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2019 Taiwan Pride: Queerness in Asia

Spectrum Formosus Reclaims Electronic Music for Taiwan’s Queer Community

2019/10/28 , News
Ryan Drillsma
Photo Credit: Spectrum Formosus
Ryan Drillsma
Ryan is a freelance writer based in Taipei with an educational background in international relations. His interests lie in politics, queer culture, and the arts.

A 30-minute drive from the bustling heart of Taipei, the lush green fields of Wenshan Farm will soon be refashioned into a rural respite for the art- and music-loving members of Taiwan’s LGBTQ community.

Electronic music festival Spectrum Formosus on November 1 will take over the site for the third year running, in celebration of the queer identity and creative ingenuity. In addition to panels and workshops from some of the country’s breakout performance artists, the festival will feature drag shows, outdoor cinema, voguing catwalks, and a roster of top international DJs.

Spectrum Formosus is the brainchild of Smoke Machine, the organizer of the world-renowned Organik Music Festival that has been at the forefront of Taiwan’s techno underground. Both a record label and event organizer, the company recently embarked on a world tour to celebrate a decade of success in the music business.

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Photo Credit: Spectrum Formosus

This year, Smoke Machine decided to broaden Spectrum’s scope and collaborate with queer collectives from Hong Kong, Beijing, Chengdu, Hanoi, and Tokyo. The resulting experience will be a symposium for shared visions and values to help build a community reaching beyond borders, according to the organizer.

The team from Smoke Machine said Spectrum is a different breed from Organik.

“We focus more on LGBTQ community and cultural connections within at Spectrum Formosus,” Smoke Machine told The News Lens, “whereas other events are more about the music scene.”

Before Spectrum, there was no other large-scale music event in Asia specifically designed for the LGBTQ community, they added. The team's desire to provide an open and inclusive festival space sparked the beginnings of what is now an annual event attended by hundreds of people.

“LGBTQ communities unfortunately still experience a lot of discrimination—especially around Asia,” they said. “Being a relatively open and liberal country, we hope Taiwan can be a model that will ripple across to other parts of the region.”

Electronic music arose mostly from LGBT people in the U.S. and in Europe in the ‘70s and ‘80s so it’s always been tied to this community. Some people have this idea that it’s a “straight” music and it definitely does have that feeling when you go into some techno parties here. It’s important to take it back, remember its roots and make it comfortable for the very people it actually emerged from. — Taipei Popcorn

International media labelled Taiwan a beacon for LGBTQ liberation when it legalized same-sex marriage in May 2019. Although some couples said they have felt more accepted by the general population since, a fierce conservative backlash has left many individuals anxious about their place in society.

An LGBTQ hotline operator in Hualien told Nikkei that they are flooded with calls from concerned teens every time an anti-gay news story breaks. Teachers of LGBT sex education also said they fear being accused of turning their students gay.

With many young people in Taiwan facing family pressure to conceal their identity, events like Spectrum intend to provide an escape and an opportunity for expression without judgement.

Headliners of this year’s festival include renowned American DJ Shlømo, as well as Berliners Dr. Rubenstein and Massimiliano Pagliara. As with Organik Festival, attendees can expect an eclectic and forward-thinking program that spans genres from techno to disco, ambient and experimental, Smoke Machine said.

True to its commitment to diversity, Spectrum will invite a roster of female DJs, including Octo Octa and Eris Drew. Drag queens Bouncy Babs, Amily Givenchy, and Taipei Popcorn — organizers of the underground queer party Blush — will host the second iteration of catwalk ball “Taipei is Burning,” alongside local voguing commentators Big Ninja and Roller Coaster Zhu.

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Photo Credit: Spectrum Formosus
Taipei Popcorn performs at the 2018 Spectrum Formosus in Wenshan Farm, Taipei.

The festival will also cast a spotlight on Taiwan’s nascent drag king scene. Katherine Chong, also known as Top Poki (a play on the Korean rice dish toppoki) will head a performance lecture that pays tribute to drag king pioneers across the globe, and contextualizes the social experience of drag kings in Taipei.

Chong told The News Lens they felt Spectrum is helping expand what is currently a limited space for some individuals who feel marginalized even within the LGBTQ community. The festival will host the second major performance event for the King collective following a cruise that took place in August.

“I decided to organize the last event on a yacht with mostly AFAB queer participants. A couple of AFAB non-binary trans folks joined the event and I was really touched by one of their comments that it was the first space that they felt really welcomed,” Chong said.

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Photo Credit: Spectrum Formosus / Facebook
Performance artists at the 2018 Spectrum Formosus

The Spectrum crew recently provided Popcorn, also known as Nick Van Halderen, the opportunity to embark on a performance tour of East Asia in the run up to the festival.

“It was amazing to talk to all the people and discuss politics, drag scenes, and the queer freedoms people have or don’t have,” he told The News Lens. “The party scenes in each place were very different, and each event had its own flavor.”

Van Halderen commented that electronic music parties do not always feel immediately welcoming to LGBTQ people, despite the genre’s origins within the queer community.

“Spectrum is important in this regard,” he said, “because it’s bringing techno, disco, and house back to the community in Taiwan.”

The opportunity to work with queer artists from overseas is something both performers and organizers alike have expressed excitement about.

Spectrum will feature collaborations with SNUG Hanoi, LGBTQ Road Chengdu, Host Hong Kong, and Motorpool Tokyo. Each collective will be sending resident DJs from their parties and some will host workshops on a range of activities from sketching to yoga.

Since many of the partnering organizations are based in places where LGBTQ people suffer far more oppression than in those Taiwan, and event planners could be reprimanded for political activism, Van Halderen sees Spectrum not only as a festival but a forum for individuals to convene and discuss how to ameliorate the situation.

“I think Taipei is in a very special position right now, politically,” he said. “We want Spectrum to create an ecosystem for people to intermingle, swap contacts, and hopefully go back and spread ideas about activism, human rights, same-sex marriage and transgender rights so we can all keep pushing for equality and change.”


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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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2019 Taiwan Pride: Queerness in Asia:

In May 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, which makes this year’s pride month all the more meaningful for the LGBT community. To celebrate Taiwan's pride month, we're going to cover queer culture and LGBT progress in Taiwan and the rest of Asia.

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