The Ultimate Guide to Taipei's Urban Nomad Opening Freakout

The Ultimate Guide to Taipei's Urban Nomad Opening Freakout
Credit: Urban Nomad
What you need to know

Get your dancing shoes on for Taipei’s best-loved festival of all that is weird and wonderful: The Urban Nomad Opening Freakout. Here's all the info on the festival including the timetable, music clips and top tips.

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Urban Nomad Opening Freakout has a firmly established reputation for bringing the deeply weird and quirky right to Taipei’s doorstep and this year promises to build on that tradition. The festival proper - which features 30 bands and DJs performing across three stages alongside other performing arts and a dash of installation art – is happening from 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday (April 13-14) at what is arguably Taipei’s best festival spot: Tiger Mountain.

Freakout is well-known for upping the ante each year. Previous years have seen bands with giant shrimp costumes: Drowned Shrimp (Japan), electropop wonder Trippple Nippples (Japan) with their deliciously weird stage performance and numerous other delightfully odd yet excellent indie Japanese bands headline the festival. Last year Angelo Moore of Fishbone stole the show somewhat with his funk set which had the crowd jumping on the closing night. This year the organizers have cast their net wider with acts from Korea playing for the first time, plus bands from Canada and the U.S. From its roots as a one-night party in 2008, Freakout has grown into a weekend-plus event: This year will see pre-party events on Thursday and Friday, along with warm-up gigs in Kaohsiung.

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Credit: Urban Nomad

Opening Freakout is not only a music festival: There is a strong emphasis on performance art threading both through the carefully curated music acts and, since 2018, in the form of the circus stage. There’s also an Art and Merchandise market onsite, and a positive smorgasbord of food and drink available.

With so much on offer, The News Lens took a little time to get a breakdown of the event from Co-founder and Program director David Frazier, Director and Curator at Oomph! movement and art space Julia Kao (who is coordinating the markets and circus arts), and Marcus Aurelius, who is coordinating the DJ stage.

Bands and DJs

Speaking about the quirky and weird theme to the festival music line up, Frazier said: “It came about when we started having parties at Urban Nomad from 2008 – 11 years ago now. We were always bringing something weird or cutting edge, not pop. So, building on that people always trust us to bring them weird acts that they haven’t heard of. At the same time, as we are growing, we are able to bring acts like Mouse on the Keys (Japan) which is a known quantity to Taiwan audiences so that also broadens the audience a little bit.”

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Credit: Supplied
Mouse on the Keys.

Mouse on the Keys, who will headline on Sunday night, might best be described as piano post-rockers. Previously they performed as a trio (two keyboards and one drummer) but in recent times have added in a saxophonist and vocalist and will feature a VJ in their headline slot on Sunday. The band describe themselves as “a mix of post-hardcore, techno and contemporary music, among others – along with a live performance infused with visuals of minimal and geometric abstraction.”

Saturday evening’s headliner also hails from Japan. Asakusa Jinta is a band modeled on 1920s street minstrel musicians in Tokyo – except with the addition of ska and punk rock. Frazier describes them as “weird hybrid craziness you only find in Japan: A band on western bluegrass instruments playing ska and punk rock.” Asakusa Jinta also will shoot their next music video live at the show.

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Credit: Supplied
Asakusa Jinta.

The lively shows and up-for-it-audiences have led to acts being keen to shoot footage at the event. This year local musician DC Rapier, who recently released his first full-length album, Feeling Fifteen Again, will record footage for a documentary, as will Buckman Coe.

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Credit: Supplied
Buckman Coe.

Vancouver-based artist Coe describes his sixth album as “big band soul and reggae sound, with some incorporation of some progressive R&B, jazz, and a sprinkle of psychedelia.” Buckman Coe is on an album launch tour in Taiwan and will play several other events around the island this month.

As usual, Freakout is pushing the boundaries, with a mixture of post rock, urban folk, blues, psych rock, pop punk, roots and soul, techno, glitch hop, hip hop, Latin DJs and Balkan beats on the line up. As Frazier says, “We have two sets of this really off-the-wall genre on Sunday afternoon called Brutal Prog. It’s a genre that’s been around since the 90s. There’s defiantly no other music festival that has this. As always there is some stuff that will be super fun and universally acceptable but some stuff which will be challenging, super arty and question the form.”

Pakk (Korea) play Brutal Prog on Sunday afternoon on the temple stage.

The Temple stage (which is in an actual desanctified temple, no less) is set aside for DJs. Coordinator Aurelius promises: “With the DJs this year, we have a wide variety of music from Latin to techno to funk to twerk. Brand new to Urban Nomad is Betty Apple's sexbot art performance, James Ho's glitch, DJ cola's Latin sounds and Hubert Tas' slow rollin’ funkiness. For international acts Txaco returns from Japan for the third year in a row as a fan favorite, playing high energy sets full of Cumbria, Mestizo and Japanese ska.”

Art and performing arts

Last year saw the addition of a circus stage with acrobats and fire spinners wowing the audience. Asked about the thinking behind the mix of music and circus arts, Frazier says: “A lot of people go to festivals for a vibe and it just ups the fun factor in a really great way. It’s always a goal to bring together different types of performers that might not perform together otherwise.

“More options rather than a timetable. That’s how I’m thinking about it. Complementary and not competing. If there are two bands playing you might just pick one, or a dancer might go on stage and do their own solo thing. The circus stage gives them recognition as a performer in their own right.”

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Credit: Urban Nomad

Kao expands on this: “The circus stage line up this year includes belly dancers from Taichung lead by belly dancing instructor Brittany Leeful, as well as burlesque, aerial, magic, and fire spinning to knock you off your feet. We reserve the wildest dance and acrobatic performances for the circus stage, which is set up on ground with a six-meter-tall truss. It’s always a visual treat, and often interactive. All performances are family friendly, as we try to be as inclusive as possible!”

The festival is also something of a visual treat and the theme this year is outer space. The decor is being done by Bowen Chou whose previous work includes large scale works around Taiwan at major festivals, including the lantern festival in Ximending in 2018, where his team created a whole temple from recycled materials. Kao says: “Bowen loves challenging our ideas of what’s possible by using upcycled materials in super creative ways, and he’ll be designing installations and sculptures for the main stage, entrance, and more. We’ll also have light installation art created by TAS instructors and students from the media art and computer science and robotics department. The light sculptures include a tentacle light chandelier, originally created for an Acid Lab event by artists James C. and Grace J, a cube sculpture with projection, and alien fungi-like light orbs placed strategically around the festival grounds, making for some delightful surprises as guests traverse their way through the festival.”

Sticking with the theme of celebrating creativity is the Art & Merch market, where guests can “browse, admire, and interact with artists, crafts-people, and other local movers and shakers.” Highlights this year include AMPM Studio, who specialize in conceptual and edgy pop up events and Maryjane Nite, an international creative clothing brand that Kao describes as “the epitome of cool in Taipei”. You can even get a snazzy new look with Sipara offering hair-braiding services and handwoven jewelry, and Xingzhe, a charity haircut group, returning to give haircuts by donation, with 100 percent of proceeds going towards a charity of Urban Nomad’s choice.

Also look out for Sisterboats selling their boutique wrap bracelets and jewelry, Thai bags and clothing, and wine holders, and Raven Select with their selection of vintage clothing and accessories, as well as small designs available for onsite tattoos at the festival. You can pick up some art to take home too – Mario Oliva is a talented visual artist, and he will be have his kooky zines, artworks, and prints for sale at the festival.

Food and Drink

Alongside this, there’s always excellent food on hand with a strong lean towards international offerings and plenty of veggie options to boot. Kao, who curates the food court, says: “Every year, we try to feature a wide variety of cuisines and specialty foods that aren’t easily accessible in the city. As the festival has a reputation for being an incredibly fun time vendors are eager to make the journey from all corners of the island. This year we’ve got two food trucks – Scratchburger, a cool burger truck featuring a bunch of different types of burgers on charcoal buns, and they usually play hip hop on vinyl, hence the name. Their good friends at Lighthouse food truck are joining us this year, and they serve paninis and Cuban sandwiches, with lines usually a mile long. We’ve also got some ethnic/cultural options to challenge and tantalize taste buds. Mexican fares by Teotihuacan, such as arepas and tacos, and empanadas by Mecato Colombia. Out of India, a long-time collaborator will join again this year, spicing up this docket with aromatic and homey Indian food.

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Credit: Urban Nomad

Baby Juice and Sourdough Bread Taiwan are our classic healthy food options. They’re always a hit at our festival, with Baby Juice serving up creative and delicious smoothies, teas, coffee, and Sourdough Bread travels to Taipei to bring us fresh and healthy sandwich options as well as salads and other vegetarian starters, served with their amazing homemade sourdough bread. We’ve got plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options, and we truly believe the food vendor line up is an attraction in itself, as it’s rare to be in one place with so many unique and delicious options. We encourage guests to come with their bellies empty, since there’s going to be too many options they’re going to want to try!”

A range of alcoholic drinks is also available on site, with draft lagers, craft beers and so on available from various stands. This year’s featured cocktail at the dedicated cocktail bar is Tequila Sunrise.

General tips and tricks

The Tiger Mountain event is family-friendly – it’s a small site which is easy to navigate with proper bathrooms. Some of the circus acts while not limited to kids certainly will appeal to them such as the balloon shaper and magician. Pets are welcome, but must be kept on a leash.

The festival bills itself as artistic and eclectic: a description that has held true and this year looks to be no exception with over 30 bands and DJs performing across three stages alongside other performing arts. The timetable is helpfully delineated with genres such as Shimmy and Shake, Party Time, Songs from the Heart, Latin Party, Balkan Beats and Techno girls.

The venue can be tricky to find for first-timers. However, Google Maps has decided to feature the festival this year, so a simple search for Urban Nomad should pull up the directions on your smart phone.

Save a little cash: Cheaper advance tickets are available up until midnight Friday from iBon Kiosks at Family Mart or online.

The festival is in a mountain valley. It’s a great location but to get the most out of your day(s) it helps to be prepared, so bring sunscreen and bugspray. It might get chilly after dark, so bring a light jacket, shawl or something similar. The event will take place rain or shine, and although there is some cover, here’s a top tip from Frazier: “Always have a 7-Eleven raincoat in your back pocket. It’s NT$30 well-spent.”

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Event details:

1-day: Advance: NT$850 (Up to Friday) / Door: NT$1000

2-day: Advance: NT$1400 (Up to Friday) /Door: NT$1600

Free entry for children under 12.

Nearest MRT: Xiangshan 象山站 (last stop on the Red Line), Houshanpi Station 後山埤站 (Blue Line)

Address: 微遠虎⼭ 台北市信義區福德街221巷186-1號 | Tiger Mountain, No 186-1, Lane 221, Fude St, Xinyi District, Taipei

Related events:

Friday night: Pre-party at Triangle

Thursday night: Pre-party gig at Revolver, Freakout ticket holders get a NT$100 discount on entry: Pakk, Monotheism, US:WE

Friday night: Kaohsiung Pre-party gig at Live WareHouse: Mouse on the Keys, METALCHICKS

Event page | Website | Facebook | Instagram | Youtube | Complete artist info

Read Next: INTERVIEW: Urban Nomad Subverts, Inspires, Strengthens

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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