After a dozen years and one full cycle of the Chinese zodiac, the free-spirited Taiwanese indie rock festival Spring Scream is still trying to figure things out.
For the second time in two years, the sprawling rockers' camping party is changing venues and also coming to terms with the necessity of a few pop stars dotting a lineup of 250 otherwise underground acts.
The three-day concert is still near the beach in southern Taiwan, but even after all these years it's not immune to growing pains - namely, adjusting to the exaggerated phenomenon it has become.
Since Spring Scream started with a couple of dozen bands and about 300 fans in 1995, it has exploded like a family of rabbits. For this year's festival, police expect about 100,000 rockers, ravers and gawkers to pour into Taiwan's southern tip, a tropical peninsula that has the town of Kenting at its epicentre and is surrounded by national park.
But not all of those heading south will attend Spring Scream. Last year, the concert drew about 7,000 to 10,000 punters a day, by far its biggest audiences. The other tens of thousands will attend one of several raves or pop concerts held in and around the national park (Spring Wave, now in its third year, is the biggest and best organised) or will simply fill the beaches and jam Kenting town.
The crowds have mushroomed to the extent that two years ago park officials became worried about the impact on the area's semi-protected natural environment, and police have long fretted over the weekend's spike in drug arrests and road deaths. So last year, national park officials laid down the law on parties and concerts, allowing only three events inside the park, all away from the congested town.
Spring Scream was given first choice of venues in a new open bidding system, but it still had to leave the farm it had happily called home for nine years. Last year the concert split into two venues almost 30km apart, a hippie camp and a big stage for pop stars. This year, however, Spring Scream's nine stages will all be back together on one site - the fields around the lighthouse at Oulanbi, the southernmost point of Taiwan.
Jimi Moe, a Seattle native who has organised the concert for the past 13 years with friend Wade Davis, says the new site will 'let everyone see all acts', whose offerings range from local garage rock to Japanese punk, New York electro-indie, world music, dance DJs and more.
The biggest names will be Taiwanese pop singers Faith Yang (Yang Nai-wen), Alan Kuo (Kuo You-lun) and Deserts Chang (Zhang Xuan), all of whom tend towards rock and write at least some of their own songs. What Spring Scream offers stars such as these, says Moe, is 'an opportunity to play a show that's not so scripted and structured, and for a different kind of audience'.
A few of the acts in the main stage lineup are local bands that Spring Scream has helped to promote over the years, such as hard-rocking groups Chairman and Back Quarter, and the post-punk circus of 88 Guava Seeds.
About a fifth of the 250 acts are from abroad and there will be a few dozen Taiwanese expat bands that could well read like a My Favourites list from MySpace. From New Zealand there's Battle Circus, whose sound is dramatic, grand and post-rock, but with formal song structure and vocals. Dimi Dero Inc is a French band full of cranking, scuzzy grooves with a roadhouse feel. Skittish-Voluptuous and Lowercase p are beats-heavy indie-pop bands from the northeastern US.
Then there are stalwarts such as Mimie-chan, a Japanese group that has been making the pilgrimage to Kenting for almost a decade, always dressing in bizarre stuffed animal costumes for sets of raucous, party-time ska. At least four Chinese indie bands from the mainland were forced to cancel, including the popular Muma and Third Party, because the central government refused them permission to visit Taiwan.
One highlight, says Moe, will be Vialka, a nomadic male/female duo that claims to have toured 45 countries on every continent dispensing the gypsy-esque material they describe as 'turbo-folk'.
According to the band's website, they consider themselves not just performers, but 'a social-scientific experiment, attempting to meet, communicate and work with extraordinary and little-known musicians and artists from everywhere and nowhere'.
At Spring Scream, they should feel right at home.
Spring Scream, Apr 4-6, Oulanbi, Taiwan, NT$1,600 (HK$413). Inquiries: springscream.com