Freddy Lim (林昶佐), Formoz organizer and frontman of Taiwanese black metal sensation Chthonic (閃靈), got his first tattoo last week — a swirl of intricate vines and gothic symbols that wrap around his left arm from shoulder to wrist. It took 14 hours to finish.
Yet the pain from the tattoo doesn’t compare to that of planning the Formoz rock festival, says Lim, whose company TRA Music has overseen the event’s growth from a small party of metalheads to Taiwan’s answer to the Fuji Rock Festival. This year’s event features more than 70 bands on four stages, with two headline acts from North America and a handful from Japan. The music ranges from techno to punk to heavy metal to indie pop. Like last year, there will be a wrestling ring with live matches, food vendors and an outdoor movie theater showing documentaries on music and social issues.
But this year will be the end of Formoz as we know it. TRA announced earlier this week that it has decided not to hold the event next year because the usual venue, the Taipei Municipal Children’s Recreational Center (台北市兒童育樂中心), is shutting down at the end of the year.
There is not enough time to find a suitable replacement and then book bands for next year, Lim says. It takes 15 months to plan and book bands for Formoz, and at the moment there’s “too much pressure, too much strain.”
The organizers have been preoccupied with other setbacks — two highly anticipated music acts have backed out, and negative feedback has snowballed.
Among the complaints aired by Taiwanese music fans online: It’s too expensive. There are not enough big-name foreign bands. There are too many unknown foreign bands. Why isn’t Coldplay in the lineup? There are too many metal bands, punk bands, post-rock bands, techno bands (take your pick).
“All of these kinds of messages just annoy us … we cannot concentrate on our goal [of putting on the festival],” Lim says.
The criticism has taken a toll on morale at TRA and has led to minor rifts among its staff of 20 or so people. TRA’s staff, composed mainly of music fans, endures a lot of pressure to keep the festival running, Lim says. Many arrive excited to work behind the scenes but eventually quit saying that they “prefer to just be a fan.” “I’m always the one to convince them to do it again,” Lim says.
Enough is enough. It’s time for Formoz to take a step back and “replan the whole thing, to research, to study the scene,” Lim says. “It’s not going to work if [every year we have to] fight bullshit on the Web sites.”
Lim put Formoz on the map in 2001 when he booked Megadeth, Biohazard and Yo La Tengo for a memorable show that left him in debt for the next four years. Over the years the festival grew to multiple stages, each devoted to single genres such as punk or electronica, and it continued to bring in well-known acts including Lisa Loeb, Moby and folk-rocker Michelle Shocked. According to Lim, audiences increased from roughly 2,500 people in 2001 to at least 15,000 last year.
Lim acknowledges that Formoz might have grown too fast, to the point where fan expectations have become too high. Now audiences expect to see bands like Metallica, Aerosmith and Radiohead but don’t realize that even with current ticket prices it’s not possible, he says.
Taiwan hasn’t had enough exposure to “showbiz development,” Lim says. “People just started buying tickets [to rock shows] five years ago.” In the future, perhaps more people will understand that festivals “should be more expensive” than normal rock concerts, he says.