South By Southwest (SXSW) might be over, but the fun is only getting started. And by fun I mean the grueling hours of sobering up I have to do to spit out everything my girl Yaaaaaas and I went through in the name of quality content. She wouldn’t be with me until mid-week, so I took on the first scheduled showcase alone, which explains my ugly photos.
I TRIED, OKAY?!
Anyway, if I was going to kick off SXSW, I was going to do it right, and what better way to do that than with a healthy dose of eclectic sounds from Taiwan? Taiwan Beats — hosted by the Bureau Of Audiovisual And Music Industry Development (BAMID), Ministry Of Culture, and GCA Entertainment — delivered one of the more unique lineups I experienced all week, and it all went down at good old Elysium Nightclub.
Elysium opened its doors at 7 PM, followed by a snazzy press conference at 7:30 PM presented by the organizers of the showcase (James Minor, Head Of Music Festival Of SXSW, was also there) to introduce the performers, give their thanks, and kick off the night. If you’ve never been to the Elysium, the venue is relatively small compared to other joints hosting SXSW shows in Austin, TX. That means it’s musky as hell, but also allows fans the opportunity to be as close as they’ll ever get to their faves.
And that’s the ultimate indulgence about SXSW. If you play your cards right and come prepared, you’ll not only see these artists mere feet away from you, but will very likely bump into them throughout the night. And considering that a lot of the musicians invited to play at SXSW are underground or independent, most from overseas, the ease of connectivity between them and industry peeps is an even sweeter reward for them than anything.
By 8 PM, Taiwan Beats was in full swing. The first beat drop of the night came from the lovely Sonia Calico, a DJ from Taipei, who came armed with this really convenient light installation. The lighting situation in Elysium, for a lack of a better term, is piss-poor at best, so seeing her incorporate additional lights was a winning choice for everyone.
Sonia Calico’s set was standard DJ fanfare, in that it did an excellent job of pumping up the crowd. EDM tends to do that, but Sonia Calico’s sweet touch and unique blend of Chinese and swanky beats maintained a high level of energy throughout her set — a stark difference to what Ruby Fatale, another band serving the 1s and 2s, brought to the dance floor.
According to SXSW’s artist page, Ruby Fatale is an “audio/visual experimental band,” a descriptor that didn’t quite come to life until I watched them do their thing. Sonically, Ruby Fatale’s set was the equivalence to the pitch of the room: dark. But because that style of eerie, nuanced vibes spoke to me on a spiritual level, it clicked. The people that were hyped after Sonia Calico’s set were lifted straight out of that state and dragged into a realm of low frequencies and glitchy productions. The screen behind Ruby Fatale was synced up to their audio output, so the images projected on it throbbed and jerked around in interesting ways, like a giant kaleidoscope with their music. If you were in the market for some rad meditation music that night, Ruby Fatale had you covered.
And the experimentation continued with Prairie WWWW, a five-piece band that is so in tune with mother nature that at the basis of their songs are field recordings of Taiwan’s outdoors and them actually playing instruments in the wilderness. Why? Because studios are for chumps.
Prairie WWWW’s set was delightfully eerie as well, and at this point in the showcase, you could tell the night was going down a traditional-Taiwanese path. Visually, the band members looked dope. Their hands and faces were marked up with paint, some of which reacted against blacklight, an effect that looked awesome on stage, especially considering the super ambient vibes of their music. It was like watching a traditional band comprised of Na’vi — you know, those blue aliens from the ‘Avatar‘ movie?
It was unfortunate that they kept running into technical problems, as one of the members mentioned to me later, but they pulled through in the end and were a perfect transition into the transportive sounds of Sangpuy.
SXSW can be an overwhelming experience. You will find that bar after bar is bursting at the seams with bands going HAM for your attention. So when someone like Sangpuy decides to take things in the opposite direction, you notice immediately. I was completely enchanted by this man’s vocals. His set was stripped down to nothing but a few instruments and his voice. And what a voice!
Sangpuy sang as much from the gut as he did from the soul, delivering one of the most resonant performances I saw all week. His traditional approach was unique, and while I knew very little about his background before Monday night — according to the organization, Sangpuy comes from Katatipul Village, “an ancient Pinuyumayan tribe” in Taiwan’s Taitung County — all I know is that when he started filling up the room with his music, I couldn’t help but let him take me on a spiritual journey to his origins back home.
Mandarin hip-hop artist PoeTek, on the other hand, went about it in a completely different way. The rising star threw just about everything at us, from sick beats to a full-on squad with whom he so kindly shared his slot in the Taiwan Beats lineup. Rappers Professor H and RPG rolled in with a ton of energy and the crowd loved it. The love for Taiwan was at an all-time high by this point, but if I had to pinpoint when their set truly took off, it had to be during Julia Wu‘s turn at the mic.
While Wu seemed like a bit of a rookie at this whole r&b singing gig, she oozed charisma the whole time she was on stage. “買榜,” her collab with PoeTek and producer RGRY, charmed the hell out of everyone in the room. Yet it was crystal clear why PoeTek’s name was at the top of the roster: his skills at spitting bars felt leaps and bounds ahead of his counterparts. I mean, the dude has won several hip-hop awards back home for a reason. The way he went in on his closing numbers elevated the heat in Elysium, and I was absolutely wishing he hadn’t shared so much of his 40 minutes by the end of it. Could I get a re-do?
Last to perform was the always polished and mighty fine Vanness Wu. When I tell you the girls in front of me were rowdy, I mean they were rowwwdy. As soon as Wu took to the mic to perform 2016’s “Boogie,” it was fangirl chaos. The groovy vibes were a welcomed change of pace, and as you might have guessed Vanness Wu was smooth in his interactions with the crowd. Even a noisy fan who kept calling him “daddy”, and who was very obviously intoxicated, didn’t phase him. “Could somebody get this girl some water,” he said about three times in the span of three songs.
The only thing I would have changed about his set is maybe less covers? Justin Bieber‘s “Love Yourself” is great and everything, but I think Vanness Wu could have ended the night on a much stronger note than that.
Whatever you were looking for walking into Elysium on Monday night, Taiwan Beats had something for everyone. One minute you’re vibing to slick electronic jams with DJ Sonia Calico, and the next in a full-body trance listening to the skin-tingling vocals of traditional performer Sangpuy.
Vanness Wu might have been the headlining act, but I felt like everyone I spoke to took with them a little more than just pop from this diverse lineup of some of Taiwan’s up-and-coming artists.