Cheung Chau’s island residents have long-grown accustomed to the regular influx of Sunday tourists: the harassed Hong Kongers, who ferry across from the frenetic bustle of Central, searching for a temporary slice of laid-back life in the form of a beach hike, rickshaw rental or seafood supper. But in the most recent invasion of the weekend wayfarers, locals may have been surprised to spot a new and exotic breed of day-tripper disembarking from the docks at Praya Street.
Last weekend, the island harbour teemed with festival-goers in tropical shirts, rainbow leggings, cartoon-coloured cheongsams, glitter body art and floral headdresses (and that was just the boys) snaking along the picturesque promenade, or jumping aboard crowded sampans clutching beer cans from nearby 7-11s. Destination?
Event organisers La Mamie’s of Paris, in collaboration with local cultural collective FuFu had curated a fully-blown mini-festival, replete with all of the hallmarks of global gatherings the world over; wristband entry; drinks tokens; boutique camping; merchandise stalls; alfresco arenas and wellness wigwams.
The comparisons, mercifully, end there. This ‘human-sized’ festival had capped the daily reveller quota at just 1000 a day. And so, the resulting festivities scored many highlights of a like-minded mass party minus the drawbacks of a huge concentration of bodies crammed into a small site (we get enough of that on Hong Kong Island). Yes, there were queues for toilets, but they moved super-speedily, and they were spotlessly clean, with real soap (!) And sure, the bar was predictably jammed at times, with some teething problems over the Pilsner pumps (don’t ask), but the spirit selection was commendably high-quality, with ethical brands like FAIR vodka and gin validating the festival’s conscience-first credentials.
The food stalls, overwhelmed at times by demand and prone to periods of total sell-out, were local Cheung Chau restaurants Pirate Bay and The Pink Pig rather than corporate imports, and regular batches of spicy $60 bánh mì kept dancers fuelled well past sundown.
Festivals are no strangers to banned substances, and mandatory bag searches on entry meant Shi Fu Miz was a plastic-free-zone, ensuring that the lush ‘green getaway’ of the natural park setting remained trash-free and spotless. A year-round campsite and working farm, Saiyuen issued free water from fountains dotted around the site. The sustainability agenda of ecological awareness bolstered its credibility with hook-ups from Green Is The New Black Asia and Now no waste.
A spirited manifesto of DIY and participation fostered activities sprouting up all over, from mid-morning yoga classes to drum sessions, handcrafting workshops to farming and sustainability talks. Local artists HKwalls and Molotow HK brought the graffiti-heavy man-made aesthetics the location’s stunning scenery couldn’t stretch to. Access to a small beach was granted through a garden gate opening out onto stunning rock formations, on which partygoers sunned themselves within earshot of the Funktion-One sound system – and still just a stone’s throw from the bar, obviously.
Overnight campers were spotted breathing collective sighs of relief as the weather prevailed golden and glorious for the entire duration. The pastoral, sleep-within-nature accommodation ranged from BYO tents (incidentally those tiny two-mans, pitched far from any shade, looked set to prove particularly interesting for incipient hangovers come sunrise) to decorated canvas teepees and safari-style military tents, boasting terrace BBQs and bedecked with fairy lights.
But most people, really, were here for the music. An impressively international contingent of DJs – Bradley Zero, Dan Shake, Ben UFO and Skatebård – all fresh from the unrelenting party circuit of European festival tours, bestowed seriously credible levels of dance floor energy. Local musicheads such as Mr Ho, Youry Brauner and Roy Malig held their own in keeping the latterly buzzing HK scene represented. Wildly eclectic sets stoked the daytime furnace with a tropical, Afro carnival vibe, and descended into full-on electro, techno and deep house long before the sun had dipped low, paving the way for strobe lights and smoke machines.
Lazy Sunday morning settle-in sessions were soundtracked by hazy, dreamlike jazz that filtered from the DJ booth on gentle cross-breezes down to the nearby shoreline, mingling with the sibilant soundbar of breaking waves. Early afternoon started to kick things uptempo with an injection of hiphop and some decidedly brooding basslines. By only 7pm on consecutive nights, the canopy-ceilinged dancefloor of the Jungle Stage was as sweaty, packed and electric as no normal nightclub could expect to be at such an early hour, as Saturday’s Bradley Zero and his Sunday predecessor Ben UFO whipped up the compact crowds under the glitter of the disco ball.
Across the grassy slopes, at the Concrete Stage, the sound system was partly powered by the kinetic energy of stationary-bike-pedalling volunteers (in variously dubious states of sobriety and fitness; these shaky, cycling subjects gloriously afforded some of the most joyful people-watching of the entire weekend.) Their heroic, drunken efforts gifted the less brave amongst us the opportunity to see our moonlit night out dancing to euphoric disco under the stars, in the tomb-grey hollow of an abandoned skateboard park.
Admittedly, there were some high-profile no-shows – unfortunate collateral damage for any organiser attempting to weave the many separate threads of a complex patchwork of individuals and artists. Saturday night headliner Glenn Underground cancelled his slot last minute due to illness, throwing the day’s line-up into temporary, but somewhat joyful, disarray, as the on-site roster of fellow DJs pitched in, dextrously shuffling their own sets about to fill the gaps. Josey Rebelle had bowed out about a week before, citing personal reasons.
Such blips are par for the course: the festival is still in its infancy; this year’s sophomore set-up being a reboot of last May’s inaugural, Japanese-infused dance-fest on nearby Lantau. Yet despite a couple of bumps in the road, this small autumn gathering with a very human heart had pretty much everything you could wish for on its tiny piece of turf overlooking the ocean: namely revelling in the sun, dancing under the moon and sleeping under the stars. In a scenic island beauty-spot in the South China Seas where, as with so many of Hong Kong’s sleepy outlying islands, time seems to have stood slightly still. So let’s all set our clocks for next year. I’ll be the one under the disco ball.