Formoz (野台開唱), Taipei’s big summer music festival is back. From Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, seven stages will host 120 bands, two-thirds of them coming from overseas, including international headliners Suede, The XX, Mercury Rev and Japanese pop idols Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Puffy. This is the Formoz that was supposed to happen every year, and it did from 2001 to 2008, bringing headliners like Moby, Megadeth and Yo La Tengo and, by the end of that run, selling 10,000 festival passes a year. Then, it was suddenly discontinued.
“We just needed to reorganize. Our staff was maxed out, the venue was not really big enough, and we were having to deal with all kinds of expectations about what local fans thought the festival should be,” says Orbis Fu (傅鉛文), CEO of The Wall Music, which organizes the festival and also runs The Wall live houses in Taipei, Greater Kaohsiung and Yilan.
“We originally expected to be on hiatus for a year or two, but it just dragged on for this long,” says Fu.
You could say, however, that this resurrection almost had to happen. Large, Western-style rock festivals are flourishing through Asia, and many of them sprang up while Formoz was sleeping. Japan’s Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic, each drawing 40,000 to 50,000 fans per day, have both been going strong for much more than the last few years, of course. But South Korea’s Ansan Valley Rock Festival (formerly Jisan Valley Rock Festival) has grown to about 30,000 per day in the last few years. Hong Kong’s Cockenflap, held in December, first appeared in 2008 and now draws top names and 15,000 ticket holders. China has huge festivals that bring international artists when the government allows it. And other multi-day music events are constantly springing up in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and even Malaysia. Attracting 10,000 fans for rock or electronic music is now hardly a novelty in Asia.
Moreover, Taiwan’s rock scene has grown more international than it has ever been. Fu estimates that The Wall in Taipei now draws around 50,000 fans a year. While this number has not grown in the last two or three years, he says revenues have soared as the number of international bookings has increased, with a big upsurge starting from 2011. Five years ago the club saw one or two international bands a month. Now it can host up to a half dozen.
“Indie music is becoming more of a lifestyle trend. There are more American and European bands coming than ever before. There are more venues and more small promoters for this kind of music. If you have events happening every week, people start to pay attention,” he says.
“Plus,” he continues, “mainstream culture has gotten too boring.”
For this year’s Formoz, Fu expects about 12,000 people per day and says the budget will be about NT$71 million.
One of the biggest draws (and artist fees) will be Suede, the Britpop band from the 90s, which has been to Taiwan twice before and, with three previous headliner slots at Glastonbury, has plenty of practice at wowing enormous crowds. In many ways, they are a band from a different era, a time when huge album sales preceded huge festival crowds. But that past is not so long gone that local fans have forgotten it, and Suede’s late addition to the Formoz lineup, announced just about six weeks ago, sparked a big run of ticket sales.
Another major draw will be The XX, indie darlings for their Valium-laced dance beats and 2010 Mercury Prize, the British award that anoints young bands into proper rock ‘n’ roll stardom. They will make their Taiwan debut, and I cannot help imagining their visit will be like a photo I can’t help staring at on Google Images — the three band members are in the tropically blue water of a palm-lined lagoon in Miami, yet still wearing black t-shirts, black sunglasses, and no amount of sunshine can brighten the pallor of their skin.