Taiwan might not yet have the summer open-air music-festival culture of Europe, nor do its major cities yet boast the 24/7, all-genres-all-the-time live-music culture of aural hubs such as New York, London, or Berlin. However, recent years have witnessed a surge in the number of fests, which are being put on all over the island.
Text: Joe Henley
Photos: Vision Int’l
Being in a band is tough for young Taiwanese if they hope to keep playing music beyond their high-school or college days. Opportunities to earn a living strictly through music are sparse, and parental expectations that they buckle down and get a “real job” loom large in a culture in which filial piety plays such a major role. For men, the mandatory military service can be a band killer as well. Yet step into any rehearsal studio in the country on a weekday night and you’ll find it packed with young bands, diligently practicing in the hope of one day gracing one of Taiwan’s numerous festival stages.
One of Taiwan’s longest-running festivals is the annual Spring Scream (春天吶喊), held near the southern beach village of Kending (墾丁) during a weekend in early April. Staged in the picturesque park surrounding the Eluanbi Lighthouse (鵝鑾鼻燈塔), the fest features several stages spread out over the spacious grounds, which flirt with the rugged coastline of the Hengchun Peninsula (恆春半島). Spring Scream draws bands from around Taiwan, a few from neighboring countries, and the occasional North American, Australian, or European act. From a gathering of friends at a local bar in Kending, event organizers Jimi Moe and Wade Davis have seen their festival-baby grow to a happening that routinely draws several thousand revelers, many of which enjoy the communal atmosphere of the festival’s adjoining camping facilities.
Just a few days before Spring Scream, the eyes of Taiwan’s music lovers are cast on the southern port city of Kaohsiung and the Megaport Festival (大港開唱). Founded by Freddy Lim, vocalist for Taiwan’s biggest extreme metal export, Chthonic, Megaport is primarily focused on the heavier side of the music spectrum, drawing fans in their thousands to Kaohsiung’s Pier-2 Art Center (駁二藝術特區), an area of former warehouses that have been converted into art spaces and performance venues, in late March.
In the north, the biggest fest going is the Ho-Hai-Yan Gongliao Rock Festival (新北市貢寮國際海洋音樂祭), a government-sponsored event that takes place in July at Fulong Beach (福隆海水浴場) on the northeast coast. The fest doubles as a competition for local bands, which compete for large cash prizes. With the fest being free, organizers boast overall attendance figures for the weekend in the hundreds of thousands, though no concrete numbers are available. Everyone from up-and-coming local bands to Taiwanese stars and international acts have graced Ho-Hai-Yan’s seaside stage over the years.
For something with more of a loose and alternative vibe, check out Beastie Rock (巨獸搖滾音樂祭). Held in New Taipei City’s Tamsui Cultural Park (淡水文化園區), in and around a collection of former warehouses beside the Tamsui River (淡水河), the multi-stage festival is not only about the music, but also about expanding the counterculture movement in Taiwan, with bands, fans, NGOs, and protest organizations actively encouraged to disseminate their points of view in numerous ways. The organizers have booked bands of many different styles for the fest in its five years of existence, from electro-pop to extreme metal, but tend to favor those that have a political or social bent to their music.
Taichung and Chiayi are not to be left out, with a couple of festivals bursting onto the scene in recent years. Fans of the hard and heavy should head to Taichung in August for Hearttown (山海屯音樂節), a festival that draws top punk and metal bands from around Taiwan, Asia, and the world.
In Chiayi, Wake Up is another relatively new festival, featuring more of a local flavor and attracting bands of varying genres. In this year’s edition, headliners included what is arguably Taiwan’s biggest rock ‘n’ roll act, Wu Bai and China Blue.
From early spring through to the fall, north to south, Taiwan’s varied music festivals run the genre and thematic gamut. Time your visit to coincide with any one of these fests, and witness one of Asia’s newly emerging culture scenes.
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This article was published in Travel in Taiwan magazine (Sept./Oct. 2015)