By Keerthi Sridharan, CNA intern
Taipei seems to have a place for every aspect of culture and entertainment. Theaters, museums, galleries and of course, scores of music venues. These venues seemingly cater to all genres of music, be it pop, classical, jazz or fusion. But the indie music scene in Taipei, at first glance, may seem lacking.
Most of the indie venues in Taipei go unnoticed, since most double up as bookstores, cafes or bars. But under the surface, a rich culture of indie music thrives.
Dizzy Bats is an indie punk rock band started by frontman Connor Frost in 2011. Frost and his brother Liam are both half-Taiwanese, with their mother hailing from Pingtung in southern Taiwan. Liam performs as a musician under the name Mugen, and both are currently based in the United States and tour there frequently.
Last December, Connor and Liam went on a Taiwan tour as solo acts, and CNA spoke with them about Taipei's indie music scene. "It was different," Connor said, "because the culture of independent music is definitely different than in the U.S."
Connor believes that the live music scene in Taipei is "based around bars and clubs," with entertainment taking a back seat to the venue itself. He compared that to what's known as "house show culture" in the U.S., which he described as "college kids hosting these punk shows in their basements."
Indie music, which is traditionally performed in more informal and intimate spaces such as living room shows and house performances, doesn't get as much of a voice in a place like Taipei, where the majority of the music scene is focused on rock, pop, jazz and classical. But the venues that are available for indie musicians are more than welcoming, Connor said.
"We booked every show ourselves, and the venues and crowds were both really respectful." He also spoke to the level of audience engagement he experienced as a performer. He claimed that "there were a lot of new people that we met who were super-interested in what we were doing and our background."
Of the two brothers, Liam is the one who has spent more time actually living in Taiwan, having moved here immediately after college. When it comes to the music scene, Liam believes that respect plays a huge part in the way that Taiwanese audiences receive musicians.
"Moving back to the States after having done shows in Taiwan, there was such a stark contrast between how fans interacted with music, there and here." He said. "In Taiwan, [the audiences] are just super-respectful, and so many people come up to you after the show. Everybody is insanely attentive and the room is always full."
From a technical perspective, a soundcheck at a Taipei venue is usually 30-45 minutes, as opposed to typical music venues in the States, where a soundcheck rarely lasts longer than 10 minutes. "So you sound great [at a Taipei venue], and everyone's just so genuinely excited to listen to the music." Liam said. "There's a lot more banter, too, between musician and audience, which I as a bilingual person appreciate, because I can't just bust out Chinese [in New York], and my songs that are in English and Chinese are obviously more appreciated in Taipei."
When asked about the prevalence of pop and classical music in a place like Taiwan, both Liam and Connor agree that indie music is very much "underground" in comparison. "If you're making stuff that's not exactly what everybody else is making, it's tough to make it in the [music] industry, but there's definitely a cool sub-scene online," Liam said, mentioning blogs like StreetVoice and iNDIEVOX that highlight lesser-known independent musicians.
Connor agreed, saying that "[in Taipei], the DIY music scene is still very much underground, but it's still a very vibrant and present culture."
In addition to venues like Witch House, Revolver and countless coffee shops and bookstores, groups like Sofar Taipei organize monthly shows at pop-up venues and, in some cases, residential venues, "bringing the best of new music to a mostly unplugged, intimate, private" setting. This movement in particular is growing to fill the space that Taiwan's lack of "house show culture" calls for.
Taipei's indie music is alive and well -- you just need to know where to look for it.
Dizzy Bats: https://www.facebook.com/dizzybatsmusic/
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel