Being in an underground band loses its supposed cool factor exponentially once you get past the ripe old age of 25. If you’re 18 and have a group of some repute, you’re king of the universe, even if it is something of a paracosm. A few years go by, however, and the thinly-veiled commentary begins. “Oh, you’re still doing that music thing? Well ... good for you.” Then, if you still happen to be doing the independent “music thing” when you hit 30, the commentary stops because most of what your friends and family say about you will be behind your back.
This is especially true of bands in Taiwan, a land where intense familial pressure leads many a musician to drop out of the scene in favor of focusing on developing a career for the very Brontian purpose of making one suitable for things like marriage and raising children. That’s why a lot of young struggling musicians here seem to take one of two roads. Either they tell their parents music is just a hobby, or they don’t tell them they’re involved in music at all.
Ben Shiao (蕭秉泰), guitarist and singer of Taipei-based ska band Mary Bites Kerry (瑪莉咬凱利), chose the latter route for many years. It wasn’t until his marriage ceremony just a few weeks ago that he informed his parents that he had a band, which he’s been performing with since joining the rotating cast of players about five years ago. The reason he finally chose to tell them? He had no choice, as they were about to find out whether he wanted them to or not. Mary Bites Kerry was playing his wedding banquet.
Little did his parental units know (and still don’t, presumably, unless they’re reading this now) that Shiao was also a veteran performer in the Taipei punk scene, playing guitar in Duct Tape for five years before joining Mary Bites Kerry. Now 34, his intro to punk didn’t come until he moved to Washington state for his final two years of high school and four more of university. There he was introduced to bands like Operation Ivy, Screeching Weasel and Less Than Jake. He returned to Taiwan in 2001 and found out, much to his surprise, that the nation had its own nascent punk scene after seeing some homegrown angry upstarts at Formoz Festival (野台開唱) in 2005. Then he had a serendipitous meeting with members of now defunct local punk act Semi-con at a NOFX gig in Hong Kong. Inspired by the unexpected discovery of people of a similar musical mindset in his hometown, he started Duct Tape at a time when the local punk and ska scene was thriving. But it wasn’t long before it dissolved down to the handful of bands playing today. The scene simply moved on.
Now people are into different kinds of music,” says Shiao. “Punk is kind of played out in Taiwan, I think.”
Rather than moving on, though, as did Duct Tape, Mary Bites Kerry has pushed forward. Despite losing several members for varying periods of time to overseas study and working holiday programs abroad, founding co-singer and guitarist Liang-Liang (亮亮, real name: Wang Liang-chun, 王亮鈞) has managed to keep the group gigging regularly around Taiwan. Now the band is poised to record its debut album. Ten original songs inspired by everything from the usual love and relationships to the, shall we say, unique working culture of Taiwan, are at the ready. It only remains for the band’s original drummer to return from Australia for recording to begin.