KAKU talks performing at Taiwan’s massive S2O music festival amid COVID-19 [Interview]
On the weekend of September 5, as most of us huddled around a screen, tuning into whatever virtual festivals were taking place, thousands in Taiwan flocked to a massive, in-person music festival.
S2O, Taiwan’s premier electronic music festival, beat the summer heat with massive water cannons and resounding bass. Featuring virtual performances from Don Diablo and Paul Van Dyk, as well as live DJ sets from the likes of Mike Williams and KAKU, the festival was a well-deserved celebration for a nation that came together and stopped the spread of COVID-19.
Acclaimed electronic music tastemaker, Space Yacht Asia alumnus, and Jersey Club king of the East, KAKU spoke to Dancing Astronaut about his COVID-19 quarantine in Asia and recent main stage performance at S2O. Read the full interview below.
You’ve been living in Asia for the duration of COVID-19 quarantine. Tell us about your experience.
KAKU: “There was initial panic since Taiwan is located so close to China, but the Taiwanese government was prepared. They reacted to the situation very quickly, then implemented safety protocols and continued to educate and manage fake news surrounding the virus.
The communication was simple and easy to follow. It included small stuff like what to avoid, how to wash your hands, when and how to wear masks, what kind of masks were the most effective, etc. The government also regulated all medical personal protective equipment production and developed an application to guarantee allocation of medical grade masks to everyone. Then they were quick to control borders.
Even though it’s been safe where I am, it’s been a rough year for everyone in the industry. I was supposed to be on my first United States tour performing at shows, including Beyond Wonderland with Space Yacht, but because of COVID-19 we had to cancel. It was very disappointing, but I’m staying positive and hopefully I’ll be able to make up these shows next year. Since I am unable to tour this year, I have more time to make music and I wanted to focus on interesting collaborations. “Pass Out,” the first track from my EP with Nitti Gritti on the Korean label CONECTD, was completed when all of us were in different countries, which was a huge success, and we are making the remix pack right now! I also made a speed house track with my boy Teknicolor. It’s called “Haus” and it’s now out on Group Chat Club. There are many more collaborations to come!
In this time, it also became obvious that the only way to keep performing alive was to go virtual. In March, Skellism asked me to be in their Virtual Mosh Festival, and I have been in quite a few since then. Performing virtually is not my favorite, but it also has the upside of being able to talk to fans directly and allowing them to get to know me better, so I started my Twitch channel. It took me a while to get used to, because I became more than just a DJ, acting as a host to my shows. I’m about two months into live streaming and I really enjoy doing it now. I also had to really think outside of the box to make my show stand out from all the other music streams, and I think I’ve created something very unique and fun for my viewers.”
A lot of people outside of Asia aren’t too familiar with the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic there. What’s life in Taiwan like currently? How long have things been fairly “normal?”
KAKU: “Things have been pretty normal in Taiwan for a few months already, thanks to the government’s swift response in January. We actually never even had a full quarantine or a full shutdown, and most of our day-to-day lives were back to normal in two months. The people here follow government regulations and take preventative measures to make sure that the virus doesn’t spread, so I’m very proud of Taiwan!
Nowadays, everyone is still required to wear masks on public transit and when inside buildings. We are also encouraged to wear them and practice social distancing when we’re out. Thanks to the whole country’s effort, the clubs are pumping and all of the restaurants and businesses are open. It feels like I’m living in another dimension when I watch the news and see what’s going on around the world. It makes me feel so blessed to be in Taiwan right now.”
Did the festival have any preventive COVID-19 measures in place?
KAKU: “All international artists are subject to a very strict application process which includes a travel history check, multiple testings and a 14-day quarantine to be able to perform. Originally, S2O applied for six international artists, but at the end, only two made it to the festival.
For festival goers, all tickets came in the form of RFID wristbands registered to the name that matched attendees’ government issued IDs. Phone numbers were also recorded with each wristband, so the government and the promoter know exactly who was attending the event and if contact tracing was ever needed. Masks were required to enter the festival and there were sanitizer stations set up. Temperatures were also taken at the entrance, and anyone over the pre-specified number was not allowed to enter. Each section of the festival also had a restricted capacity.”
What do you think the key is to getting live events back safely?
KAKU: “First and foremost, people need to understand how serious and real this pandemic is; it isn’t going to go away until everyone works together. It looks like we have to learn to live with it for a while. Prevention strategies, border control, health education and disinformation management, people wearing masks, and social distancing together have been very effective in slowing down the virus here in Asia. Maybe the solution is different for America, but I know it requires everyone making an effort and being responsible.”
It looks like some artists played virtual sets, and some headliners were flown in to quarantine. What was your experience like as an artist at S2O?
KAKU: “Afrojack, Kaskade, and Don Diablo were some of the virtual headliners and I have to say the promoter Spunite did an amazing job recreating the experience for the audience. The founder, Brian Tsai, invented a way to display the virtual performances and they look so real on the festival screens that you have to see it for yourself!
S20 actually did fly in two international DJs, Mike Williams & Danny Avila, who went through the 14-day quarantine prior to the festival. They told me their experiences to get to Taiwan and how they and the promoter had to work with different government agencies to make that happen. My experience so far has been that Spunite was extremely professional and really made sure that, regardless of how safe we were in Taiwan, they still took all the necessary precautions to keep it that way. The efforts to provide the best festival experience for the fans and the artists are evident.”
Were there any exciting surprises during your set? Any new music fans should be on the lookout for?
KAKU: “I played a bunch of new IDs I’ve been making during the quarantine. I specifically wanted to test my new song ‘BLINK’ on those festival speakers. I collected a bunch of new music from my friends and made about 22 edits. I made sure the crowd heard an all-new set from me.”
No…this is not a video from last year. This was footage from an actual festival that I played last week in Taiwan. This is proof that when an entire country follows protocols to control Covid-19 transmission from the very beginning, we can live normally again! pic.twitter.com/sUCDwpCuh3— K A K U (@Kakuberry) September 15, 2020
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Featured image: Lorenzo Pierucci