Spectrum Formosus 2017

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  • With its new festival, Spectrum Formosus, Taiwanese promoter Smoke Machine sought to brighten the dark and rainy winter months. The crew has been contributing to the Asian dance music scene for years, and its Organik Festival is considered among the best in the region. As such, expectations were high. Yet the two festivals felt like opposites in many ways. Organik happens on a beach, whereas Spectrum Formosus took place at a tea plantation. Musically, they were worlds apart, too, with the new event mainly focussing on experimental and ambient acts, enhanced by ballet, violin and various other non-electronic performances. An endless row of palm trees along the curved road guided dancers to the festival, while exquisite installations across the site lent the place a magical air. The road led to the two main stages which were located in close proximity. From both you could see Taipei in the distance, contrasting with the lush mountains all around. Accessing the third stage meant crossing a hanging bridge over a swamp, until eventually you ended up at a small clearing in the jungle. The programme was arranged so that the two main stages rarely clashed—according to the organisers, the aim was to encourage the discovery of new acts. Only Stage 3, which felt like a secret playground in a fairy tale, had a relatively linear musical direction. It also ran the longest on each of the three nights, functioning as a final destination for those who couldn't bear to call it a night.
    Friday was the toughest day. Hindered by low temperatures and enduring rain, the audience struggled. It wasn't until late in the afternoon, during Vice City's set, that I spotted the first smiles, and the mood greatly improved when Yuka came on. Her tightly woven performance led the crowd into a dreamy state of mind. Ilian Tape's Andrea followed, trying to hold onto the last dancers in the rain by gradually shifting into more breaky, ravey sounds. Saturday was completely different. With no rain, and even the odd bit of sun, crowd numbers increased, finally providing that much-needed festival feeling. There were grey-haired couples who'd chanced upon the site while trekking, and, perhaps more surprisingly, I even spotted some dogs and babies. The daytime's non-dance music programme felt best-suited to these unexpected audiences. Korner resident Al Burro opened the day with a light ambient set, accompanied by a graceful ballet dancer.
    Across the bridge, Seoul DJ Jesse You's mix of K-pop, disco and the occasional classic was the perfect Saturday warm-up. While he kept the dancers moving, Taiwan's best-known indie band, Forests, started on Stage 1, joined by a group of Taiwanese drama dancers in yellow outfits and angry masks. Straight across, on Stage 2, more abstract dancing was taking place. Covered in white body paint, Berlin-based artist Valentin Tszin was performing ballet, which proved the perfect way to slide from evening into night. As the sun went down, iridescent clouds covered the sky and a few shootings stars appeared. This suited Tzusing's set, which swung from Michael Jackson's "Jam" to K-Pop star T.O.P's ubiquitous smash, "Doom Dada." He transcended various eras and nations, setting the green tea farm aflame. Tropic Of Cancer, one of the festival's better-known acts, also changed the vibe instantly. A sizeable audience had come just to see her perform, and as soon as she started, everyone melted into a mellow ecstasy, the wind and the rain soon forgotten.
    The rain disappeared overnight. By Sunday, a mild sunshine had taken hold. The site was full of energy from early on, as people gathered to listen to some of Taipei's deep house stars. Initials B.B. played two hours of old Taiwanese ambient tracks, before fellow Bass Kitchen member Yoshi Nori rolled out house at Stage 3. Shining Star, from Tokyo, and Ata, from Okinawa, showed why there's so much quality music coming out of Japan right now, with Ata moving particularly gracefully through the genres and moods. Meanwhile, over at Stage 1, Rabih Beaini was getting ready to play. He began with sublime ancestral music from Japan, balancing heavy sounds with repetitive kicks and hypnotic vocals. From there, he took the audience to Africa, the Middle East and back to Asia. The final hour felt of another world entirely, as emotional melodies clung to surging kick drums while heavy winds blew through the smoky stage. Varg, given the difficult task of following Beaini, closed the festival with an hour-long foray into his darker, more ambient work, his sombre moods punctuated every now and then by the occasional rumble of a bassline or a kick drum. It was the perfect ending to three long and beautiful days. Photo credit / Kaz Kimishita