In an industry where speaking out against powerful people can mean not getting booked to play shows, some musicians choose to play it safe in songwriting. Having a peculiar stage name isn’t the only thing that makes No Party For Cao Dong stand out: the members of this Taiwanese post-rock band don’t shy away from expressing their true feelings and complaints about society through their lyrics.
Lead vocalist Du Wu, bassist Xuan Shi and drummer Li Liu began playing together when they were 19-year-olds studying at the Taipei National University of the Arts. Back then, they were called Party On the Cao Dong Street, but then Li left and the band chose a new name to signal a new chapter.
After Li’s departure, the remaining two members took a year off. This time out proved valuable, as it gave them a chance to learn about music and think about what they wanted their band to be.
“During that time, we held back from doing a lot of performances or public appearances, just so we could focus on the music and living life,” Wu told Young Post, moments after the band finished playing at Clockenflap in November.
The Cao Dong lineup was complete with the addition of drummer Fan Fan and guitarist Zhuzhu. They gained a reputation for their song – a fusion of post-rock with indie and metal – as well as for their outspoken stance on a range of issues, including Taiwanese independence.
“We don’t follow a certain formula when writing a song,” Wu explains. “Everything comes out naturally and [the lyrics] are all based on real life experiences – whether that’s a personal reflection, or commentary on social issues.”
The trick to Cao Dong’s style of songwriting is burying hidden meanings within seemingly innocuous lyrics. A good example of this approach is their song Simon Says, which goes: “Everyone wants to give orders and enjoy the cheap fame/Cry and shout so Mom will take you to buy a toy/Same old shame again, same old pain/Blame it on time; it ended everything.”
It’s these heartfelt and raw lyrics that feeds rebellion among young Taiwanese, and has earned them a strong following in their homeland and across Southeast Asia.
While many artists constantly reinvent themselves to stay popular, the Cao Dong crew has never been tempted to change. “We wouldn’t ever purposely change our style – we would rather our music developed naturally over time,” says Wu.
Balancing often negative themes and criticism of society with empowering and uplifting messages can be a difficult balance to strike but, Wu explains, dark and light go hand-in-hand. The singer reasons, “Love and hate always go together – one can’t exist without the other.”