Jan 14

Taiwan’s Alternative Music Scene

Written by Steve on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 3:03 am
Filed under:culture, General, media, music, politics, video |
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We covered China’s  underground music scene in a previous thread and with the new year approaching, I wanted to introduce some alternative artists from Taiwan.  I’m sure everyone already knows the most popular Mando-pop stars, so here are a few that are a little less known. Most of these musicians either made their debuts or saw an upsurge in their popularity over the course of 2008. An article I read recently in the Taipei Times was the initial catalyst in my search for finding newer artists.

There’s a near-magical energy to 23-year-old Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), whose guitar-fueled, sunshine pop is winning the hearts of college kids in the Chinese-speaking world. His full-length debut, 100 Ways of Life (100種生活), sounds as inspired as his personal story: he was in a serious car accident, and while recovering in the hospital he resolved to learn to play guitar. The instrument turned out to be a good match for his agile and highly capable voice; his geek-chic charm and earnest songwriting glued the rest together. Lu’s tunes are about exams, making breakfast and toy robots, which haven’t sounded like so much fun in a long time.

88 Balaz (八十八顆芭樂籽) solid debut album, The 44 Stone Lions (肆十肆隻石獅子), is full of punk verve and rock ’n’ roll heat, but best of all captures the zany spirit of Taiwanese rock.

Panai’s (巴奈) A Piece of Blue (那片藍), a dreamy and sublime collection of acoustic songs spiced with jazz, Brazilian folk and reggae rhythms. This long-awaited second album — inspired by a group of artists in Taitung County’s (台東縣) Dulan Village (都蘭) — shows the 37-year-old singer-songwriter at her best. She naturally draws from her Amis and Puyuma roots, but doesn’t let traditional music dominate her original songs, mostly penned in Mandarin. The various island music grooves sprinkled throughout the album bring a lighter shade to Panai’s melancholy-tinged voice, which sounds both detached and intimate. The result is a beautiful balance: soulful, poetic reflection at a drifting, beachside pace.

On the other side of the taike (台客) spectrum is the venerable Wu Bai (伍佰), who has gone into outer space with his latest, Spacebomb (太空彈), a sci-fi concept album that stuffs light social satire into a rock party.

In light of this fall’s Wild Strawberry student protests, TC Yang’s (楊祖珺) retrospective album of folk and protest songs is timely. A Voice That Could Not Be Silenced: The TC Yang Collection 1977-2003 (關不住的歌聲楊祖珺錄音選輯1977-2003) is a collection of the folk singer-turned-college professor’s recorded output, which includes her renowned version of Formosa (美麗島), a tune that rang throughout various protests by the Dangwai (outside the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT) movement of the late 1970s and 1980s.

A search on YouTube found this Atayal (泰雅) singer. I don’t know her name but I could feel the emotion in her unique vocal style. The Atayal are an aboriginal mountain people in Taiwan and this is sung in the old style.

Sodagreen’s third album, Incomparable Beauty (無與倫比的美麗), continues the band’s transition from indie to the pop mainstream without totally selling out its roots. Lead singer Wu Qing-feng’s (青峰) voice continues to define the band’s sound, but the album has tight arrangements and good lyrics as well. Sodagreen likes to show its sentimental side, yet never forgoes charm, and often flirts with cute, but is thoughtful enough to avoid insulting the listener’s intelligence.


Deserts Chang (張懸) is a Taiwanese singer-songwriter. Though no longer considered underground, she is considered to be one of the leading alternative musicians in the industry. The singer’s growing popularity in both Taiwan and mainland China also grew. At the 7th Chinese Music Media Awards in Hong Kong, Chang received the award for ”Best New Mandarin Artist”. Using a guitar as her primary instrument, Chang is known for her coffeehouse music.

RICEMAGNET was formed in 1999 in Canada and is presently based in Taipei and Hong Kong. Crossing continents, the band’s sound has been accordingly influenced by a range of alternative/indie/rock artists, with the resulting sound a blend of Red Hot Chili Peppers meets Wu Bai & China Blue. RICEMAGNET consists of Yi Ching Chung on guitar and lead vocals and David Ma on guitar, bass and vocals, both of whom have extensive performing experience.

Searching YouTube for Taiwan music, I found a song by 拼宵夜 that I thought you might enjoy. I’m assuming it’s some kind of folk song, though I’m not sure whether it’s traditional or something new.

In what looks like an Eslite bookstore in Taipei, I found this unplugged song titled “BackQuarter 十月病 – ( Unplugged 原版)”. Let us know if you recognize them and can give us more information.

With a harder edge,  here’s Children Sucker 表兒 with their song 朋友啊!Take It Easy!

That’s what’s popular these days. Now let’s compare it to what used to be popular in Taiwan many years ago, although whenever I went to karaoke in Taiwan and China, all the 20 something girls still sing her songs. (This is just an excuse to let a few of our blog commenters remember their younger days.)

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23 Responses to “Taiwan’s Alternative Music Scene”

  1. Steve Says:

    With so many YouTube videos, sometimes they don’t all load when you access this page. If not, just hit “Refresh” and the missing ones should come in.

    This is by no means a complete list. If you know of any interesting Taiwan artists not included, please tell us about them and include a link if possible.

  2. Jed Yoong Says:

    Tks for this.
    It’s really useful for people like me in Malaysia.
    Will check them out.
    For me, I am still stuck in 90s music — Faye Wong, Beyond, etc.

  3. Old Tales Retold Says:

    Nothing wrong with Faye Wong or Beyond! But what about Tang Dynasty?

  4. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Old Tales Retold. Ha Ha! I am still learning about the Tang Dynasty! Ha Ha!
    What is really diff to me is the Hokkien sounds of.Wu Bai (伍佰). The song is in Mandarin but infused with Hokkien-ness. While 表兒children sucker- 朋友啊!take it easy! is just Hokkien. It’s quite cool n edgy. Of course, I can barely make out what it’s about.

    I think this generation is also into the Kings of Convenience sound — acoustic, clear, light vocals.
    Like Crowd Lu (盧廣仲), Deserts Chang (張懸)
    This sound is quite popular here too in the indie scene.

    While 88BALAZ八十八顆芭樂籽-甜蜜的酸黃瓜, sounds very much like Offsprings, Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated (Smash 1994).

    I hope to hear more of Tang Dynasty music, or rather poetry written in cryptic calligraphy. !!!

  5. Steve Says:

    Tang Dynasty is from mainland China so not part of the Taiwan scene and not really my cup of tea, but if you haven’t heard them before, here’s a vid from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5PU7AwWAfc

    Though this is about music in Taiwan, you can post links to good bands from anywhere in Asia in the comments section. The object is to give exposure to as many good (and especially unknown) bands as we possibly can. Our post about China led to discussions of bands across Asia. Good music is good music; nothing is off limits. 🙂

    @ Jed Yoong: Welcome to FM! In our last discussion, I posted some information about Malaysia’s Transient Vortex: http://www.myspace.com/transientvortex (even got a “thank you” from one of the guys) and I know NZ’s Bic Runga’s: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=80425715 mother is Chinese Malaysian, but outside of that I’m ignorant of the music scene there. If you know of any good Malaysian bands we can link to, please let us know.

    Everyone knows Faye Wong, but for those unfamiliar with Beyond, here is a video to sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA_qIycirRA

  6. Jed Yoong Says:

    @steve. Hey tks for letting me know that Tang Dynasty is a band. They have quite an original sound. Over here we are mostly into Canto or Taiwanese pop. The only China band that I know is 黑豹. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uixlg29I8nI&feature=related I suspect that’s because Faye Wong was dating one of the members. The scene here is quite vibrant but our most famous “pop star” is Namewee, who is studying in Taiwan. He really ticked some ppl off with this song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gyiBvJtJ5Z4. 😉 More recently, he pissed his secondary school off for singing about them. May be a bit crude….

  7. Steve Says:

    @ Jed Yoong: Wow, I didn’t realize Kings of Convenience was well known in Malaysia. There are quite a few Norwegian bands I enjoy such as Bel Canto, Lene Marlin, Anneli Drecker, Mortal Love, Röyksopp, Theatre of Tragedy and Ane Brun.

    Thanks for the two links. I hadn’t heard of either one and it’s fun to hear new stuff. Are you familiar with Jakarta’s trip-hop band Everybody Loves Irene? I know they did concerts in KL and SG back in 2007: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZc8pdmQUaU

    Are there a lot of home grown Malaysian indie bands or mostly from other countries? I’d like to hear a Malaysian Kings of Convenience style band.

    As you probably noticed, I’m not big on Canto or Mando Pop. Too many overproduced syrupy ballads for me. 😛

  8. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Steve. 😉

    Here is one off my head….

    Their more humble beginnings at Kuala Lumpur’s top indie night, Troubadours (http://troubadourskl.blogspot.com/) But I dunno what happened to the indie night. It’s been a while for me.

    I can recognise some riffs from KOC or similar to KOC.

    That Indo band is COOL! 😀

    Music rocks!

  9. FOARP Says:

    @Steve – Did you ever go to Spring Scream? Happy days . . .

  10. Steve Says:

    @ FOARP: No, we just missed it last year. My 23 year old son who was with us would have loved to have checked it out. He’s a big indie/emo music guy.

  11. Steve Says:

    @ Jed Yoong: Hey Jed, thanks for the link! I’m a HUGE fan of Everybody Loves Irene; in fact, they’re my favourite Asian band so it’s great that you posted that clip. Here’s a song from their newest CD “On Second Thought I Might Wanna Change Some Things”, called Rindu: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MShSOcs0SKI

  12. Steve Says:

    @ Jed Yoong: Jed, since you only know one Chinese band, you might want to check out our previous post on the indie music scene in China: http://blog.foolsmountain.com/2008/11/08/the-indie-music-scene-in-china/
    That was my second post so I was just figuring out how to use the program and didn’t add vids. Here’s Shanghai’s Cold Fairyland: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2yHzKomkAc&feature=related performed in Holland and another at a Shanghai venue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_KlbskAv9U

    They’re a prog rock band that is traditional yet modern and even feature a girl on pipa. They’re definitely my favourite Chinese band.

  13. Steve Says:

    @ Jed Yoong #8: Thanks for the two vids from Estrella! I think they are good already but more importantly, have the potential to be even better. Seems they’re still developing their own style so I’m going to keep my eye on them. Sounds like you’ve got a pretty hoppin’ music scene in KL~ 😛

  14. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ steve # 13. sure. 😉 yes, their style does seem to have changed compared to their la bodega gig which i attended. she does have good vocals. 😉 n soul. 😉

  15. Steve Says:

    The KL band Jed and I have been discussing is called Estrella and besides the two vids Jed linked to, you can catch three songs on their MySpace page: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewProfile&friendID=12554909

    Hongkonger & TonyP4: Seems they might be your style; tell me what you think… 8)

  16. Jed Yoong Says:

    @ Steve #12
    Tks for the links. I really like Cold Fairy Land’s sound. Sort of like Bjork but with their own distinct, surreal, oriental twist. I will be checking out the other bands in your post on the scene in China.

    And this band Furniture is pretty popular and has been for some years.


  17. K Koerner Says:

    Thanks for the great posting. I was so happy to learn about these artists. I’m an American fan of Chinese music and because I do not speak Chinese it’s very hard for me to locate new people.

    I must admit I adore Chyi Chin and it’s really he who led me to pursue other artists, but it’s very hard to follow him because of translations of websites, etc. It seems to have become increasingly difficult for me to access a lot of music sites and I find that I can no longer post to many of them for some reason.

    Of course the other people I’m familiar with are of his generation because his information leads me to them. If any of you knowledgable music fans would share information on where he fits in the history of music or any information or opinions about him I would be grateful.

    I must mention that he has become my gateway to learn about China, and I am learning the geography by following his concert schedule. I enjoy reading a great many Chinese sites in translation and I enjoy learning about China very much. I hope some day to visit China.

    I must also mention I’m already a terrifc fan of Wu Bai, and I was particulary taken with the Atayal singer!

    Karen in Minnesota

  18. Steve Says:

    Hi Karen, welcome to FM! 🙂

    I didn’t attach any Chyi Chin videos since he’s so well known and I’d also put him more into the pop category, though some of his songs are more like folk. Could you post a link to a You Tube video of his you particularly like? That way, if any of our bloggers aren’t familiar with him, they can get an idea of his style.

    I’m not sure if you saw our post on mainland Chinese bands, but you can go to The Indie Music Scene in China to check that out. Take a look at the comments; there are many good links there to bands you might not know yet.

    You can also download Neocha’s Next Player. Neocha is one of the top sites in China for new music, especially underground bands that are not yet popular. It streams music continuously to your computer and if you don’t like the song, just hit the “next” button and it changes. Most Chinese bands also have MySpace sites and you can usually hear four or more songs per site.

    If there’s any cool bands you like, don’t be shy to link to them. We’re always looking for good new stuff! 😛

  19. Marty Says:

    If anyone is interested in learning about more Taiwanese independent artists, please visit my website Island of Sound:



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