By Glen Watson | Sometimes I chat with Magnetic Asia Co-founder Jay Forster while we’re grabbing takeaway coffees at Tony’s on Lamma Island in Hong Kong. Nice guy, interesting stories. Yet he hesitates when I suggest interviewing him for a piece about his company – which organizes the Clockenflap Music & Arts Festival and Sónar HK, and runs the Ticketflap online event listing and ticketing platform, among other things.
“You should talk to Mike [Hill, the other Co-founder and CEO]. He’s the business and technical side of it all. I’m more the creative one,” Forster says, then heads off to catch the ferry to Central. On the Clockenflap website, he’s described as “a practicing artist, curator and the Artistic Director of Clockenflap Music & Arts Festival & Magnetic Asia.”
This is a few weeks before Clockenflap in November. The company’s flagship event was marking its 10th anniversary. Hard to believe given its humble beginnings, venue changes and numerous hurdles with the city’s red tape.
Forster seems calm, almost too calm before an event that brings in bands and other performers from all over the world to entertain more than 70,000 visits over three days. The event goes off without a hitch, and a few weeks later I meet up with Hill for an interview.
Their partner in Magnetic Asia, and also Clockenflap Co-founder, is Justin Sweeting – a musician who grew up in HK and worked on Rockit, arguably Hong Kong’s first large-scale rock music festival that ran from 2003 to 2006. Sweeting was the first to give up his full-time job once Clockenflap got established. Hill and Forster eventually left their jobs as Clockenflap grew in stature and complexity. There are now 26 permanent staffs, and there are close to 50 working full-time by the time the first bands hit the stage each year.
Even after 10 years, Clockenflap isn’t the money-making machine that many attendees and observers might imagine. “Certainly costs have gone up,” says Hill, as he begins tracing an upwards graph line in the air with two parallel fingers representing cost and income. “But income has yet to cross into a positive.”
Undeterred, and optimistic, the team at Magnetic Asia keep the faith. They’ve come this far, despite the odds and bureaucracy they’ve faced over the years. The Ticketflap platform has spread to Singapore, and certainly there is potential for Clockenflap festivals to take place elsewhere in Asia. But Hill and his co-founders remain patient.
“We need the right partner,” says Hill. “There has been interest, but the first litmus test is, ‘have you been to Clockenflap?’ That’s question one. If not, see you later. We need people on the ground who know their market, understand what Clockenflap is and what makes a festival work. We’ve had a couple of really long, protracted discussions. They may still happen, but it’s statistically unlikely at the moment.”
Magnetic Asia also organizes monthly music events under the YourMum banner, and put on the 2015 and 2016 Neon Lights music festival in Singapore with a local partner. The company hires out its digital marketing and events expertise for corporate gatherings and other branded entertainment. Sónar is the most recent addition to its entertainment stable.
The second HK edition of the pioneering Sónar festival from Barcelona that celebrates music, creativity and technology will take place at the Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin on March 17. Magnetic has the first refusal on holding Sónar events in other Asian cities, except Japan where it’s been held a few times but not recently, although it might come back.
“The model for Sónar is really quite straightforward in concept, but quite challenging to get your head around fully,” says Hill. “It’s basically an electronic music festival, but it’s made more challenging given the rise of electronic dance music (EDM).
“We have EDM featured at Sónar, but we’re at the sort of more credible, cutting-edge end of it. We go across all genres of electronic music – house, techno, dubstep, hip-hop, grime, all the way through on one day across six stages. That’s the music side… At the same time, we have the congress of creativity, technology, and business called Sónar +D. It has keynote speakers about creative technologies and workshops where you can make things. It’s really cool, and there’s a real mixture of people who are really into it. There’s also a digital arts component, and the market lab showcasing technology products as well as services. It all happens in one day.”
Since its creation in 1994, Sónar has established itself at the cutting edge of the electronic music landscape, and is widely considered the world’s most respected electronic music and arts festival. To celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, the Barcelona event in June plans to transmit the music into space. Early Bird tickets (HK$780) for Sónar Hong Kong 2018 are available from the event website.
Sónar+D Mixes Creative Technology And Digital Culture
Beyond the music, Sónar plays an equally vital role promoting digital culture and visual arts through the Sónar+D series of activities designed to link, cultivate and inspire the various creative and technological communities.
Sónar+D is a programme of forward-thinking workshops, talks and interactive activities designed to explore the relationship between creativity, technology, innovation and commerce in a relaxed and inspiring environment.
Geared towards those with an interest in creative technology and digital culture, it offers opportunities for creative communities to meet, interact and exchange ideas while showcasing cutting-edge immersive experiences.
As well as an expo that gives research centers, creative studios and other tech-focused companies the platform to preview new projects and prototypes, the event will showcase the latest innovations in virtual reality and new media arts through a curated series of interactive installations and high-tech audio-visual performances.
Quite unlike any festival the city has previously seen, Sónar Hong Kong offers a unique opportunity for festival-goers to experience the entire lifecycle of the creative process in an accessible way. From discovering new products at the prototype stage to attending master classes by artists and creative luminaries to enjoying breathtaking live performances, Sónar showcases all the links in the creative chain. – Magnetic Asia