong Kong’s outdoor music culture will flourish in the next five to 10 years.
How did they know the concert would work?
“Frankly, we had no idea if the public would welcome it,” Hill said.
“All we knew was that we were going to give it a try.”
Hill’s favorite hobby has always been music, although he plays no musical instruments.
In high school, he would religiously follow the disc jockeys’ recommended playlists.
A U2 live concert in the 1990s was a turning point which Hill described as an “unforgettable life experience”.
The ecstatic atmosphere held Hill in awe.
“That’s the power of interaction between the performers and the audience,” he said.
Hill studied electronics and computing in Nottingham Trent University where he met a group of electro-music friends in Robin Hood’s hometown.
He also learned the trade secrets of professional disc jockeys and would later be one of them.
After graduation, Hill and his girlfriend set off for a trip to Asia.
As soon as they arrived in Hong Kong, Hill was deeply moved by its beauty and cosmopolitan atmosphere. He was struck by the colorful neon lights.
“Before the visit, I associated Hong Kong with toys, as most of my childhood toys had ‘made in HK’, labels,” Hill said.
Hill soon decided to stay.
It didn’t take long for him to find a job as an information technology consultant in the local office of an international company.
Having acquired sufficient work experience in the industry for nearly 20 years, Hill founded his own startup company specializing in IT business solutions and consultancy.
In the meantime, he met Sweeting and Forester.
Hill found Hong Kong’s music culture monophonic.
“Hong Kong is multicultural but I found its music was so mono,” Hill said.
There were a few outdoor live concerts such as Taiwan Calling music festival, SMF Silvermine Bay music festival, Spring Wave Music and Art Festival, etc. but these either shrank or stopped in recent years.
Clockenflap is trying to fill the void and it appears to be succeeding. It’s now the longest-running show in town.
It made its debut in Cyperport before 2,000 attendees but in 2010 its third show was downsized and held inside a warehouse to avoid public complaints about noise.
In 2011, Clockenflap signed up with the West Kowloon Cultural District but ticketing restrictions forced Hill to open it to the public even though it meant losing more than HK$1 million (US$129,000) in potential revenue.
“It is unrealistic to expect any concert can cover the cost in five shows,” Hill said, adding Hong Kong’s outdoor event culture is yet to mature.
Hill also faces tremendous logistical pressure.
It takes time to organize foreign bands to come to Hong Kong. Venues are also a challenge.
Hill has been trying to get his favorite Radiohead rock band to join the festival with little success, despite being on very good personal terms with their manager.
Also, the annual show is getting more expensive.
Promo tickets are selling at HK$880 a day or HK$1,780 for three days but Hill said they’re still losing money.
However, he and his friends are happy to have proven the government wrong about the group not being able to throw foreign bands and local talents together.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 6.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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