Tonight the Japanese instrumental rock band Mono will return to the 14th and possibly final Formoz music festival as headliners of a segment billed as a “post-rock paradise.” This year, Formoz is putting out its biggest ever post-rock lineup, with at least half a dozen bands specializing in intense and inward-looking music set to perform. In addition to Mono, these include Te, Hyakkei, Ovum and Naan from Japan and local group Aphasia.
Mono’s first visit to Formoz came in 2002, just as the post-rock wave was beginning to break over Taiwan. The band’s set in Zhongshan Hall, along with another performance later that year by the Austin, Texas group Explosions in the Sky, marked a dramatic and unexpected shift in both local rock and the way kids listened to it. Suddenly, entire audiences of college students were sitting cross-legged on the floor and wagging their heads in a kind of spacey rapture, almost like they were listening to the band through headphones, even though the group was right in front of them and wailing away on their instruments.
At that time, Mono was just three years young and playing one of its first international gigs. Since then, the foursome has toured through at least 25 countries, last year performing more than 100 shows in six months of touring through the US and Europe. This summer, they’ve played festivals in the US and Estonia and done a quick tour of Southeast Asia before playing Formoz and Fujirock — Japan’s largest music festival — in the same weekend.
“Local kids, especially Taipei kids, like this music because they’re too repressed,” says Wu Yih-chunn (吳逸駿), Aphasia’s guitarist, who’s championed post-rock locally both as a recording engineer and head of the Taipei indie label White Wabbit Records (小白兔唱片). “Kids are becoming more like otaku, just playing computer games and not dealing with real people. They’re hiding their inner selves away, so they need this kind of music to experience these kinds of strong emotions.”
Takaakira Goto, one of Mono’s two guitarists and the band’s driving creative force, agreed that the music arises from a new type of emotional neediness.
“Recently in Tokyo, there was a cruel random killing,” Goto said in an e-mail interview. “It seems the number of murders without any reason is increasing. Society seems to be filled with information, and the virtual world of the Internet gives us an illusion you can get anything you want, but it’s not true. I think our hearts are not fulfilled at all.”
Mono’s sonic vocabulary, like much other post-rock, consists of dreamy soundscapes, guitar crescendos that rise into monumental walls of noise and slow tempo drumming, often with a tragic feel. Over the last decade, the band’s emotional transmissions have moved from a deep sense of frustration and anger on early albums to what Goto has described as feelings of solace and redemption.
“Personally, I feel we people need some sort of bursting positive energy now. [So] we want to make a strong album which has the power of a blessing, an album that listeners can get good energy from every time they listen to it and be inspired,” he said. I want to express people’s joy and sorrow with my music at the level of Beethoven and Ennio Morricone.”
Mono’s vehicle for these grandly humanistic ambitions — lengthy songs composed in building and receding movements — very loosely echoes the narrative structures used by Beethoven and other Romantic composers. But as with much other post-rock, Goto claims his stories are inspired by the much more modern medium of cinema.