Decisions, decisions, decisions.
It was a Friday night rock overload in Taipei. Macbeth was celebrating the release of their first full length CD, Hands, with 1976 at The Wall; the raucous Wayne is So Sad 傷心欲絕 were scheduled to blister Underworld; there was a five band bonanza at Revolver; and Suede had the ladies all in a tizzy across town. Me, I had an invitation to see The Ting Tings perform. I went with that.
The newly opened Studio 18, located in the Neo 19 building on Taipei's east side and occupying the old Alexander Fitness space, is a gorgeous addition to the Taipei music world.
Creatively converting the former swimming pool area and complemented by tasteful design and high ceilings, Studio 18 is a sweet looking and great sounding place for a show. My only criticism would be the exit was a bit tight. With everyone leaving at the same time, most of us were required to walk down 5 flights of stairs, instead of enjoying the lazy convenience of an elevator. I know, I know, it's not the end of the world.
All of the original ads and day-of-show Internet links announced a 9:00pm start. That came and went. I know rock and roll shows rarely begin right on time. I don't mind. But 30 minutes passed. 45 minutes passed. At the one hour mark, the house DJ happened to play The Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go, and I gave it some serious consideration. It became clear the promoters must have been waiting for the Suede concert to end, to allow the space to fill up. Maybe even The Tings Tings went to see Suede and hadn't returned yet. I don't know. I just know that a 90 minute delay is too much. It's rude. It wasn't till I was leaving after the show that I saw signs plastered all around the stairwell announcing a 10:15 show time. I know for a fact my friend and I hadn't seen any of them beforehand. And I'm going to say that it's because the signs weren't there. That's kinda lame. So I was thinking as I waited, this show had better be good.
It was. *
(*Conditional statement. Read on.)
The Ting Tings could easily change their name to The Claps Claps.
No, not for the annoying hand-clapper thingies that were passed out before the show. (Really? People can't even clap with their own hands now?)
No, England's dynamic duo incited a nonstop clap-a-long. When they weren't clapping, they were busy as hell prancing about the stage, leading cheers, pushing buttons, playing keyboards, strapping on guitars and basses or pounding the drum kit - and sometimes doing all of these simultaneously. They nicely balanced all of the processed sounds they use with some real time rocking (I'm presuming they were really playing their instruments. If not, they faked it well). Katie White and Jules De Martino were working it.
Aided by a really nice video and light presentation (IMO, a better experience than at The Chemical Brothers, because it deftly enhanced the live performance, whereas video and lights were the only performance at the ChemBro's show. At ChemBros, it was very impressive, yes, but I'm with the group of people who would have appreciated a few glimpses of the Brothers and what they were doing. I know they are DJs doing a DJ set, and I know I'm a rocker judging electronica by a different standard, perhaps, but I'll always like the live, human element most of all. Furthermore, with all of the ChemBros video, people spent more time standing and watching than dancing. When Underworld played Taipei, I remember those guys performing, as well as cool videos AND lots of dancing. Just saying...), The Ting Tings didn't waste any more time, and went straight for the jugular, playing their hit Great DJ as their second number. The party had started.
A few new tunes made the set list, like Hit Me Down Sonny, which featured an unknown guest guitarist (If I ever play onstage with a famous band, I hope they don't mumble my introduction). Some cheers, some lights, some songs I don't remember the names of, some more clapping and then We Walk led to Shut Up And Let Me Go, which led to Hands, a minute of darkness, and then their finale, That's Not My Name.
That's it, end of show, punch the timeclock, cash check, go home.
Question: What was this festival ?
Answer: I don't know. "Festival" seemed to be a serious misnomer, but it was plastered all over all of the PR. It was, more accurately, a series of exorbitantly priced tickets for big name stars who finagled the shortest sets possible.
I wanna talk about this.
Now, if a smaller band comes over and you pay $800- $1,500 and they kinda suck... well, ok, that sucks. Fortunately, most of the small to midsized acts we get work hard and do a nice job.
But if a show costs $3,500 per ticket? Well...
Yes, bad shows happen to all artists, but expectations also rise with expenses, becoming not at all unreasonable demands. $3,500 is a huge chunk of change to see one artist playing one show for one hour.
TWinkle Rock (a dumbass name, complained about here) was promoted as a four band festival spanning an 11 day period (Or is it more? The Beady Eyes gig in September later became a part of their ads.) Each act was priced the same: The Chemical Brothers, 30 Seconds to Mars, Tricky, and The Tings Tings. Really, who can afford all that? $14,000 for a week of music is more than the monthly rent on my apartment.
The matter of pricing falls squarely on the promoters, but as I haven't discussed this with anyone involved in that process, I can't fairly comment much more than to say this:
If people, meaning the fans, meaning your customers, are making the very real decision to spend so much money for a show, it had better be a FUCKING AWESOME show.
And if it's anything less than that, someone ought to stick out their tongue and say, "pppbbbbttttt!" A middle finger wouldn't hurt, either.
And what of these stars playing half-assed or abbreviated sets? Are longer sets or even encores too much to ask when there are NO OTHER performers playing that night and people are really excited to see you? Whose ego will get bruised? Whose time is being cut into? What else do you have to do? WHY ARE YOU HERE?
There has already some rumbling and grumbling about big names coming to Taiwan for shows and then slacking off. I should be above rumors, but I'm aware of complaints against Paul Van Dyke, Janet Jackson, etc. Are these artists out of touch? (Ok, stupid question) Is Taiwan seen as easy money? Or are we fans asking too much? Smaller bands like Death Angel, Melt Banana, Atari Teenage Riot and Asobi Seksu played their hearts out in Taiwan. They got a lot of love and seemed to genuinely value the opportunity. An unknown act from Japan, Mugen Hoso, go fucking insane and couldn't be more thrilled, even if there are no more than 10 people watching. I guess this is why I love small/indie/ punk/local bands - they do it for the love of it. I like it real.
Now, it is great that more and more international touring artists are playing in Taiwan, so I applaud the promotors on that point.
But I worry, too.
Now that the bands are here, how to get an audience?
Certainly not with absurdly priced tickets.
If attendance is weak, (I'd heard many whispers that sales were poor, and later learned of 2-for-1 deals going around and other discounts/freebies to combat potential empty venues/save face - is this a sustainable business plan? And man, if I had bought one of those full price tickets, I'd have been SUPER pissed off), does this send a message that Taiwan can't support these shows or isn't really interested after all?
I hope not, because there are a lot of smart, passionate music fans here and they wanna rock.
For the sake of comparison, consider Fuji Rock (where many of our guest artists are traveling to/from)... now that is a festival with more bang for your buck. A one day ticket to Fuji Rock this year costs ¥18,000, or $6,600; a 3 day pass is ¥42,000, or $15,500. I counted a lineup of almost 90 (!!!) different artists and DJs on offer in ONE day, ranging from up and comers I'd never heard of, to hot new acts like The Vaccines and Warpaint, to superstars like Coldplay and, yes, The Chemical Brothers.
How can we develop that here? Are the high costs of doing business in a "new market" necessary growing pains? Or are people being greedy? I'd like to think it could all be done more intelligently and economically.
The friends I spoke with said they could only afford to attend one of these 4 TWinkle Rock shows, but spread over time or offered as a better package, they'd likely go to as many as they could. It just wasn't gonna happen. There was also the matter of other international touring artists coming to town at the same time (Suede, The Get Up Kids).
All of these bands are drawing from basically the same fan base. So the attendance for each show is now cut 6 ways. The Chemical Brothers are the biggest name of the group and they in fact drew the largest crowd. That's where I chose to put my money, too (at a discounted price, and I still felt I'd overpaid).
The only way I was fortunate enough to attend the other shows is by virtue of friends in high places and playing my journalist card - which I haven't abused. I've written about each free show.
Here's another friend's concern: "Expensive shows like these kill off the good local shows.. how many (of the) people that forked-out for tickets to even just one of these TWinkle shows could afford to go to any other local shows that week.. or month even?"
I suppose one could hypothetically reply, "Would there be any shows even worth seeing?" But as we're trying to point out here at GigGuide.tw, YES, there ARE indeed lots of bands worth spending your time and money on here in Taiwan. And they're not gonna take you for granted, either.
Beastie Rock is an upcoming festival highlighting both local talent and some hungry, young acts from Japan, Indonesia, and Macau. Price? $1400 for TWO days, with 50+ bands/day. It's not operating on the same large budget, but that actually makes it even more impressive.
What am I saying? I believe that it is very possible for a better experience, one in which the promoters, the venues, the performers, AND THE FANS, in particular, ALL feel satisfied.
I believe that we can learn a lot, not only from other countries, but also from ourselves.
I believe that, despite the recent complications for Witch House, the turmoil in Taichung and the prohibitive pricing of big bands, live music - both local and international - can have a healthy home here in Taiwan.
Look: Underworld just celebrated 15 years. Legacy has provided a top notch concert experience from the get-go. Revolver has proven to be an active and popular venue.The Wall continues to refine itself and host hot shows. Studio 18 has just opened its doors. Kafka On The Shore, Village Cafe, Riverside, Vicious Circle, APA Lounge 808... Brickyard & The Mercury in Kaohsiung... TCRC in Tainan... The Wall's Uri-Sabaki-Jo in Yilan... Spring Scream in Kenting.... and more.
We have a small island filled with big hearts. We can make whatever we want to happen, happen.
We can work together to make things better.
We can demand quality and respect.
We can and we should.