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  • "Our Soul Music", a Possibility for Life

    an intro to and cultural analysis of Touming Magazine's "Our Soul Music" (2010) written by Xiaoji

    by translated by judge

    January 19 2022

  • None

    Note from the translator: 

     

    I've been really into this Touming Magazine record for almost a year now, and there are so few articles on the internet about them in English, that I decided it would be a good idea to translate one myself. This article was a little out of my Chinese level, but I hope this will be interesting to any English speaking fans! The original article can be found here: https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/143200236

     

    To the authors, if you would like me to take this down, please let me know -- I do not make any money off this site, and just want to share information about this incredible rock band.

     

    Translation notes: I'm not sure about the situation of 薛名宏 and Bazooka. The sentence "Lastly, before joining the thrash metal band Bazooka, the three of them found 薛名宏 (Ming-Hung Hsüeh)." is unclear who joined the band Bazooka, and if Hsüeh actually became a member or not. It seems like the answer is no, according to RYM, but to make matters more confusing the Touming Magazine bandcamp spells his name as "Hsieh" although to my knowledge that surname is only pronounced "Hsüeh".

     

    Furthermore, I use simplified Chinese characters for names because the original article was written in simplified characters, and I use the Wade-Giles system for the English transliteration because that is standard for Taiwanese names, with the exception of Shenhao Hom, who appears to use the surname "Hom" for his solo music, despite being referenced as "Hung" in some other writings. I also use Western name order in transliteration for the readers convenience. I hope you enjoy the piece!

     

     

    Note from the editor:

     

    In 2010 Touming Magazine (透明杂志) released 《我们的灵魂乐》 ("Our Soul Music"), one of the best rock records from the Chinese-speaking region of the world. It sounds like your bored and scarlet youth, unable to contain your restless heart and brain, sometimes melancholy, sometimes impulsive: see “有时候真想往你脸上灌一拳” ("Sometimes I Really Want to Punch You in the Face"),“有时候觉得世界还是毁灭算了” ("Sometimes I Think the World Should Be Destroyed"). Youthful blood, sweat, and tears splash out of every note on this record. Is rock music not the sound of being young?

     

    Ten years later, bands and labels on both sides of the Taiwan Strait influenced by Touming Magazine have created their own DIY scenes. More and more Taiwanese bands are getting recognized, adored and followed by mainland fans. However, discussion of "Our Soul Music" remains limited to a certain circle. So, on the occasion of Temperate Polyphony's retrospective piece, we have devised this long review to formally introduce you to Touming Magazine in detail.

     

    ⁃ 林艾舒 (Aishu Lin)

     

    About the author:

     

    小吉 (Xiaoji), of Guangzhou independent label 琪琪音像 (Qiqi Audiovisual), one of the earliest participants in the Chinese DIY scene. Qiqi Audiovisual hosted Touming Magazine's only mainland tour.

     

    If someone is talking about Touming Magazine's music or "Our Soul Music" in specific, the first adjective they probably mention is "youthful". The whole record is filled to the brim with early 20s youthful energy, the high spirits and anxiety, or the depression and melancholy. But what kind of youth is Touming Magazine's?

     

    All four members of Touming Magazine are fans of alternative and underground music, and you can almost hear their love spill out of their headphones. Their band name, song titles, lyrics, and arrangements all play with references to other music. As music nerds, they put references to their favorite music all over "Our Soul Music", and these are obviously specially prepared for like-minded listeners, hoping to gather and get to know people who shared their hobby. Therefore, if you'd like to truly understand "Our Soul Music", you might as well start with the members' musical tastes. 

     

    In the 90s, Taiwanese underground music and subcultures began to gradually emerge. In the mid-to-late 90s, mini mail order label "(oo)本主义" "(oo) (Pig) Capitalism" started writing articles on their website about various punk bands. Furthermore, they ran a radio station, sold punk records, and some anarchist punk bands started communes around the same time. Young people obtained the nutrients of punk through the internet and these practices, and at the same time were inspired by the so-called DIY spirit.

     

    Touming Magazine formed in January of 2006. In 2007 they had found what would become their longest-running lineup. Lead singer 洪申豪 (Shenhao Hom) and drummer 唐世杰 (Shih-Chieh T'ang) (aka Trix) were members of the Refused-inspired post-hardcore group 一隅之秋 (Fall of this Corner) (By the way, their bassist was 刘暐 (Wei Liu), who later formed 伤心欲绝 (Sad and Heartbroken) with 许正泰 (Cheng-T'ai Hsü)). The other guitarist 张盛文 (Sheng-Wen Chang) was a friend of Shenhao. Lastly, before joining the thrash metal band Bazooka, the three of them found 薛名宏 (Ming-Hung Hsüeh).

     

    Before "Our Soul Music", Touming Magazine released their 2008 EP titled "4 Tracks EP". In the music, the cover art, and the band's name the influence from the legendary Japanese group "Number Girl" is clear. In addition, there is a photo on the inside showing Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Ging Nang Boyz, Fugazi, the manga of Mitsuru Adachi and Junji Ito, VOX AC30 amplifiers, and Rickenbacker guitars, among other things. Shenhao Hom said bluntly, "I originally put that in as a way to meet other people who liked those things." 

     

    "Our Soul Music" without a doubt continued this line of thinking. Doesn't the font on "TOUMING MAGAZINE" look familiar? It's the Friz Quadrata font, famously used in Black Flag's logo. The first lyric, "Hey Now!", in the first track after the intro, "ANORAK", will remind quite a bit of people of Cap'n Jazz's "Little League", and the title isn't hard to connect to "Anorak City" by Sarah Records' Another Sunny Day, another one of their influences. Coincidentally, both songs are based on quickly strummed noisy guitars, and their lyrical contents both concern "where shall we go together?". "闭上嘴巴,别问去哪 (Shut your mouth and don't ask where we're going)", (We want to go to Anorak City!). Imagine being an Another Sunny Day fan and hearing these lyrics, how could you not be moved by these connections?

     

    The eponymous "Our Soul Music" is also worthy of the title. The straight-forward slamming hardcore punk is followed by Superchunk-style indomitable distorted guitar pop-punk, then throws itself into a Motown-style funky pop passage. All the style changes makes the track feel like a friend introducing all their cherished records on the shelf in their bedroom. 

     

    There are many such examples on "Our Soul Music", from The Promise Ring to Number Girl, Television to The Who to The Velvet Undeeground, from Marvin Gaye to Nas to The Beastie Boys, and more. If you can catch all the references put into "Our Soul Music", I expect you all were a lot like the band in high school, the people who wore headphones with the volume turned up every day, a lonely soul out of tune with those around you, but free in the world of music.

     

    What this record oozes most is the image of a group of hopeless young outcasts. Why they're outcasted could be a number of things: the result of an introverted disposition or being bad with words, due to one's hobbies not fitting in with those of the people around them, or due to youthful aggression that stems from discomfort and resistance towards the music and culture industry. In short, there is no outlet for their emotions, and their thoughts are stuck running circles in their mind. This situation makes people anxious to create a "scene" where they can realize their ideas. So, outside of putting in the effort to lay the groundwork to capture a bunch of similarly-minded music freaks with "Our Soul Music", Touming Magazine were also from the start a band that liked to encourage and provoke the audience to devoting themselves to the performance. Because the music is straight-forwardly pretty nice to listen to, the lyrics of the record's titular song as well as other fast tracks hide this provocation. Singing on and off the stage became common, and during live performances of "Anorak" the audience would barely be able to wait to yell "1, 2, 3 Go!", and after the cymbal hit the crowd would explode like water spilled into a frying pan. Everyone would bump into each other over the the discordant sound of the electric guitar instead of sitting around taking photos, and after the show they may have carried the thought of "I want to make this kind of music, too" back home with them.

     

    In addition to the performances, Touming Magazine practiced what they preached and told people how to live the music lifestyle. At the time, a few of the members were full-time musicians, but the operation of the band had very little to do with the traditional music industry or commercialism. Outside of making music, them and their friends did a lot of other things. They wrote blog posts about bands they liked, they funded the facilities for a series of DIY concerts with cheap tickets, with events such as "猎奇时间 (Hunting for Novelty Time)", "社会演说 (Society Speaks)", "You&Me", "楼下联谊 (Downstairs Friendship)", "Friend not Fan", and more. They affected how bands maintain relationships in every part of Taiwan and Asia, and made a label to introduce Taiwan to international punk records. In 2010, they started Waiting Room, an independent record, apparel, and zine store, where they encouraged people to make fanzines in exchange for tickets to the shows. In a word, they used every venue possible to make you come listen to their favorite music and get involved, to get everyone to come play their own music, put on their own performances, to print your own zine. They wanted everyone to create a new world together for "us", not just to get people to come buy their records and worship their taste. 

     

    Since then, the so called "scene" has gained more participation and the possibility to build itself and continue further. With the focus on bands like Touming Magazine, 伤心欲绝 (Sad and  Heartbroken), 汤汤水水 (Soup Soup Water Water), 荡在空中 (Hang in the Air), usepentosing, 一个问题 (A Question), Ashen, and with labels like 长脑筋唱片 (Long Brain Records), Psycho Youth, 22 records, and Petit Alp Records, Taiwan's underground rock community is finally taking form. If you've paid attention to independent music on both sides of the Taiwan Strait these past years, it's not hard to see that many bands have been influenced to some extent by Touming Magazine. This is the effect of the DIY spirit behind this album. Touming Magazine's DIY punk activities are a kind of outside-of-the-mainstream community lifestyle and social practice, and the network formed by each participating unit will continue to influence the independent spirit of alternative music in Taipei and even the mainland through its radiating musical waves. Researcher of pop culture, independent subcultures, and independent music, Professor Miaoju Jian, Department of Communication, Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, said in the article "The politics of production: Indie music in Taiwan", "The political relationship between music and society may not lie there (referring to political criticism of social reality and politics in musicians' works), but in the system of production, the consumption habits, and the aesthetic practice of pop music itself." And so it is, on top of the possibility of a young person's future, there is another possibility "Our Soul Music" sings of. It is the possibility of living in full autonomy.

     

    References:

    Jian M. The survival struggle and resistant politics of a DIY music career in East Asia: case studies of China and Taiwan. Cultural Sociology. 2018 Jun;12(2):224-40.

     

    https://toumingmagazine.bandcamp.com/album/our-soul-music

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