Taiwanese popular music was stuck in a rut for a long time during the period of military rule in Taiwan. The army censored a lot of music and artistic expression of all types, but when Military Rule ended in 1986 censorship and government control of music ended and Taiwan began to catch up quickly in producing great bands and music as well as art, drama and films. Taiwan is now a fascinating place culturally and a creative hub in Asia.
Pairubu and I wanted to share with you some of the wide variety of music that is being made in Taiwan. We will follow our usual he said – she said format. Each of us has chosen three tracks and we will say a few words about our track and then the other will comment also.
I was a bit worried when Sakura said she wanted to include Taiwanese ”pop” as I had visions of the kind of “massed ranks of synchronised girlies doing bad Beyonce impressions ” that often seem to be what is meant by “pop” in Asia. I need not have worried, she’s dug out three cracking little numbers from the former Formosa’s favourite formations.
Pairubu – Bad Daughter - Right is Right, Wrong is Wrong
Probably my favourite Taiwanese band. They, alas broke up a few years back after making just 2 records. This is from their second “Little Sun” and is a delightfully shambolic “indie” number. Sometimes I think I may “like” foreign ( to me) music simply because it is “exotic”, not in the case of Bad Daughter, I simply love their sound and the voice of the singer Vera Queen sends me into swoony raptures.
I absolutely love the album Tiny Sun that this track comes from. I think it is one of the best Asian indie albums ever. I love the way they create an atmosphere with the arrangements and I love the folk influences in their music, and of course Vera Queen has a wonderful voice. Bad Daughter were very influential in the Taiwanese indie scene and the presence of Vera Queen definitely encouraged other girls in Taiwan to form or join bands. A great track to start us off ! ! !
I totally agree with Sakura, Bad Daughter were my “Find of the year” last year and Little Sun is not just a great Taiwanese indie album, not even just a great Asian India album it’s a great indie album full stop and is one that I play nearly every week. So sad they never made the grade. Where is Vera now ?
She went solo and is still performing and making records. She uses the name Vera Lin or Vera Queen Lin (it seems there is also a UK singer with same name so Google in English is useless) Her latest Album is called Rain Drops on Me and is fantastic ! ! !
Sakura – S.H.E -Love So Right
This is a classic Taiwanese pop song from one of the best pop acts in Taiwan. My home island is very close to Taiwan and my mum is from there, so I grew up listening to Taiwanese pop music on the radio so I developed a love of Taiwanese pop at a young age ! ! ! S.H.E were the first Taiwanese pop group to really achieve international success selling 16 million records so far, and they really made the road for other Taiwanese groups to follow. They formed in 2000 and have been making records (and promoting everything from Coca Cola to cosmetics) ever since. They have always mixed original songs with chinesese language cover versions of international songs and this has caused some controversy as people critic their originality, but personally I do not care – i think they are great ! ! ! This is from their latest album Shero and is a cover of Angel by Kate Voegele.
Great guitar on this one, really like it. I’m guessing, from the video, that this song is one of those “I was going to leave you because you shagged my best friend and my gay cousin Billy and have been looking at the dog in a funny way too but you sent me some cheap flowers and a teddy that says “I wuv U” so I’m going to forgive you , like I did all the other times, because you have promised to change and you said you loved me” songs. Very pretty girls, frankly they make the Sugarbabes look like Heffalumps, not that that has anything to do with the music, of course.
Pairubu - Won Fu- Liver failure
Won Fu are a more “theatrical” proposition, A melange of sounds, including kids songs ( I read somewhere that they “disbanded” and then immediately started up again as a children’s group), this song, I think it’s safe to say, unless there are a lot of junior alcoholics in Taiwan, is aimed at a more adult audience but is, frankly, bonkers. I have no idea what “style” it is but I love it, especially the guitar solo. A thing of wonder.
Won Fu are the only band I know which is lead by a real dog ! ! ! Apart from Ringo the dog there are four humans in the band two guys and two girls. They are a really fun band and I know them a little from the Japanese versions of their singles which have been quite successful here and they played at the TaiK Rock Festival and toured Japan maybe two years ago. Their music is great fun and this track is typical of their eccentric style. I always smile when I hear them and I loved this track ! ! !
Sakura -Tizzy Bac – Russian Roulette
Tizzy Bac formed in 1999 because they wanted to develop a piano based indie band instead of the usual guitar based bands. They have a very different style from other indie bands and are very pop orientated and have achieved a lot of success in Taiwan and Japan and they have even played in the USA. I really like their light and direct style and catchy tunes. They are one of the longest established indie bands in Taiwan and have helped and advised many other groups and try to build a comunity of indie groups and artists. Their popularity in the indie scene can be seen by all the different indie bands that participate in this video (including Echo my next choice).
Aha ! I might have gone for a Tizzy Bac tune too, they are a great band, very unpredicatable in a way, and clearly not afraid to push the boundaries. This is one of their best, I think and , once again, the singer is gorgeous ( though she could do with being force fed donuts for a few weeks). I love the use of cello on this one, very “theatrical”. Great video again !
Pairubu - Bearbabes- Wake up
Going out with a whimper. A far more “grown up” sounds from Bearbabes ( try Googling that one and see what you get !) , still going, believe. Another lady singer that sends the bumps of geese down the old spine at times, there’s something about some oriental singers that I find very appealing (perhaps it’s because I’m an old perv ?) and this is one of those songs. It’s not perfect but that, I think, is part of the charm. In a way it’s totally Wabi-sabi ( man !) . An aesthetic philosophy that I’m very much in favour.
I absolutely love Bearbabes ! ! ! I love the way they are influenced by bands like Radio Head and the British Indie rock bands but have made their own sound and the band say they are influnenced a lot by classical music. In one interview they said the orchestra of the show Lion King inspired them….ummm….maybe…..Even if they often sing in English they have a unique Asian feel for me which I love. It is also nice how they include a cello in the band and I think this adds a lot to their sound. They are still going and still very successful. I think this track is just lovely ! ! !
Sakura – Echo - Firecrackers
Echo are one of my favourite Taiwanese bands actually. They formed in 2000 and released their first album Sensory Control in 2002 and it was 2007 when they released the next album Bastille Day and in 2010 they released the latest album Virgin Air . They are well known as one of the hardest working live bands and played over 100 concerts last year. They supported Placebo on their Asian tour and obviously you can hear the influence of them in their music, but they have a lot of other influences also including Taiwanese love -folk songs and Brit Rock. I think they are good band for us to finish with as they show how Taiwanese bands are taking western influences and making it their own.
Now this I really like, that sound ! It’s easy nowadays to get odd noises from your guitars and synths and consequently I think we have got a bit blase about it all. The beginning of this song reminds me of experimental music from the 70s, a bit “Roxy Music” perhaps. Love it.
Thanks for reading. Sakura and I are hoping to make this into a mini-series of posts bringing you the best of Asian music from the Pacific rim and beyond (until we get bored with the idea). We hope to post every Wednesday so stay tuned for more top pop sounds.
PS – Next week we are going to Korea, we hope you can join us ! ! !