To the casual observer, Taiwan must look like one rockin' island. First, Ho-Hai-Yan warmed a crowd of tens of thousands with a free concert at Fulong Beach and now revelers are priming themselves for the second three-day rock festival in as many weeks with Formoz 2003 (野台開唱).
Its name in Chinese translates as something like "wild stage concert" and comes from the performances in front of temples, at night markets and on street corners throughout Taiwan ever since there have been temples, night markets and street corners.
Those shows are marked by their impromptu spirit and happily mix all kinds of entertainment, musical or otherwise. For Formoz, though, the name is a bit of a deceit; the concert is anything but impromptu and Taiwan Rock Alliance (TRA) has been organizing this year's festival almost since the curtain fell on last year's, garnering sponsorship from every corner of the private and government sectors.
That support will amount to very little, though, if Taiwan's rock fans don' t come out for a second full weekend of damaging decibels, which is a concern considering this weekend's fare isn't free. One attendee to last week's beachside battle of the bands summed up what the organizers of Formoz are likely most afraid of.
"You have to pay to go to Formoz," said Amanda Chen. "Besides, it's all really hard rock. I'm not in to it that too much."
For their part, the folks at TRA are working to rid Formoz of its reputation as a head-banger's ball ? sort of.
"We've invited more alternative and hip-hop acts this year," said Freddy Lin (佛來敵), the 27-year-old head of TRA and perhaps the island's highest-profile head-banger. His own band, Chthonic (閃靈 ), is one of the few local rock acts to break into the international market, having been invited to tour Japan, and Freddy himself has been organizing a yearly concert for nine years. This is the third year that that annual outing has gone under the Formoz banner.
"Ho-Hai-Yan was a lot of unproven bands. What we're doing is different; most all the bands playing Formoz are established acts. And few of them are metal bands, as in past yeard."
In fact, unlike Formoz's inaugural year, when TRA broke the bank to invite Megadeth, Biohazard and Yola Tengo, this year's line-up of overseas invitees includes far less leather and long hair, such as Japanese post-rock duo Sugar Plant, hip-hop mix masters MP Family from South Korea, and a slough of Hong Kong acts, including Mazer, Fat Job, Ling Lychee and Very Ape. About the only metal lining the list of imports comes from Singapore; Impiety, whose song list consists of cult classics like Magikonsecration Goatsodomy and Paganistic Bitchgoddess Deimpalation.
Japan's Exias-J is also making its sophomore appearance at Formoz. The group's name stands for Experimental Improvisers' Association of Japan. It was founded in 1999 by Kondo Hideaki and is a collective of improv Jazz musicians whose passions lie in challenging the definition of music. Their sound ranges from modern Jazz to noise.
A few of the overseas acts, such as US punk revivalists Strike Anywhere, pulled out early due to SARS concerns, while others simply decided not to come. "Emo-rock" crooner Johnny Royale, who is said to make his audiences cry with his emotive brand of rock and roll, will stay in Hong Kong.