First up, can you give us a bit of personal history?
I'm from Saskatoon, Canada and have lived in Taiwan for almost 12 years. I was heavily involved in the indie music scene back then, working for a community radio station as a DJ, and then later as the editor and writer for that same station's monthly music/arts magazine. I also formed my own record label for the sole purpose of releasing local bands' music. In Taiwan, I spent several years writing articles for a now-defunct bilingual magazine about indie bands all over the island. Supporting indie music has been pretty much a lifelong endeavor.
Let's talk about Voices from the South 從南方來的聲音, your documentary on Kaoshiung's independent music scene (featuring 庫克 KoOK / 馬猴 Maho / 滅火器 Fire Ex. / 橘娃娃 Orange Doll / 害羞踢蘋果 Shy Kick Apple). How did that come about? Were you just filming live shows and then decided to compile the live footage and add interviews to create a full length documentary (~85 minutes)?
VFTS came about because of the aforementioned gig writing magazine articles. Over the course of two years, I met and interviewed so many talented musicians, and a lot of them became my friends. I would go see their shows whenever possible, and hang out and drink with them afterwards. In 2007 at Formoz Fest in Taipei, the Kaohsiung collective that were invited to perform (Maho, Fire Ex, KoOk, Shy Kick Apple) were earnestly handing out flyers promoting their bands with the tagline "Kaohsiung in Formoz", but I noticed that a lot of those flyers ended up on the ground or in the trash. The people from the north truly had no clue how great the bands from the south were. So, I decided to make a film and preserve for posterity what everyone else on this island has been missing out on. I first wrote a complete shooting script (you can't really 'script' a documentary, you can only write down what you plan to do in it), choosing what I thought were the five best bands in Kaohsiung. Naturally, after pitching the script to the bands, they were all for it. So, yeah, the film was not thrown together after compiling footage of live shows. It was all carefully planned out.
In 'Voices' you briefly cover the history of Kaoshiung's independent music scene with the early venues such as ATT and people involved in establishing things. What surprised me was to learn that the indie music scene in Kaohsiung (and I imagine other cities around Taiwan) is still very young, starting around 1999.
Yeah, that kinda surprised me also. They just slowly discover things on their own here.
Did you receive any Government funding for this? Is that even possible?
I received zero funding for the film. Everything was done on my dime. I believe there is funding for films through Kaohsiung's City Government, I guess that's something I should have looked into.
When we first met you seemed a bit surprised that I'd heard of 'Voices'. Outside of Kaoshiung, what's the feedback been like?
When it was first screened at The Wall in Taipei (prior to four of the five bands in the film performing), I got some really good feedback from several folks. Enno's father, the president of Dreamosa Film was there, I got to chat with him and his daughter, and they offered some positive constructive criticism. The owner of White Wabbit Records told me she thought the history part of the film was very well constructed.
Even though the film is two years old now, in 2010 I got three requests from campus groups wanting a copy of the film to screen at their music events/film festivals. One was from Kaohsiung, one from Tainan, and one from Hualien. So, I guess the word is still spreading.
Any plans for a follow up?
I have plans to make VFTS Part II, and focus on the current crop of young bands who now represent Kaohsiung's indie music scene.
More recently you also created a short film shot inside your bar. Was that something you'd written yourself? [View it here]
Yes, that was a drama piece I'd written and filmed for the purpose of submitting to last year's Kaohsiung Film Festival competition. It's actually nothing to do with The Mercury, the girl in the story works in a bar, and for convenience's sake, I filmed it in my place. Due to time constraints it didn't turn out as good as I wanted, so I want to re-film that as well. I can't seem to sit still for more than a few minutes!
You're a musician yourself. Did Mercury come about due to the lack of venues for the type of shows you were interested in?
You hit the nail on the head. I wanted a place where you could see all manner of indie music-folk, punk, shoegaze, indie-pop, etc. but also a place that was like a pub where if you didn't want to see a band, you could still have a lazy drink and listen to good music over the house system. I don't know where else in Kaohsiung you could hear Butthole Surfers, Touming Magazine, The Smiths, Fugazi, Pavement, Best Coast and Shy Kick Apple all in the same night.
Are you gigging at the moment? Plans to?
I am planning a Nick Drake tribute night at the bar one of these days. I am quite busy right now, though, so my musical endeavours are all sort of on the back burner.
As someone who was raised in Canada but has since become quite involved with the independent music scene in Kaohsiung, do you have any thoughts on the scene here as it stands now, how it's changed and what could be done to improve things?
I think the biggest problem is that radio stations here pretty much won't touch indie music with a ten-foot pole. At least in the west, there are college/community radio stations that support indie. The other problem is a lack of venues, at least in the south. In the west, a band could likely make some money touring, because there are enough venues/cities to string together a bunch of dates. Here, a 'tour' consists of Taipei, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, and that's it. Without radio support/promotion, these bands can't play smaller cities, and smaller cities won't provide a venue for them anyways.
As for improving things, I think the music and radio industries need to pull their collective heads out of their asses. It shouldn't be about what will make the most money, it should be about variety and allowing people to choose for themselves. Most folks just mindlessly listen to whatever they're force-fed by the airwaves, but there ARE some people who will take notice if something fresh and different comes out of the radio speaker. Perhaps they're just too uninformed to seek it out on their own.
I know it's hard to ask you to choose a favourite band from the south, so perhaps I should ask which bands in particular you think the rest of Taiwan should keep an eye on.
The one band that I had great hopes for, and by rights should be all over Taiwanese radio is Orange Doll. However, they are on an extended hiatus, but did contribute one of the standout tracks to the recent Mega Pride 2-CD compilation. A couple of bands, The Lawns and Sorrow of Youth have a lot of potential. These two bands just need to accumulate more songs, release their CD and play live as often as they can.
The Mercury has now been around a number of years and has seen some great bands / musicians perform there. Which performances stand out for you?
I really hate to use the term 'post-rock' but this one band totally blew me away. They're from Taichung, they're called Double Cheese, and they're probably the best 'post-rock' band on the island, in my humble opinion.
Another personal favorite of mine, Orange Grass, put on an amazing unplugged show recently. I've been fans of theirs from way, way back, and their show was everything I expected, and more!
Thanks Don. All the best with The Mercury and all your other endeavours.
Thanks Steve. I would like to say I think what you're doing with GigGuide is a great, great thing for the music scene Taiwan-wide. All the best to you too.