There is more music happening in Taipei this weekend than George R.R. Martin could shake a naked wiener at, including the return of the Deadly Vibes, a free experimental music festival in Banqiao and an expat tribute to British rock ‘n’ roll, not to mention the Wu-Tang Clan show (see the Vinyl Word). But before I dive into local events, it’s hard to ignore the musical singularity going on in Austin, Texas, where the SXSW music festival has been at full blast since on Tuesday.
Taiwan will again have its tiny corner at the world’s largest indie music festival. Tomorrow, the fourth annual SXSW Taiwan showcase will feature the bands Manic Sheep, Go Chic, Wonfu (旺福), Chocolate Tiger (猛虎巧克力) and Bugs of Phonon (聲子蟲). Unlike previous years when the showcase was organized with Taiwan government support, this year the bands have done it all themselves. They’ve bought their own flights, found a venue, rented equipment and are promoting the show. The showcase starts tomorrow at noon, and the groups will cram five 30-minute sets into the three-hour showcase, leaving only about 10 minutes for band changeovers. They need to finish by 3pm.
“This year, the government didn’t provide a budget, so originally there was not going to be a showcase, but then we decided to organize one ourselves,” said Hsieh Hong-yu (謝閎宥), guitarist for Manic Sheep.
His band, a two-piece playing dream pop, will perform two or three times as part of various SXSW showcases, including the Taiwan showcase, then play six shows in Japan.
“We have applied for government subsidy for the trip, but the way it works is that you apply for a grant. But you still have to buy your plane ticket and everything up front, then when you come back, there will be interviews with the government, and you see how much you will get back,” said Hsieh.
SXSW is an indie culture Mecca that is probably the world’s most inclusive music festival, but it is also sprawling and chaotic and easy for bands to get lost in the crowd. Last year more than 2,200 acts (including around 600 from outside the US) played on over 100 stages from late morning to late at night every day for six days of official events. There were also dozens of lead-up parties and non-official events.
Taiwanese bands have been attending SXSW since at least 2010, and the first Taiwan Night was held in 2011. That year the Taiwan showcase was heavily subsidized by the government, and the large visiting contingent included bands, organizers, technical staff and videographers. I was allowed along as an embedded journalist.
“Every year, the Japan and Korea showcases get a lot of attention,” says Hsieh. “For us, the impact is not as big, but it is still a really good place to meet people.”
Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture has subsidized overseas touring since 2010, when it launched the Pop Music Industry Development Project. In 2013, the ministry approved grants to 18 different groups for international tours. There was support for indie bands touring North America (including NT$300,000 for Manic Sheep last year) as well as pop-oriented acts like To-la-ku (脫拉庫樂團), which received NT$870,000 to tour in China.
The project also granted NT$66 million in subsidies to music companies for recording costs and marketing last year, most of it going to pop projects. One of the largest grants last year went to the pop rock band Mayday, which received NT$3.5 million to tour Europe and North America.