Fri, Jun 22, 2001 - Page 7 News List

Monsters of rock loom over Taipei

Next month, the Formoz Festival 2001 will bring together bands from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore for the first time ever to play on the same stage as Megadeth from the US

By David Frazier  /  STAFF WRITER

So cute, yet so hard. Yellow Machine Gun of Japan.

PHOTO COURTESY OF TRA

The Formoz Festival 2001 will not be just another rock concert in Taiwan. It will be the first festival to bring monsters of rock like Megadeth and Biohazard from the outside world to a venue in Taiwan where slam dancing is allowed. In addition to lots and lots of hard rock, the concert will also take on a touch of political significance, as it will be the first time rock bands from China and Taiwan perform together on the same stage.

Behind it all is a local black metal impresario, Freddy (佛來敵), a 25-year-old guy who takes his name from the mass murderer-hero of the Nightmare on Elm Street slasher flicks and, when on stage with his band Chthonic, has the throat snarl of some demonic overlord. He's said that when he sings, he feels like he has super powers. Maybe he does.

Over the last four years, he has also managed to rebuild Taiwan's major indie rock music network, the Taiwan Rock Alliance (TRA), from what was once a smoldering wreck. When he took over the organization, then called the North Collegiate Rock Alliance (NCRA), it only had one member (the founder), was in debt NT$50,000 and consisted mainly of a paper bag full of band information sheets. Now, Freddy is using the TRA to create Taiwan's first megaconcert and what he calls "a rare opportunity to bring rock bands from all over the Mandarin-speaking world."

When Formoz takes place from July 27 to July 29 in Taipei, the festival will bring together bands from Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore as well as headliners from the US and Japan. And in spite of the potential geopolitical significance of it all, Freddy says, "this is not really a political concert."

Well, yes and no. It would be hard to say that Freddy himself is completely free of politics, because, like everyone else in Taiwan, he has been caught in the middle of a political conflict that has lasted his whole life. Here, even an apolitical viewpoint is still a political expression. And apolitical perhaps best describes Freddy's politics. He is neither DPP nor KMT; he is neither pro-Taiwan independence nor pro-unification. Instead, he supports a more subtle stance of affirming Taiwan's identity without rejecting China. At least that's what it looks like from the concerts he's organized so far.

TRA's "Say Yes To Taiwan" concert series, which took place in March, adopted a semi-political theme of support for Taiwan identity, in part to garner DPP financial support. Between a few of the head banging sets, slightly disoriented politicians took the stage to take a stab at the youth vote. There were also foreigners, including members from a local expat band Milk, and the Japanese cutie punk rockers of Softball, on stage screaming out, "Say yes to Taiwan." And they didn't just say it once in a nominal show of support, they said it over and over again.

Formoz, meanwhile, has fallen into a position of playing up themes of continuity among East Asia's major Chinese communities. It has also incorporated Japan, with multimillion album-selling group the Garlic Boys and the three-girl hit thrash act Yellow Machine Gun. It's almost as if to say Asia's younger generation doesn't care about all that ancient feuding anymore. What Freddy says is, "these are just the bands I like, and I want to give people here a chance to see them."

The bands themselves reinforce such a view, as by and large, they are more similar than they are different. Tang Dynasty and Overload are emblems of the Beijing rock scene, and are best known for satirical social commentary, not direct political discourse. The same could be said for punk rockers LTK and the Clippers from Taiwan and Opposition Party from Singapore. Other bands, like Japan's Garlic Boys, Taiwan's Anarchy and Hong Kong's skate and slam group LMF are more about venting teen angst, which is just another kind of social critique when it comes down to it.

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