English trip-hop legends Massive Attack were in Hong Kong recently to headline the 10th edition of Clockenflap, undisputedly the city’s biggest music festival, which line-up included The Prodigy, Feist, The Dandy Warhols, just to name a few.
It was the band’s first time in Hong Kong, and for the more discerning attendees, they were the highlight of the 3-day festival.
Bringing their full live show to the Central Harbourfront, the band played against the glittering skyline of Hong Kong’s financial district, a truly dramatic backdrop to what was probably the most electrifying performance delivered that weekend.
The dynamic duo of Robert Del Naja and Grant Marshall, together with special guests Young Fathers, Azekel and long-time collaborators Horace Andy and Deborah Miller, performed a mix of their well-loved classics as well as tracks from their latest album, Ritual Spirit.
From the broody dub-inflected groove of Risingson
to the mellow feel good anthem Hymn of the Big Wheel, from the raw emotion of Angel
to the syncopated beats of Unfinished Sympathy at the conclusion of their set, Massive Attack brought the festival on a journey through the full spectrum of their sound.
True to form, the band also took the opportunity to highlight socio-political issues with the visual aspect of their show, developed and created by long-time collaborators of the band, United Visual Artists.
The audience were treated to an array of thought-provoking messages, recent news headlines, global migration statistics and images of refugees and the poor. Some subversive nationalist messages were also flashed in Cantonese, riling up the local fans a little.
Personally I felt the most chilling visual was the news headline shown from the South China Morning Post, which read, “Poverty in Hong Kong hits record high, with 1 in 5 considered poor.” The crowd was silent for a heartbeat, and then an uncomfortable rustle arose – claps, whoops and cheers, but not derived from delight.
The visuals made me reflect on privilege. Those of us in the crowd had paid good money for tickets, and many like me had flown into Hong Kong especially for the festival. We were definitely not considered ‘poor.’
The band had flashed the global passport index ranking, and as the numbers climbed upwards, I felt dread knowing that mine was at the top of the list. And as the screen flashed ‘Singapore – 01’ a guy in the audience, presumably Singaporean, punched the air and cheered. I was embarrassed for him. Privilege is nothing to be proud about.
The stark difference between the old and the new makes Hong Kong feel almost dystopian. The shiny skyscrapers and fancy malls of Central and Wan Chai are testament to the city’s status as a financial hub in the region, but the gritty, decrepit shophouses and flats of Kowloon and beyond paint a grim picture. But as the cogs in the capitalist machine keep turning, we can only take the advice of a classic Massive Attack track from their Blue Lines album: “Be Thankful for What You Got.”