“The music industry in Taiwan needs a firm and vicious spanking, just like that year in America when Nirvana booted Michael Jackson off the top of the charts.”

So was the quote in 2008 from Leslie Liang, lead singer/guitarist/songwriter for Kaohsiung-based rock trio KoOk. Now in their eleventh year of existence, they are currently the longest-running indie band in Kaohsiung, and likely in all of southern Taiwan.

Like millions of others, Liang fell under the spell of a certain three-piece band that reluctantly created a sound labeled as ‘grunge’. That spell is still evident to this day, as the influences of his hero Kurt Cobain resonate over and over in KoOK’s music. Liang even wrote a song entitled ‘Nevermind’, postulating on Cobain’s final days, for their independent 2008 CD “State of Chaos”.


Photo(s) by Don Quan - © 2008-2014

Fast forward to the present, and the grunge elements in KoOk’s music are still there. However, Liang, bassist Michael Chen and drummer Luke Chuang have broadened the scope of their music, both lyrically and sonically. In addition to bone-crushing guitars (Liang is very, very meticulous with his equipment and his guitar tone), KoOk’s expanded palette now includes acoustic instruments.

KoOk has been around for eleven years now. Do you have a sense of accomplishment with respect to this fact?
Actually, I can’t believe that eleven years have passed by just like that! However, any sense of achievement isn’t that we’re the most senior band on the scene; our sense of achievement is in the fact that we’re still writing and recording songs that we think are decent, and still putting on energetic shows, and mostly that we still have passion for what we’re doing.

The new album has several songs that forgo the electric guitar attack in favor of acoustic strumming. Is this because you wanted to expand your sound, or because you don’t want to be strictly pigeonholed as a ‘grunge’ band?
When we were in the early stages of planning the new album, we had a lot of different themes, expressions and feelings that we wanted to convey. So, when we were choosing songs, we picked a couple of “Unplugged” arrangements to include in the record. We’ve gotten a lot of interesting responses regarding these songs, so I think it was a good idea. We’re happy with it!

As far as being classified as a ‘grunge’ band, we don’t care about that too much. Our music has always been about including many different elements. We’re never satisfied with just the status quo, we’re constantly trying to challenge ourselves and the audience at the same time. The point is trying to put out some good music, regardless of labels or genres.


Photo(s) by Don Quan - © 2008-2014

Compared to KoOk’s 2008 album “State of Chaos”, the new record has more introspective themes about the human condition and suffering; the ‘heaviness’ of life.
What is the ‘heaviness’ of life? We see it as one big contradiction and one where we’re made to feel there are no choices. Everyone knows how they should live their life, how to make the world a better place. We all understand the inherent beauty of this world and this life, and how we should act in accordance. But we often act in contrary ways due to conflicts of interests, or perhaps due to selfishness. So, contradictions arise. It’s in human nature. Humans can make change, can make choices…this is the ‘heaviness’ of life. This subject is the general theme of our new album. Some songs criticize, some songs encourage, some songs rebuke, some songs express concern, but all as a whole are interwoven thematically.

Have you read Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”?
Yes! I love this book! I especially love Kundera’s ability to describe one’s state of mind-the disappointment, the loss, and the despair. It’s a very deep, very profound book. I recommend it to anyone!

What plans are there to promote the new album?
We’ve got a full-on CD-release tour mapped out, and the first stop is Saturday, April 30th at 7:00 PM at The Wall Pier 2 in Kaohsiung. This is a very special show for us, so I hope everyone can make it! After that, we’ve got shows all over Taiwan, so check our website for the information!


Photo(s) by Don Quan - © 2008-2014

Has Kaohsiung’s indie scene improved, or regressed, or stayed the same as before?
As a whole, of course it has improved! There are now more live music venues, and more large-scale music festivals. There are also way more shops selling musical instruments, and way more resources and information for musicians and fans alike. There are some things about the scene in the past that of course we don’t have anymore, and it seems that now the emergence of new bands has slowed its pace considerably. My friends and I are concerned about what new bands are emerging. It’s not like a few years back when all these amazing, inspiring bands were appearing all over Kaohsiung. So, in this aspect, the scene has regressed a bit.

But, right now, the good thing is that more and more people are taking notice of independent bands. Shows that were sparsely attended in the past are now drawing more and more people. I believe that as long as the bands continue to work hard, and the events planners and venues work together, the scene will certainly get better and better. I have nothing but optimism for Kaohsiung’s indie music scene!

KoOk’s official website:

Don Quan is an independent filmmaker, proprietor of The Mercury Bar in Kaohsiung and longtime supporter of indie music in Taiwan. When he grows up, he wants to play in a rock and roll band.

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