Break out the speedos and sarongs and the 50spf sunscreen because it's time yet again to join the sweaty, heaving crowds at the Gungliao Ho-Hai-Yan Rock Festival for a weekend of music and sand in your beer.
Attracting thousands each year with the tried-and-true formula of sun, sea and music, the festival this time around looks set to out do its three previous incarnations with a three-day lineup that includes some of Taiwan's biggest bands and for the first time several big-name groups from abroad.
The festival starts this evening on the white-sand beach at Fulong, a two-hour hop from downtown Taipei by train, and should keep people's ears ringing until late Sunday night.
For the past three years Ho-Hai-Yan has been a rite of passage event for up-and-coming bands, much as the annual Spring Scream has been, with a battle of the bands being held under the banner of the Taiwan Indie Music Awards. The winners of the awards walk away with NT$200,000 -- no small sum for amateur bands facing the likelihood of having to record and release albums without the support of a record label.
Along with the Indie Music Awards, the festival has also served as an annual pow-wow for the indie music scene. Taiwan Colors Music (TCM), the country's most prominent independent record label which has co-organized the festival with the Taipei County Government since its inception, lends the event considerable street cred and has consistently brought together the best under-appreciated music talents for this free concert on the beach.
"The Taipei County Government turned to us because they didn't know anything about the music scene. We had the contacts and experience to do it right," said Zhang 43 (張43), head of TCM.
This year TCM was put in charge of today's and tomorrow's lineups while the Taipei City Government, looking to expand the festival to a third day and bring in talent from overseas, called on MTV for its international contacts.
"Even though MTV organized the third day, the festival is still an indie event," Zhang said.
Two stages have been set up -- a small one for a dense schedule of underground bands and an enormous stage on the waterfront for the main acts.
Today's roster on the main stage includes punk, rock and folk bands, as well as a special performance by three DJs and students from the religion department of Fujen Catholic University. The piece is the brainchild of Zhang from TCM, who is the mind behind a long list of oddball concept albums and projects produced by his label.
The students will be putting on a show of the traditional Eight Generals (
elements of local culture that draw disapproving glances from the more bourgeois sectors of Taiwan's cultural establishment and this performance is another feather in his cap.
Huang Yi-chin (黃一晉) of downtempo group 78Bpm, drum n' bass DJ Ty and hip hop DJ J4 have arranged tunes to which the students, in full face paint and costume, go through the slow ritual dances and ceremonial gestures of the Eight Generals performance.
"It's something that's never been done before, but the mix [of traditional performance and modern music] comes off quite well," DJ Ty said at a rehearsal on Tuesday.