Words and Header Art By MC Galang
Additional Photography Courtesy of LUCfest
This is a part of our ongoing feature series documenting music showcases and conferences around the world.
The third installment of Taiwan’s LUCfest international music showcase festival was a remarkable three-day event that demonstrated its exciting progress as still-a-relatively-new showcase festival in Asia: bigger and more diverse venues, stronger regional and global connections, and heightened focus on curation. As the festival describes this year’s edition: “We [are] dedicated to providing a complete and diverse combination of Asian music, artist creativity and aesthetics. Not only [it] leads the audience to deeply explore the rich energy of Taiwan’s independent music, but establish a platform for information and resource exchange between Asian and Western music industry, promoting and matching Taiwan’s artists to the international stages.”
In our second year of participating as delegates and panel speakers, LUCfest 2019 was held from November 8 to 10 in the historic city of Tainan, its de facto home. The festival was able to magnify its high points, enabling its small team to ease into confidently ticketing the shows to help build a more sustainable model: something that the rest of us independent festival and music events organizers/producers have been working hard to do in the region. Festival director Weining Hung remarked on this development during our Asian Music Promotion Platform discussion, the challenge of securing adequate financial sponsorships (which have been historically hard to come by) are somewhat tapered off by the gradual increase in ticket sales, though not entirely.
Still, it was indicative of the team’s efforts in promoting and marketing the festival that the attendance was visibly higher, attracting not only Tainan locals but from other places around Taiwan (made possible by efficient public transportation: a one-way 105-minute high-speed train ride which reduces the typical four- to six-hour drive by car). Last year’s scale was reflective of LUCfest’s growth, while retaining a dynamic and experiential design that remains ultimately bound with Tainan’s historical and cultural roots. It is perhaps LUCfest’s biggest triumph so far: introducing Tainan as a rich and captivating music city brimming with life, arts, and creativity that aren’t entirely exclusive from music—just a part of the whole picture.
This psychogeographic blueprint was integral to the festival experience, a unique characteristic of international music festivals we’ve been part of so far. It was familiar in a sense that there is a somewhat homogeneous trait to it being part of the same continent, but the nuances in the environment and thereby its people and ways are what make it truly worth going back to. For instance, most Asian cities we’ve been to hold live music events until late at night, which constantly allows us to explore the city more after-hours: walking is the norm. You just can’t do this in Manila, especially at night. The team always made sure that visitors are incentivized to do and get more: including day tours (which we always miss due to scheduling conflicts), local cuisine samplers during opening night and the intoxicating after-party. In many ways, LUCfest itself is an extremely effective tourism ambassador of not just the city but Taiwan itself, though with much better music.
Now, when it comes to the artist curation, the festival is more well-rounded than ever. Its active interest in presenting more non-traditional and experimental acts from home and around the world is always one of my favorite things about it. It tells me and its audience that there are no favored pickings that ostentatiously (or even discreetly) rely on mainstream or marketable appeal. Of course, like with us at The Rest Is Noise, considerations about being “export-ready” are always on the list, but not wholly prioritized. It chips away from the notion that traditional and/or commercial pop and rock acts are the only ones that generate interest or even profit. It was in its second year in 2018 where we discovered Manic Sheep and SEN who eventually performed at Summer Noise 2019, two acts who we otherwise would not have known or heard of.
It is perhaps LUCfest’s biggest triumph so far: introducing Tainan as a rich and captivating music city brimming with life, arts, and creativity that aren’t entirely exclusive from music—it’s just a part of the whole picture.
One thing I constantly find difficult is fixing my schedule. During that blurry, fast-paced festival sprint between South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines last year, the only silver lining was that there were a few acts I have watched before that I am slightly more comfortable in missing their subsequent performances. Some highlight discoveries from LUCfest 2019 were Huan Huan, Sweet John, Yellow, CORIN, Bottlesmoker, SURL, It’s Your Fault, and JADE EYES (who I finally saw after discovering them shortly after I arrived in Manila).
Stream: This Side: Taiwan Vol.1 playlist
The conference program this year was leaner compared to 2018’s, all held at The Marvelous Space, focusing more on international discussions and engagements. I moderated the “Next Destination: Jakarta” panel, which featured Kukuh Rizal from Sun Eater, Madrim Djody from Archipelago Festival, and experimental duo and LUCfest performer Bottlesmoker.
While the previous venue selection connotes the intimacy and rustic charm of Tainan, LUCfest shifts the audience’s creative and cultural experience of the city towards bigger, non-traditional spaces (again, one of the festival’s highlights)—both a practical and innovative approach in enjoying live music. Of the eight venues, two of my favorites were new additions: B.B.ART and Tainan Art Museum. To get to each venue, walking is encouraged: the area is safe to walk around, with the chilly autumn air beckoning for hot midnight snacking. Littered with dining spots and the occasional night markets while regularly bumping into old faces, there is a general sense of day well-spent. LUCfest, in its relatively short time of existence, was able to forge these indelible, familiar moments for all its participants without the constricting air of formality and detachment often found at conventional music gatherings filled with big-name gatekeepers. It is a delightful place—with such glow and energy—to look forward to coming back again and again.
We had a chat with LUCfest co-founder and festival director Weining Hung to check in with the team in Taiwan, their reflections on past editions, and the decisions and changes that shaped this year’s festival, which will be held on November 27 to 29.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
What is your official role at LUCfest?
You might notice that we do not print titles on our business cards as the way of working is very dynamic in our team. Officially, I am the festival director and co-founder of LUCfest.
How did LUCfest evolve from its first edition in 2017? What were the major changes and what do you think are its biggest achievements so far?
We started in 2017 on a very small scale, just a three-people team and two-month preparation time. We saw a very organic growth in audience size and we also made more meaningful connections with the region and Europe. The best part is that we see increasingly global interests on musicians from Asia, and regional interest starts growing. We are glad to be part of this.
Conversely, what were or are your significant challenges?
Though we saw more and more Asian artists breaking through, it is unfortunately still in very small numbers. This remains the biggest challenge.
How would you describe the Taiwanese music audience? Since the festival is held in Tainan, would you say there are differences or nuances when it comes to how people consume music from, say, Taipei, or even other places like Kaohsiung? If so, what are they?
Oh, definitely a big difference. I didn’t realise this until we started LUCfest. Naturally, Taipei as a capital holding almost a fourth of the population in the country always has the most audience with very diverse and international tastes. Hardly any international artist can host their own gig outside Taipei.
Kaohsiung serves as the second biggest music market in Taiwan. My own observation is that the audiences in Kaohsiung love rock, and few Kaohsiung bands have huge success there, like Fire.EX and Sorry Youth. I also had experience in a small music workshop in Kaohsiung and the responses were great. Kaohsiung has a very enthusiastic music audience.
Tainan was an untapped city when we started LUCfest, but Tainan being the oldest capital in Taiwan gave us an amazing audience. They are curious and very open-minded. They are definitely the growth force for LUCfest.
What do you think are the most important factors when it comes to establishing Tainan as a music city? What is the role of local and international industries/players in achieving this goal?
Tainan is a cultural and historical city with lots of charm. It’s very hard not to fall in love with it. It has been chosen to be the favorite city for the Taiwanese. We see it as a magical combination between LUCfest and Tainan. The city is a big playground for the LUCfest audience. While discovering new acts, we’re also exploring Tainan.
It all comes very natural in terms of exploring music and Tainan. We saw a couple of international music professionals hanging out with Kate from Black Market Music on the streets in Tainan, as she is originally from Tainan and shared lots of secret tips with our international communities.
The key elements for the showcase festival are People, Music, and City. You need to have all these three right, then you can have a great one. We are trying our best to make sure LUCfest has it all.
What do you look for in accepting musicians for the showcase?
Each year, we have a committee with about eight to ten curators helping us pick the final lineup, then the LUCfest team also has our own picks. We are looking at potentials, but it has to be export-ready, which means the musicians need their music to be in good quality of recording. Aesthetic is pretty important too, so we also take the consideration of their artwork and photos into consideration. But we are all human, and our curators sometimes pick out of surprise!
With the pandemic still heavily affecting many countries around the world, Taiwan has emerged as a model for efficiency and strong response. Still, how does the situation affect your operations and work processes at LUCfest locally?
We actually didn’t have a lockdown in Taiwan! Again, we’re lucky and grateful that Taiwan took early steps to prevent a mass outbreak.
We continue to have our weekly meetings in the office. Majority of the meetings with clients are still happening in real life. It is quite unusual at this moment, but we work just like normal. We’re following through with our plans for LUCfest to happen in November later this year as well.
Since international borders are severely restricted for the foreseeable future and LUCfest is an international music showcase and conference festival, what are the measures you’re taking to address these border restrictions when it comes to artists and delegates?
Safety remains our number one priority. We would not have decided to host LUCfest in a situation that would put anyone in danger or harm. The travelling will definitely be far more difficult and even impossible for some delegates and artists. It is most likely the 2020 LUCfest will use a hybrid model using online offline elements to make sure we serve the function. We are also working on some creative ideas, which we cannot reveal now but we guarantee it gonna be fun!
What can we expect at LUCfest this year and can you share with us an idea of how shows will look like at LUCfest 2020?
We are in the process of artist application and already saw some amazing names on it! Very excited about the 2020 edition. Except for the show experience, we want to bring unforgettable and integrated experience to our audience! I can’t say too much to not to ruin the surprise!
LUCfest’s artist application ends on July 9. International artists are welcome to apply here. The festival notes that should travel restrictions continue towards the end of the year, accepted applicants will be honored on the 2021 edition.
Learn more about LUCfest on their official website, Facebook, and Instagram.
Check out photos from the 2019 edition, courtesy of LUCfest.