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LUCFest 2019: The new Taiwan festival proves phenomenal for new music discovery, November 8th, 2019

Dec 04, 2019 Bookmark and Share

Tainan in Taiwan might not be the most obvious place which springs to mind when contemplating some far flung adventure to see music.

But you’d be wrong to overlook it: this enchanting, beautiful East Asian island packs a punch at every turn; natural wonders and a pulsating city life abound and, yes, its fourth and oldest city, Tainan, is a real gem. The streets with the neon lit logogram street signs, nostril-tickling outdoor BBQ and noisy swarms of scooters are blessed with balmy weather even in November.

With it not being that touristy - largely, people have either grown up in the city or are newcomers who’ve laid roots here and started businesses; there’s that off the beaten track feel so often hard to find in the more buzz name cities in Asia - it’s a pleasing escape.

Upon arrival, the best thing to do is stick to Tainan’s historic centre - the night markets and dock area are good too. But the centre where nearly all of LUCfest gigs are held is made captivating because of its snaking streets, lined with gorgeous ancient temples and shrines, gallery spaces and intimate bars where we spruce up with some Taiwanese whiskey or strong rice wine. Though it takes time walking to uncover, a stretch of artist studios with people smoking roll ups and hacking at their canvas are tucked away off the main streets. It’s outside the studios we see some locals pruning their smallholding and cautiously eyeballing us as we are unwittingly trespassing. Food is everything here: every street within a certain radius is bulging with independent street side restaurants serving jovial locals everything from intestine soup and sticky rice dumplings to stinky tofu and beef noodle soup. Catchy - if a bit kitsch - melodies are omnipresent, too, and keeping an ear out is a great preamble before we set off for the gigs proper: the temples sing their tune, street performers slay, arcade machines ring, the bin lorries have a charming jingle and even the newsagents have a theme tune when you open the door. It all adds to create a character far removed from what we’re accustomed to - and that’s what we want.

Faye Hong
Faye Hong

Music venues for the annual LUCfest are largely tucked away: inside galleries, bars, record shop, a cinema; very few music dedicated spaces, in fact. There’s one outdoor city stage which is free for everyone to see but we’re more enamoured with the intimate spaces where we can see up-and-coming acts up close and personal.

The line-up is the best of new Taiwanese music and international acts. The cross section of talent - pan-genre and from all over the globe - is key to the function of LUCfest: the festival, which is only in its third year, takes pride in being a platform for artists from Taiwan to grow; and takes pride in being a place for artists from abroad to sow their seeds for a hack at the growing Asian music market for a potentially prosperous future. This is not only the first and only industry facing event in Taiwan; it is in the top tier of showcase festivals and conferences in the whole of East Asia. Whisper it, but it trumps a lot of the more established European and American ones, too.

Having a strong representation of Taiwanese indie music is essential for being taken seriously by outside businesses. We’ve compared what’s making traction in Taipei with what’s on the bill at LUCfest: it’s evident it’s a prime group: the likes of Sunset Rollercoaster, Lilium and SEN are all hot stuff in the capital. LUCfest being a direct line to strong Taiwanese music is helped thanks to its connection with the esteemed White Wabbit Records: Co-founder KK also runs this esteemed record store and label as a separate company.

Nestled away in the backstreets of the Da’an district in Taipei, her HQ is a sleek street level record shop with the label in the basement. The walls are the manifestation of their meticulously well curated ideas and we see the White Wabbit logo on some great international records since they distribute some choice international acts such as The Shins, Mac Demarco and Charles Bradley. LUCfest merch and fliers adorn the shelves, too, and the sophistication and curation manifest here is mainlined down to Tainan, four hour drive south of Taipei.

The best Taiwanese discovery of the festival comes on the second day, Saturday, in the shape of Faye Hong. Named after their frontman, the ensemble Faye Hong play in Wu Yuan, somewhere which feels like a village hall. They perform an exquisite combination of Taiwanese traditional music with evocative atmospheric guitar, recalling prog and classic rock. Vocally, Hong has assured masterful pipes and projects brilliantly without ever over performing. I could see this band connecting with audiences in their thousands as opposed to the humble 100 or so here this afternoon. Take the West Holts at Glastonbury festival-a lot of people interested in that coming together of archaic musical styles with something comparatively contemporary will definitely warm to it. It feels new, it feels adventurous and strong.

But what of the international acts? They, just like the local acts, are handpicked from a public call application form and through conversations with esteemed music industry heads. Keeping LUCfest in partnership with a number of curators working for different music businesses helps a talent exchange which will help Taiwanese acts play abroad. It’s FOCUS Wales’ pick 9Bach, who we go and see after Faye Hong, in the basement of the Tainan Art museum. Not the most original venue being as it is a new build surrounded by plenty of beautiful old architecture, but the sound is good and the band are an absolute delight.


9Bach is indie royalty in North Wales and can count Robert Plant as a fan and you can see why: Combining stunning projections of the torched nature of Snowdonia atmospheric old quarry areas with music, which fuses the lifelong appeal of beautiful, moving harmonies with gloomy, edgy guitar noise, is a delight to hear. A highlight is hearing melodies outdo that of which I would expect from a Welsh band; they perform a striking song towards the end of the set which reflects singer Lisa Jên’s partly Greek heritage.

Talk of three-piece Netherlands-raised rockers newly signed to Sub Pop The Homesick is on the tip of everyone’s tongue next. They were a curational tip to LUCfest by this author. Playing live in another room in the gallery but above ground, a set of old songs which have done the rounds at festivals and on the Dutch underground over the last few years - “The Best Part of Being Young Is Falling In Love With Jesus” perhaps the best known - and unreleased new material ensues. It’s the same pummelling attack from the drums, physically demanding, crafty bass runs and unique right hand rhythm hack from the guitar. But, it’s bigger sounding with more gripping musical structure in their unreleased stuff.

After The Homesick, the best Taipei-based neo industrial post-punks SEN are performing. Vintage synth ornamentation, gritty guitar hooks, heavy, punishing basslines and industrial percussive clatter provide the ultimate sonic backdrop for singer Lin Yu-Non - who is often compared with Bauhaus’ Peter Murphy - to writhe. His commanding, transcendent stage presence could see this band burrow their way into parallel underground guitar scenes all over the globe. They have serious potential.

With live music wrapped up for the evening, LUCfest attendees aren’t fickle and waning early: it’s off to karaoke - a compliment if you’re invited by East Asians as it’s a great icebreaker to form friendships - and then we congregate at the TCRC live house. TCRC proper is a whiskey bar ranked in the worlds 50 best bars. Its live house, a few meters down the street, is a grungy basement venue with cans of beer and a DJ. This is the underground mecca of Tainan and an integral part of LUCfest’s nightlife.


Sunday - the last day of the festival before Under the Radar heads to Taipei to see some more great Taiwanese music - is made special from seeing Winnipeg-based Warming, 9Bach for a second time and this author’s dream pop artist friend Elizabete Balcus; a Latvian artist I’ve been championing among delegates all weekend.

Warming are performing in Asia for their first time and deserve a tip of the hat for the 40 hour journey it took to get to Tainan. The geographical centre of North America, Winnipeg, is covered in ice this time of year and the tropical climate a welcome respite from the bitter arctic tundra they left behind, say the band.

Taking a mid-afternoon slot in a gallery space at the top floor of an upmarket clothing store called Dou Maison, the band perform a melancholic synth pop set which captivates the packed room.

Their debut self-titled LP is striking: predominantly the work of singer Brady Allard - and later embellished in collaboration with his bandmates - it’s a paean to falling out of love, falling out of society, and, Into the Wild style, holing up in a caravan in the wilderness alone. The time allowed for fully formed songs to be made and there’s goosebumps at every turn.

For a band which has had little to no press on their LP, to knock it out of the park the way they’ve done at LUCfest makes us think that delayed gratification from the public is looming. Singer Brady Allard’s voice is as strong as Brandon Flowers’ and harmonies lock in Crosby, Stills and Nash-level with his guitarist. Allard’s arsenal of vintage synths intertwine with masterful guitar tones immaculately. And hits “White Lies”, “Did It Again”, and “Wasting Time” stand out massively.


After briefly passing by the wrap up party at a nearby temple, LUCfest comes to an emotional end. Just how transformative it is for Tainan - the invigorating swathe of entertainment only becomes palpable once everyone’s packed up and left. For the next three nights Under The Radar wanders through Tainan but without the warm bosom of indie music to warm out hearts. Post festival entertainment comes in staking out the unique independent restaurant spaces, the vintage stores which welcome street jams outside their shop and back at TCRC for some semblance of intensity to recall the highs of the festival.

Taipei, even if it’s less enchanting to walk around is now resettled as the hub for indie music in Taiwan. After a brief stopover at the Asia Rolling festival where we see the mighty neo-krautrockers Prairie WWWW -who weren’t on the LUCfest line-up this year but have played previously - we call it a day for another year. But not the last time, once you start to uncover its cultural highs and see the landscapes of Taiwan you can’t help but fall in love. Xie xie Taiwan. ‘Till next time.


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