Up-and-coming Mandopop artist Eric Chou seems to be something of an anomaly. Debuting at the young age of 19, his first single 'Let’s not be friends anymore' was a breakout hit, amassing over 121 million views and capturing hearts across the region. Since then, he’s made a name for himself as the new-gen prince of ballads, known for his soulful vocals and earworm-y love songs that have gained him quite a mainstream following. Yet despite his overwhelming mainstream success with love songs, other parts of his repertoire continue to be praised by industry professionals for his experimentation with the EDM genre, with his compositions even being praised by the likes of Eve Ai and Starr Chen. While the tastes of the Taiwanese mainstream and the industry are often at odds, it seems that an exception has been made in both parties’ mutual appreciation for Chou’s works.
Although Eric is not the first to rock the boat with his musical fare, he IS one of few new-gen mainstream artists who has his sights securely set on bringing updated EDM music to Chinese pop. This is a message that has become increasingly prevalent in his music, most significantly in his third and latest album, ‘The Chaos After You’.
“‘The Chaos After You’ is my third album and I think the third album for any artist establishes ground for where I want to head towards in the future. So for this album you’ll hear a lot of different elements rather than normal ballads. You’ll hear EDM, and the reason for EDM is these past two years I started listening to a lot of …Chainsmokers, Martin Garrix… I think these kinds of EDM music influenced me, ‘cus I feel like the old EDM style is more from clubs and for (a) hyper vibe but now it’s on the top charts, it’s turning into pop culture and it can be like a ballad song but with the (EDM) music arrangement and mix.”
If I had previously thought that there was no one else who had the same passion for bringing Taiwanese music to Western audiences, after meeting Mia Yen, I had to concede that I had met my match. The driven show curator, booking agent and all-round creative, who comes from a family of entertainment professionals has been shaking up the overseas market recently, helping all kinds of amazing indie Taiwanese acts to have their sounds heard live throughout North America. From cult R&B darling 9m88 to the legendary Anpu (formerly known as Deserts Xuan), independent music heroes FIRE EX. to Sunset Rollercoaster, Mia has her finger in almost every independent Taiwanese music pie that lands on US soil.
On top of this, Yen is also the brains behind the Taiwanese Waves showcase held in Central Park, New York annually for the last two years. The event which happens in July annually is amongst the venue Summerstage’s most popular free shows; an amazing feat given that 100% of their acts perform in a language other than English. But none of this came easy for her, as she overcame uncertainty, ethnocentrism, funding issues while making it sound like it was nothing more than a walk in Central Park. Influenced by her family’s roots in the media industry, Mia first discovered her love for live shows while in high school.
“I have a huge passion for music, I don’t play but I enjoy music a lot and in high school I started going to a lot of concerts in Taiwan to see bands and concerts… I think the best way to meet or know a band or singer better is through live performance. Because through recording everyone can do a really well-done job but to me like live shows are very special in the way that you and the artist and the people around you are experiencing the same thing at the same time in a very specific space. So to me it’s really powerful, that’s why I really like it…That’s why I’m more passionate about concerts, live performances.”
And in 2008, going to New York, the mecca of live music and performances to complete her undergrad degree afforded her a chance to pursue this love for live shows, and to discover where it could take her.
“In New York I quickly learned that everybody on tour was stopping in New York. So I dreamed of working in a music venue to be a part of these concerts. And finally in senior year of my Undergrad I did an internship with a music venue in New York called The Living Room…and… learned more about not only the music venue and concert business but also how to run a club. Because you learn more about how to set up ticket prices, what drinks to sell, at what price for audiences and so it was a really interesting experience and I really enjoyed it.”
When you think ‘Taiwanese indie music’, those of you in the know might associate the term with kitschy groups dressed in colourful, mismatched outfits, or with distressed bands which always happen to have a female lead singer singing somewhat eerily. But no matter what popped up for you, I doubt ‘East-meets-West music’ was the first thing to spring to mind. A niche theme popularised by the likes of pop stars Wang Leehom, David Tao, Khalil Fong and more, it is surprising to see such influences creep into the underbelly of the Taiwanese music scene.
Nevertheless, that is exactly what Calvin Jordan and Anna Pan set out to do when they started their band Violet Lens in 2015, a five-piece indie/alternative pop/ punk and indie rock outfit that proffers an organic blend of Eastern and Western musical influences while performing in English, Mandarin and sometimes Taiwanese. The band, composed of Calvin (Songwriter, Backup Vocals), Anna (Songwriter, Vocals), Stan (Lead guitar), Howl (Bass, Backup Vocals) and Kulou (Drums) started in a way as Taiwanese and as indie as one could get; through the use of Taiwanese independent music sharing platform Streetvoice. Calvin recalls:
“Violet Lens started when I found a few of Anna’s songs on StreetVoice.com. I immediately felt a connection to her voice, which sounded special even when recorded on a smartphone and paired with a beat-up old guitar. At the time I was living in Taichung, so I reached out to Anna and asked if she was open to collaborating and possibly meeting up in Taipei to play together. She was a bit reserved, but said she was interested. Shortly after that we met up and started sending snippets of song ideas to one another.”