Trista di Genova / The Wild East
Transition (前進樂團) is a British expat band that has attained a fair level of success and popularity in Taiwan thanks to their cheery, catchy cross-cultural hits, like 對不起我的中文不好 (‘Sorry my Chinese is not good’ (other links below).
The band’s British members fell in love with the place and have toured Taiwan a few times, gathering an ever-larger fan base thanks to this and their YouTube videos, which include a documentary and some cover songs.
However, a few years ago they were and are still banned from re-entering the ROC, plunging the band back into a continuation of its ‘transition’ phase.
In this email interview, Josh discusses the evolution of the band, their unceremonious expulsion from the island and what they’ve been doing while waiting to come back!
Trista di Genova: Dear Transition, Here are some questions from our readers. First of all, “How did you discover you loved Taiwan so much? :)” Perhaps you can start at the beginning and tell us how and why you came here.
Transition 前進樂團: Our story began just over 10 years ago when a Taiwanese student came to live with my family in Bristol. Through her, we began to meet other Taiwanese in Bristol and as we introduced the UK to them, they told stories of Taiwan and introduced us to some of the food and music from that far away land!
One thing they always said after seeing our band perform in Bristol was “One day you guys must come to Taiwan!” After some years of researching, we were recommended the Springscream festival in Kenting and applied to perform in 2005. To our surprise we were welcomed and given a headline slot!”
He continued, “During that first 10-day trip we were able to reconnect with many friends who had been in Bristol years earlier, and also made our first connections with the Taiwanese underground music scene. We met bands like ‘Green!Eyes’ and ‘Tizzy Bac’ and were so excited to hear creative music of the sort that we just don’t have in the West!
We returned to Taiwan at least once per year for the next 4 years, until in 2009 we decided that we wanted to move to live in Taiwan, staying there long term in order to really learn the language, get involved in the music scene and invest in the people we knew there.
It was one of the best decisions we ever made as a band, in September 2009 we took our newly finished ‘Borderlands’ album (available on iTunes) that had been produced by Sam Bell (who has worked as part of a production team with REM, Snow Patrol, U2, Bloc Party and others) and we moved to Taipei. Borderlands was published in Taiwan in December 2009 and a subsequent tour followed, taking us to almost every corner of Taiwan!
It was an amazing time.
The Wild East: How is your Chinese?
Transition 前進樂團: Well, even as we were touring and performing, we found that as we began to learn and include more Chinese in our shows, the connection with the audience was even deeper. It was the start of a realisation that we needed to start singing in Mandarin more completely in order to really involve the audiences we were trying to reach. 對不起我的中文不好 (‘Sorry my Chinese is not good’) just came out of our experiences of trying to learn the language and making mistakes along the way. I think many other foreigners connect with the song because they can identify with the feeling of trying hard to communicate but sometimes causing rather funny or embarrassing situations as a result!
The Wild East: Can you talk about your evolution as artists through these three albums? What are you working on now?
Josh: Also from our touring came the idea of shooting a documentary. It’s available on Youtube, have you seen it before? We basically wanted to capture something of what we loved about Taiwan, something of what was special to us here, as well as something of our normal life here and convey it to out fans overseas! Many of our original British fans couldn’t understand why we’d left and gone somewhere so small and so far away. We wanted to show them why!
Question from Wild East reader:
“How do you disseminate a song? For instance, how do you think it is that you your song Dui Bu Qi 對不起我的中文不好 on YouTube) is so well-known among foreign population here? (In my case, my Chinese teacher at TMU played it for us several times! And many other foreign uni students seemed to know of it as well!”
Josh: So in 2011 we spent a month shooting the documentary as we toured all around Taiwan again, this time focussing on Taipei, Kaohsiung) (高雄), Kenting and Hualien as the key spots.
The Kaohsiung Film Assistance Centre (from the Cultural Bureau) were really helpful in recommending locations, applying for permission and even ferrying us around in a minibus while the film crew were there. As well as performing outdoor in the Pier2 art complex, we also held the ‘second highest performance in Taiwan’ at the top of the 85 Sky Tower in Kaohsiung — second highest as Mayday had previously performed at the top of Taipei 101!!
Question from Wild East readers:
“How many times have you performed at the Kaohsiung Harbor, and why do you perform there? How was that arranged?”
Particularly through the documentary time, Kaohsiung became special to us, we made great friends there and felt like the fans connected with Transition in a special way. We also shot the ‘Stay in the Moment’ video during that time (which is another whole story in itself)!!
The Wild East: What are you striving for in the long-term?
Josh: Sadly, at the end of 2011, as we finished our first full Mandarin album and prepared to sign with a new record company, our application for new work permits was blocked because a year earlier (2010) we’d performed for a church without permits and been given a gift of money. The government counted this as illegal work and after months of investigating and deliberating, they finally decided to deport us and ban us from Taiwan for 3 years.
At the time we were devastated, and even now it’s frustrating not to be allowed back. But our response at the time was very positive. As we knew we were going to be deported we also realised we’d be in the UK during the Olympics. We approached the Taiwanese Olympic Committee and offered to write the theme song for their team, an idea they gladly accepted and so as we returned to London, we took on the role of UK ambassadors of support for the Taiwanese Athletes!
Currently we are still trying to find a new direction for Transition. We’ve had great experiences and fully plan to stay connected with Taiwan, but while we are in the UK we also need to remember the UK fans. It’s an ongoing process at the moment, but we are positive about the future and believe that new opportunities will definitely come. I’m sure God will help us find a way forward.
Keep going with Chinese All the best From
Question from Wild East reader: I have a problem with most Mando-pop and Taiwanese music, except for Jay Chou and maybe a few others – limited to a few artist’s songs. They almost always seem sappy and repetitive to me. Can you suggest some artists/groups that might convince me otherwise?
Josh: Regarding good Taiwanese bands, I highly recommend Tizzy Bac, Green!Eyes, Suming (an aboriginal singer) and if you like reggae, then Matzka are great!