Friday, August 24, 2007

Last Call, Pt. 2

Tonight is my last night in Taipei. The family went to see Pei Pei perform with an improv dance troupe in a public park.

It was an engaging show and a good way to relax and reflect before going back to NYC. I'm not entirely looking forward to my busy yet "productive" lifestyle. I wasn't even able to leave it behind while I was here. But I do miss my friends and my own family. Big Up MEAT HOUSE. And I'm excited about having new members in the band.

Moving backwards, here's where I left off in the last post...

The final club Kung-Pei and I visited was The Wall. I was hoping for a better than average time, because as much as I had enjoyed going out to hear music, I hadn't really found a club that felt entirely comfortable to me. The Wall was actually in the basement of a generic office building (which was odd,) but the stairwell looked promising.

At the bottom of the stairwell was a small, kinda hip mini-mall. There was a rehearsal studio, tattoo parlor, bar and cd shop.

The club was pretty big, had good sound, fun lights and even dry ice!

The first band was solid but were very reminiscent of the Goo Goo Dolls,(which now includes my highschool friend Ryan,) so Kung-Pei and I decided to hit the cd store. Once inside, it was clear this was a Kim's or Newbury Comics-style venture. I saw Broken Social Scene prominently displayed on the counter and an assortment of 'zines on a table.

A feeling of comfort and relief overcame me. I really don't really like a lot of indie rock, but there's something about that snobby esoterica that feels like a home. After talking to the store clerk, I learned that the store was an extension of a local label called White Wabbit. White Wabbit was started by the singer of a local indie band called Nipples. The label grew from exclusively putting out Taiwanese indie rock to also distributing music from various U.S. and UK indie labels. Very savvy business thinking! The clerk let me hear some bands on White Wabbitt and it was nice to finally hear some rock/pop that was interesting and adventurous. Kung-Pei and I went back to the club and heard a couple more bands, but the real find of the evening was White Rabbitt. Later that night, I went home and started connecting some of the bands I had heard in the store to others in this newly diescovered "indie" scene:

Sugar Plum Ferry

8mm Sky

The Shine and Shine and Shine and Shine

This was an encouraging night. Even though the clerk said the crowds for these indie shows were small, at least the music exists.

Among the various family activities I've done in the last couple of weeks, one was the visit to a memorial temple. Ashes are stored there for families. The remains of Vera's uncle are there, he died 2 years ago and was the patriarch of the Tang family.

Food for the afterlife..

Money for the afterlife...

I could continue with little anecdotes and ditties, but instead I'll just leave you with an assortment of pics. They should give you a disjointed and abstract sense of my visit, which basically reflects the experience itself (blah, blah, arty detachment, etc etc)....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Last Call, Pt.1

I'm baaaaaack!!!!!

Sorry for the delay people. But thanks for wanting more anecdotes from my time in the far east. It's been a fun, strange, lonely and happy trip. I've been working hard on my music for the dance featuring Pei Pei and her friend Mia

and we're having a showing tommorrow for a few people. I really like how the piece has come together, but it's odd to collaborate via making music alone on a computer. Nonetheless, I think the music works well with the movement and the performance will be strong.

Some new characters have been introduced in the last couple of weeks. One is Vera's cousin Chiao, who is very quiet and a bit spacey.

But she has quite a knack for watercolors and illustration. I think she has an artist's disposition.

Vera and I were also reunited with her husband, Bonnie.

When Vera was at an all-girl's junior high school, she had a very unique and complex familial system with her friends. They were all husbands, wives, daughters and grandchildren to each other. So Vera had a husband, a wife and several grandchildren. But no children. I know, it's very confusing. In any case, the whole "family" was reunited for dinner the other night.

I've also hung out a little bit with Pei Pei, Mia and Mia's husband Scott.

They all live in a beautiful apartment community in the hills.

One of the best things about Taipei are these communities, which are all about 20 minutes from the city. They are like self-contained neighborhoods, with parks, community centers and restaurants. But unlike American subdivisions,

these communities are quaint and people are very friendly. This is Mama Tang's house.

Back to Scott and Mia. They have a world music fusion group called A Moving Sound. We went to see them perform outside as part of the Very Fun Park art festival.

I've tried to see a lot of music this month, particularly of the rock persuasion. Since Vera and I are talking about moving to Taiwan for a little while in a few years, I wanted to start getting an idea of what my options were for playing here. From what I can gather, there is a very small rock scene in Taipei. It is centered around 4 clubs: Witch House, The Underground, The Wall and the Riverside Cafe. I've been to three of the four clubs on this trip. My partner for these evening excursions has been Vera's brother, Kung-Pei.

We first went to Witch House, which is a funky and intimate cafe/club owned by a German couple who have a large collection of German table games that patrons can play during the day.

Witch House is also a hangout for local lesbians. The back of the club seems to be a tribute to women, with one side having portraits of female musicians

and another side having an assortment of woman-themed posters.

The band we saw was an above-average pop group in the Fiona Apple-vein, with smart arrangements and interesting interludes.

On another night, Kung-pei and I visited The Riverside Cafe. This was swankier spot than Witch House. It reminded me a bit of a modern Village Vanguard. There were pictures of Jazz and Rock musicians on the wall

and the layout was similar to that NYC musical institution. Speaking of institutions (i'm such a hack,) the owners of the club also run a large music school. The school seems to be preparing musicians for professional careers in jazz and pop. This is unusual for Taiwan, where musical training has been exclusively classical. The music that night started with a polished but boring pop singer who had labeled himself as "indie." What's interesting about this is that in America, "indie" has a very particular social and musical aesthetic. But in Taiwan, I guess it just means pop music not made on a major label. Anyways, the guy was fine but didn't really move me. However, the next band did. They were called something that I don't remember and could really play.

One thing I've been noticing here is that the level of musicianship is not very high, so it was great to see a rock band with good players. But while I enjoyed their set, it dragged at times because they insisted on playing 3-4 pop ballads. I think the shadow of pop looms far over most of the music culture here. Even more so than in the States, pop is everywhere.

And since pop is so strongly embedded, "alternative" music often seems to be simply stretching certain aspects of pop, rather than outright rebelling against it. The exception being punk and metal bands, but they stick pretty close to established templates as well. Of course, one could make the same point about American music, but I think Taiwan has yet to have a true musical "counterculture." They are still building their Max's Kansas City. I think it's slowly percolating though, due in part to a very savvy singer/record store owner. More on that next time. Sorry to be so brief, but I still have work to do on this dance piece.