Thu, Mar 10, 2011 - Page 13 News List

Ready to roll

Courtesy of a new government initiative that is paying dividends for the country’s indie music scene, a bevy of Taiwanese bands is heading to North America to play at SXSW and the Canadian Music Week

By David Frazier  /  Contributing Reporter

Go Chic performs in Bermeo, Spain, last month.

Photo Courtesy of Gauilunak

Austin’s SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival, which will take place for the 25th time from Tuesday to March 21, has become a supersized mecca for indie music. With around 2,000 bands performing in 90 venues over seven days, it may be the world’s largest indie music festival, and it is certainly one of the most open, with acts ranging from they’re-not-dead-yet legends like Duran Duran and Wu-Tang Clan to scores of bands, DJs, rappers and singers you’ve almost certainly never heard of.

In the fall, when I asked the lead singer of the Japanese band Guitar Wolf, Seiji Anno, about SXSW, he replied, “It used to be great. Now … pure chaos!”

But somewhere in there, of course, is the absolute cutting edge of what’s next. Parties will be thrown by hipster bellwethers, like the New York-based The Fader magazine. Scouts from Fuji Rock, Glastonbury and other top international festivals go every year to book summer programming.

In all, bands will travel to the festival from more than 60 countries — and now, largely thanks to a new government initiative, this includes Taiwan.

Over the next two weeks, 10 Taiwanese bands, most of which usually play small local clubs like Underworld (地下社會) and The Wall (這牆), will travel to two of North America’s biggest city-based music festivals, SXSW and the Canadian Music Week in Toronto, which started yesterday and runs through Sunday, and a New York City showcase on Tuesday. Six of the bands — Tizzy Bac, Wonfu (旺福), Echo (回聲樂團), Fire Ex (滅火器), Sugar Plum Ferry (甜梅號) and Orangegrass (橙草) — will be completely funded by Taiwan’s government, while another four bands — Go Chic, White Eyes (白目樂隊), Unfamiliar Friends Party (不熟的朋友派對) and Aphasia (阿飛西雅) — will travel to SXSW on their own coin.

The funding for this rock tour comes via a new law that aims to bolster Taiwan’s image and boost cultural exports. Early last year, Taiwan’s legislature passed the Cultural and Creative Industries Development Act (文化創意產業發展法), which earmarked NT$2.1 billion for a five-year action plan called the Pop Music Flagship Project to support the local music industry. Most of this will go to indie bands.

Last year, the Government Information Office provided cash to 62 indie bands to record albums or EPs and funded at least a dozen musical acts to tour to international festivals.

Aboriginal singer Panai (巴奈) and geek chic pop singer Crowd Lu (盧廣仲) performed at the Midem Festival in France. Tizzy Bac and Sodagreen (蘇打綠) played a rock festival in Liverpool, England. Rocker Wu Bai (伍佰) took the stage at a festival in Incheon, South Korea, while four other Taiwanese bands did a three-city tour of Canada, and still three other local bands trekked up to Beijing for the Modern Sky Festival. The Aboriginal reggae band Matzka (瑪斯卡) was named a “national cultural ambassador” and toured through Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in Central and South America.

GIO head Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) told the Taipei Times the idea is to use “soft power” to give Taiwan’s international image a makeover.

“Taiwan makes computers, everybody knows that,” says Chiang, “but we also want people to know that Taiwan produces music, fashion and design. Going forward, we want to promote culture as a way of increasing Taiwan’s international exposure.”

A national program for indie rock? In the past, cultural exports meant classical music, ancient Chinese art and highbrow performance, like the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre (雲門舞集).

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