1976 @ Riverside Cafe: How I Got Inducted into Taipei Indie Scene

I was told that 1976 is a quintessential indie rock band [獨立樂團] in Taiwan. With curiosity, I went to the Riverside Cafe, one of the most active underground/indie music venues near two major universities in Taipei, on Saturday night 7/5/08 to experience what is supposedly most representative of Taiwanese indie music scene.

Billed as a “mini concert”, the show featured only 1976, no other opening bands. Die-hard 1976 fans all came out to fulfill their ravenous appetite for their favorite band. No doubt, people were spilling out of small basement. I managed to squeeze into the “latecomers’ row” on the stairs at the entrance. Everyone knew every song and sang along to most songs [although singing along is not an unusual thing in Taipei’s indie music scene].

What seemed most striking musically was their lead vocalist’s Britpop, new-wave inflected style and bilingual lyrics. According to their wiki page, 1976 started out by covering songs by New Order, The Smiths, Pearl Jam. Like many Taiwanese bands, Ah-Kai [阿凱] leads 1976 with only vocals, not playing any other instruments. Ah-Kai’s thin voice is surely reminiscent of New Order, Pulp, and The Smiths. It carries an “untrained” quality (which, I’m sure, is deliberately expressed) ventures into off-key territories often. His performed fragility projects a sense of uncertainty and honesty making his vocal persona youthful and effeminate.

I totally got a kick out of watching guitarist Da-Ma [大麻, meaning “marijuana”] make his playful riffs. Da-Ma takes post-punk to its broadest definition. There was a little bit of grunge chromaticism, a bit of metal shredding, a chunk of Britpop melodic fragments, and plenty of contemporary indie pop delay, tonal leaps, and asymmetrical rhythm. Not using many effects, Da-Ma’s Telecaster made some of the best guitar sound I’ve heard live.

My friend Marty of Island of Sound warned me of 1976’s cult status within the scene. Their celebrity is apparently “near-mainstream.” Screaming, dancing, clapping, and head-bopping fans adored them. They screamed hard and long for an encore. The band came back and played a hit "Depression of Sunshine Boy" ["陽光男孩躁鬱症"]. The fans stuck around for over 10 minutes to plead for more. 1976 went back on stage without their instruments apologizing that they had to reserve some songs for their soon-to-be-released album. The crowd slowly and unwillingly dispersed after that.

1976’s songs are about mostly about Taipei, urban life, and 20-something-year-old’s quandary with love and future. I loved what I saw of 1976. Plenitude of love and kinship crammed into a small basement. Along with the rest of the post-show crowd, I caught the last subway of the night to go home. A sense of belonging hovered. I felt like I was inducted into scene, finally.


Anonymous said...

hey Wendy,

no, i am not trying to argue whether 1976 is an indie band or not, here. :)

but i would say they are sort of in between, even based on your definition--bands that are not cooperated with major music companies.

i checked some websites for you. regretfully, they are mainly Chinese and i guess cannot be read by most of your readers.
so i would just briefly describe what i read and i believe you are able to understand the article.


this is a website from once a major radio channel in Taiwan, it only broadcasts music now.

so you would see the latest album of 1976 was released by Voice of Taipei[台北之音], Hit Fm, and Hitoradio together. (not multinational enterprise but mainstream media in Taiwan)

1976 decided to work with them becuase their ideas about music are more close to one another, and a very important reason, wishing the music of 1976 can be heard by a larger audience.

maybe this is a common wish for all musicians--who won't like to have their music well known?

so i guess the only thing we can still hope is that 1976 keeps bringing us touching melodies as they did before.

how would you think.

wh said...

Wow. how interesting. I sort of got the sense that 1976 was distributing their music through mainstream media, mostly through their connection to May Day.

I guess I don't understand the structure of the media industry in Taiwan to make any assertions of this being a financially independent move on the part of 1976.

In the US, most radio stations, especially ones with powerful broadcast capacity, are owned by one media conglomerate - Clear Channel. This radio company is syndicated with other media corporations such as ABC (for tv). In terms of content, too, Clear Channel is interested in broadcasting mainstream music, music by signed artists on major labels.

The commercialization of music in the US is deep. I'm not sure how things are in Taiwan. My sense is that there is still more indie media in Taiwan. I was surprised to find the Pots paper to be run by the funds of a university. Most (if not all) "local" arts papers in the US are funded and operated by major media companies now. Much of their content comes from a more central source.

Many bands slip between the boundaries of "indie" or mainstream. I'm not sure how to pin them down. I only get annoyed when a band, who's obviously enjoying the economics of being a mainstream through their connection to media corporations, is still claiming to be "indie."

Anyhow, this is a long story and a tremendous context for the discussion of 'indie' music. I've lost track of your original questions.