If you went to Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival (新北市貢寮國際海洋音樂祭) last month and thought to yourself, “There are 50,000 people here and a gigantic stage, so why is no one paying attention to the music?”, you were probably aching for live music with an actual scene attached to it. In this summer of government-sponsored rock festivals, that has been hard to come by. This weekend, however, you’ll get a chance to feel authentically dirty, sweaty and properly indie with a bunch of like-minded rockers at Beastie Rock, a three-day, 100-band festival near Tamsui (淡水). Now in its second year, it will bring some pretty decent rock bands from Japan, South Korea, Macau and Malaysia, in addition to top local indie groups, including LTK (濁水溪公社), The White Eyes (白目), Skaraoke, My Skin Against Your Skin and many more. The festival is fast posing itself as — dare I say it? — the Spring Scream of the north.
The event’s organizer is a man who has rather ambitiously named himself Indie Lord (音地大帝). His personality does not live up to the bombast, and to many he is just another of those anonymous figures who sits until late, late at night drinking near the DJ booth at Underworld. Indie Lord got into the indie scene as a DJ on an illegal radio station more than a decade ago. For pirate radio, he’d interview local bands and showcase their music. Once the government closed such stations down, he continued to produce interviews for the Internet, both as audio podcasts and streaming video. Some of them appeared on the popular music portal, Indievox.com.
Earlier this summer, local media reported that nearly a dozen government-sponsored music festivals around Taiwan would showcase over 700 bands over the summer. Indie Lord did not see this as a cause for huge optimism.
“This society needs music festivals, but it doesn’t need bands,” he says. “Official festivals just need a lot of people, but it doesn’t matter what is happening there artistically. I thought of getting money from the government or sponsors, but I knew they’d make certain requests and I didn’t really want to deal with that. The advantage of doing this independently is that we have fewer restrictions.”
“Really,” he says, “I’m just trying to create a vibe that people will be into.”
Last year, at a grassy site next to the Tamsui River, the vibe was definitely fun and music oriented. The festival was ragtag, with only a few vendors and improvised stages. One stage was a truck that opens hydraulically into a gaudy, neon-lit karaoke stage – a contraption often used in countryside festivals. But the beer was extremely cheap (five cans for NT$100) and there were some very memorable performances by the kinds of international bands who would have a strong local followings in nearby regional scenes like South Korea and Japan.
This year, bands to look out for include Japan’s Uchikubigokumon-Doukoukai, a punk-metal group with sound that’s both catchy and mosh-friendly. Uchikubi features both male and female vocals — just a touch of cutesy yin in what’s otherwise some very yang music — and have played a slew of major Japanese festivals, including Fuji Rock. Also check out Macau’s Forget the G, which brought to mind memories of Faith No More when they played Ho-Hai-Yan last month. On the whole, expect a bit more punk and metal than your typical government rock fest, though there will also be ska, hip hop and the odd acoustic guitar strummer — in indie rock terms, a bit of something for everyone.