Music Festival Review: Megaport Festival 2023 - Showcasing Taiwan's Diversity


CHTHONIC play "TAKAO," photo provided by 出日音樂

Megaport Music Festival (大港開唱), one of the most iconic annual music festivals on the island nation of Taiwan, took place for two days during the Tomb Festival Holiday weekend in April. The festival attracted nearly 40,000 music enthusiasts to Kaohsiung, the southern part of Taiwan, where they enjoyed the music of over 60 artists, showcasing the diversity of Taiwanese music.

Organized by the Taiwan Rock Alliance and its central figure, Freddy Lim (林昶佐), an independent political activist, frontman of the metal band 閃靈 CHTHONIC, and politician. The festival has become a symbol of Taiwan's diversity and democracy since its inception in 2006. While Megaport is famous for its great musical line-up, it is also known for its message: Proud to be Taiwanese!

The festival has its unique characteristics, such as showcasing the southern part of Taiwan's music scene and promoting Taiwanese identity, as heard in the use of the Hokkien dialect by several bands, including 閃靈 CHTHONIC, Fire Ex, or Sorry Youth. Hokkien dialect is considered one of the national languages in Taiwan and spoken natively by over 70% of the population.

This year's festival showcased not only Taiwanese ethnic groups such as Hokkien, Hakka, and Indigenous groups, but also bands from the new immigrant and migrant workers community. One such band was Jubah Hitam, an Indonesian heavy metal band formed by Indonesian workers and students in Taiwan.

Jubah Hitam's participation in the festival, according to Taiwanese politician Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇), demonstrates that new immigrants are an integral part of Taiwanese society and are essential to making the country beautiful. Migrant workers also contribute to the nation's economy. Jubah Hitam's performance highlighted the diverse and equal opportunities available in Taiwan.

Crystal Lake, photo provided by 出日音樂

The Megaport Festival is a melting pot of Asian music, and in response to the lifting of epidemic restrictions, Megaport 2023 not only celebrated the multiculturalism of Taiwan but also re-invited artists from overseas. Many of the artists came from the East Asia region, including Tokyo indie-pop unit, toddle; Japanese trio, BRADIO; and the famous Balming Tiger from South Korea, who performed on the first day of the festival.

On the second day, Megaport showcased multinational hip hop/funk bands such as ALI, which was formed in Shibuya, Tokyo; and Japanese trackmaker, STUTS; along with Crystal Lake, a metalcore band from Japan. Also appearing was Hong Kong indie punk group, Nan Yang Pai Dui (NYPD). These artists proved that Megaport is not just a local music festival.

One of the most anticipated performances was that of the popular South Korean rap group Balming Tiger, who had collaborated with BTS captain RM. The band's appearance on the main stage in the afternoon was highly anticipated they all wore blue uniforms on stage, heating up the atmosphere with their music. They held hands in a circle and sang on their knees, leading fans to raise their hands in a circle together, creating a ritual-like atmosphere.

ALI, photo provided by 出日音樂

On the second day, on the main stage, the Japanese band ALI and Japanese trackmaker STUTS cheered up the Megaporters. Coming to Taiwan for the first time, they tried their best to greet Taiwanese fans in Mandarin. Bringing Tokyo's cutting-edge pop music to Megaport, they triggered the audience to start singing.

Festival for Everyone

This year, Megaport had 10 stages. Those stages spread from the Kaohsiung Music Center to the Pier-2 Art Center. Tickets were sold out not long after the ticket sales announcement, but that didn't discourage the audience who didn't get tickets from celebrating Megaport.

As in previous Megaport festivals, this year, the festival also provided a free stage at Dayi Park. The lineup included bands that have become popular on Taiwan's indie music scene, such as the fusion ensemble from Yilan, A Root (同根生); the supersonic rock trio, Super Napkin; the young guns of Taiwanese psychedelic music, Bremen Entertainment Inc.; and the blues and punk band, SADOG, helped by PP L's I Mean Us behind the drumset.

Close to the bridge that connects to the main stage, Megaport hosted a popular DJ booth. There were DJs WooHoo, Yu, and Afuro George, who played some of Taiwan's iconic songs, including "Ni Yao De Ai" by Penny Tai, famous as a soundtrack for the popular Taiwanese TV series "Meteor Garden."

This year's Megaport Festival also opened at the NGO Village, in Dayi Park. The booth focused on promoting Taiwan democracy. Fourteen organizations were involved, covering the environment, sustainability, education, culture, ethnic groups, individuals, and groups. Not far from the NGO Village, there was a kid's area that presented interactive events for families with kids.

Fireworks for Legends

photo provided by 出日音樂

Over the two-day festival, Megaport closed each night with a fireworks party. The lights and sounds of the fireworks seemed not only to mark the festivities of Megaport but also to symbolize the spirit and the hope of the festival for Taiwan. Interestingly, the fireworks were lit during the performances of the Taiwan/Kaohsiung legends. On the first day, it burned during the 閃靈CHTHONIC set. And on the second day, for the performance of the Kaohsiung punk rockers, Fire Ex.

Natsuko, photo provided by 出日音樂

At the end of the first day of Megaport, the finale was presented by 閃靈CHTHONIC together with the newcomer Collage (珂拉琪). It was an intensive collaboration that not only showed off a cross-genre and cross-generational approach but also proved once again the multiculturalism of Taiwan.

Chthonic is a Taiwanese heavy metal band and a legend on the Taiwanese underground scene. Formed in 1995 it is influenced by traditional Taiwanese music, including adaptations of folk songs and the use of traditional instruments combined with metal. Collage, meanwhile, is a Taiwanese band that released their first album in 2021, and has two members: Lead singer Natsuko Lariyod, who is of mixed Hakka and Amis ancestry; and Hunter Wang, who is of Minnan descent. Rather than sing in Taiwanese-Mandarin, the band focuses on producing music using Taiwanese, Japanese, Amis, and English.

The audience occupied the bridge that connected the pier to the main stage to see this performance. On stage, pieces of golden paper flew all over the scene, grandly welcoming 閃靈CHTHONIC, who had returned after an absence of two years. They played some of their songs, rocking out the moshpit. Most of their music is inspired by Taiwanese political history, such as the stories of the victims of the White Terror in Taiwan.

Fire EX. photo provided by 出日音樂

On the second day, Megaport ended with Fire Ex.'s performance. Fire Ex. is a punk rock band from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, founded in 2000, which sings in both Taiwanese Hokkien and Mandarin Chinese. During the Sunflower Student Movement in 2014, student activists occupying the Legislative Yuan frequently played their song "Goodnight, Taiwan."

To close the festival, Fire Ex. played the iconic song "站在這裡". It was the perfect ending, accompanied by splendid fireworks, and shared the joy of 人生的音樂祭 or "The Music Festival of Life!"