International Underground: Taiwan

Words by Steve Rickinson
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Since 1960, Taiwan has been at the forefront of Mandarin pop music culture. Yet, of late, the densely populated (some 25+ million) island has become something of a hotbed of electronic music culture throughout the Southeast Asia region. One easily rivaling the frequently covered scene of neighboring China, Taiwan’s robust and diverse electronic music industry has seen a wealth of quality artists, venues, record shops, festivals, and labels emerge since underground club music first began making waves there during the late 1990s.

Those early days saw venues like Edge Club, Texound, and Luxy properly introduce the electronic sound to the island but it was not until the cusp of the 2000s when the full culture truly took hold. Still, those days saw sparse options with few clubs, and warehouse raves scattered throughout Taipei back alleys. By the late 2000s, however, newfound energy swept Taiwan with collectives like Smoke Machine, Earworm, and Bass Kitchen leading the way. Now, a legitimate regional electronic music destination, both for local acts and international touring artists alike, we thought to dive into the Taiwanese underground and see who’s who and what’s what across the island.

Clubs & Venues

PIPE Live Music

PIPE Live Music

For the recent Taiwanese dance music scene, PIPE Live Music and the now-defunct Korner served as important destinations in welcoming its new generation of electronic acts, both on stage and in the booth, to hone their skills. In the aftermath of Korner’s 2018 closure, several new club-style venues have opened their doors over the past few months. Amongst them are the state of the art, four-dimensional clubbing experience, B1; the hidden, dark techno haven un:Understand, and the sleekly décored Final. Outside the capital, both Taichung’s The Cave and Tainan’s U11 have operated as live venues with a frequent focus on House & Techno nights, as well as live electronic music performances, for years.

Labels

Moonlight: c: Dark Paradise Records, FUCKING PLACE

Moonlight: c: Dark Paradise Records, FUCKING PLACE

Since 2013, Taipei’s Dark Paradise Records has been home to some of the island’s most prominent and daring electronic music acts while also curating a popular compilation series and organizing numerous events. Names like Ruby Fatale, Dizparity, and Waves of Doppler have all graced the Dark Paradise wax. Kaohsiung’s Revox Records serves up more minimal, deep and tech offerings, fusing Taiwanese spirit with avant-garde logic since 2006. The label, run by local hero Eddie Hu, has seen releases from the likes of HoaniTeano, Whitesquare, Babi, and Vincent Schroeder, amongst others. On the more future bass and big room side of things is the Rock Records subsidiary, ROKON Records. ROKON, run by a local legend in the making DJ Mykal, has recruited a solid roster of Taiwanese electronic acts including The Girl and the Robots, Utopia, CHIU PI, and OVDS.

Festivals

The flagship festival from the Smoke Machine collective, Organik Festival has held court as the countries best since 2012. With breathtaking Pacific Ocean view’s, Organik has grown from a mostly local-act affair to a bonafide international powerhouse. The 2019 edition (26 – 29 April) sees the likes of Ben UFO, Vrilski & Map.ache mix with the crew’s own Diskonnected and Andy Chiu. As far as festivals go, there is also the equally picturesque Eden Hill Festival. Located in the central mountain’s Tiger Head Mountain, Eden Hill fuses underground electronic music, activities like paragliding, and luscious nature set to a soundtrack of local and international stars. For something a bit headier, UP crew’s Earthfest Revolution offers old school PLUR vibes and is the most popular outdoor PsyTrance Festival on the island.

Promoters & Event Organizers

Bass Kitchen and Smoke Machine are perhaps the most widely known underground electronic event organizers in Taiwan. For Bass Kitchen, its focus on the serious and spiritual side of all things electronic has brought the likes of Young Marco, Bell Towers, and Alex From Tokyo to play its “Deep Fried House” series. Smoke Machine, already mentioned several times here, has been operating as event organizers, a record label, and podcast series since 2009. Besides Organik Festival, the Smoke Machine crew also hosts the inclusivity-focused weekender Spectrum Formosus. Hard Techno is also well represented in Taiwan with Hammer of God bringing their events to venues across the island, including The Cave, while The Server serves up weekly doses of Trance and PsyTrance at live venues like Pipe Live Music=. As East Asia’s most liberal country and LGBTQ+ capital, Taipei’s Triangle club sees the monthly theme party WERK! House music focused and famous for its colorful drag performances, WERK! has served as the city’s biggest gay night since 2014.

Artists

Sonia Calico c: nowhereashes

Sonia Calico c: nowhereashes

Sonia Calico may be one of the new electronic generations most exciting and well-rounded acts. With a hand in many aspects of the scene, including the label/event series UnderU, workshops, and a monthly beat makers gathering, she is at the forefront of Taiwan’s underground and experimental scene’s continued development. Then there is Ruby Fatale (often referred to locally as the “Glitch hop witch”), an artist whose sound is almost as unmistakable as her style. A staple of Dark Paradise Records, Ruby Fatale weaves the ancient and the modern, the dynamic and the static through her adventurous live performances. DJ Dark Lo is one of Taiwan’s electronic OGs with a career that dates back to the late 1970s, while the vinyl only DJ A-Dao has been a scene staple since opening the beloved Species Records in 2006. On the live performance front, Sonic Deadhorse unique one-man audio/visual performances have earned him accolades from the music and art worlds alike. Then there is Salamander, one of the islands most popular live electronic acts. Led by Yu-Huan Lee, a Taiwanese electronic pioneer, their live House/Breakbeat/Electro style has rocked dancefloors across the island since 2007, earning multiple accolades along the way. Two more names of note include RevoxRecords’ Eddie Hu or Vice City, whose deeply immersive music draws inspiration from mythology to nature, science to philosophy with a minimalistic approach and cinematic atmosphere. Of course, these are but a few of any number of talented and influential acts from across the island’s underground and experimental nooks, but with such a wealth of talent to choose from, the present is strong and future bright for electronic music culture in Taiwan.

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