When Cui Jian (崔建) steps onto the stage this weekend at the Ho-Hai-Yan rock festival, many of the tens of thousands of people in the audience at Fulong (福隆) beach will be too young to fully appreciate what they are seeing. More than just China's biggest rock star, his country's Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen, the raspy-voiced master of coded lyrics is a symbol of the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Before the People's Liberation Army shot its way through Beijing on June 4, Cui was seen milling with the students and his song Nothing To My Name (一無所有) was their unofficial anthem. A year later, Cui's New Long March tour was cancelled by the government after he appeared on stage wearing a red blindfold before performing one of his political anthems. He would not play a large-venue show in Beijing again until 2004.
Taiwan Colors Music (TCM, 角頭音樂), the indie record label that started Ho-Hai-Yan (海洋音樂祭), has been trying to bring Cui to Taiwan for years. First China would not let him go. Last year TCM lost its role in the festival when the Taipei County government chose Formosa Television (FTV, 民視) to run the event. TCM announced it had booked Cui along with several other international bands and would stage its own, alternative "People's Hohaiyan Rock Festival" but ultimately failed to do so. Now TCM is back as the planner of this year's fest, and if everything goes according to plan, Cui's first Taiwan performance will start Sunday at 9pm. "He's finally going to make it," said TCM head Zhang 43 (張43) who calls Cui "the most important rock star in Asia."
Eight years after it started as a tiny gathering of indie musicians, Ho-Hai-Yan has ballooned into a major three-day festival with international acts paid for by NT$20 million from the Taipei County Government and an undisclosed amount from big corporate sponsors like 7-Eleven, MTV and Chunghwa Telecom. This year organizers are predicting 300,000 people will attend.
What: Ho-Hai-Yan Rock Festival
Where: Fulung beach, Taipei County
When: Today, tomorrow and Sunday
Admission to the festival is free
How to get there: Trains will be traveling in both directions between Taipei and Fulung at the rate of about one train every hour throughout the weekend. The last train back to Taipei on all three days leaves at 11:02pm. For schedule information, visit www.railway.gov.tw/index.htm.
Like Spring Scream, Ho-Hai-Yan has become a rite of passage for would-be rock stars, with a battle of the bands that culminates in the Taiwan Indie Music Awards. As always, the 10 bands competing this year made it to the finals by passing a first cut with a demo and a second cut at regional concerts. The winner gets NT$200,000, a huge boost for amateur musicians without major label backing. Sodagreen, the folk rock band that won in 2004, took home the highly coveted Best Band trophy at last month's Golden Melody Awards.
This year's battle of the bands starts at 3pm today. Two of the favorites to win - happy punks Children Sucker (表兒) and Dingding and Ding Ding and Xi Xi (丁丁與西西), a brand new act - perform at 4pm and 4:30pm. Last year's winners Punk Hoo take the stage at 7pm. Following their set the winner of this year's contest will be announced.
The other main attractions this weekend, both of whom play tomorrow, are San Francisco-based Xiu Xiu - an experimental pop band whose influences include 1980s British goth punk, the Cure, Joy Division, "really harsh noise," electronica and New Music composers like Dmitri Shostakovich - and Japan's Boom Boom Satellites, a digital hard-core band who have performed at Ho-Hai-Yan before and were the main act on the second day of this year's Fuji Rock Festival.
Interviewed by phone yesterday from his Taipei hotel room, Xiu Xiu founder and singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart said his band brought its drum machines, handmade guitar pedals, other "electronic sorts of things," a harmonium and a flute. He's played in Japan and has heard of Boom Boom Satellites and Cui Jian, but isn't familiar with any of the other bands. "It's sort of a cliched thing to say, but any opportunity to be out of town is great, particularly when it's some place extraordinarily far away," he said. "This whole trip is really kind of unbelievable."