Chances are you won’t find a bigger advocate for Taiwanese indie music in Singapore than Tiffany Ho.
The effusive fangirl helms High Tide 開台, our monthly show on all things Taiwan indie — from its consistent output of accomplished albums to its staple music festivals.
The last episode of the show saw Ho and her guests relieve their memories spent at Wake Up Festival last year, an event billed as “the biggest summer music festival in Taiwan”. For these music junkies, recording the episode was simply filling in the void of the lack of travel this year.
But the conversational elements and laid-back nature that tie the show together, along with Ho’s extensive knowledge, is what makes High Tide 開台 a fun peek into its scene. Less music history, more music conversations that would last till 3am (if not for our programming restrictions).
Bands such as Sunset Rollercoaster, Elephant Gym, and No Party for Cao Dong are some of the successful crossover examples from the country, each gaining fanbases around the world. But ask Ho, and she’ll immediately dig out at least ten more acts worth a listen.
“I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong,” she says, “that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.”
Read on to find out more about the host of High Tide 開台 on her fascination with Taiwan (and feel free to reach out if you’re part of the people Ho doesn’t know yet!)
When did your love for Taiwan and its music start?
Since it’s US election season this week, we can trace everything back to Trump.
As Singaporeans, our media diet is dominated by the West. Back in 2017, when Donald Trump was newly elected as president, the entire western world was going through a collective mental breakdown — every headline was a reaction to what Trump did and it got really overwhelming overtime.
I was looking for an alternative to this madness and that’s when I stumbled into the Taiwanese indie renaissance.
It started on a drowsy weekday afternoon — Spotify was blocked on my office computer and I was secretly looking for music on YouTube.
God knows how YouTube algorithms work, but Sunset Rollercoaster’s ‘My Jinji’ started playing in the background and that brought me down the rabbit hole of Taiwanese indie gold.
My love for Taiwan kicked into full gear during one particular trip to Taipei in 2018.
It was a short three nights, but my friends and I were so well taken care of by our friends from a local production company.
One of them couldn’t make it for dinner because he had to get some drinks going with some triad bosses to convince them to make an investment in a film they’re producing.
It felt like a plot straight out of the movies, but it was nothing more than a regular, even common business practice in Taiwan. I was so intrigued — like I found a secret basement into the mechanics of how Taiwan functions.
After reading more into Taiwan’s history, it made me realize that there’s a whole different layer to Taiwan that I didn’t know about. I never knew that Taiwan is actually an extremely young democracy — that it was ruled under martial law for a period of 30 years and it’s first presidential election was held only in 1996.
Since then, Taiwan has been the main exporter of cultural soft power until China’s recent emergence. What was the catalyst for Taiwan’s vibrant cultural landscape? Could Singapore do the same?
We’ve barely scratched beneath the surface of Jay Chou, bubble tea and the old-dated variety shows that we grew up watching. The cultural anthropologist in me has been hooked ever since.
How do you usually look for new music?
I think about this question a lot. With social media, YouTube and Spotify, the discovery process is a lot more convenient — but I do miss how deliberate looking for music used to be.
Online, Streetvoice is probably one the best platforms to discover new music from Taiwan — think Bandcamp but Taiwanese.
There is a recent trend of shows online that are more music-centric — my favourite is Shot Gun, a weekly 90-minute programme on YouTube hosted by the lead guitarists of Wayne’s So Sad and Bisiugroup.
[The video below contains content in Mandarin with no English subtitles.]
The show is filled with industry gossip and insider jokes about the indie scene. They have a dedicated segment where they make recommendations of the latest releases — often from bands who are their friends.
The set-up might seem overly casual and nonchalant but you’ll be surprised by how informative it can be. I learnt so much about the music industry business just by watching that show.
Offline, nothing beats walking into a record store and keeping your ears peeled to whatever playing in the background.
Plus, music festivals will always be the best way to be exposed to new bands. Can’t go for one? Here’s a cheat code: look for the line-up and start listening to every band on the list. Works for any kind of music.
Your episodes for High Tide features friends who share your enthusiasm. Did this mutual appreciation grow over the years? Who was responsible for turning the other onto new music?
I have to thank Instagram stories for this.
If a friend is posting about Taiwan/Japan too often, you could probably guess that they might be into Chinese indie, but nothing confirms it until they start sharing a track from one of the bands you know.
It’s almost the equivalent of seeing someone wear a band tee or carrying a gig tote bag — the low key signalling of “I really hope someone out there knows, and if you know, you know.” Knowing how small the circle could be, my friends and I would slide new releases and good tunes into each other’s DMs regularly.
I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong — that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.
I like to think that the ultimate goal of High Tide 開台 is to bring everyone who shares that same enthusiasm together.
High Tide started off with a primer for Taiwanese indie music. For those unaware, explain what has been the most exciting thing about its scene over these past few years.
For one, the generation handover from Mayday to No Party for Caodong, when the new band beat the old guard to the Best Band award at the Golden Melody Awards, the Emmys equivalent of the Mandarin-speaking world. If there was any indication that a new generation has arrived, this had to be it.
Another is the stronger crossover between mediums.
Along with music, we see an entire new generation of filmmakers, content creators, and bands collaborating together.
There are many outstanding pieces of storytelling in music videos – I highly recommend the music video for deca join’s 海浪, the works of 郭佩萱 Pei-Hsuan Guo, Jung-Kuan Chen a.k.a 陳容寬, and Spacebar productions.
You’ve made a playlist for some of your favourites. If you could list five modern Taiwanese indie albums people should check out, what are they?
Selecting these albums was a lot tougher than I thought! There are so many good albums that represent the many different facades of culture.
These five were picked ultimately for being each genre’s best, their rootedness in the Taiwanese culture, the way they‘ve blended influences to create a soundscape unique to them, and their potential in appealing to audiences worldwide.
Shallow Levée – The Village
Sunset Rollercoaster – Cassa Nova
拍謝少年（Sorry Youth) – Brothers Shouldn’t Live Without Dreams
Soft Lipa – Homely Music
Soft Lipa has made Homely Music available for digital purchase only. Preview the album here.
Prairie WWWW – Pán
What can we expect for future episodes?
As a long-time closet listener of hip-hop, I’m really excited to do a proper introduction of Taiwanese-hip hop. That should be happening pretty soon! (fingers crossed)
The next episode ofHigh Tide 開台 is scheduled to air on November 17th.