For the third installment of the Rainbow Bay Festival, Kaohsiung dressed up in the colors of the dreamy spectrum and displayed a varied mix of music, DJs, and artcraft. The motto of the festival was "Nobody Can Take Away My Courage", an invitation for artists and the public to participate and show what they got. It was a stupendous weekend, full of sweat, sun, sea, and good tunes.
The festival took place at the Pier 2, also known as Art Pier, area of the Kaohsiung Harbor. It was the perfect setting for this celebration, with walking and bike paths, warehouses, ships, and a giant rubber duck nearby. Besides vendors and workshops, there were stages dedicated to different genres and tastes. From current Taiwanese pop artists to Indie singers, and trippy DJs to underground good old rock bands. There was music to satisfy everyone’s ears. What follows is a selection of what we loved:
Best Live Performance/Best Frontman: Nine out of 10 times, Matzka would win this honor by a very large margin. However, after witnessing the seemingly messianic performance of Chinese rock outfit Second Hand Rose (二手玫瑰), I can't help but give them the win in this category. Much like Flogging Molly and Gogol Bordello, Second Hand Rose's sound draws heavily from regional folk styles -- in this case, Er Ren Zhuan -- and wraps it up in a dingy, yet meticulously constructed rock’n’roll package. The result is something that blurs the line between folk, punk, and vaudevillian theatrics. Their signature use of the suona – known to some as the clarinet from hell -- only adds to the uniqueness of this band and proves that when layered behind driving guitar riffs, the suona can be much more than a tool of torture. Somebody back home needs to get a hold of Goldenvoice and get these guys booked for Coachella 2014.
Best Female Vocalist: One Million Star winner Lala Hsu (徐佳瑩) may have perfect pitch, and Taiwan's Hip-Hop Queen Miss Ko may have dazzling charisma, but in the end, it was the timid yet heartfelt performance of Bai An (白安) that won me over. Falling somewhere between Dolores O'Riordan and Dido, this Taipei-born singer's delicate vocals deeply moved me, despite the sizable language barrier. Her timid mannerisms, and modest way of speaking, contrast heavily with her overwhelmingly powerful voice, and in turn create a product that flourishes in a live setting. Her debut album, Catcher in the Rye, can be a bit hit or miss at times, but don't let this fool you for one minute. With a bit of practice and careful development, Bai An will soon be drawing the ire of female vocalists everywhere.
Strangest Performance: Dan Bao (蛋堡) may be known for his jazzy beats and laid back vocal delivery (hence the nickname Softlipa), but his Rainbow Bay Festival performance seemed to push past the point of simply paying homage to old school East Coast hip-hop, and instead deviated more towards the world of trip-hop. Between his constant insistence on showering the crowd with Skittles and his seemingly incessant Kanye-esque monologues, it's hard to really know what actually goes on in the ketamine-rainbow filled world inside of Dan Bao's head. Naturally, this is the kind of show that I gravitate towards. Even though at least one of my fellow concert-goers had to trade his front row spot in the crowd for an hour-long nap on a bench, I'm proud that I stuck through it, Skittles and all.
Best Live Performance: Murky Crows (昏鴉)
Away from the big stages and major budget productions of the festival, I think that these guys get the title. Murky Crows are a seven-piece band consisting of a grave whispered lullaby like voice with a guitar, another guitar, a bass, a violin, a drum kit, an accordion-triangle-xylophone, and a keyboard. They present a blend of rock that is harmonious and dreamlike at times. Plus they got someone playing the TRIANGLE, ’nuff said.
Best Frontman: The Gigantic Roar (巨大的轟鳴)
The first thing I noticed when checking out this band was vocalist Leo Wang singing his heart out; sweaty, focused, and sort of entranced. While the rest of the band seemed mostly like they were doing their own thing, he radiated stamina in powerful bursts for the whole show. The guy embodies love for his art, and he rocks it.
Best Female Vocalist: Soundboss (騷包樂團)
Pink-haired Sound Boss’ frontwoman 許恰吉 sings with a touch of rock-infused decadence. Her torrents of vocal projection were melodic, deep, and powerful. I want to see more women in the world of loud acoustic entropy singing like this.
Strangest Performance: Spade 14 (黑桃十四樂團)
All I can say is that my eyes turned anime-sized from surprise when I saw these guys on stage. Imagine a guy mixing Chinese and Japanese with a Western accent dressed as a sort of gothic princess, and two other guys that look like they came out of a Final Fantasy game, playing synthcore, or music that sounds like a fusion of rock, power metal and Dance Dance Revolution tracks. Visual Kei is probably an acquired taste, but definitely quite something to watch.
Where's The Love?: Trash.
(Gina): I first noticed them when I went to Spring Scream this year, and months later they won the Gongliao Rock Festival Battle of the Bands. At this show, they did their thing, rocking as always. What is more, a technical difficulty arose some 10 minutes prior to the end of their set, but they still went out of their way to keep the few souls in the audience engaged. Young, talented, and professional, and yet the crowd at their set was rather small (come on, people!).
(Ty): You wouldn't know it by looking at their YouTube catalog, but somebody needs to let AFI know that they have a musical doppelgänger named Trash, and they are doing it harder and better than Davey and the boys ever did in their heyday. Full of energy, yet never too abrasive, their sound instantly brought me back to my angst-riddled teenage years spent stomping around Tiger Army shows. Had they the good fortune to have been assembled in the US, they most certainly would be enjoying a modest income generated by round the clock touring and Hot Topic merchandising. This band should be packing venues wall to wall, but instead they were only met with a meager and unenthusiastic crowd. For shame!
(Ty): For me, the tomatoes in this category need to be thrown firmly in the direction of the festival's audience. High octane performances by Trash and Hello Sleepwalkers were met with cold indifference and a silent observance best reserved for libraries and funerals. Where was the dancing? Where were the sing-a-longs? For once in my life, I found myself actually praying that even one person would thrust their iPhone, lighter app and all, up into the air, mimicking the intense solidarity of a Freddie Mercury meme. These are not museum pieces, these are musicians, and by rule, we should have to at least attempt to enjoy ourselves! Oh, and the paparazzi treatment of Miss Ko and Deserts Chang (張懸) ... supremely abhorrent.
(Gina): Adding to Ty’s take on this section, while the public was not responsive to many great artists, there where people cheering and screaming for some performers that were famous, yes, but not THAT great.
On the organization of the event, the Rainbow Bay Festival was organized by DaDa Arts Promotion and the Kaohsiung City government’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs. As mentioned, a very successful event. The two things that we applaud the most are: 1) Bicycles: We noticed staff going around the on these. Due to the size of the place this was a genius idea that other festivals should definitely mimic; 2) Clear scheduling and time keeping -- the shows were on time and it was easy to pick which one to go to next. We approve.
On the other hand, although everything was almost perfect, there were two things that we feel needed more attention. One of these was the ticketing-area. The festival consisted of a free-access area and a ticket-paying one which lead to some confusion. Also, while the different stages were clearly labeled on the festival map, the two indoor stages were a little difficult to locate when there was no queue outside. We regret missing some shows because of that. In spite of these minor nit-picked bits, we must say that Rainbow Bay Festival brought a carnival of colors and sounds to this sunny side of the island. Two days packed with fun, art, and music. Exhausting, but so worth it.
Second Hand Rose (二手玫瑰): http://www.ershoumeigui.com
Bai An (白安): https://www.facebook.com/baiannmusic
Dan Bao (蛋堡): https://www.facebook.com/Softlipa
Murky Crows (昏鴉): https://www.facebook.com/murkycrows
The Gigantic Roar (巨大的轟鳴): https://www.facebook.com/GiganticRoar
Soundboss (騷包樂團): https://www.facebook.com/Soundboss?fref=ts
Spade 14 (黑桃十四樂團): http://www.indievox.com/spade14official
Melisa Chiao (焦惠芬) from DaDa Arts Promotions for kindly providing us access to the festival.
For more info on Rainbow Bay Festival: