But now when I think of Spring Scream, I often see the Ghost of Spring Scream Future, and it looks like Baku Genjin. Spring Scream, now in its 19th year, has been surpassed not only in Asia, but also in Taiwan. In terms of attendance, it is perhaps Taiwan’s sixth largest regular music festival behind Formoz Festival (野台開唱) (returning this summer), Megaport Music Festival (大港開唱), Simple Life Festival (簡單生活節, a biennial festival), Ho-Hai-Yan Rock Festival (台北縣貢寮國際海洋音樂祭) and Spring Wave Music and Art Festival (墾丁春浪音樂節). There are also plenty of smaller 100-band festivals. Though none of them have the same free-and-easy spirit or the camping weekend, they do boast the same opportunity to see Taiwan’s top indie bands without the now excessive cost of traveling to Kenting on the town’s most expensive weekend of the year.
I have only missed a couple of Spring Screams since my first in 1997. I am friends with its two founders, and I will never stop rooting for the festival. I see it as the crowning achievement of Taiwan’s English teacher invasion that began in the 1990s, the most visible example of a cultural loosening that cannot be separated from thousands of young, partying Westerners spending the last 20 years teaching Taiwanese children and dating its women. To the credit of the Taiwanese, they allowed it to happen. Both China and Japan are too big to feel such an impact, and Korea is too xenophobic. Both Davis and Moe were English teachers when they started the festival, and both still teach even now.
Maybe it is because I believe in Spring Scream so much that I want it to be better. The last time I went, two years ago, the only performance schedule was on an iPhone app I couldn’t access, or else a printout in 8-point type one of the organizers had on his clipboard. Without the ability to navigate, 250 bands playing over three days is not democracy, it is cacophony. Organizational efforts seem mainly channeled into whacky ideas, like towering driftwood sculptures, or, this year, a “Skype stage” where you can watch bands playing live from Israel. Those things are fine, but I would also kind of like to be able to read bios of the 20 or 30 bands that bought their own plane tickets from Japan, Hong Kong, Korea or North America. In other words, some core competence.
This is why many Taipei bands no longer bother with Spring Scream, and the festival has retrogressed as a platform for very young bands, bands from south and central Taiwan and, of course, English teachers. One can debate the festival’s idealism — all bands must apply, no one gets paid — but if it is a promotional fiasco on top of that — no one knows that you are playing, unless you tell them yourself — it fails to create an opportunity. Now going on 20 years, Spring Scream still has the chance to be more than an expensive camping trip with rock ‘n’ roll.