Spring Scream is Taiwan's ‘Kentingbury’

By Trista di Genova
For Taiwan News in April 07– Reprinted here by popular demand!

WATCH MY HIGHLIGHTS OF SPRING SCREAM ON YOUTUBE: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSx42OWoMj0
(Screened at the Urban Nomad Filmfest in May 07)

The Spring Scream festival has become more than just a place for Taiwanese and waiguoren alike to take a break by heading south to Kenting and living it up a little. Because Spring Scream’s got the most bands and most stages, it’s become a mecca for all the greatest and hottest indie bands in Taiwan and throughout the region. In the last five years, Spring Scream’s tripled in size, last year bringing an estimated 50,000 tourists into the region, infusing the local economy.
I conducted a 4 a.m. telephone interview of Spring Scream organizer, Jimi Moe, who began running the show in 1995 with fellow organizer Wade Davis. The two met in junior high school in Indonesia – both are Americans who grew up overseas. After more than a decade of organizing Spring Scream together, they’ve settled down a bit with Taiwanese wives and a kid each, “both conceived in the relaxing chillout time after Spring Scream, not in the successful leadup,” as Moe puts it.

Trista: Thanks for staying up all night with me. Do you remember that Spring Scream moment when you and Wade decided “we have to do this”?

Jimi: Wade and I came to Taiwan back in 1990. We were teaching at first, then we started playing music; then we’d have a show and invite a couple other bands down there [to Kenting]. At first, we organized two or three bands to play, which turned out to be 10. We expected 50 people, and that turned into 300. It was a little party that went well.

Trista: How many bands are playing this year? Still signing them up as we speak?

Jimi: Yes! We’ve got 260 bands confirmed so far, with over 500 quality, high-calibre bands applying this year. It’s never been so hard to choose. (For a complete bandlist, schedule, and travel info, visit www.springscream.com)

T: Which bands get on the list of “Jimi’s favorite picks” this year?

J: I’m excited about most of them, really. I’d like to see them all. They’re all amazing bands — from Taiwan, expat bands, international acts; pop, punk, punk rock, world music, everything. We’re really trying to divest into a full-range music festival, where people benefit from the whole range of music, and get to check out smaller acts. This year, we have more original pop artists, and made an effort to get artists from smaller labels, like White Wabbit, Wind Records.

After doing this 13 years, I’ve been considering taking a break. But the music we’re doing this year is something new; it’s the most diverse festival we’ve ever had. We’ve got the Emo band playing, and amazing artists from other countries, like Wandering Vera on accordion; and Octopus Project — a redefined, eclectic wall of sound.

T: The only complaint I’ve heard about Spring Scream is that it’s too big.

J: There are always complaints. Nobody’s ever happy. When it was 10 days long, some people said, “It’s just too long; I can’t stay that long,” or “Can you put the bands on when I want to see them?” We just can’t please everybody, so we’re not even trying – we just want to please as many bands as possible. So we’re compressing it all into one weekend, so you can get your kicks. It’s going to be an amazing show on Friday and Saturday, so get down there as soon as possible!

T: Two years ago there were 3-4 stages, this year there are 8. I heard next year you’re setting up 5,000 stages, one per rocker.

J: That’s not a bad idea, it’d make things a lot simpler. Yes, it’s very bold to have this many stages. But we’re inspired by the festivals we’ve seen overseas. Like Fuji Rock (Japan) – we’re nowhere near that — 150,000 people. The thing is, at Spring Scream you can’t go wrong. If it’s not where you want to be, you can go check something else out.

T: What festivals are you modeling yourselves after?

J: Maybe Seattle’s music festival, Bumbleshoot, Glastonbury. Talk about being too big, that was enormous — wet and muddy — and takes 30 minutes to walk between 30 stages.

Actually, I don’t know if Taiwan has it in him yet. I think Kenting is physically too far for a mobile culture that loves to take motorcycles everywhere. We don’t have the draw or ability to sell tickets for US$150 a day.

T: About sponsorship: a few years ago, you were against the idea because you wanted a commercial-free festival. But this year you’ve got loads of sponsors – Hi-Life, Channel 5 TV, PChome, Hit FM, Nokia, to name a few. What happened?

J: We were adamantly against sponsorship for 8 or 9 years, because we were young rebels and didn’t want to sell out to corporate power. Now we’ve got a good hold on what it is we want to do, and we’re not compromising. But it’d sure be nice to keep the ticket prices down with ponsors. Before, we didn’t want to see any advertising on the site; but ultimately, the audience doesn’t care what they’re
looking at. We’re still keeping the back of the stage free from ads. However, we live in a commercial society, advertising is everywhere. We’d love it to be a commercial-free environment, but we’d have to go back to drum circle action if we were going to that.

T: What other artistic/cultural events will be held at this year’s Double Pig Scream?

J: There are Lust Slut burlesque shows, a hypnotist, whirlers from Taiwan who have studied ethnic dance styles at festivals around the world. And there’s a Spring Scream film festival. If you have a cabin there – they’re very plush, comfortable — there’s a closed-circuit channel dedicated to the film festival, so people can watch it in their room.

T: As far as safety concerns, the Spring Scream scene has been viewed as “general bacchanalian abandon,” yet that seems to describe the unaffiliated dance/rave parties. You pride yourselves on never having any accidental deaths, drug busts, and the like. Do you have any tips so people stay safe, and don’t get loaded and try to go for a swim, or drive their motoche?

J: The only injuries have been a bad cut or a scratch. Accidents have never happened at Spring Scream, always at the other parties [one dance partygoer drowned], that’s talking about other styles of parties and music. This is an artistic crowd, who feel that music
is part of life.

T: Haven’t you had a problem with streakers?

J: Just the Rocketgrrrl drummer [Rock Starkey], who was running around naked on stage. We killed the sound, lights and stopped their show. It was in Pots, a 2-page spread! That must have went over really well with the government — yeah, bring your kids! Then, once there was an eclectic freaky artist guy doing a new dance on the speakers; that kinda grossed out some people. And there was a Japanese-American singer who performs with tighty wighty underwear, with his butt hanging out. We don’t really allow them to do it – it’s pretty frowned upon in Taiwanese society. So to protect them and protect the event we try to stop it if it happens. We’ve mentioned it every year: no nudity.

Just to check the facts, I asked Rocketgrrrl drummer Starkey, “Do you plan to get naked on stage this year?”

Starkey replied, “We have other people doing that this year — a burlesque show. There are other people who are more professional about getting naked. I’m just an amateur.”