By Matt Taylor
It was the end of an era as early last month, beacon of Taiwanese independent music iNDIEVOX announced that from the end of August, it would be focusing solely on its role as a ticket provider, and that its music store and download service would cease to exist.
Since its founding in 2008 by Po-chang Wu 吳柏蒼 (who is also the lead singer of psychedelic Taiwanese rock band ECHO), the website quickly gained a reputation for its unique perspective on independent music and the way it could be promoted to an audience in Taiwan and beyond, and was a pioneer in how it distributed digital music.
iNDEVOX powered indie musicians, labels, live venues and festivals to come together in a digital space, and collaborate to assist in the promotion and accessibility of Taiwanese indie music, and worked to bring independent music from the underground into the centre of popular culture. In a world where streaming giants such as KKBox, Spotify and Apple Music have monopolized the market and come under intense scrutiny for their method of sharing profits with artists and labels, iNDIEVOX was not only an early entrant, but was much fairer, with artists and independent labels not only having the ability to create their own online store, but also have complete control over the price point, manage personal information, and check sales and reception of music in real time - the latter being a pioneering concept in the late 00’s.
With more than 5000 musicians/labels/event using the site to connect with audiences, A unique visitor base often exceeding 100,000 on a weekly basis (60% of these being between 18-34 years old), over 350,000 members which consist of 143 names from labels, 6,000 artists and 121 event organizers, iNDIEVOX was the largest digital downloads and tickets marketplace of indie music in Taiwan.
There are several factors which have resulted in this unfortunate decision. As far back as 2015, Wu was highlighting the difficulties faced by iNDIEVOX, even saying then that a greater focus on commerce was likely in iNDIEVOX’s future. The difficulty in making money from a streaming service was only enhanced as this method of music consumption gained popularity, and industry heavyweights such as KKBox and Spotify constrained the space of iNDIEVOX. Alongside this, some critics have felt that in recent years the independent music scene in Taiwan has reached a saturation point, which in turn has led to a greater disinterest in hunting for new music, which has likely had a significant impact on iNDIEVOX.
From the very beginning, the mission statement of iNDIEVOX was to both instil a passion for indie music and create a supportive environment within which it could grow. From the flourishing success of Taiwanese indie music both domestically and overseas, it’s safe to say iNDIEVOX was successful in this mission, and that the importance of independent music in Taiwan’s music scene is a direct legacy of iNDIEVOX. The music scene will be poorer for its absence.
While I was in Taiwan, something that came to my attention especially as a student at National Taiwan University was the huge following that not only mainstream pop music had, but also independent music. The likes of Chris Liao廖文强,Crispy脆乐团 were celebrated names that were known by all university students within Taiwan. But one indie band that I found to be exceptionally talented who really stood out from the rest was Elephant Gym, a band which specialises in the Math-Rock genre, and performs interestingly enough without any vocals. When I first saw them perform this was the first point that struck me; but the second and most important thing about their music was that I felt it really didn't need any vocals to make it sound better or make it easier to listen to. You know that feeling you get with classical music sometimes where after five to ten minutes you kind of get bored and start wishing there was more going on onstage, or some vocals to take the edge off things? Well I didn't feel it when I watched Elephant Gym perform live at Yoga Lin's <Speaking in Tongues> concert in mid-2014. Instead what I felt was a strong sense of freshness, clarity, self-direction and creativity that flowed from their music like water in a stream; and it was absolutely infectious. Yoga's fans were more than satisified with their set, myself included.
The band themselves have had a great 2014, picking up scores of nominations and awards at the 2014 Golden Indie Melody awards (7 in total), including for best single, best artist, so on and so forth. And some of you may ask, what is this little-known genre called Math-Rock which they claim to adhere to?
According to some information taken from the Golden Indie Melody Awards;Math Rock is:
-A kind of experimental rock genre that began in the 1980s in America
-Math-Rock's signature elements include a complicated arrangement, often using syncopated or offbeat stops and starts, odd time signatures, angular melodies, counterpoint, extended and dissonant chords, also choosing not to begin songs with common chords.
-Most kinds of rock are played in 4/4 time signature, but Math-Rock uses different and unaligned rhythms, however allowing each instrument to somehow fit together in different keys(?)音軌, to allow for smooth listening that doesn't disturb the ears.
Here is the untranslated explanation below:
Math-rock的特點是編曲複雜，經常使用不規則停頓或開始、不自然節拍結構（odd time signatures）、棱形旋律（Angular melody）、對位法（counterpoint）、延伸和弦（extended chords）、不協調和弦（dissonant chords）、非典型和弦進行。
一般搖滾樂都以 4/4 拍 作歌曲結構，而Math-rock則頻繁使用不對稱節拍，卻讓每樣樂器巧妙地於不同音軌上「對在一起」，聽起來又順暢不礙耳。因複雜結構如數學運算，故此稱為「Math-rock」。
So like the explanation says, Elephant Gym certainly does bring a fresh new sound into the Taiwanese music industry that it is sorely lacking, taking all listeners by surprise-but in a good way of course. Even Yoga himself liked their music so much that he invited them to be the guest performers at his concert, even collaborating with them on several of the songs released on his latest EP <Speaking in Tongues>. I think it's time for me to stop talking and to just let the music play. Elephant Gym is a shining beacon of hope for the Taiwanese music industry and its youth. With their interesting ideas and zest that they infuse in their music, they're sure to impress no matter what kind of music you listen to.
Elephant Gym's second EP <Angle> is out in stores in Taiwan now, or can be found on iTunes, KKBOX or ordered on books.tw .