Along with other major music festivals across Asia, Hong Kong’s Clockenflap, which holds its 10th edition on 17-19 November, has become an important showcase of regional talent. Since 2013, China’s Cui Jian, Taiwan’s Cheer Chen, South Korea’s Hyukoh, Malaysia’s Yuna and Japan’s Love Psychedelico, Bo Ningen and Sekai No Owari have all graced the Clockenflap stage, and the festival’s mission to champion Asia’s best artists continues this year with a lineup that runs the gamut from Chinese rap to South Korean future R&B. Here are our top picks, with insider insights from Clockenflap’s music director and co-founder Justin Sweeting.
From: Seoul, South Korea
Genre: Future R&B
If you like: Drake, Crush, Gallant, Bryson Tiller
Recommended listing: D (Half Moon) feat. Gaeko,
Put My Hands On You feat. Anderson .Paak
No music scene in Asia has had more international success than South Korea’s in recent years, and future R&B star Dean – who took his name from the original Hollywood antihero James Dean – is the latest performer to make waves around the world. At just 24, Dean (real name Kwon Hyuk) is already a veteran of the music industry, having launched his hip-hop career at age 16 before becoming an in-demand songwriter for major K-pop acts such as EXO and Block B. Since then, his star has been on the rise as a solo artist, becoming the first Asian act to perform at Spotify House at SXSW in 2016 and collaborating with Californian rapper Anderson .Paak and Grammy-winning songwriter/producer Eric Bellinger. ‘Bridging East and West, Dean is the torch bearer of new wave Korean R&B,’ says Sweeting. ‘Ridiculously smooth.’
From: Chengdu, China
If you like: Migos, Rich Chigga, Keith Ape, Lil Yachty
Recommended listing: Made in China, Franklin
Hong Kong can’t get enough of Chengdu rap crew Higher Brothers. Not content with playing to their local fans at KITEC in support of their debut album, Black Cab, in August, the boys – MaSiWei, DZ, Psy.P and Melo – are back to show off their slick Mandarin lyrics and infectious hooks on a bigger stage at Clockenflap. Influenced by US hip-hop stars like 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, Migos and J.Cole, the lively four-piece are the current standard bearers for the mainland’s flourishing hip-hop scene, clocking up five million YouTube views for their single Made in China and close to three million for WeChat, a collaboration with South Korean rapper Keith Ape. ‘They’re at the forefront of a genuine and authentic rap music scene coming out of Chengdu,’ says Sweeting, ‘and spreading like wildfire.’
From: Tokyo, Japan
Genre: Electropop, hip-hop
If you like: MIA, Grimes, FKA Twigs
Recommended listing: Momotaro, Shakushain
‘A kaleidoscope of imaginative sounds, influences and madness which could only really have come from Japan’ is how Sweeting describes Wednesday Campanella, the offbeat trio that comprises founding members
Kenmochi Hidefumi and Dir.F and vocalist KOM_I. Since bursting onto the scene with their 2015 debut album Zipangu – a madcap mix of electropop, J-Pop and hip-hop – they’ve gained a growing following in Japan and beyond, not least for their flamboyant live shows, which have previously included KOM_I crowd-surfing in a giant bubble or outlandish inflatable costumes made by avant-garde Japanese artist Daisy Balloon. After they stole the show at the Laneway Festival in Singapore in January and released their second album, Superman, to critical acclaim in February, this year it looks like the world is waking up to Wednesday Campanella.
From: Taipei, Taiwan
Genre: Indie rock
If you like: Elbow, Doves, Camera Obscura
Recommended listing: Flower, Now and Then
Racking up close to four million views of the YouTube video for their single Flower, Taipei four-piece Hello Nico are one of the key acts putting Taiwan on the global music map. Their sound, which Sweeting describes as ‘carefully crafted, emotionally melancholic songs taken to epic soundscape proportions’, is a compelling blend of synth-rock and indie with distinctive mournful female vocals and explosions of feedback and distortion, while their lyrics plumb the murkiest depths of human emotion. Following up their 2015 debut album Familiar Desolation with the EP Impression in 2016 and a landmark appearance at SXSW in 2017, Hello Nico look poised to spread their brand of beautiful misery still further in the year ahead.
Listen to a playlist of tracks featuring this year’s Clockenflap performers, available onboard now