Exclaim! TV reports on Taiwan’s indie music scene

Exclaim! TV from Canada visited Taiwan in April this year to report on Taiwan’s burgeoning indie music scene. They attended Spring Scream (春天吶喊) and also checked out live venues in Taipei. A five-part series of videos documenting Taiwan’s music scene is now available for viewing online. Part One is embedded above and links to all five videos can be found at the end of this post.

I contacted  Exclaim! TV’s Sam Sutherland by e-mail and asked him about his impressions of his time in Taiwan. He was surprised that at Spring Scream not many people were drinking. Sam said, “At any music festival in North America, the beer tent is as crowded as the main stage. But it seemed like James and I were the only people bothering to buy beers in a crowd of thousands.”

Although there were similarities with North American music festivals Sam said Spring Scream had a “unique vibe.” Sam said, “The mix of really, really sloppy bands playing their first big show, white kids covering “The Weight”, and awesome Taiwanese rockabilly gave the whole thing a kind of surreal feeling. It’s a really special event, for sure, and we felt fortunate to be there.”

Taiwan’s music scene is still relatively young. It only began to develop in the early 1990s after the restrictions of Martial Law ended. In many ways its development has been in parallel with Taiwan’s democratisation. As the people of Taiwan increasingly found space to speak out and express different points of view so to have musicians moved from merely playing covers to creating music that reflects Taiwanese culture. Sam said bands like Kou Chou Ching(拷秋勤) and ChthoniC (閃靈) “draw influence from outside cultural forces and incorporate elements of traditional Taiwanese music. That’s the most exciting thing to see: a new culture emerging from such a fertile history.”

Sam noted how Taiwan’s political development had played a role in shaping the music scene as it exists today. “Obviously the political situation in Taiwan stunted the growth of an original youth culture for many years — Martial Law until 20 years ago, and heavy government censorship up until the last decade. The fact that Taipei, a city the size of Toronto, only has five venues that encourage independent bands to play original music, speaks to the slow growth of that idea. What’s exciting now is that those bands are finally starting to emerge, thanks to a new, nurturing creative environment,” he said.

Exclaim! TV interviewed some of the key people who have been involved in the development of the scene since the early 1990s — Freddy Lim (林昶佐) of ChthoniC, KK (葉宛青) of White Wabbit Records, and Wade Davis and Jimi Moe the founders of Spring Scream. They also interview Sissey Chao of Double X and Ke Jen-chien (柯仁堅) of LTK Commune (濁水溪公社). Both of these pioneering bands are still playing 20 years later.

Now Taiwan’s music scene has developed to the point were bands are beginning to make a name for themselves internationally. “A band like Aphasia (阿飛西雅) can hold their own with any North American post-rock band, and I think anyone who likes Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky would do well to check them out,” Sam said.

Fan Chiang of Kou Chou Ching

Sam also had a lot of praise for hip hop group Kou Chou Ching, labelling them as Taiwan’s Public Enemy. “[We] were blown away by Kou Chou Ching. They were one of the first bands we saw that clearly had developed a sound that was authentically Taiwanese, fusing Western hip hop with traditional Taiwanese folk songs and instrumentation,” Sam said.

Aphasia, Double X and Kou Chou Ching are among a group of Taiwanese bands that will be performing in Canada later this month. The 2010 Indie Taiwan tour sees these bands, along with Matzka and Go Chic, playing shows in Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver from 29 August to 5 September. “There’s a lot for a North American audience to enjoy in the bands coming here to tour,” Sam said.

If you are anywhere near the shows in Canada make the effort to get along. And if you can’t make the shows check out Exclaim! TV’s videos which paint an excellent portrait of Taiwan’s indie music scene in 2010.

Links to the series of five videos

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