Text by Evan Vitkovski
Photo Credit: Umbrella Creators
Our weekend begins Saturday morning, bright and early at Taipei Main Station with groups of eager, hungover, and tired friends congregating as the four shuttle buses arrived to take us to our destination: Eden Hill Festival. Located about a three-hour drive from the city in Central Taiwan, overlooking mountain ranges that appeared and disappeared amid the clouds and smog floating above the town of Puli. The bus ride there went smoothly, and we disembarked the bus, lining up to enter the festival grounds in the early afternoon. Because of the weekend traffic, the music had already started.
Festival policy is no re-entry, which means slightly less hassle for the volunteers working the entrance. We were greeted with welcoming smiles and wristbands. Since the festival had taken on Dr. Bronner’s Soap as a sponsor, nearly everyone got handed a sample size soap and toothpaste to keep clean. The impending mud meant the soap surely came in handy later.
With all of our camping gear strapped to my backpack, we ventured forth with a few friends in search of a spot suitable enough to pitch our tents. The terraced hillside that functions as an ample campsite during the festival was already crawling with occupants and potential neighbors by the time we arrived, but we managed to locate a perch with a view. To get our bearings, we wandered the grounds and ran into some familiar faces along the way as the festival kicked off.
The electronic music festival scene in Taiwan is growing exponentially, but Eden Hill is a relatively smaller gathering of 600 people, which makes for a more intimate affair. According to the organizers, that’s nearly double the size that Eden Hill has been in previous years when 300 to 400 people attended. That’s a testament to the rising interest in these types of events. Among the newcomers, I met many young creatives, both foreign and local, from every corner of the world having traveled from all around Taiwan. Also contributing to this rise in attendance could be the fact that the organizers generously offer free admittance to residents of Puli Township and students from the nearby Chi Nan University.
As we settled in, the field filled out even more with a steady stream of festival goers arriving to the sounds of the opening DJs on the main stage, including Valentin Catteau from France laying the groundwork followed by Taiwan-based TIIO playing upbeat but mellow tech-house and progressive breakbeats.
For lunch was Dino Taco, a Calimex vegetarian food stand that offered free comic zines and proprietors dressed as dinosaurs with a side of tequila infused hot sauce. While eating, I watched my friend Sam representing Kulchur Collective, a graphic artist from New Zealand who transplanted to Taipei, begin his livepainting mural of a pair of rainbow wings. After some miscommunication about the nature of the mural, and a few drops of rain, the second stage opened with Vice City playing appropriately downtempo, atmospheric tracks before sunset over the cloudy city. The smaller second stage was situated on a lookout deck with a view overlooking Puli and a background of misty mountains.
Every few minutes, a paraglider would take off from the festival site hillside and float around. People were literally flying in the sky, which made for a novel sight and added an interesting element to the festival experience. Paradoxically, every few minutes all across the steep campground without fail, someone trying to navigate to their own campsite or find their friends after a slight rain would take a tumble or slip and fall in the mud. No major injuries were reported, but much swearing and embarrassed laughter ensued. I even made a few new friends helping people get up or down the hill throughout the weekend.
According to their official website, Eden Hill got their start as in 2012 as “a multi-day outdoor musical event based in the central mountain ranges of Taiwan. Our mission is to connect people of all ages through quality underground electronic music, performed in breathtaking outdoor environments”. In December 2017, they relaunched in Puli and their popularity has soared. Three festivals later, and they are going full power and continuing to climb. The next Eden Hill Festival is already scheduled for October 2019, and the previous one was six months prior to March’s edition. Some people I spoke with who had attended previous Eden Hill Festival’s said this one was by far more organized and had a better lineup of music.
Focusing on techno and the location’s connection to nature, the musical vibes and mountain air were a good match. Between the two stages, there was a healthy mix of electronic genres and styles represented by a diverse lineup of local and foreign DJs, and it was refreshing to see plenty of female DJs in a notoriously male-dominated field. On the main stage, festival organizer Victor Yeh took the night to it’s relatively early peak with a dance floor-shaking, pumped up techno set just after sunset filled with lasers and smoke machines. It rained sporadically, which made the lasers like diamonds in the sky during Dark Lo’s set to a packed dance floor before sound restrictions forced them to turn down the decibel level between 10pm and 5am. The music didn’t stop, and the festival goers were nowhere near sleep, so the party continued with Kolette on the decks, though many wondered why the volume had to be so low. On the one hand, Eden Hill is a family-friendly, locally inclusive festival, so respecting the neighbors by turning it down for the night made sense and only seemed to affect the enjoyment of the patrons in a minor way. Having enough drinking water available at the bar however, was a major consideration that arose and the confusion about free refills or paying with tokens for water (and running out of water) was an on-going debacle.
Saturday night and into Sunday morning was spent mostly in the campground, but the second stage was still loud enough to be audible for Beatmantra and Gnome Chomski’s tribal, glitchy, bass-heavy sets on the chill-out side of the spectrum, which blended beautifully with the natural surroundings. When asked about her favorite part of Eden Hill, Taipei-based DJ Fion, who played a set on Sunday said: “Taking place in the pure and beautiful nature and experiencing the vibrations of music is always charming and a pleasure.” Dark Lo said his favorite part of the festival is to “Lay down on the grass and watch stars in the sky.” I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the late night and early morning, some agile hill-hoppers braved the mud and still stomped away until dawn on the dancefloor, but sleep was calling my name.
Sunday started with the sun’s heat rousing me, and the feeling of the previous night’s events lingering in my mess of pages of notes and a muddy tent. The weather had turned perfect for being outdoors, so the breeze through the bamboo trees and pulsating techno tendrils of the music waved gently through the air. By 1pm, The Cook, The Thief had taken over the decks on main stage and was paying soulful house to switch up the mood on the hill. Vendors were busy with customers, but unfortunately, at the massage booth in the far corner, a dog attacked someone’s pet parrot, though the incident was quickly resolved by the owners, the bird was almost killed. That put me in the mood to get a temporary tattoo from my friend Helen Hu at her booth offering onsite tattooing next door to the massage table. Then, why not visit the other vendors, and have a taste of kratom powder from Kratomosa, and wash the taste down with some juice from Baby Juice.
As Eden Hill continues to climb and be boosted by the same organizers, Finique Productions and Extra Taiwan, also putting on Extra Festival in the north of Taiwan at Baishawan Beach, the level of production has also been amped up. Dark Lo, who has played Eden Hill Festival for the past few years said: “The event planning, lighting, sound system, event organizing and the lineup program have all shown improvement. And those who have joined the event have all proven to be high quality by helping to maintain the environment and follow the rules.”
Incorporating all of these elements and holding down such a breathtaking scenic location, Eden Hill Festival will no doubt continue to keep growing alongside other more well known techno-oriented festivals, like Organik and Spectrum Formosus, held by event-organizer/music label Smoke Machine. Fion is a regular at these types of events in Taiwan, so I asked her what makes Eden Hill stand out from other music festivals in Taiwan. She said,
“These couple years, there are more music festivals in Taiwan, and they are mostly EDM.
To be apart from the mainstream festivals, Eden Hill creates a local electronic brand for Taiwan, focusing on techno. They give DJs a bigger stage to show their music, and offer electronic lovers a better experience with our DJs.”
As Fion played for the sunset on Sunday, the crowd had dwindled somewhat, but spirits were high and the weather was perfect for the last few hours of the festival, which wrapped up at 9pm. After countless walks up and down the hill, a few wiggles on the dance floor, and many giggles at the campground, what stood out the most for me was the diversity of the crowd and the number of different languages and cultures represented in the festival audience. From university students, international travelers, local families, and artists intermingling, several hundred people networking and having a chance to enjoy nature together with the backdrop of paragliders flying around and unique sets of music from a range of talented DJs. When it was time to go, the ride back to Taipei was the perfect opportunity to rest and reflect on everything that happened at the festival.