Taiwanese Post-Rock Band ‘No Party for Cao Dong’ and the Echoes of Youth
"They're the explosion of a smothered generation."
May 20, 2022
Having a peculiar stage name isn’t the only thing that sets No Party for Cao Dong (草東沒有派對) apart from the crowd. The post-rock band from Taiwan fearlessly holds a mirror up to the darkening skies of youth and transmutes the reflection into melancholic melodies, cacophonous guitar riffs, and poetic lyrics. Their music is as emotional as it is confrontational, shooting off missiles of astute social awareness and all the pain, disillusion, and angst that comes with being young in changing times.
“Being real to ourselves and in our expressions has always driven us,” the band explains in an interview with Wonderland Magazine. One of their greatest strengths lies in this unapologetic sense of authenticity. Their songs are so raw and heartfelt you could almost feel the blood coursing through. “Everything comes out naturally and is all based on real life experiences – whether that’s a personal reflection, or commentary on social issues.” It’s this honesty that has earned them a strong following across Asia and feeds a spirit of rebellion among Taiwan’s younger generation.
Released in 2016, the band’s first and only full-length record, Chou Nu Er (醜奴兒) or The Servile, is an ultimate repository of the gritty truths and wayward feelings that capture the very essence of youth. It has been referred to as “the sound of Taiwan’s disenfranchised youth venting their frustrations.” Its Chinese title directly translates to “ugly servant” and originates from a famous Song dynasty poem of the same name. The 12 songs that make up the album are not so much structured stories but abstract art pieces—paint streaks of grief, injustice and helplessness bleeding, in all directions, across a tattered canvas of grungy vocal and guitar. Sonically, the songs carry the same reckless abandon. The band personally describes their musical style as “Quiet. Loud. Honest.” Underscored by the thunder booms of drum beats, wraithlike whispers turn into anguished roars by the turn of the chorus; gentle campfires blaze into raging infernos in the matter of seconds. After all, isn’t that what youth is like—unpredictable and untamed? Raising a fist against corrupt institutions, yelling into the wind with the hopes that your voice would one day be heard?
A glimpse at The Servile (醜奴兒)
“Simon Says” or “Da Feng Chui (大風吹),” the fifth track on the album, renders a sardonic take on society’s obsession with fleeting trend cycles and consumerist culture. Towards the end of the song, the sound shifts; its mellow, windswept melody bursts into a cyclone of guttural shout-like vocals at the last chorus, mirroring how new trends too can change so unexpectedly.
哭啊 喊啊 叫你媽媽帶你去買玩具啊
快 快拿到學校炫耀吧 孩子 交點朋友吧
那東西我們早就不屑啦 哈哈哈 哈
Those who the strong wind blows at are out of luck
Everyone wants to be the ghost, all lowly pack animals
Go on kid, cry and shout, make your mother buy you a new toy
Come on kid, bring it to the schoolyard, quick, show it off to your friends
Ah ha ha! What’s that thing in your hands?
Ah ha ha! Didn’t you know, we already grew bored of it!
It’s important to note that this song alludes to “The Strong Wind Blows,” a Chinese children’s game similar to the Western Simon Says. Simply put, everyone is seated in a circle around the “ghost,” or “gui (鬼),” who establishes a rule or standard that the other players must follow. Those who do not follow it are eliminated, or “blown away by the strong wind.” Similarly, we are fettered by the trends and standards set by modern society. We are governed by the latest, most lustrous gadgets, fashion, etc.—now more so than ever with social media constantly shoving it into our faces. Yet, these trends and standards shift as quickly as a receding tide, and that new shiny toy you just got your hands on will quickly grow brown with rust after the novelty fades.
Take American female beauty standards for example: years ago, we celebrated pale, thin bodies and large eyes with thin lips. Fast forward, and it’s the exact opposite. With celebrities like Kim Kardashian serving as the poster woman of beauty, today’s women strive for curvy bodies, tanned skin, plump lips, and foxy eyes. As a result, many young girls are spending thousands of dollars on plastic surgery (e.g. lip fillers, BBLs), all to stuff themselves inside a mold that will melt in a few years’ time. Everything has an expiration date. Sad, isn’t it?
“Wayfarer” or “Shan Hai (山海),” is the tenth song on the album and currently stands as the band’s top-streamed title. Built on the backdrop of lacerating guitar riffs, this song embodies a crippling sense of hopelessness towards the future and the death of past ideals.
他明白 他明白 我給不起
他明白 他明白 我給不起
I look at myself, at that young and innocent face
I hear his voice from the past, when my story still had a future
He waits for my answer, hoping for a happy ending
A reason as to why I’m still here, but what he sees is not himself in the mirror
He knows, he knows, but I have no answer
So he turns and walks toward the mountains
He knows, he knows, but I have no answer
So he turns and walks toward the sea
Do you ever look at a picture of your younger self, gawk at how bright your smile used to be, and shake your head, questioning “where the hell happened to me?” The lyrics here trace a haunting interchange between the past and present self. The “he” from the past is full of ambition and optimism towards the future, but the “I” in the present failed to realize his dreams. The “I” is left standing in the middle of a long winding road without direction, without an answer as to what he even lives for. And the younger you who dreamed so big—who knew all the answers—now walks farther and farther away, into the mountains, toward the sea.
These two tracks are to give you a taste of No Party for Cao Dong’s songs of shredded innocence. The rest of the album (available on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube) is a treasure trove of similar rebellious, inward-looking laments—a fiery testimony to the voices of our generation.