Taiwan’s underground music scene these days is dominated by post-punk rock and indie pop, and to a lesser extent, reggae. One band from Taipei has found its niche by putting these styles together.
Hang in the Air (盪在空中), which performs tonight at Underworld (地下社會), has cultivated a loyal following since forming in 2007.
The four-piece group writes and performs original songs full of psychedelic jams that revolve around reggae and dub rhythms, all of which can be heard on its debut EP A Big Piece of Scenery (一大片的風景).
The music is also full of unexpected twists and turns. The EP’s title track, which is over six minutes long, yo-yos back and forth between a hypnotic reggae groove and a straightforward guitar rock jam, and finally ends with a melodramatic instrumental coda that borrows from Taiwanese indie pop and post-rock.
This meandering is a result of the group’s varying musical interests, according to Hang in the Air’s lead singer, guitarist and songwriter “Lai Q” (賴Q), whose real name is Lai Wen-hsuan (賴文軒).
“The music that the four of us listen to is fairly different, so when we started out, we mostly wrote songs by jamming,” Lai said in an interview earlier this week.
The band members’ past projects reflect their musical DNA: Lai is a former member of the New Wave punk band Chasing Sparrows (追麻雀); bassist Allen Liu (劉培倫) is a reggae and hip-hop DJ and member of Taimaica Soundsystem (台買加環繞音效); and guitarist Chen Hao (陳顥) is a former member of underground rock bands 88 Balaz (88顆芭樂籽) and Children Sucker (表兒).
Lai cites the Japanese electronica dub group Fishmans as a major inspiration in shaping the band’s sound. Children Sucker and Loh Tsui Kweh Commune (LTK, 濁水溪公社) were also influences on his songwriting, and like them, he sings in Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese).
What: Hang in the Air (盪在空中) and OTA Soul
When: Tonight at 9pm
Where: Underworld (地下社會), B1, 45 Shida Rd, Taipei City (台北市師大路45號B1), tel: (02) 2369-0103. On the Net: www.upsaid.com/underworld
Admission: NT$300, includes one drink
On the Net: zh-tw.facebook.com/hangintheair
But while those two bands thrive on light-hearted silliness and parody, Lai tends to be reflective and outwardly sentimental in his lyrics. A line from A Big Piece of Scenery (一大片的風景) translates to: “I feel my state of mind right now is like a movie/Without sound/ The wind blows over my face/It’s as if you were/With me.”
But Lai, who’s already working on new songs for a possible future documentary that features the band on tour, says he has not ruled out writing Mandarin lyrics.
“Actually my Taiwanese isn’t very good,” he said. “A lot of times, I’d have to ask my family members [for help with the lyrics] — I mostly asked my mother.”
And what was her reaction to Hang in the Air’s music? “She asked me, ‘Are you singing in English?’” Lai said, laughing. “I said ‘no, I’m singing in Taiwanese.’ After a few days, she told me, ‘Son, the guitars are louder than the vocals.’”
Lai also points to Neil Young and The Clash as inspirations, which can be heard clearly in his angst-filled vocal delivery, an element that adds bittersweetness to the band’s otherwise upbeat vibe.
And the 30-year-old acknowledges his academic background in film — he’s also an aspiring director and holds a day job at a film production company — which he says has influenced the way he conceives of his albums.
“Some people say the way I do music is a like a collage,” said Lai, who is looking forward to seeing Hang in the Air mature in its songwriting.
“I feel that creating new music, whether it’s [electronica], reggae, or hip hop or rock, is putting it through interesting changes,” he said. “But we’re still experimenting.”