Hongkongers Soft Liu and Soni Cheng moved to Taiwan more than two years ago when tough Covid curbs shut down the live music scene in Hong Kong. Now they’re happy to be home as they prepare to make their debut at the city’s biggest music festival, Clockenflap, where they will appear for the first time locally as Running Youth.
“We are constantly moving,” Soft said in Cantonese. “Clockenflap will be the first occasion Running Youth has ventured outside Taiwan – and back to Hong Kong – it’ll be interesting.”
Soft and Soni, perhaps better known locally as the vocalist and the guitarist for the four-piece indie band GDJYB, moved to Taipei in early 2021, part of an exodus.
By mid-2021, the city with a population of more than seven million had recorded a net outflow of close to 90,000 residents. While many booked a one-way ticket to places such as the UK and Canada, some also hoped to settle in the self-ruled island across the strait.
Soft, also a YouTuber, made a vlog which documented her and Soni’s departure. “We didn’t move to Taiwan because of work opportunities or anything, we simply decided to leave the unfamiliar place [that Hong Kong had become],” she said in the video.
Taiwan, with its vibrant indie music culture and a more mature market for independent bands, offered plenty of opportunities. Since releasing their first song, Sun will Rise Again, in August 2021, Running Youth have performed on various stages around the island, including at the iconic Megaport festival in Kaohsiung.
This year, their first album Our Adventure Begins earned them a nomination for a Golden Melody Award (GMA), one of the region’s most prestigious music accolades.
Soft and Soni benefited from the reputation they had earned in GDJYB and the experience they gained in their home city.
“We didn’t start from zero,” Soft said. “Perhaps we started from one,” Soni added.
Ahead of Running Youth’s Clockenflap debut on Sunday, Soft and Soni talked to HKFP about their journey to Taiwan, the GMA nomination, and the excitement of performing once again in front of a home crowd.
Before moving to Taipei and starting Running Youth, Soft and Soni’s main gig was GDJYB – a four-piece indie band formed in 2012 with a rock-leaning sound that was known for its technique-driven live performances.
“GDJYB was deeply attracted to the Taiwanese indie band culture and had always wanted to explore making music in Taiwan,” Soft said. But it took the coming of Covid in 2020 to transform the thought into action.
Global cancellations of live music caused serious disruption to GDJYB, which relied heavily on local and international live performances.
At one point, Soni, the guitarist and also a session musician for hire, was practically jobless. For a brief period, Soft even tried to earn some cash as a Uber food delivery driver.
“And then we saw our Taiwanese friends posting live music shows on social media,” Soft said. “But nothing happened here. We were so jealous.”
Taiwan imposed some of the world’s strictest Covid restrictions, including tight border controls and tough quarantine rules to prevent the import of the disease. But the self-ruled island also had one of the lowest infection rates and social life was less disrupted than in mainland China and Hong Kong.
In March 2021, Soft and Soni decided to give the island a go. Their initial plan was to bring the whole of GDJYB along and commute between their home city and the island.
But by this point, drummer Heihei Ng had left the band and bassist Wing Chan decided to stay. And when Soft and Soni arrived in Taiwan, they soon realised they could not easily return to Hong Kong due to the strict travel restrictions.
For the next year, they did not leave the island and focused on making their music heard in their new surroundings. GDJYB was put on hiatus, and the duo Running Youth was formed.
Golden Melody Awards
In their first single Sun will Rise Again, Soft, who wrote the lyrics, was speaking to people temporarily afflicted by hopelessness and directionless.
“In the process of moving, we were still influenced by the story of Hong Kong,” Soft said. “Our songs then naturally recorded our feelings about what happened here, or our experiences during the transition [to Taiwan].”
For Soft, the migration process separated people not just physically but emotionally.
“My dad called me every other day to check in with me,” she said. “But sometimes, [the people who stay] are unable to express their worries to those who’ve left. They don’t want to pressure people who are struggling to settle down.”
“For those who’ve left, they also don’t want to make the people who care about them even more worried. So sometimes they pretend to be fine,” Soft continued.
“Even if all of us are feeling sorry for each other, we find it difficult to communicate our feelings.”
Drawing on these sentiments, Soft wrote two tracks, To Those Who Stayed, and To Those Heading Away to capture the experiences of the move to Taiwan.
The tracks were featured in Running Youth’s first album, which earned them a Best Vocal Group nomination at the 34th Golden Melody Awards.
“It’s like the Grammys in the region,” Soft said. “And we were shortlisted for the award out of 24,604 applicants,” Soni added.
But the most inspiring thing to them was Taiwanese bands’ reaction to awards.
“Some of our Taiwanese friends celebrated [the fact] that they were not nominated,” Soft said. “That was a culture shock to me!”
Soft only came to understand their friends’ celebrations of “losing” when she realised the sense of self-affirmation behind it.
“To be nominated for GMA, you need to have produced a full length album,” she said. “No matter what, that’s an embodiment of our hard work, that’s the baby for us musicians.”
“People were congratulating us, but we also saw a lot of friends drinking to celebrate their ‘failure.’ It’s not just about the nomination, they knew they had done their utmost.”
Although Running Youth did not win, they were proud to have been a part of the process. “It’s like, being qualified for the Olympics was already an achievement,” Soft said.
“We don’t know if we will ever be nominated again,” she said. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime moment, we did treat that with the dignity it deserved.”
When HKFP visited the duo in their old rehearsal room in the industrial neighbourhood of Ngau Tak Kok on Wednesday, Soft and Soni were exhausted from travelling and preparing for Sunday’s Clockenflap performance.
There will be no new songs but they will be performing their existing repertoire with a new instrumental arrangement by Soni and a full support band on stage.
“We have not yet played Running Youth’s songs to people in Hong Kong anyway,” the pair said. “This is new to us and to the audience.”
A visual backdrop – designed by Soft – will be projected onto the stage.
Despite their fatigue, the pair were excited about performing at Clockenflap. But they will head back to Taipei soon afterwards and it is uncertain how often they will return to play in their hometown.
“Other than missing our family and friends, we are adapting quite well [to life in Taipei],” Soft said.
“The present is comfortable, I have my own room – a bigger room – now… In some ways we are trying to live in the moment, to be happy and joyful.”
“I think Taiwan also changed me… it made me get rid of a lot of assumptions and expectations in life,” Soni added.
“I am more compassionate to myself and to others, and I am also living in the moment, taking one step at a time.”
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