PIPE Live Music
Locating in Gongguan, Taipei City, Pipe is one of the few venues that embraces hip hop acts. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it was originally a water pumping station built during the Japanese colonial period in Taiwan. With over a hundred years of history, it is a place where tradition clashes against contemporaneity. Unlike the other venues, it is an independent building distant from residential area by the river, and its advantage is especially evident when the performers are tearing the roof off with their music blasting. Not only is it able to fit two hundred and fifty people, the large open space outside of Pipe is also what differentiates it from the rest, providing sufficient room for positive vibes to spread.
The Wall has been one of the most prominent livehouses in Taiwan hosting music showcases of all genres. Established in 2003, it has been reported and recognized by numerous well-known international media including the New York Times, New York Magazine, and so on. Residing under Fuho bridge, Gongguan, it is a venue that allows the audience to indulge in music while isolating excessive hustle and bustle of city life. The Wall is literally underground—one can see distinguishing stores and a small bar once walked down the stairs and into the basement. With its capacity of six hundred audiences, it also serves as a challenge or an indicator for the performers to fill up the space. Many local and foreign hip hop performers had all rocked the crowd at the Wall.
On its website, Revolver describes itself as “a unique style bar and music venue providing the alternative side of Taiwan with a place to rock & roll, meet and greet since 2010”; however, it does not truly bring out its unique characteristics. Founded by Jeremy from UK who used to be in a death metal band (who still plays occasionally), the Revolver has become one of the top venues of the indie music scene in Taipei. The location of Revolver is near Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, which is away from the business districts in Taipei. It has two floors; the first floor has a bar that serves beverages and hard liquor with a few tables, and the second floor provides a rather upright and foursquare space for showcases. Even though it may only fit 100 audiences, its homeliness is perhaps the edge it has over other venues to attract music lovers in town.
Riverside Live House
Riverside Live House dwells in Ximending, where from teenagers to young adults always go for the latest fashion, the coolest trend, and of course, music. Branching from its original location in Gongguan, Riverside Live House is the second venue that is ambitious—bigger in space, and larger in scale. Having been an important role in the indie music scene since year 2000, Riverside intended to grow with the bands and explore more possibilities with this venue. One of the most unique characteristics of Riverside Live House is that it is in fact operating within a historical site built during Japanese colonial period in Taiwan. Local hip-hop artists including MC HotDog, Soft Lipa, Manchuker, GorDoN, TriPoets, and Miss Ko and many others all had performed here.
Unike the previous venues, The Venue is in fact not built solely for musical performances. In other words, the sound system including amplifier and speakers need to be set up separately whenever there is an upcoming music-related event. It is a five-story building with a basement that offers multiple applications. For example, the first and second floor is a café, while the spaces of other floors serve as office, art gallery, or open space for workshops and seminars. Moreover, the location of The Venue is situated at Linsen N. Rd., Zhongshan District. The area has never been known for live houses or musical performances; instead, it is a famous red-light district. However, The Venue stands distinct from its environment and provides a nice shelter for those looking for artistic expressions.
5 Influential Hip Hop Record Labels in Taiwan:
True Color Music
True Color Music is self-proclaimed the first music label to promote Mandarin hip hop/pop music. While such statement does overlook the early attempts by other music labels, True Color is undeniably the most commercially successful hip hop record label in Taiwan. The artists under True Color include Mandarin rap pioneer MC HotDog, rap group MJ116, multi-talented singer/producer/DJ Ayal Komod (A-Yue), and female rapper Double-J. In 2015, MC HotDog, MJ116, and Ayal Komod had formed a supergroup G.U.T.S. and went on a world concert tour for months. They have sold out numerous stadiums and arenas in different cities in China, while also performed in western New York, Los Angeles, and London. Moreover, they had sold out Taipei Arena and K-Arena in Taiwan as well. True Color is definitely the most popular and well-known hip hop music label in all Madarin-speaking areas.
Founded by Dela in 2005, Kao Inc. was established as a small indie record label and had only Soft Lipa as its main artist. Through the years, Soft Lipa had become a frequent nominee of music awards in Taiwan, while GorDoN, DJ Didilong and Yeemao (Leo Wang and Chunyan) are making noise in the music industry as well. Kao Inc. is known for its distinctive alternative Hip Hop sound, their artists have clear identities and marketing strategies that attract different audiences. Moreover, Kao Inc. has now opened a café as well as a record shop at the same location as its office. Therefore, the music label in fact does not only promote music, but a type of lifestyle represented in its sound.
Kung-fu Entertainment is founded by MC HotDog’s early frequent collaborator Dwagie (formerlyDog G), who is the first rapper to release a full-length rap album in Taiwan and also interviewed by respectable international press. The most unique feature of Kung-fu Entertainment is its location. It is one of the few, if not only, hip hop music labels located outside of Taipei City. Situating in southern Taiwan, Dwagie does it to put his hometown Tainan City on the map. Kung-fu Entertainment consists of many rappers who are semi-professional with great skills. However, the main artists including Poetek, Xiao-ren, and the founder of the label Dwagie, who have all showcased their razor-sharp rhymes in their works respectively, while earning nominations and awards as well as good reputation for their highly social-minded lyrical content.
It is without a doubt that Ainoko Entertainment from Taichung has become a household name for hip hop music in Taiwan, and one can attribute its success to the rise of 911. 911 is perhaps one of the most controversial pop trio that incorporates Taiwanese rap and catchy hooks with local favor. However, their incredible sales number and YouTube hits have established them as a force that cannot be ignored in Taiwan music industry. Furthermore, there are also many other artists that are either challenging the taboos or striving to build their identities under the operation of Ainoko Entertainment. These artists include rap trios 187 Inc, CockyBoyz; rap duo Caotun Boyz, newly signed solo artist BCW, and established rapper Ty from China. From its power moves of expansion, it is likely that team Ainoko will still be reining music charts in the near future.
TGMF, acronym for The Gangster Money Fast, is an indie hip hop record label based in Taipei City (which they call “Trapei”) that has been releasing gangsta rap and trap music for the past couple years. The core rappers on the label include YZ, YB, and BCW (now Ainoko Entertainment). They have gained the support of many young listeners of rap music due to their constant release of singles that are up-to-date in style with strong visuals while hosting events and parties from Taipei City to southern Taiwan. TGMF is also known for their previous conflict with MJ116; nevertheless, they have benefited from the so-called rap beef and gained attention of young audiences, and even won the hearts of many who thought MJ116 have gone “too commercial”. With their consistency of releasing records, TGMF has become a brand that is more than an alternative choice to mainstream rap music.
5 Local Hip Hop Streetwear Brands in Taiwan
Remix Clothing Taipei
Established in 2004 by Eric and Kenji, Remix is considered as one of the most successful and long-standing local streetwear brand in Taiwan. Their most well-known and defining collection of Remix is the “Taipei City” series, in which they put embroidery or prints that spell out Taipei City on T-shirts and baseball caps. However, the name of the brand itself indicates its ambition to bring different cultures and styles together in order to create something new, which is similar to what the term remix means in music—similar yet different from the original. Remix’s deep connection with local street culture is shown through its sponsorship for known street dancers, DJs, rappers, as well as large music events and dance competitions. From the time and money invested into local artists and dancers, one can easily see that Remix is not an opportunist trying to exploit talents, but to genuinely support them with heart.
Founded by local rapper Da Dealer (of LaBa Connection) in 2013, Prettynice inherits the tradition of golden era hip hop as it is represented through the graphic designs of its clothing items. The themes of its clothing series are often music related, including tribute pieces that pay direct homages to U.S. hip hop or R&B legends (ex. The Notorious B.I.G., Sade, Paris, KMD, etc.). Moreover, the inspirations also come from the western pop culture of the 90s, cyber culture, and vintage sportswear. The love and appreciation of the past that are embodied within their merchandises allow them to be supported by hip hop enthusiasts worldwide, which is the reason why Prettynice is one of the few Taiwanese streetwear brand to have commercial agents overseas—their products are being sold at Japan, Thailand, Itaty, and also China.
It is not difficult to tell that MJ Fresh is closely connected with the local rap group MJ116 simply by looking at its name. MJ is an acronym for Mucha District in Taipei City, which is where the members of MJ116 and their friends are from. With MJ116’s rise to stardom, MJ116 and their squad decided to establish their clothing brand together. Even though the brand had generated great success during its initial stage from the supporters of MJ116, MJ Fresh has nevertheless strived to make better quality, American hip hop style garments instead of only selling its clothing items to the fans of MJ116. MJ Fresh has collaborated with both foreign and local clothing brands including Alife, Stones Throw (well-known U.S. hip hop indie label), Prettynice, AES, etc. With its fresh ideas and devoted fan base, MJ Fresh has already become an undeniable force among streetwear brands in Taiwan.
Founded by Ryan Yeh, well-known actor/model Sunny Wang, and designer Chuck Lee, who have all received education in the United States, Imperial Taels is the answer to the cultural conflicts between East and West. Essentially, Imperial Taels is one of the very few, if not only, streetwear brands in Taiwan that concentrates on jewelries and accessories. Famous rappers in the west are known to wear customized jewelry pieces and grills, and Imperial Taels not only serves as the sole option for local hip hop jewelries, but it also aims to create new standards for young fashion enthusiasts and streetwear aficionados through their works. Lately, their collaboration with Barry Chen, MJ116, Dizzy Dizzo as well as Shawn Sung’s tribute film have shown Imperial Tael’s participation in local hip hop scene.
Derived from the word “dissent”, the local streetwear brand Dssent is not afraid to oppose and rebel against the norms. Since its establishment in 2009, Dssent has been heavily involved in street art and culture, hosting and sponsoring numerous hip hop related seminars and events, which solidifies its supporting role in local street culture. Moreover, it attempts to go beyond its comfort zone. Dssent is also worn by many mainstream artists including singers, actors, and TV hosts, for it understands exposure is a crucial key to successful marketing. Their lines of merchandise include hats, t-shirts, and jackets. In addition, its chapter store located in Ximending also carries various streetwear brands from the United States, and being at the heart of youth in Taipei City, Dssent is eager to speak and communicate with the younger generation, and share its love for hip hop through its consistent cultivation.
Compiled by ILL MO.