Three days. Two stages. Fifty-four bands.
This year's Hohaiyan rock festival won't be bigger, at least in terms of the number of bands performing. And critics say the music won't be better. But there almost certainly will be more people.
Taiwan's biggest annual rock ‘n’ roll event kicks off this evening in Fulong (福隆), Taipei County, for a weekend of free concerts on the beach that ends with Sunday's battle of the bands. Highlights include last year's prizewinner, Totem (圖騰), as well as Chinese acts Black Panther (黑豹樂隊) and Tang Dynasty (唐朝樂隊).
In a major departure from previous years, the 2006 Hohaiyan rock festival is being organized by a large media company, Formosa TV (FTV, 民視電台). The governments of Taipei County and Gongliao Township (貢寮鄉), where Fulong is located, chose FTV over the indie record label that created the Hohaiyan festival and ran it for six years.
Originally planned for last weekend, the “Ho-hai-yan Gungliao Rock Festival” (貢寮國際海洋音樂祭) was hastily rescheduled after tropical storm Bilis gathered strength off the east coast. While the storm left Fulong's beach in concert-worthy condition, it quashed a bid by former organizer Taiwan Colors Music (TCM, 角頭音樂) to stage a “People's Hohaiyan Rock Festival” without government sponsorship. TCM's concerts were cancelled when FTV said it wanted the performance space this weekend.
“We're expecting hundreds of thousands of people to come,” said a spokeswoman for FTV in a phone interview Monday.
FTV employees and Taipei County officials said this weekend's festival will remain true to its original purpose, which was to incubate young musical talent and expose local fans to new sounds. But when asked after a press conference last week why a television station could do a better job of organizing a rock festival than a record company, Taipei County Deputy Commissioner Tsen Tsan-pao (曾參寶) talked instead about advertising and management, while FTV spokespersons stressed their company's proposal to use 20 percent of their profits to promote tourism to Gongliao.
Chinese-language media reported that FTV executives wanted to bring US saxaphone crooner Kenny G to perform, and although this didn't happen, there will be fewer foreign bands at this year's festival. The two Chinese groups are past their prime, and no one has heard of the two Japanese bands, Spiral Monster and Goofy Style. FTV did not take TCM up on its offer to bring on any of the 13 foreign bands — including China's highly regarded Cuijian (崔健) — that TCM had booked to perform at its festival.
“Formosa TV didn't seem to care about the foreign bands,” said Arthur Chen (陳彥豪), a movie producer and bar owner who brought foreign bands to the last two Hohaiyan festivals. He had signed Japanese hip-hop act Dragon Ash on to TCM's now cancelled Hohaiyan festival. He offered his services to FTV but was told the company did not want to add more foreign bands to the ones it had already listed in its proposal, for fear of annoying the Taipei County government.
As for the Taiwanese bands slated to share the festival's main stage with the four foreign bands, “They're not bad, but they're past their prime,” he said.
Purists who attended past Hohaiyan festivals say that with soaring attendance figures — a reported 100,000 people saw more than 100 bands perform at Hohaiyan in 2004 — the event has already changed too much for their liking. The general consensus is that the new organizer will only cement this process.