Do you remember the first pop song you really loved when you were young?
Do you remember how it made you feel that someone out there understands you?
Do you remember having the catchy chorus or riff stuck in your head for days?
Pop was probably the first type of music we fell in love with. Sadly, as we grew older, we realised that ugly commercialism was manipulating us through manufactured pop idols and songs. The feelings behind the songs were not real. Pop started to feel like idiots’ music. We turned from the genre and ventured into “real” musical terrain.
By organising Pop! Pop! Fest, Airhead Records bravely stood up to show that not all pop music is manufactured drivel. Real musicianship and real feelings still exist within the pop genre. We just had to be more selective with what we listen to.
To show us what they mean, Airhead Records carefully curated and scheduled nine Taiwanese and Japanese bands for an ambitious three-day event spanning four venues. They were acting like the radio DJ, or MTV VJ, or a knowledgeable recordshop assistant, or an older sibling who guided us on good music. They wanted to share with Taiwanese audiences the good that they found in pop.
So did they succeed? I decided on two criteria to judge - craftsmanship and sincerity.
Pop songs are about craftsmanship. Catchy riffs, beats and effects happen at exactly when they are needed to move the song along and to create the emotive core of the song. Nothing is excessively wasted. Nothing is negligently lacking. A good pop song is simple, direct and instantly emotive.
The best implementation I saw during Pop! Pop! Fest was the Japanese power pop band, Post Modern Team. No song was over four minutes long, yet everything that is necessary to progress a song is compactly present. I also liked Tic Tac's performance. They reminded me of minimalistic Beatles in their style. All instruments are stripped to their basics - two drums in the kit and no guitar effects at all. Yet the songs carried themselves. The young Coloured Whale also show promise in songcrafting with their reverb-ladened vocals. Fourpens also deserved a mention in their unwavering stance (three attempts) to present a perfect rendition of a complex acoustic melody.
There were some harder elements which did not quite fit the pop nature of the festival (eg Yannick Barman's experimental music and Pleasure Science's textured wall of noise performance). However, they did serve as a reminder of where disillusioned pop enthusiasts emigrated to.
It also served to show that pop craftsmanship also extend to being aware of what bleeding edge musicians are doing. Good pop songcrafters would bring these bleeding edge techniques into the folds of popular acceptability. I felt that Manic Sheep's performance (which is all new songs) is an example of such. The band utilises drone and feedback in some parts of their songs. The guitar always sounded massive but still catchy.
As for sincerity, watching the bands live can tell you whether they believe in their songs. The uber-cool DYGL displayed youthful energy and swagger in their performance. The band is completely immersed in their music. Wallflower dripped love for every song like the 90s band Lightning Seeds. When I scanned the crowd, I can see how the disillusioned-by-pop crowd is absorbed. This picky audience would not be if they felt insincerity. The emotions in the songs, brought out by superior songcrafting, resonated with the audience.
Speaking of resonance, Shine Shine Shine Shine's performance was the ultimate in audience participation. The band invited the audience to bum rush the stage as they performed their incredibly catchy songs. The PA crew were busy keeping the cables connected as the crowd moshed around the band.
Throughout the festival, bands smiled and laughed during their performances. The audience responded in kind. In an age where shit happens every day in every way, it was refreshing to go back to a purer time through well-crafted and well-meaning pop songs. Back to a more hopeful time when we were young and we believed we can shine shine shine shine shine shine shine shine shine…
This GigGuide.tw article will also be printed in Poster magazine. Go pick up a copy - it's free!