Mega Port (大港開唱) has grown up into a real music festival. When it took place last weekend in Kaohsiung, it drew around 20,000 fans over two days to see more than 80 bands on five major stages. When it was founded in 2006, it was mostly a curiosity, an offshoot franchise of the Formoz Festival (野台開唱) for the straggling and dispersed rock fans down south.
In the last two years, it has reached a tipping point, having grown large enough in terms of both attendance and media attention that things just began happening organically. “It was really unexpected, but this year suddenly lots of people began approaching us with ideas, so we were able to add all these new areas,” said Orbis Fu (傅鉛文), CEO of the Mega Port’s parent company, The Wall Music.
As a result, the NGO Village area was bigger than ever. There was an on-site hair salon. There were two new DJ stages, a skateboard area, live graffiti, and an art project of around a hundred lifesize wire figures covered in white plastic — strewn throughout the 2km site, they ruffled in the wind and looked like people in cheap plastic raincoats. Before the fest, there was lots of grumbling about a pop star, Cyndi Wang (王心凌), in this rock fest lineup. Named one of the top ten most popular entertainment celebrities of 2011 by Next Magazine, Wang is a typical product of the Mandopop entertainment-publicity complex. But she at least appeared to embrace the idea of musician-generated music, performing a song with the band Punk Hoo (胖虎) and declaring she hoped to form her own band.
Anti-nuclear sentiment was ubiquitous. In addition to the stickers, t-shirts and shuffling environmentalist proselytizers, a slew of musicians took up the cause. Bobby Chen (陳昇) exhorted a big, main stage crowd, “Don’t be against nuclear power, get rid of it all together.” Wonfu (旺福), Dog G (大支) and Fire EX (滅火器) also bandied around the cause.
Hotels around the Pier 2 Arts District — at least the cheaper ones — were booked to capacity with rockers from Taipei City. In short, there was drama, a national audience and a great subcultural sampling — all the tiny nuances that add up to a great festival vibe, both on and off the site.
So in a sense, it didn’t matter that the international headliners were sometimes less than inspiring. Grizzly Bear was great for fans of Grizzly Bear, but hardly captivating. The Japanese experimental metal band Boris played a set that was dazed, creepy and extremely loud, but also hard to latch on to. Many said their performance a night before in Taipei was much better. Japanese punkers 10 Feet were, however, rousing, intense and fun.
Many of the biggest crowds of the festival turned out for local acts. The Sunday night finale by Fire EX saw several thousand flock to the main stage. Veteran rocker/comedian Bobby Chen and the band 1976 were also major draws. Fans had to squeeze in to see Elephant Gym on one of the smaller stages, and deathcore group Side Effect demonstrated a solid following.
If anything, Mega Port seems poised to grow. In the Pier 2 Arts District, an expansive and renovated industrial zone of warehouses and harbor works, is a 10-minute cab ride from the heart of the city, has plenty of space and is relatively insulated from noise complaints. The March weather in Kaohsiung is temperate, dry and — unlike every summer festival in Taiwan — wholly immune from typhoons. One can also surmise that Mega Port has a decent measure of government support. Look for it to be just as good if not better next year.