By Jocelle Koh
Photos provided by Symmetry Entertainment and Rueven Tan
Upon entering the EBX venue around 8pm for Sunset Rollercoaster’s live show in Singapore, I was not in the mood for moshing through another two-hour performance. Dragging my heels and whining like a lil b*tch about my sore back, it was clear I was in no mood to jive and chill. This continued through the opening act, where we saw local shoegaze act Cosmic Child open for Sunset Rollercoaster. Amidst technical difficulties, the band soldiered on and although a little deafening at times, was a solid effort enjoyed by the audience.
Yet the moment the Taiwanese soft rock band stepped onto the stage, something inside of me flipped a switch and absolutely all the negative energy in me transformed into excitement and exhilaration. Dressed simply in basic caps and t-shirts, the band’s sparse look intrigued me; I had expected something a little more out there given their psychedelic, vibrant sound. Yet this was just one of many details within the curated performance that pushed the band’s lush sound and creativity to the forefront of the live experience.
Wearing a pair of vintage circle shades, lead vocalist Kuo Hung did not speak much throughout the whole performance; choosing to allow their music to speak for itself in a fluid and ever-dynamic way through clever musical interludes that joined most of the songs in their repertoire while adding a sense of free-flowing musicality to the experience. Only pausing to say a few brief thank yous throughout the performance, it was only towards the end of the performance that Kuo Hung interacted a little more verbally with the audience. Starting off with his wicked but also quite sweet sense of humour, he quipped “you guys are quite crazy. Don’t hurt yourself okay?”. And with that one sentence, the sold-out crowd went absolutely bonkers.
Paring everything down to the basics while achieving a synergetic effect is a hard trick to execute (see Khalil Fong TIO Tour Review), but the Taiwanese soft-rock band pulled it off with grace and aplomb, proving why they have been one of the most electrifying performers in the indie live circuit; both at home and overseas. While lead vocalist Kuo’s vocals are often genteel in recordings, they took on a surprisingly strong and clear quality in the live setting which cut clearly through the crowd. Although their repertoire continued to incorporate certain namesake riffs and hooks to get the crowd cheering and on their feet, the band built around keeping these riffs while skilfully rendering their live arrangements more dynamic and crowd-friendly.
Favourites of mine include their opening track ‘Bomb Of Love’; an oldie but a goodie. While the original track was simple, folksy and generally more 70s inspired; their live version was decidedly more upbeat and rock influenced. Revamping a few older favourites including ‘No Man’s Land’ and ‘Little Monkey Rides on Little Donkey’, the band of course could not forget to perform a few tracks from their 2018 release ‘Cassa Nova’.
‘Almost Mature ‘87’ was amped up a few notches with the electric guitars and paired with a dreamy, delicious 80s style rock solo; while ‘Greedy’ slowed things down just enough to seduce the crowd with their languid groves. And who could forget those amazing Saxophone solos by band member Hao Ting interspersed throughout the performance? Mimicking the guitar solos often done in rock tracks but on the Sax; his solos had the supportive crowd going wild, leaving screaming fans and broken reeds in his wake as he turned the brass instrument into a roaring, squealing headbanging machine.
Ending the night of course with a crowd favourite ‘My Jinji’ and then encoring with the sweet and heart-warming ‘I Know You Know I Love You’; the audience’s state of utter bliss throughout the entire showcase was living proof of the band’s live clout. Fluid, dynamic, and vibrant; Sunset Rollercoaster’s music often comes in small, unassuming packages or spaces, but boy do they pack a musical punch. The band have elevated their live performances to a whole new level in ways that reveal the thought, detail and passion that have gone into curating the experience. For me, the night was simple, but nothing short of perfect.
Sunset Rollercoaster's 'Business Trip' tour will be heading to Bangkok, Jakarta, Kaohsiung and then China and Hong Kong; with future dates in North America and other regions to be confirmed. Make sure you're in the know by checking out their tour dates here.
set list + PLaylist
Upon entering the Esplanade concert hall for Khalil Fong’s TIO concert, the simple, intimate performance setup beckoned to me, and hinted at the show that was to come. With tasteful light features in the background and a drums, guitar, bass, keyboard and piano set-up on display, it was clear that Soulboy Khalil’s focus would very much be on his indomitable musicality, which would be put on full display.
Given the tour’s title, which is short for ‘Throw It Off’; a concept that reflects Khalil’s zen, weightless philosophy, I was totally down for getting rid of the stresses of the day by singing my little heart out and being thoroughly entertained by Fong, his band, and his special guests. But as an anal control freak, this concert was the true test of whether Fong walked the talk. Could his musical experience truly allow me to ‘throw it off’ and lose myself in his music?
With the concert starting on time, the band members filed onto the stage to assume position, and launched into the intro of ‘Wukong’, a seminal track from Fong’s last album; grinding bass beats vibrating across the floors and rousing loyal fans into action. Upon entering the stage, Fong, clad in a simple rainbow sweatshirt and jeans was met with whoops and cheers which he shyly responded to before coming together with the band, finishing off the song and transitioning straight into his collaborative track with Wang Leehom ‘FLOW’, where he tried his best to get a call-and-response going with the audience. Fong then continued to wow with a solid set list bound to bring back treasured memories such as ‘春風吹 Spring Wind Blows’, ‘公園Park’, ‘Singalongsong’ and of course ‘愛愛愛’ and ‘Love Song’, with some of his newer stuff interspersed in between that had us singing along the whole way through.
Writer: Jocelle Koh
Photos by: Ivan Larin
Wedged comfortably amongst a securely packed crowd at Singaporean live venue DECLINE, I amongst an audience of the island’s most frenetic Math Rock fans eagerly awaited the main act of the sold-out night: Elephant Gym. A math-rock band from Taiwan whose unique take on the genre has earned them a steady following worldwide; the three-piece band were in town as part of their ambitious world tour which is due to continue on until the middle of 2019.
Kicking off the night with local post-rock instrumental band Hauste, the band emerged unassumingly from within the audience and proceeded to play their set; peppered with exclamations of adoration for Elephant Gym and hints of their introverted wit. Matching their vibe with an array of songs featuring frenzied cacophonies of sound and lighter, tropical licks in equal part, they did well as a mood-setter. Some of my favourites include their quirkily titled ‘Church Friends’ and the aptly placed ‘I’ll Never See You Again’.
Then it was time for Elephant Gym. Given the space restrictions, there was no curtain to give the band privacy whilst they set up. And although the venue did announce instructions for the audience to clear the space, most were unwilling to give up their ‘chope-d’ space, preferring to examine intently as the three-piece band diligently checked and set up their equipment. It was bassist KT who took to the stage last during their set-up, and elicited the most cheers from the audience when doing so. Dressed in a vintage green and white frock and a bandanna adorning her head, the petite bassist marched onstage holding a bottle of beer, taking swigs occasionally to the audience’s amusement.
Starting off on a groovy note with one of their most popular tracks ‘Midway’, psychedelic feels infused the crowd as Tu’s drums pushed the song forward, strong and steady, while Tell’s angular, funky guitar licks gave the song bite. KT’s vocals wafting clean and clear across the audience guided their ears towards the second half of the song which was delectably grounded by KT’s bass. Having locked the audience into this rollercoaster ride with their inviting opening, the Kaohsiung-born trio launched straight into another one of their earlier tracks ‘Finger’, and that’s when things started to get a little crazy.
[Live Review] Wang Leehom: Descendants Of The Dragon World Tour @ Singapore Indoor Stadium 5th Jan 2019
Writer: Jocelle Koh
Photos from Wang Leehom's Facebook
Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter Wang Leehom is truly one of the best performers that I have ever seen live. And I’m not just saying this because he’s the reason this website exists, or that I was so excited to see him live for the first time I burst into tears the moment he stepped onto the stage. Or even because I knew and sang along to almost every song he performed that night. As biased as I am, everyone in the indoor stadium that night bore witness to the electrifyingly brilliant live performer Leehom was at his Descendants of the Dragon 2060 Concert, which was a tour de force of creativity and innovation.
I have seen hundreds of concerts and miscellaneous live performances over the years, (including a recent one by a certain Ms Swift); yet none of them have ever held my attention and engaged me so deeply as an audience member as Wang’s has. My expectations weren’t particularly high going into the performance to be honest. All I wanted to do was cry tears of joy for seeing my inspiration live for the first time, sing along to songs that have been part of my adolescent and young adult years over the last decade, and maybe get a T-shirt to commemorate the evening.
But the sprightly 42 year-old delivered much, much more; presenting an immersive, multi-format experience that seamlessly fused the concert, film and musical theatre genres. A gargantuan task in itself, Leehom instead pulled it off with finesse and aplomb. Drawing on the film genre, Wang introduces us to a Blade Runner-esque universe where he and his team of aliens were sent to earth to bring us to the planet ‘Descendants of the Dragon 2060’ where only love, peace and good music exist (teeny bit lame, but stay with me). Drawing on a tried-and-true film formula to come up with a story with highs, lows and an eventual climax, the show incorporated curated components throughout that were displayed on the screens, moving the story along by adding characters, impetus and atmosphere in a way stage setup could not easily provide on a world tour. He then added a creative twist to the live experience; bringing the story to life with the help of his dancers; some playing transitional love interests and even duet partners in some scenes, with others having small parts in moving the storyline along.
[Live Review] Calling In::Music Feat. Waa Wei魏如萱, Hello Nico, Boon Hui Lu文慧如 & More @ The Esplanade Singapore (9-10/6/18)
By Stella Soon
Photographs by Jenn Seah and Stella Soon unless otherwise stated
Kowen Ko (柯智棠)’s raspy, soulful vocals. Hello Nico’s throbbing rock tunes. And Waa Wei (魏如萱)’s hit songs that roused everyone to a head-bobbing, torchlight-waving crowd.
Those were the highlights of Calling in::music (呼叫好 in::樂), a Mandarin indie pop music showcase held at Singapore’s Esplanade Annexe Studio on 9 and 10 June.
A first-time collaboration between Singapore’s in::music and Taiwan’s Calling Music Festival, the two-night showcase saw eight Singaporean and Taiwanese musicians take to the stage for an hour each.
Day 1 - Kowen Ko, Hello Nico, Boon Hui Lu, Zooey Wonder
Kowen Ko (柯智棠)
Leading the night’s performances was Kowen Ko (柯智棠). The 28-year-old’s husky, soulful voice rang out tunes to crowd favourite songs and his new jams alike.
But while the Taiwanese singer-songwriter’s popular tracks, like “If You Still Wander 你不真的想流浪” and “It Was May”, were met with loud cheers from the enthusiastic audience, it was songs on his new album that got me excited. Look out for “Man Without A Mission” when it drops next month!
Zooey Wonder (黃玠瑋)
By Matt Taylor
London is no stranger to being a pit stop for some of the biggest stars of the Mandopop world on their world tours. With a thriving Chinese language community built of people living there for generations to students studying abroad, there has long been a market for live mandopop concerts in the UK’s capital. Last year alone, the city welcomed Jay Chou 周杰倫, A-Mei 張惠妹, and Fire E.X 滅火器. This March, Mayday 五月天 even managed to sell out the o2 Arena – a 20,000 capacity venue and the busiest live music venue in the world.
The Troubadour, despite being a small venue, has had a mighty role in the UK’s music scene. Whilst the basement of a bar may not seem like an overly impressive spot, legends of the music world such as Elton John, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix have previously graced the stage as newcomers to the music world, only to later go on and fundamentally alter the pop music landscape forever.
It’s an intimidating venue, but the perfect place to introduce two fledgling Taiwanese indie bands to the international live music scene. They were brought to the UK as part of LUCfest – a festival originating in Tainan that aims to promote Taiwanese underground and indie music to a larger audience. By bringing this to the UK, it shows that Taiwanese bands and their promoters understand that music is the true global language, and that Taiwanese indie has something to offer music markets far beyond its own shores.
At an event where two Taiwanese indie bands are performing, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to imagine the majority – if not all – of the audience to be Taiwanese. Of course, the percentage of the audience that was from Taiwan was naturally the majority. What was a delightful sight however was that the gig managed to attract a sizeable local audience as well. This potentially had two different positive implications – one, that Taiwanese music has an audience outside of native communities, and two, that non-Taiwanese audiences are increasingly accepting (or at least curious) about non-Western music, with local bands and promoters willing to indulge their curiosity.
The first band to take to the stage tonight, The Fur, only formed in late 2016. Despite this, they’re already in the midst of their own European Tour. Just three days prior to this concert, they performed a full set at the Focus Wales Festival in North Wales.
On disc, their music is a dreamy 1980s inspired hazy synth-pop ideally suited for hot summer days, and at times reminiscent of bands such as The Cranberries. Sung entirely in English, it’s a perfect pop package designed to connect with an international audience, and gives them a unique selling point as compared with the vast majority of Taiwanese indie bands.
The set itself was a collection of well crafted, easily accessible indie-pop friendly to the ears of a UK audience, who in turn lapped up song after song, giving the band a rupturous round of applause each time, cheering them on when they appeared slightly nervous. The band bopped in unison as lead singer Savannah 柚子sang as perfectly as on record, with guitarists Zero中凌 and Ren唯任 keeping pace; providing the vibrant melodies from which she could springboard. What really elevated the live performance was synth player Wen Wen 溫溫, whose keyboard skills added a layer of sheen to the concert lost naturally through live guitars.
Sometimes in a live setting bands which have such a shiny finish to them run the risk of coming across lacklusture, or accused of being better suited to disc than to stage. Whilst it’s true that live, the band does lose some of the glamour and distance which makes their records so addictive, their live performance instead adds new depth, and shows the listener not just a passion for the music they make, but for music and instrumentation in general.
It’s a rarity for newly formed bands to be able to encapsulate and portray their musical aesthetic visions as well as The Fur did on Tuesday night, and it’s a testament to how well the band work together, how well the songs are crafted, and ultimately, how well they understand themselves as an entity.
Although armed with only a two track EP at the moment, their performance set the stage for their debut album due in August this year. Judging from this performance, we not only can’t wait to get our hands on the album, but neither can we wait to catch them live again, to both see how they grow as live performers and how they incorporate new songs into their set.
The second band to perform, Outlet Drift 漂流出口, who hail from Taitung and have been making music since 2010, exist on the entirely opposite end of the spectrum to The Fur. Rather than producing aesthetically clean images and radio-friendly pop, they snarl over heavy guitars reminiscent of grunge with a hint of psychedelica, and are heavily influenced by their Amis Aboriginal heritage, which comes through in all aspects of both their recorded songs and live performances.
From the moment they came on stage, they caught the attention of the audience, perhaps none more so than vocalist and bassist Putad Pihay 布妲菈.碧海. Her personality beamed across the basement venue, as she tells us she didn’t expect London to be so cold (it was actually one of the warmest days of 2018 so far), then proclaims that “didn’t you know Aboriginals have a drinking problem?” before drinking half a glass of wine in a single gulp.
The most enchanting thing however was the scope of her voice, which, inspired and influenced by her Amis roots, is entirely non-comformist to typical pop or rock standards, and instead pays homage to the traditional singing style of her ancestors. It is emotional, sophisticated and intruiging. Rather than be constrained by how the original record sounds, or attempt to create the same performance continuously over multiple tour days, she instead lets her voice dictate what it wants to do, a refreshing concept.
That said, the band as a whole provided the audience with a fierce and invigorating set, with a set list focused predominantly on their 2015 debut album ‘Drowning’ which won them Best Rock Album award at Taiwan’s Golden Indie Music Awards. The band were loud in the best possible way, and often played themselves into a fervour. Lead guitarist Wusang Pihay 巫尚.碧海 was visibly passionate throughout, at one point being brought down onto his knees by a prolonged guitar solo. Drummer Kurt Ken 林肯 was almost unnervingly intense, playing with a speed, rhythm and intensity that made him mesmerising to watch.
Their on-stage aesthetic also seemed to embody the music and personalities on display tonight. Tattoos, bare feet and T-shirts with Aboriginal style patterns were the outfits of choice, but felt entirely organically chosen as opposed to a deliberate decision, adding yet another layer of authenticity to this enigmatic group.
So engaging were the band and their music that by the end of their set, they had the audience on their feet, jumping around and headbanging until they were sweating. The energy in the room was palpable. So enamoured was the crowd that they demanded an encore, and the band were more than happy to comply.
Their songs were enchanting, angry and fascinating; able to simultaneously transport the listener to another world whilst also reminding you of the cruelties of reality, perfect encapsulations of the yearning of Aboriginal youth to find a better life for themselves, yet desperate to hold on to what makes them unique, and this was something that Outlet Drift managed to convey to a room of Londoners on Tuesday night – no easy feat, but a testament to their capabilities both as musicians and live performers. Outlet Drift didn’t just provide a concert, they provided an experience.
It was evident that both bands struck a positive chord with the audience tonight, not just in the different but welcoming receptions that both bands received, but also in their ability to sell their merchandise. The bands had to hurriedly restock their merchandise of T-shirts, CDs and pins as the vast majority of the audience wanted not just one, but several mementos to take home with them to remember the night they had just experienced.
It was a powerful end to the night, and a hopeful reminder that regardless of location, ethnicity or language, music is the one thing that can bring anyone together. When the audience left The Troubadour on a late Tuesday evening, they came away not only having two new favourite indie bands; they left comforted by the knowledge that Taiwan not only has a vibrant underground music scene; but have one that is ready to take over the world.
Photo from 聯成娛樂 On Line's Facebook
Before I even stepped into the venue, I knew Anpu’s ‘Refining Clouds煉雲’ live performance at the career-defining Taipei Arena would not be just any other concert. The enigmatic indie singer-songwriter has been in and out of the scene since announcing the retirement of her former persona Deserts Chang in 2014, yet has made several unannounced pop-up appearances at indie gigs since then; most notably at Taiwanese Waves showcases in New York from 2016 to 2017.
Although this provided some reassurance to fans of her continued influence on the scene, she has yet to release any original music since her retirement in 2014. So when the concert was announced, the term ‘a pleasant surprise’ was probably an understatement for diehard lovers of her music, cumulating in two sold-out shows at the famous Taipei Arena, bursting at the seams with fans eagerly awaiting what the mysterious artist had prepared this time around.
And indeed, the concert was like none I had ever experienced. While most concerts in the pop realm are built around an artist’s persona and their repertoire; featuring flashy costumes and concepts, ‘Refining Clouds’ took every expectation and unspoken rule of the concert experience and broke it with sophistication and artistry. As while the best way to categorise this concert was as a ‘cover’ concert, it was non-traditional to say the least; incorporating 22 hand-picked songs; many by unknown or independent artists over the last three decades to piece together varied perspectives and facets of life. From songs by indie pioneers Susu Yeh, Lin Qiang and Sandee Chen to contemporary game-changers such as No Party For Cao Dong and Sunset Rollercoaster; Anpu left no stone unturned in her 22 song-long set list, surprising time and again with each song.
Yesterday night I had the pleasure of attending 龍虎門音樂節 Long Hu Men Festival, one of few (if not the only) festival in Taiwan primarily showcasing Taiwan's local hip-hop scene. Beginning in the 1990s, Taiwan's underground hip-hop scene has gone from strength to strength, with much of it‘s best and brightest including 蛋堡 Soft Lipa, 李英宏 aka DJ Didilong, DJ Mr Gin, 熊仔, Julia Wu 吳卓源, SmashRegz/違法, RPG, NEOSO 戴岑樺, and more in attendance at the festival.
A venue packed with youngsters who wore black caps and showed their appreciation by yelling rather than clapping (is this what the hip crowd does these days?), it was an eye-opening experience to be able to witness what I would say was a coming-of-age event for the Hip Hop scene, cementing its rise to the forefront of Taiwan's mainstream.
By Guest Contributor Ciarrai Donnelly
It’s not every day that you hear a nose flute on 5th avenue, but walking through the Upper East Side towards Central Park on a hot Saturday evening, the soft and distinct sound washes over me, and I know I’m in the right place. July 29th marked the second of SummerStage’s Taiwanese Waves: a showcase of Taiwanese musical artists on Central Park’s Rumsey Field stage (the first of which, in 2016, broke SummerStage’s 30 year attendance record). 2017 boasts a completely new lineup of four Taiwanese artists from different ends of the music world: punk, indie folk, and aboriginal music. Not only are the artists performing in completely different genres, but also in completely different languages: Puyuma, Taiwanese, and Mandarin. As someone who knows virtually nothing about Taiwanese culture, I’m certainly excited to see the multitudes of talent that tonight has to offer.
The crowd was hushed when I entered, mesmerized by our first performer: Sangpuy. Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw is a prolific and accomplished musician with 2 studio albums, the most recent of which (Yaangad) he received Album of the Year, the most prestigious award of the Golden Melody Awards (among others, he also took home Best Vocalist [aboriginal] and Best Vocal Recording Album). He sings in the language of the Pinuyumayan people, an indigenous group of Taiwan, from whom Sangpuy is descended. The audience was completely captivated; both solemn and joyful, soft and strong, old and new, Sangpuy’s vocals take us somewhere else. I won’t be the first (or last) to call Sangpuy’s voice profound or penetrating, but it’s no exaggeration. It’s easy to understand his success, he’s as charming as his voice is stunning. Between his soulful melodies, he joked and talked with the audience, encouraging them to laugh and sing along. I don’t understand a word (aside from the universal “woohoo”) but by the end I sang along too. He brings Taiwanese aboriginal music into Central Park with ease, seamlessly blending traditional vocals and an ancient language with modern musical arrangements with complete success. He departed to great applause as his last notes hung in the air.
Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I last updated this blog, but as I write this, I’m sitting on a plane to Seoul, South Korea for a short holiday! Then I’ll be heading to Taiwan to work for a few weeks. All in all, let’s just say it’s been a busy six months for me. For the last 10 months, I’ve been working on my thesis, which is on the Taiwanese music industry and how it can be internationally successful by applying marketing strategy to the government’s policies. I’m so excited to share it with everyone, but there’s still a bit of red tape so I’m still unable to share it at this point in time! But the thesis is truly my baby! Although many friends and peers find my decision to do honours questionable, to me it was something I have always wanted to do. Essentially, I decided to do honours because it was kind of like an exercise in patience and discipline. I often have a tendency to work too fast and tend towards desiring immediate gratification. For example, this blog post may be done in under an hour and I’d already feel accomplished even though I didn’t put that much work in. I believed (and still do) that writing my thesis would truly be instrumental in teaching me to be patient when I embark on larger projects in the future. It also happened to be a huge time management and organisational feat which certainly enhanced my skills for the future too!
The second reason I decided to do my thesis was that I wanted to make an academic contribution to writings on the Taiwanese music industry. I’ve actually been studying and researching the Taiwanese music industry for about two years since my undergrad days (I was very lucky to have teachers who were supportive of my passion), and from that research, my main conclusion was that there weren’t enough writings on the Taiwanese music industry available. Pitifully few, I might add. Although many people have told me that they see very little value in academic work, I on the other hand find it to be immensely valuable. If you think about it, all knowledge comes from research. And all research has to be carefully handled so that it can lead to trends and those trends have the potential to eventually turn into facts and become part of history. Although writing opinion articles and news articles and dabbling in various formats of journalism has been especially helpful for me as I traverse the Taiwanese music industry, I’ve always felt that it just wasn’t enough. The question of how Taiwanese music (or Chinese language music) in general can be promoted to wider audiences has been on my mind for probably the last decade. And although I’ve desperately yearned for answers, trying every possible avenue I could and doing my research, there was nothing that could give me the answer I wanted. So as usual, I decided to create my own, in the form of this thesis. Suffice to say, it has furthered my knowledge and managed to an extent confirm my hypotheses for me (that Taiwanese music is indeed valuable and deserving of international promotion), but there is still so much to be done before I can find a full answer to such a question.
Nevertheless, I have learnt so much and pushed my boundaries so much farther with this thesis and I am proud of myself for it! So for those of you out there pondering post-graduate study, my advice would be-only do it if you’re truly interested! If you do, that’s when the work becomes fun and research just light reading. If anyone has any other questions about my post-graduate experience or would like me to expand more, feel free to let me know! I really look forward to being able to share my thesis, so watch this space! I've attached one of the songs I referred to in my thesis for you to listen to. Can you guess why I mentioned it?
Asian Pop Weekly Creator
The live experience is an important cornerstone of appreciating the diverse array of offerings of any music scene. Check out our live reviews of Mandarin music showcases here!