A talk with Jane Penny, TOPS’s vocalist, at her home back in Montreal
Always been curious about the music scene in other cities outside your own little cocoon? We assumed you were! So we feed your hunger for insights and secrets in the Scene Report. Simon, who plays in Hot & Cold with his Beijing-based brother, moved to Taipei last year where he re-connected with Jon, an American-born Taiwanese who plays stripped-down evil funk in his band Forests. Together, they let us have a taste of what it’s like to evolve musically in Taiwan’s capital city
Words by Simon Frank & Jon Du
Photos shot in Taipei, Taiwan by Immanuel Dannenbring, 黃夏妤, 陳柏諺,
Jon Du, 王君弘, 王鈞, 吳汶憶
Taipei is both in the spotlight and completely outside of it. The city’s skyscrapers and palm trees might feature in your mental image of an East Asian metropolis, but Taipei and the rest of Taiwan barely exist on the map. Taiwan has been in limbo since the Chinese Nationalist Party retreated here in 1949 after losing the mainland to the Communists. De-facto independent but politically unrecognised, Taiwan’s identity and future remain in flux. In this weird mix of prosperity and uncertainty there’s an impressive music scene that’s gathered momentum over the past few years.
Underground music came to Taipei in the 1980s as Taiwan began to democratize. By the 1990s there was already a noise scene, even. Today the indie scene is well established – though as always, some of the most interesting stuff falls between the cracks.
Jon, his Forests bandmates Kuo Hung and Zun Long put together a party called noWhere last April. Recording a compilation on an analogue studio console, they took over the rehearsal space Feitou for two nights for the release show, with artists staging installations in side rooms. It got so crowded musicians couldn’t see their bandmates as they played.
Along with friends, we help run Lonely God, a label/collective that emerged in that party’s aftermath. You can see the roots of the Lonely God crew in the noWhere’s lineup: Scattered Purgatory (Podiyu) create expansive drones, and their guitarist Lu Jiachi plays modular synthesizers together with Jon in Lu and Du. Prairie WWWW (Luocha Caoyuan in Chinese) mix pounding oceanic noise with delicate folk. EAOW is a fractured synth-pop project led by an American expat. Completing the collective are our friends Qiu Qun, Wang Tuo, Wang Jun and Wang Junhong, who provide art and videos.
You’ll often find us at the club Korner – which is actually mid-sized live venue The Wall, reopened (and renamed) after midnight. Recent guests include Abdulla Rashim and Kobosil, while local DJs and producers Initials B.B., Katrina, Xu Xian and Betty Apple are forging their own murky sounds. Tzusing, a producer who lives between here and Shanghai, releases his raw, fun music on labels like L.I.E.S., and DJs everything from minimal synth to ’90s J-pop.
It is the pressure of growing up on a small island, with an uncertain identity, in a society that emphasises etiquette
There’s definitely a dark current in some of the music coming out of the city, which can be confusing. Taipei is, on many levels, a really pleasant place. Rents are still fairly low. Food is amazing and cheap. Taipei is one of the most socially progressive cities in the region, with a vibrant LGBT community. But as Jon puts it, there is an underlying tension here, invisible but always present. It is the pressure of growing up on a small island, with an uncertain identity, in a society that emphasises etiquette. So in a place covered in fog and rain for most of the year, there’s a feeling of unease that people are tapping into.
Fortunately there are community spaces for unconventional musicians. The apartment-like record store Xian Xing Yi Che is a hub for experimental label Kandala Records. Their tiny basement hosts shows by the likes of Jared Xu, who capped off his recent high-school graduation by releasing a split LP with Merzbow. For gear and repairs we head to the synth store Digilog. Taipei is also full of great projects mining different aesthetic territory, from Kuo Hung’s vaporwave soft rock in Sunset Rollercoaster, to Skip Skip Ben Ben’s fuzzy pop, and atypical rapper Aristophanes.
Thanks to its location, the Taipei scene has links to both mainland China and Japan. In May Lonely God organised a raucous party for Tokyo’s Big Love Records crew, including Sapphire Slows. For the second noWhere in June, we invited Kyoto’s Lego Chameleon, a twisted minimalist rock trio, and took over the Wall until the morning. It’s hard to know what exactly the future holds, but it will probably involve getting lost in concrete ruins and eating deep-fried tofu on the side of the road at 4a.m.