For the last decade, Taipei’s punk scene has been pretty dead, while the metalheads have just cliquishly brooded in their own musical corner, kind of like they would at any high school. But then earlier this week, I got into a conversation with my Shida music dudes about how indie-rock kids are once again developing some creeping affections for hard, heavy, guitar-crunching bands. It might have to do with bombastic, high-energy shows by touring legends like Napalm Death, and it might also have to do with bands inching out of old genres and finding new cross-over crowds. That’s what seems to be happening with a new wave of bands, who are turning their backs on post-punk, postrock and shoegaze and instead making a conscious effort to look, act and sound “very rocker.”
Sleaze (湯湯水水) is one of the better bands in this growing scene, and they’ll release their first CD next Friday, Sept. 21 at Underworld, to be followed by three other shows through the end of the month. When I sat down with them earlier this week, the interview immediately turned into one of those interminable discussions of musical genre.
“Before, I listened to hardcore and screamo,” says Sleaze vocalist Norton Lin (林書緯). “Then I started listening to stoner [rock], and I really wanted to play stoner, but we weren’t really stoner. We were just some strange music, I don’t know what to call it.”
“I don’t really want to think about our band as being a certain genre,” he said. Then 10 minutes later, “I think Sleaze is a hardcore band.” And 20 minutes later, “If you have to say we’re some genre, say ‘psychedelic.’”
At this, guitarist King Kong Guan (官靖剛) started laughing. “Dude, we’re definitely not psychedelic. What, you think we’re Pink Floyd?”
“Oh,” said Lin. “Well then, maybe just forget about it.”
What they are is a group that started off in punk, hardcore and screamo. (Lin and Guan both loved the Japanese band Envy.) Three years ago, the different bands they were playing in broke up at around the same time. So they got together in 2009 and began by jamming off of heavy riffs, then followed those riffs into heavy grooves. Now, Sleaze forms its music around a core of extended jams that hearken back to late-70s hard rock, but they also weave in explosive punk riffs and spaced-out sections of bleary-eyed dub. There’s even the odd saxophone solo.
Lin also has a very interesting back-story, having started out as something of a child prodigy. Before the age of 10, his mother trained him to sing, dance and play the piano, before launching him into the world of TV singing competitions, including the most famous of the time, Wu Deng Jiang (五燈獎) (literally: Five Lights Awards). She also had him perform at weddings for NT$10,000 a pop. This is much less than he now makes delivering low, gutteral groans as lead singer of Sleaze. Still, he claims that the influence of Taiwanese pop singing legends like Wen Xia (文夏) and Liu Jia-chang (劉家昌) has not left him. And Guan, incredibly enough, claims that old pre-90s Mandopop influences his guitar arrangements. I will have to take their word for it.
■ Sleaze plays Fri, Sept. 21, 9pm at Underworld (地下社會), B1, 45 Shida Rd, Taipei City (台北市師大路45號B1). Admission: NT$300. They also play Sept. 22 at the Nangang Bottlecap Factory (南港瓶蓋工廠), Sept. 29 at Emerge Livehouse in Taichung (浮現藝文展演空間) and Sept. 30 at the Wall, Taipei.