Formoz, welcome back! We’ve missed you! It was a bit of a relief to see Taiwan’s aspirational international rock festival do more than just aspire, drawing 25,000 people over three days and managing a comeback after a four-year hiatus. Headliners Suede, Mercury Rev and The XX were very good if not all amazing, but they made thousands of fans happy and certainly plant Formoz squarely back on the summer calendar of Asian music festivals.
There were also standout shows by The Big Pink, A Place to Bury Strangers and the young Japanese band Okamoto’s. Taiwanese superstar Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹), also known as A-mei, made a secret appearance to watch the Japanese duo, Puffy. And Japan’s current queen of kawaii, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, was clown-tastically good, though, in the 36 degrees Celsius heat on Sunday afternoon, one of her dancers had to come off due to heat exhaustion and was wrapped in cold towels and ice backstage.
Ahhh, the stories of a good rock festival. Though the weather was hot, scorching sun was better than torrential rain. The crowds were enthusiastic and well-lubed. Airplanes flew just over the top of two of the main stages, landing just 2km or 3km away at the Taipei Songshan Airport and, all too often timing their flyovers with a crescendo or a finale, seeming like some awesome stage effect.
And the really good news is that the event may be financially viable.
“We may have lost a little bit of money, but we are very close to breaking even. We are still doing the accounting, so I cannot say for sure,” said The Wall CEO Orbis Fu (傅鉛文) on Tuesday.
The event’s budget was NT$71 million, or around US$2.4 million.
Generally speaking, Fu added, sounding completely worn out, “We are very satisfied. Everyone is really happy.”
The Big Pink, a UK three-piece, was one of the bands that saw past the simple statistical arithmetic of the festival’s success — they were having a blast, and they played like it. Their set for around three or four thousand, one of the festival’s best, was just before sunset on Saturday and went from psychedelically good indie rock at the beginning to electro-ravey ecstatic at the end. It featured two brand-new “remixes,” both by relatively new band members — The Palace by DJ MPRSSS and Too Young to Love by Vicky Jean Smith.
Later, while stage-hopping and posing for photos with fans, singer Robbie Furze explained, “We’ve played the first two albums so many times, and the third album will come out later this year. So we just wanted to mix it up a bit.” He was with both Smith and MPRSSS and generally having a time of it.
Another major highlight was The XX, a darkly down-tempo trio from London. Playing the festival’s closing set, their moodiness turned electric, with the two vocalists, Romy Croft and Oliver Sim, playing face-to-face in a weird, minimalist tango, coming together but never touching, as if an invisible barrier kept them apart. Lasers shot out white arcs, though only parallel to the ground. They could not point into the sky for fear of affecting the navigation of the incoming airplanes. Beyond the performance, there was an even greater poignancy to this moment. Here was a foreign band in its prime playing for around 10,000 Taiwanese fans, who had not had an international rock festival to call their own for the last five years. It could well go down as a generational moment.