About three years ago, a certain amount of buzz sprung up around the band Macbeth (馬克白), a four-piece of local college kids that was a bit of a throwback to the cool sounds of late ’70s synth rock. Though a bunch of songs included an overlay of postrock guitar fuzz, a major element of the sound was channeling bands like Joy Division, the Doors and British new wave, and they succeeded because they managed to bring back driving, danceable rhythms within rock music as well as urgent lyrics sung from the diaphragm and at the audience. The singers still protected their stony faces behind black sunglasses, but the music was not afraid to be engaging. It was a very different species from the bedroom pop and shoegaze soundtrack music favored in the main Taipei livehouses, but somehow Macbeth managed to appeal to those crowds too. The band played several of the bigger festivals and showcases in 2010 (Megaport, a big Free Tibet concert thrown by The Wall, and a “Next Big Thing” show at Legacy), contributed a song to The Golden Horse film festival as a theme for the rock ‘n roll film program, and were nominated Best New Band in a competition by the now-defunct Government Information Office.
Last year, half of Macbeth’s members were stolen away by compulsory military service, so the other two guys needed a new band. The military is one reason that Taipei’s young band scene is a swirling soup of free-floating musicians, where it is not strange for decent players to have two or three groups at the same time. The other reason is that there is almost no way to make money at music in a small market where no one buys CDs and a typical gig nets a band only two or three thousand New Taiwan dollars. So band members all have parallel lives in school or working jobs in bars, shops and sometimes even offices. This is a music scene constantly diced up by the twin cuisinarts of military service and Real Life. Things stay pretty fluid.
So within this mix, somewhere between a year and a year and a half ago, the group Formosa Romance (寶島羅曼斯) began to coalesce. Coming from Macbeth, drummer Ian Chen (陳奕安) and Howie Yu (余昊益), who moved from guitar to bass, began jamming with two other guitarists, Eason Feng (方奕勝) from the band Vampire Watching Television, and Huang Qin-zhong (黃勁鐘) from Flux. Early on, they had a lead singer who gave them the band name Formosa Romance, but he quickly moved on, leaving behind little more than the name, which sounds like a forgotten black-and-white movie title.
“In Chinese, the band name sounds really awesome,” said Yu, who was genuinely enthusiastic about the cool-soundingness of Baodao Luomansi.
In English however, Formosa Romance is just cheesy, especially as a band name. I did actually mention this, though suggesting they change their name change was a tad awkward given the upcoming CD release and September-long tour of Taipei.
The name aside, Formosa Romance is a good band. Go out and see them. Expect the same good instincts from Macbeth, but in a different package. Where Macbeth is cool, Formosa Romance is hot. They are a little more free with their energy, a little more rowdy. The music is riff driven but still built on the framework of the three-chord, three-minute rock song. It revs a little louder, like a motor scooter with a trick muffler.