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Orbis and The Wall: Agents of Taipei's musical awakening
A look behind the man and the club breaking down Taiwan's musical boundaries
Historically Taiwan’s music landscape has been thick with domestic singer-songwriters, folk singers and pop idols. But thanks in large part to one club, and one man inside that club, Taiwan is becoming a regular stop for touring international bands.
The Wall livehouse is making a name for itself in the local Taipei music scene as the place to see a much wider range of both domestic and global artists, and it is down to the help of a man named Orbis.
The Wall livehouse opened grandly on November 13, 2003 with the Scottish group Mogwai.
The club's strategy was to serve what was seen as a gap in venue sizes, with nothing at the time in between major 3,000-seat halls and 200 standing capacity livehouses. With a capacity of 600 The Wall seemed like just the thing.
But despite the grand intentions, it was soon clear that the property was too big to be filled regularly by local indie bands.
Part of the space was sub-let to related businesses such as the record shop White Rabbit, the Free Hugs Bar, and J’s tattoo parlor, and The Wall became something of a music-oriented mini-mall.
Coming of the Orbis era
Enter Orbis, in 2005, when he became the club’s director.
Orbis became interested in music and film at high school. After graduating, a stint in the army, and working in IT, he decided to follow his passions and got involved with music professionally.
Orbis took a good look The Wall and searched for ways to improve what they were doing, technically and strategically.
Orbis remembers that era as “a really bad time. Ticket sales, sound system, bar, financial system were all terrible.”
He took note of how successful Japanese livehouses operated, and made improvements to the sound system, started having shows earlier in the evening so that they would be easier to attend, began promoting and offering tickets on-line and installed an air cleaning system.
Most importantly he made changes to the music booking policy. He brought in bands from across Taiwan, but also invited more touring artists from North America, Europe and Japan.
Booking foreign artists involved a higher degree of risk, but it has paid off for The Wall.
Each year the number of foreign artists booked has grown, and this year already 45 foreign artists, from a total of 12 different countries, have played at The Wall.
Those that have played The Wall in 2010 include These New Puritans (United Kingdom), Album Leaf (United States), Peaches (Canada), Atari Teenage Riot (Germany), Kings of Convenience (Norway), Stratovarius (Finland), and Olafur Arnalds (Iceland).
Domestic music scene improving
Booking foreign artists has also helped to stimulate the domestic music scene.
“Taiwanese artists learn a lot from foreign bands, performing skills, songwriting, and marketing, amongst other things," Orbis says. "Some have discovered that to be unique is most important.”
The Wall has helped create this international interaction and realm for artistic growth, and has played a role in establishing local artists such as Sodagreen, Deserts Chang and Tizzy Bac.
They have also booked a wide variety of Japanese bands including the club music sounds of Mademoiselle Yulia, the pop-punk of Shonen Knife, the post-rock sounds of Toe, the anime voice actress/singer Megumi Nakajima and the visual-kei stylings of SuG.
Artists from other Asian countries have not drawn as well, but South Korean pop has increasingly been a good draw.
The growing success of the Wall in Taipei has not gone unnoticed. After The Wall group put on a number of shows in Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s number two city and Orbis’s hometown, the government partnered with them and helped to secure a permanent venue, the 800-capacity location known as Pier 2.
They have even begun booking some bigger artists into Taipei’s 1,400 capacity Legacy.
On an international level Orbis and his team are also gaining attention.
Historically many foreign bands have only stopped in Japan when visiting Asia, since other countries in the region lack Japan’s history of having dependable promoters and venues.
Many music fans in Taiwan, and music industry professionals around the world, are happy to see Taiwan developing into a solid, internationally noted music market.
For more information on live shows, The Wall's social media pages, and news check The Wall livehouse website.