Beneath the rush of shoppers and scooters on a crisp and cool Saturday night, Taipei was being attacked: subterranean livehouse Underworld buzzed and burned with fresh, alive sounds.
First up was a welcome return to the stage for two veterans of the Taiwan indie scene. Stan (guitars) and Gus (bass) of 死蚊子 She Bang A (they prefer the Taiwanese pronunciation of the characters) have pounded out experimental noise rock together for well over a decade. Their original project, 停看聽 (Stop Look Listen), spit spastic, noisy bursts of instrumental punk, with songs rarely ever exceeding a minute in length.
It was brilliant and raw, fierce and beautiful.
Since 2007, their current incarnation, 死蚊子, is slightly more conventional, but that's only relative to where they've come from. Fairly or not, I can't help but compare them to their past.
Still performing as a trio (albeit with a different drummer, 昱安 Yu An - they've outdone Spinal Tap in drummers), their set kicked off with driving bass and riffs layered in effects. They've always created wicked riffs, so it was fun to settle into the groove of longer songs. Other signature Stan & Gus-isms remain: slide shows filling the background, punchy bass lines, and sharp rhythms punctuated with sudden starts and stops.
And lastly, one of the bonus joys of a 死蚊子 show - watching Stan's emphatic conducting and dancing. His playing is never limited to simply strings and frets. He's just as inclined to slap his instrument, twist away the knobs on his effects pedals or contort his body to the sound waves. Stan becomes his music. It's love, as honest and inspired as the songs themselves.
Midway through the set, the band treated us to a new development - vocals!
Running through effects, yells and yips echoed and grew in intensity, then faded away, only to return more earnestly. There was an issue of feedback that had half the audience plugging their ears. Sometimes feedback is gorgeous, other times not. 死蚊子 play with fire. Things like that will happen.
Other highlights included a twisted, bluesy stomp and a number entitled "Romantic Violence". A friend later turned to me and commented, "I like how their songs try to be melodic, but they're not." He meant that as a compliment.
死蚊子 teeter and thrive on that edge. But what they are or aren't isn't as important as what they do, which is push the limits of themselves, of their audience, and of rock music.
And me, I'll follow them anywhere.
Busy promoting their new EP, Taipei punks 非人物種 were quick to plug in and blast away. If I kept this review to one word, it could only be this: powerful. If I were generous enough to offer you a second, I would add: surprising. But I can't stop there, so let me elaborate.
I've enjoyed 非人物種 shows on a handful of occasions, coming away more and more impressed with their energy and passion. Self-described as Taiwanese-flavored grunge/punk, 非人物種 are much more than that. Throughout the night, they beat out a deadly blend of classic rock riffing, punk rock screaming, rappy, ska-like jams. And the killer moment of the show? A blistering tango. I didn't see that one coming at all.
Decked out in black and white suits, the band looked as sharp as they sound. I always enjoy when a group gives some attention to the whole experience of a performance since it is, after all, another form of entertainment. I'm not, however, a big fan of stopping to talk between every single song, as it stunts and stalls the energy, and the first half of their set was a bit disjointed from that.
Another friend observed, however, that Underworld shows, given its intimate nature, lend themselves to more chatty interactions. Put into that perspective, I won't complain too much, as the immediacy of the bands and their music is one reason I love Underworld. Besides, 非人物種 are cheery guys, and the banter is witty. At any rate, by the end of the night, they simply let the music do the talking.
As mentioned, the most striking quality of their set was their power.大眼 (Da Yan)'s guitar work was electric, pardon the pun. He burned and wailed through song after song, but never got wanky. 撥屎 (Bo Shi) kept busy with fun bass lines and drummer 喵 (Miao), as always, was way too cool. He even looks good just standing next to a wall, thus it was a fun contrast of badass-ness to see him beat down his kit with a cigarette casually dangling from his lips. What really got me, though, were 阿顯 A-Xian's vocals. He blew me away. How does such a skinny kid create such an immense sound? And on top of all that, Inhuman add dual vocals and all-in choruses. I'm a sucker for that. Not a weak moment to be had.
Punk rock was initially a movement, in part, to be unconventional, yet like most human endeavors, has often fallen prey to presupposed notions of how it should be, thus becoming the very dinosaur it was intending to slay. How should punk rock look and sound? However the fuck it wants to. Neither 非人物種 nor 死蚊子 are slaves to dogma - they follow their hearts and have fun doing it. That's exactly what I want, not just from punk, but from any music or art.
Also, look for 非人物種's new EP, [真善美 勒?] !!!