By Karen Cheung
One particular rainy weekend saw a group of local music lovers spending a hot and sticky two days bobbing their heads to tunes smack in the middle of nowhere in Hong Kong.
This was Open Sesame, a music festival held at Chu Ma Leng, Yuen Long, co-organised by local live house Hidden Agenda.
The festival, which was held 15-16 August, took local music lovers to a venue near the Kam Sheung Road station on West Rail line. Open Sesame ran for two days, but festival goers could choose between a one-day pass, two-day pass – or a camping pass, if one was feeling particularly adventurous and wanted to stay overnight.
The idea itself was not novel – many weeklong music festivals overseas often gave attendees the option of staying overnight at the venue – but in Hong Kong, they were a rarity. The three-day Clockenflap – perhaps Hong Kong’s biggest musical festival – did not allow concert goers to camp out at the West Kowloon Promenade where it was usually held. The only other festival similar in nature is Grassfest, which has taken place every spring since 2012, organised by Lawnmap founder Thickest Choi and born out of a crowdfunding project.
In many ways, Open Sesame was a bold experiment of sorts, put together by hot-blooded teenagers who had few successful precedents to emulate.
After a short and scenic bus ride on shuttles arranged by the organisers, campers arrived at the site. The first order of business for those who opted to camp was to set up tents and pitching a tent in the rain on a field covered with puddles proved to be a tricky task. By the time campers were done, the soles of their shoes were caked in mud and they were thoroughly drenched, but most seem to have accepted fate and did not seem bothered by the dirt.
“Are you guys alright there? We’re really sorry about the weather. Thanks for being so understanding,” the organisers smiled apologetically.
It also helped that the venue housed some of the cleanest toilet facilities one could ever expect from a music festival. Instead of the usual portable toilets, there were multiple bathrooms that were mostly spotless and free from filth. For the price of HK$40, festival attendees could even take a hot shower.
The location of the festival meant that attendees could escape from the usual hustle and bustle of city life, but at the same time, its inconvenient location coupled with uncooperative weather also meant that there were only a handful of attendees. Most festival goers did not seem to mind; there was so much space that at the main stage, one could lay down a mat on the floor and enjoy the music in comfort. Some bands, however, admitted that they were a bit disappointed by the turnout.
"[The weather is terrible, but] Glastonbury is just as wet and muddy! So we’re surprised to see so few people – maybe it’s because it’s the first time it’s been held, or maybe because there wasn’t enough advertising. But the scenery is amazing, even with the rain. There were also a lot of opportunities to interact with other local musicians, since we’re all here, which is great. We’re also happy to see that there are more and more festivals in Hong Kong – even if the turnout isn’t as expected, at least the organisers managed to pull the event off," band members of Fantastic Day said.
The first day ended with a Taiwanese band that had flown in for the festival. A series of games then began, ranging from beer-drinking contest to who-can-play-the-best-air-guitar? Campers were in high spirits and at three in the morning, the campsite was still buzzing with loud cheerful conversations that emanated from the tents.
Campers woke up next morning in the swelling heat. The sun had come out and for the first time, one could fully appreciate the lush greenery that surrounded the campsite. Most food stalls were not open till the afternoon, but one owner, Ah Wing, had woken up early to run his stall and was busy serving breakfast to campers.
“[I’m here cooking because] the organisers didn’t invite any of the bands I’m in to perform,” Ah Wing said good-humouredly. “I’m in [local bands] Say You Care, The Priceless Boat, and Fight Club."
Wing, who has been to many music festivals in Taiwan, responded to the open call to set up food stalls at the festival because he wanted to try something new. "This is the first time I’ve set up a stall in a festival – and actually, the first time I’m selling food to the public.”
The stall, named ‘Something Wild’, boasted a grand total of two things on the menu – fried egg on toast, and blueberry soda. Ah Wing said that the organisers did not charge them anything for the stall, but running it was still much more challenging than he had expected. "I prepared an electric stove, but there was no electricity at one point last night, so I just stood there for a long time not really knowing what to do."
Throughout the day the rain came and went. When local band Twisterella took the stage, the rain came pouring down again, splattering against the roof of the stage and curiously enough, complementing the rainforest-y number that the band had launched into. The ambience matched the dreamy, trance-like songs that blared through the speakers, and the band joked that they had arranged for this “natural effect”.
The only people who looked even more tired than the bands strutting on the stage in the hot, humid weather were the organisers themselves.
"Open Sesame came into being because most of us in the indie scene – we’re a playful bunch. And we really wanted to do something over the summer – so many people were flying over to different countries to go to their music festivals, like Fuji Rock, so we were thinking why don’t we just stay in Hong Kong and create something of our own?…The owners of this venue were really friendly, they usually cater to family events so they thought it might be interesting to host indie music here," Katy, one of the organisers said.
She explained that most of the staff came from Hidden Agenda, a local live house in Ngau Tau Kok, since they have had experience in organising shows and had contacts with bands. It may sound casually put together, but the crew took their project very seriously. One promotion video gave a breathtaking birds’ eye view of the venue and was taken from a camera attached on a drone.
"We were really worried that the event would have to be cancelled because of the weather – we made sure it was safe before announcing that we were going ahead with this," she said.
She admitted that every time the team felt a bit crushed every time they got a phone call from a camper saying that they would not be able to make it, but they were grateful for each and every one of the campers that did come.
"It was obvious yesterday that the turnout was quite low, but we could see that the bands were still giving it all that they’ve got. We were really touched," she said.
Things have not been looking good for the local music scene recently. After Backstage Live Restaurant, a local live venue in Central, stated last month that they may be forced to close because of the rent increase, Musician AREA made a similar announcement recently and is now launching a series of gigs called "All in Or Nothing" to see if they could pull together enough revenue to tide them over.
Katy said that she believed that in order for the local scene to flourish, it was very important for bands to unite and be supportive of each other.
"With festivals like Clockenflap – most of the time, local musicians would only get to be a supporting act. So we were thinking, why couldn’t they headline shows too? We really hope that this would be a good opportunity for people to learn more about local bands."
Open Sesame 2015.芝麻開壇2015
Open Sesame音樂節於8月15-16日舉行,把本地音樂愛好者帶到西鐵錦上路站。雖然活動舉辦兩天,但參加者可以選擇買一天通行證或兩天通行證。如果想住一個晚上參加者也可以買露營証。這個本來不是一個新穎的主意,因爲在外國很多長達一周的音樂節通常都會給參加者選擇留宿或是不留。不過在香港,這卻很罕見。三天的Clockenflap-可能是香港最大的音樂節,並不允許參加者在西九龍海濱長廊露營。另外一個相似的音樂節是由2012年開始每個春季舉行,由草原地圖創辦人Thickest Choi舉辦的Grassfest。Open Sesame在很多方面都有很多勇敢的嘗試與實驗,再加上熱血的年輕人,成爲可以被模仿的先例。
‘(天氣很糟糕,不過) 格拉斯頓伯里不也是這樣濕漉漉充滿著泥濘嗎!所以我們很驚訝看到這麽少人,可能因爲這是第一次舉辦,也可能因爲宣傳不足。不過即使下著雨舞臺布景也很棒。而且有一點非常好就是因爲大家都在,參加者有很多機會與本地的音樂人交流。我們很高興香港開始舉行越來越多的音樂節,就算如我們所料,遊客不太喜歡,至少組織者能成功舉辦這個活動。’樂隊Fantastic Day的成員說。
參加了很多臺灣音樂節的Wing爲了想嘗試新事物,響應了音樂節的食物攤檔招募。他說:‘這是我第一次在音樂節幫忙設立食物攤檔,也是第一次把食物賣給公衆。’他的攤檔名叫‘Something Wild’售賣兩樣東西:煎蛋多士與藍莓蘇打。阿Wing說舉辦方並沒有向他們設立攤檔收費,但是做起來比他想象的要困難多了。他說：‘ 我預備了電磁爐,但昨晚有段時間沒有電,我就只能站在那裏很久不知道要怎麽辦。’她也承認每當收到參加者打電話來説他們來不了時團隊會不開心,但也感激每位有前來的參加者。她說：‘可以很明顯的看到昨天的人數很低,不過我們看到那些樂隊仍然很努力地演出,我們很感動。’
一整天下來一會兒停雨一會兒下雨。當本地樂隊Twisterella 上台時,又突然下起滂沱大雨, 濺潑到台頂, 奇異地使樂隊置身在熱帶森林似的。氣氛與夢幻般的,催眠般的歌配合得很好,連樂隊也笑說這是他們特意安排的特效。
對於本地樂隊來説,事情不是太順。當Backstage Live Restaurant,一所在中環的本地樂隊表演場地上個月宣佈因爲租金上漲,他們可能要被逼關閉後,另一場地Musician Area也做了一個類似的宣佈所以現在舉辦了一系列活動叫‘All in Or Nothing’去看看他們能否籌集足夠收入去過渡。Katy說她相信要本地獨立樂隊生存,樂隊之間互相支持和聯合是很重要的。她說：‘像Clockenflap這樣的音樂節,大部分時間本地音樂家只是一個次要的角色。所以我們在想爲什麽他們不能是主角?我們真的希望這會是一個讓大家認識本地樂隊的好機會。’