“We grew up in Taiwan as the economy fell down. And so we write our feelings about the situation. I guess somehow it’s connected with a lot of people,” says lead singer Wood Lin, fresh from playing a small venue for Liverpool Sound City as part of their current run of tour dates, which includes Glastonbury.
The venue we’re stood speaking with the singer is packed with their predominantly Chinese-speaking fans, making the most of the chance to see the band – who draw on post-rock, grunge, disco pop, math rock to create soulful indie with catchy hooks – play in a 100-cap space now that they’ve graduated to 1200 cap and larger in their home country.
Since consolidating the line-up four years ago, No Party For Cao Dong, who have been friends through school and University, have gone from indie hype with their debut EP to a mainstream concern and one of the biggest Chinese speaking bands in rock. Their debut album The Servile has been and continues to be an overwhelming success: released back in 2016, it’s a Golden Melody Award-winning (the Taiwanese equivalent of the BRITs (‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Best Musical Group’) release. All achieved without being signed and instead running their own company.
Moments before meeting singer Wood Lin and the band, Gigwise meets Liverpool University music lecturer Chen-Yu Lin to hear her wisdom about the stir this band, who we’ve come to see on a whim because we’d heard a tip whilst in Taiwan last year, are causing.
And Chen-Yu Lin says the feverish response towards their music has come from millennials. Something evident in the show upon looking at the sea of fresh-faced fans agitating for foot room in the over-capacity venue. She says the sense of hopelessness in their lyrics – a reaction to being at the brunt end of a financial meltdown so severe it’s caused the country’s ambitious young people to wedge the term ‘Ghost Island’ (a term with a fascinating insight to Taiwanese indigenous belief) into Taiwan's lexicon – has been key; whereas for older generations, who were part of the country’s economic boom over four decades ago, it’s not so relevant.
Though lamenting the man, they’re not Billy Bragg, or Rage Against The Machine, out there openly pointing the finger; they’re much more vague. Poetic, even.
An example of their emotional position is perhaps best felt from their track ‘Shan Hai' (‘Wayfarer’ in English; it's streaming on Gigwise below), which seems, lyrically at least, influenced by Wood Lin’s nu metal band past – it’s pretty dark stuff. Those soaring, Cribs-esque shout-y-chorus tones, fully justified when you consider the angst-y perspective: It appears to be “about disillusionment after growing up. They were writing about a person seeing himself in the mirror as a child looking to who he is now. Singing: ‘He knows, he knows, I don’t have an answer, so I walk towards the ocean’. It’s quite poetic but also quite heavy-hearted,” says Chen-Yu Lin.
This theme of childhood is touched upon in another one of their best tracks from The Servile album: ‘Simon Says’. It applies evocative harmonies and slow-paced rhythms in the verses to match a listless feeling towards materialist culture. Imagery of a child in school always wanting the new next best thing, only to find there’s something newer. Here, the reaction to the economic meltdown is less palpable compared with ‘Shan Hai’, but the sentiment of disillusion still rings true. The slight swerve in lyrical content is indicative of the feeling their debut album songs are not tied to an overarching theme so strictly. As Wood Lin mentions at the start of this article, their feelings at the time of writing are what’s important. The one constant, he says, is “honesty”.
Letting their unrepressed songwriting grow with them, as they stride along building global success, is something they’re keen to emphasise – especially when we start relaying to the band how we experienced the show, and say it felt like a jumped-up indie show at times. Trying to emphasise their matured palete away from the Two Door Cinema Club disco pop and Smashing Pumpkins-esque loud/quiet dynamics – characteristic of much of their earliest material – bassist Sam Yang says: “The more jumpy songs were made earlier. And our music keeps changing a lot.” His incessancy towards what they’re making now is understandable given they’ve been touring The Servile since 2016.
One absolute highlight of their yet-to-be-released material is a slow one written by guitarist Chu Chu, who has an incredible melancholic voice, and titled ‘Daydreams’. It gets where the band are at now: perpetually touring, engaging in press, TV appearances, with very little time at home. By comparison, their debut album can be seen as part of a rebellious voice which connects with the Taipei indie scene circa 2014, when the Sunflower Student Movement was happening, and the band were still relatively unknown and at University.
Chu Chu tells Gigwise ‘Daydreams’ is about her dog. A dog she misses because of touring. She takes an artistic angle saying it is written as a dream for her dog. Considering her emotion towards her estranged pet, it strikes Gigwise just how much their old life must feel like it’s slipping away; nostalgia and longing entering their songwriting comes as little surprise. But the band are fairly level-headed about it all: “You can’t want it all you have to make compromises,” says bassist Sam Yang, aware of the commitment No Party For Cao Dong is.
And home looks set to be something increasingly distant for years to come: their present moves – and incredible five upcoming shows at Rock In Rio and a Silver Hayes Glastonbury slot – speaks volumes about the potential this band have to blow up even further. And it allows us to think about some of the top people in the western music industry backing them.
Plus, having already slayed among Chinese speakers with some genuinely compelling songs, it certainly feels the band deserve for people from all around the world to delve into their sound. And it’s not likely to be much of a struggle: the debut album’s view from the perspective of the disillusioned, bitter, withdrawn, has universal resonance; their artistic instinct to keep moving with their changing interests and experience; and their polished live set, with massive riffs, and ability to make tricky sonic references to a lot of different genres within the rock n’ roll spectrum, and constantly arouse the listener is simply brilliant. Great for Taiwan, great for rock music, life for No Party For Cao Dong is on course to get very, very exciting.