As anyone who has ever been to or is considering going to Taipei will notice, the city’s skyline is dwarfed by its biggest building: the Taipei 101.
The building both pays homage to not only the architectural heritage that dominates Taiwan’s past, but also the glistening metropolitan future that lies ahead for the capital. This same analogy fits for the city’s music scene too. The indie music scene that prevails in the Taipei has both touches of the country’s cultural past and a future growth that resembles the modernity of other big music cities.
What’s most fascinating about Taipei is that culturally this growing city isn’t following its Asian neighbours. Rather than becoming a Mando-pop obsessed society with high rises dominating the city, Taipei has opted for a European chic approach that still manages to retain its connection with the past.
In Taipei, coming across avant-garde theatre, markets, graffiti, and artist hubs is now more common than what you might have expected. In recent years factories and large spaces have been converted into artist villages and markets, which has allowed for more live spaces and therefore the music scene has begun to flourish.
As The Wall Street Journal writes on its assessment of the city’s newfound cultural growth; “obligatory family visits to a gritty city have turned into voluntary trips to a place where I can count on a relaxing weekend spent browsing bookstores and eating good food.”
This movement isn’t just coming from the underground though. Such a dramatic transformation is coming from developers, architects, and other creative types, interior designer Grace Wang tells the publication. “I think there’s a desire to create a deeper culture here,” says the designer who’s behind a mini empire of cafes and boutiques.
It’s no surprise that in a city that is starting to favour culture that indie music is becoming just as important as Mando-pop – Taiwan’s equivalent of Korea and Japan’s uber mainstream saccharine K-pop and J-pop. As we evidence below by a couple of our picks of local artists musicians will sing in both Mandarin and English.
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It’s a trend that began in the ’90s out of the National Taiwan University district and it has now well and truly taken hold as a form of the city’s popular culture.
To supplement the Taipei’s growing love of live music is a sentiment that vinyl is just as valuable as your Mum’s jewellery.
As Taiwan Panorama reports vinyl has exploded in short period of time in the country. Jingo Records chief Chen Chien-Yu actually went as far as to send his employees to America to bring back new and used vinyl to capitalise on the Taiwan’s vinyl mania. The results reflect just how seriously Taipei is taking its newfound cultural sensibilities. “In just a few months, they had collected 150,000 records and put them up for sale in a newly opened shop. That shop is now Taiwan’s largest vinyl retailer.”
Much like the Taipei 101 skyscraper this has all culminated in a beguiling hybrid of Taiwan’s cultural heritage and Westernised cultural ambitions. Whether Taipei can hold onto both into the future remains to be seen, but regardless the capital is fast becoming one of the world’s most exciting music cities.
Experience Taiwan’s Premier Rock Festival HoHaiYan Summer Rock Festival
From 15th July this festival spans across three to five days with a theme dedicated to each day of the event. Whether that be “Band Of Taiwan Aboriginals” or “Popular Chinese Rock Bands”, the festival allows fans to celebrate a specific area of the country’s music culture. Located on the beach HoHaiYan this beautifully picturesque event provides one of the country’s few all age events and pays homage to a broad section of Taiwanese music. While it’s held outside of Taipei in New Taipei City, an area that surrounds the capital (confusing, but true), the trip will be more than be worth it.
Head To Legacy For International And Local Acts
No. 1, Section 1, Bade Rd
With a capacity of 1000 people, this music venue may not allow you to get up close and personal with the bands but it does allow you to experience the Taiwanese music fans and music culture on one of the biggest indie stages in the city. Legacy draws both large-scale local and international acts in a setting that provides top quality sound. Considering the venue is owned by one the city’s celebrated musicians, Harlem Yu, you’re guaranteed to get an experience that has music fans in mind. Tickets to gigs can be purchased cheaper from a nearby convenience store.
Catch Tizzy Bac At One Of Their Local Shows
Characterised by indie pop and rock qualities, it’s hard to go past the sweet vocals of keyboardist and frontwoman, Chen Hui-ting. As ‘That Cost Me Too Much’ demonstrates below they know their way around a chorus. Singing in both English and their native tongue, Tizzy Bac are guaranteed to have you hooked by song’s end.
Head To Joy Audio For All Your Vinyl Needs
75 Zhonghua Road, Section 2, Taipei No. 6, Lane
Intended for jazz fiends who take their vinyl seriously this establishment has a relatively small collection, but it contains some top quality records. If you don’t believe it just take a squiz at the titles on their website (with the help of Google Translate). CDs are also sold here.
Catch Up And Coming Acts At EZ-5
No. 211, Section 2, Anhe Rd.
This place breeds the best Taipei acts like nowhere else. Some of the city’s biggest and most known acts started their career here before making it. While slightly more expensive than most other venues in the city (although two free drinks are included) EZ-5 focuses on brilliant vocals with the songs performed both in English and Mandarin.
Get Food And Live Music Simultaneously At Bobwundaye
No. 77, Section 3, Heping East Rd
If you’ve had your fill of the local cuisine and require a good fix of both Western food, along with music, then Bobwundaye could be a good stop to make. It’s a bit of mixed bag depending on the night you go, not in terms of quality, but with the various genres that are played from the sound system you never know what you’re going to get. Either way you know that at this venue good music and good food come hand in hand.
Electronic Fans, Species Records Has Your Vinyl Needs Covered
No. 20, Lane 96, Kunming St
Located in the East District, an area known for being the hip and electronic centre, this record store is for those who lean towards hip-hop and dance music. With a selection that has some of the best producers going ’round – DJs and electronic fanatics will find a haven here. The same fans could also find [email protected] Boutique worth looking at too, which is also located close by.
Hear Waa Wei’s Beautiful Melodies In The Flesh
Frontwoman turned solo singer-songwriter Waa Wei’s four studio albums have garnered her an impressive collective of Facebook fans. That’s over 200,000 likes. Her latest record, which in English translates to “Still Have To Believe In Love, Ah Bastards” once again demonstrates her trademark vocals.
Hear Local Artists At Riverside Music Café
B1, No. 244, Lane 2, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd.
While EZ-5 sends up and coming artists onto super stardom this venue hosts acts that are more underground and far more diverse in terms of style. Think acoustic more than anything else. With a relaxed atmosphere, there’s live music every night of the week. This venue is also said to be almost impossible to sell out with the owners allowing Riverside to get as packed as possible.
Experience Jazz Taipei Style At Blue Note
4F, No. 171, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd.
This establishment might be located in a university area, but the clientele aren’t the head-bopping type. As you’d expect of a venue named after the legendary label – Blue Note is a sophisticated jazz lounge that is rigid in the fact that it won’t stray from jazz. Ever. Which is great news for lovers of the genre. The musicians here are generally pretty good, so head down for a relaxing night with the locals.
Hsiao Song Records Is One Of Taipei’s Biggest Vinyl Store
2162, 2F, 4 Xining S Rd
It may not have much of an online presence but you can’t miss one of Taipei’s biggest record stores. Although this one is only for the most dedicated vinyl hunters. There’s plenty of second hand gems to search through. From the 60s right through to the 80s there is a great selection of pop while there are some great Beatles classics on to be found too. As a bonus it’s fairly cheap as well.