In Ben Greenman’s novel Please Step Back, there’s a moment when an aspiring musician stops a pair of small-time rock icons on the street to say, “I just wanted to say that I saw you guys play ... and it was cool.”
Their reply is brusque, “Get your own band, man.”
“I’m starting one,” says the young cat.
“Sure you are,” they shoot back. “My kid brother is, too. And my grandmother, and the little girl down the street. You all are. One day it’s going to be nothing but bands, with no one left to see them. We call that day the Future.”
This exchange is set in the late ’60s San Francisco, but the novel is new. Greenman wrote it just a few years ago, and his predictions for “the Future” are easy to graft onto the present of 2014, when it sometimes seems there are more bands than fans, when ticketed gigs only draw a few dozen traditionalists, and when even music festivals need to be free.
There is a new music festival in Taipei this weekend that is exploding my head with these kinds of futuristic thoughts. The Park Park Carnival is a free, weekend-long event with more than 100 bands and DJs playing in a dozen areas. There will be no stages, and the bands get to play because they signed up on a Web site. Basic sound systems will be set up in front of parked cars, the cars that the bands use to drive themselves to the festival, and performances will take place flat on the sidewalk. It is non-hierarchical in the extreme, the kind of Internet era playing field that journalist Thomas Friedman defined as “flat.” Given the weather and location, it will probably also be hot and crowded.
So are we truly entering the collaborative commons, an age of Star Trek — like perfect socialism, where everything is as free as the information on Wikipedia?
“The idea is to have it be like street performances,” says Lydia Lu (陸君), the marketing manager of StreetVoice.com, the festival’s organizer.
“This is not really packaged as a music festival. It is not really packaged at all. We are just trying to let the bands create their own aesthetic.”
The Park Park Carnival is organized by StreetVoice.com, a Chinese-language social network focusing on young creativity, especially music, art and design. Founded in 2006 (just two years after Facebook), anyone can upload their songs, drawings, designs or photos to site. Users’ works appear in each other’s feeds as well as searchable galleries. The site now has 60,000 members, with more than 50,000 of them in Taiwan and the rest in Hong Kong or China. StreetVoice is closely related to the Simple Life Music Festival (coming in Taipei and China later this year) and the Taipei live house Legacy (which will open a Greater Taichung branch next month).
At the Park Park Carnival, each stage-like performance area will be defined by three to five parked cars, and one big stage, which is actually a truck. The truck is where the specially invited international acts will play, at a slight rise above the pavement. (Alas, a hierarchy!) They include half a dozen acts from Japan, China and Hong Kong. Though the Hong Kong bands registered online, just like the Taiwanese bands, the Japanese and Chinese artists are something of exceptions to the rule.
The Shanghai band Top Floor Circus (頂樓馬戲團) gives raucous performances mixing rock, folk, stage antics and heavy doses of social parody. They sing mainly in the Shanghainese dialect, and their fun-loving nature has in the past gotten them in trouble with Chinese authorities. Their 2009 song Shanghai Welcomes You satirized both the 2010 Shanghai Expo and the 2008 Beijing Olympic anthem, leaving the group banned from giving performances for a year. But the censure was just temporary as the group is well known throughout China, playing regularly China’s bigger indie festivals, like Modern Sky and MIDI. Their set Saturday at 7:30pm will be worth checking out.