Friday, October 09, 2009

Austin City Limits


Finally, after 18 months of pestering, I got the tickets booked to Austin, Texas; and a visit to our mother ship. Ostensibly to indoctrinate myself with some 'new hire training', and learning techniques and approaches of the chaps in ADC, I was also more than happy to piggy back the trip with calling in at the IDSA conference in Miami, and spending some serious time in and around Austin ... timed perfectly for the Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival; one of the largest musical gatherings in the USA (it's almost like I planned this trip...!).

At the classic Continental club, with local Country fixture, Dale Watson.

Gorgeous skies at ACL - at least on the first night. Highlights were the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, though I also caught Thievery Corporation and Kings of Leon.

There can only be so many sunset photos. Or so I thought.

Dedicated fans.

ACL bracelet, plus the ticket to the fantastic secret Broken Social Scene after-show party.

Paul B rockin' the 'Bans.

See of digitalia.

Renovated power station was a fan-tas-tic venue for an after-show.

Broken Social Scene in Austin.

Team Dell.

Wall of staples are a testament to the amazing amount of live music on offer here.

Now, before I joined Dell, I had barely spent 24 hours in Texas, crossing through from Louisiana, en-route to El Paso and Meso-America. On that occasion, I had woken up on my Grayhound ordeal merely to see tumble weeds floating through a very one-and-a-half-horse-town, and again at the charming border crossing. I therefore had very few positive preconceptions, building my mental image from a bevy of cowboy films, maps of voting behaviour, and the ultimate social barometer; Homer Simpson.

It has been somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear positive story after positive story about the place, both from people that grew up there, and from people moving in, or merely visiting. Much like my university town of Glasgow, or indeed Taiwan, this was a well-kept secret that I was more than happy to hear about.

Austin is a strange town. Somehow reconciling the diametrically (trimetrically?) opposed facets of A. Triathletes B. Hippies and C. Partying, often in the same person, it offered a plethora of activities that I was delighted to partake in. And partake I did, squeezing it between bouts in the office, and spending time with colleagues that I have got to know pretty well while they have visited Taiwan.

The view from near my hotel, up to the State Capitol.

And yet, at the same time there is a large 'alternative' vibe, manifesting itself with these FABULOUS Airstream caravans, dishing out cup cakes, burritos and coffee. Adorable.

The first activity, mountain biking, I have already eulogised about in my post here. To counterbalance the first, the second activity must be the food. And eat I did. Texmex is a food that I have eaten plenty before - or so I thought. The care taken in preparing the dishes, and the obvious affection that people displayed was infectious. The food was a delight, tingling the taste buds and delighting with a subtle balance of fresh ingredients, spices and contrasting textures. I had several memorable meals, and was so enthusiastic that during my time there I kept a record of where I was visiting on a map, that I must present below. Highlights for me: the 'charcoal' salsa at the Iguana Grill, Mole at Manuel's, and something that sounds like Rilletos at Chuy's. Foolishly, I did miss out on the breakfast tacos. Next time.

View Austin in a larger map

The other staple of the Texan weekend diet is the barbecue. A delicious, cholesterol-packed bolus dose of meat and potato salad is great the first few times, but I have to say I was turning my nose up at it by the end. In fact, for the first week after I got back, I could hardly look at a chunk of meat in the same way. The sheer amount of flesh that is consumed in this country is absurd, and it really is part of the psyche. Or a major cause of - I am not sure. Delicious and crazy - but in short-lived doses please.

Pioneer Spirit!

End-of-term assessment; a resounding positive. It was an unmissable two weeks of professional development, mixed in with a much deeper understanding of the ingredients that came to make up Dell. Texas is undoubtedly a very different culture from that of the coasts, and I would hazard a guess that Austin is different once again from the surrounding state. Certainly, it is a place I would like to return to and learn a little more about - but next time starting the day with a proper Breakfast Burrito!

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Music & Aesthetics

Steve blagged some journo tickets to see the National China Beijing Opera as they visited town for their one-off Sunday night review, and it gave me the chance to have my first ever taste of this form of theatre that one might assume everyone sees on a regular basis when living in Taiwan or China. It wasn't quite the Full Monty - instead the performers wore suits and refrained from the make-up - but a line-up of virtuosos from China and Taiwan had been (re)assembled, and clearly peoples' emotions were piqued.

Photo from

First impressions were, at best mixed. Cacophonous musical barrage ballons that mark the style of music butted up against the entirely-too-harmonios stage design and pastel presentation.

Set in an environment where we were the only foreign / under 50 people in the house, it all made for a rather strange experience. The crowd heckled and clapped at seemingly entirely random points during each set, screaming out in appreciation as might a crowd of Rolling Stones fans. And yet, when I felt moved, the crowd remained silent.

This continued throughout the performance, and I have been thinking about it a great deal over the past few days. Essentially, in the same way as the music that I constantantly critisise in Taiwanese for being bland and monotonous, this music seemed to be rewarded by this crowd of octogenerians not for being expressive, but for restraint. Not for the performer letting go, but for surfing the boundary within a tightly defined set of constraints. As Steve put it so perfectly, the entire 'Aesthetic' of the music was completely different - harmony and riot, restraint and revolt are flipped on its head.

So, after almost five years in Taiwan, perhaps I understand something a little bit more, and maybe this window into music also allows me to see how the design scene here rewards restraint and operating between the boundaries. Need to think about that some more.

Finally, while leaving, I realised just how many of the crowd spoke not in a Taiwanese accent, but in thicker tones of Northern China. It's doubtful that they were tourists, or that they travelled to Taiwan especially for the concert, so it only means that this 'scene' of elderly Opera lovers were left stranded here to appreciate the artform. And on this day, the best performers from Taiwan and China came together, spanning old maestros and the considerable battalion of young artists that have chosen to fly the flag once again. It might not quite be to my taste, but it felt pretty special to see the tendrils of tradition reaching out across the waters to bang the drum.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Formoz Festival 2008

Markus, clearly pulling the wool over the eyes of his client in Seattle, chose the best weekend of live music on the island to return for a few days of business. It kicked off in fine style with an impromptu photo session with insane just-graduated Masters students in one of the local "Re Chao" restaurants, and ended with a ballistic scooter ride through Typhoon rain to return Markus back to his hotel.

In between? Another great Formoz Festival, underlined by 1976 in the final, main stage headliner slot - totally wonderful, since they were the first band I got into when I first landed here those four years ago. Is it really four years?

They, or rather the weather, got their timing perfect, with showers arriving on queue to launch the crowd into raucous displays of solidarity, under umbrellas and spot lights. My phone has only just recently switched back on, in fact, after it drank too much. Much like me, in fact. A super night - come back more often, Markus, and bring Michwel next time!

Not very impressed by local microbrewery slops

I managed to flex some contacts and blagged my way into the event for free, claiming I was a journalist for Taipei Times (it's true!), which I feel bad about and all - well, a bit. I did manage to get chucked off stage by security, though, which makes me feel cool and smooth.

Blurry night

1976 rule the roost

Clearly abusing my photography pass, I capture Markus back in his natural environment.

Antagonising the security staff, who were clearly not as enthused by the music as the crowd.

And the afterparty - held at one of the old cabaret clubs in Ximending, and just the coolest, coolest venue in Taipei. The crowd boogied their butts off to the grooves of Public Radio and the best dub band I have heard in years.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Coldcut in Taipei

Coldcut came to Taiwan as part of HP's 'Art in Motion' tour, and totally blew me away. I was asked to provide the write-up for the Taipei Times, so rather than say the same thing again, here are my words from the newspaper:

Taipei Times 'Weekender'

Last night saw the Taipei instalment of the HP-sponsored ‘Art in Motion’ tour at Luxy, featuring British legends Coldcut, Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark and VJ support from Berlin crew Pfadfinderei. Ostensibly a fusion of music and live visuals, early on the show seemed like an extended advert for HP’s personal computers, and with guidance from the most irritating emcee in Asia was beginning to unfold into some kind of hip-hop-themed ‘wei-ya’ end of year party.

However, things began to improve quickly when Nu-Mark took to the decks and wowed the crowds by mixing sampled beats with a selection of increasingly unlikely musical children's’ toys. Innovative, and unlike the local beat-boxing warm up act, not a bit self-indulgent, the crowd responded with a mixture of laughter and butt-on-the-floor boogying.

With the audience now suitably warmed up, Coldcut entered stage right and took no prisoners with a ballistic delivery of hip-hop, dub and electronic beats, all synchronised with nine projectors beaming video and images around the room in an awesome display of digital showmanship. Jumping from the more obscure references of their own back-catalogue, they never allowed themselves to alienate the newcomers and regularly dropped in samples from sources as diverse as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”, Run DMC and AC/DC. Taipei barely knew what hit them.

With Nu-Mark resuming control, the entire room bounced the rest of the night away to the sounds of a thousand house parties, and the best music Taipei has heard in several years.

Colcut - to the limit

Nick keeps it nice and sleazy

And some other words from Tom, as featured in 'The Vinyl Word' last week:

Taipei Times - 'The Vinyl Word'

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Rooftop Live

With Markus leaving Taiwan there are a few activities that we need to clear out of the way before he is granted access to the United States, we have not been the bessst at meeting up, but in the last few days we have made some pretty serious effort to meet up and redress the balance.

I am still a bit groggy from the weekend and lack of sleep, but we had an absolute stormer of a night watching 1976 on the roof of Eslite bookstore. Fighting the elements, we enjoyed a good show, and capped it with one of the funniest moments of Taiwan in months. More to tell later on that one, in case it ruins any surprises in the near future.

Markus and I, with about 250 people behind us not able to see past us

Taiwan does pull of some good locations when it wants to!

Peeking through

My baby's on fire

1976 in the house

More pics on my web gallery here:

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Thursday, September 13, 2007


Seeing Prince live has sat around in my Things To Do In Life list for years and years, and I finally caught up with the wee scoundrel at the Millenium Dome in London last Thursday with Phil. That boy knows how to entertain, I can tell you, and played a frenetic 36-song set that included many of the classics... and one song with Elton!

It was quite funny sitting in the new arena looking at the aged rocker belt out the song, and look back at the slightly tragic celebrities in Taiwan that I occasionally encounter and think ... 'what's so different?'

BBC: Sir Elton John Joins Prince in London

Purple Rain, in a shot stolen on my camphone (people were being chucked out for taking photos!) ... to be fair though, the guy is giving away the album for free, so it is hardly surprising that he is being paranoid about the in-show copyright.

The encore after the encore, after the lights came up... quite a treat, but we did miss out on the aftershow, where he played some vintage Led-Zep... denied!

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Simple Life

This weekend I went to 'Simple Life' - an urban music festival at my new top location, The HuaShan Arts District. Somebody is clearly doing their job exceedingly well, as I have written about that place several times of late.

The term 'Simple Life' applied to this festival is perhaps pushing it a bit. Sponsored jointly by Muji and 7-11, well over half of the site was filled with a craft market, a Muji museum, food stalls, mini 7-11s and clothes shops. It really hit the sweet spot in that Birkenstock-clad, excessively worthy yet cute style that is such the rage here. Why brave the elements when you can do what you love best - buying cute crap.

Cute crap mart at the Muji stand

Strangely, there was also a reading room. An entire hall of the exhibition was taken up with the real Camper warriors all nodding in agreement at the speakers extolling the virtues of 'sustainable' lifestyles, all while munching on their 7-11 boiled snacks.

But I did get to see my favourite Taiwan rockers, 1976, bring the house down, even though everyone behind me (several hundred people) could not see over my shoulders. They'll learn.

1976 - notice all the blinky camera and phone screens as people record the concert ... when do they expect to watch this again?

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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Yuanshan Festival of Rock

Posted rather late - so some photos of an awesome weekend of music, in one of the finest gig locations I have ever seen - at the old Taipei zoo location near the Grand Hotel.

Very special - doubly so since Andres, Nelson, Marta, Dean, Christina and others joined us. It was the second time I saw The Super Furry Animals live, and was blown away by the sure footed swagger of Dirty Pretty Things - half of the Libertines.

So, finally, some music!

Magical mystery cones - Peter rugby tackled one later on, much to the ire of the management. A case of not quite knowing how to handle foreigners in a rock festival mood.


The star of the show


Beer from a tea pot. No, it made sense. Apparently.

Quite the most fantastic location for a concert. The best location since seeing Mogwai in Wulai

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

Mogwai in Wulai

Mogwai, Scottish rock gods, blessed the island of Taiwan with their unique blend of intense riffs and ballistic delivery. I don't really think the island knew what to expect - we certainly didn't.

This was no ordinary location -Wulai. Admitedly, I have now been here a rather large number of times recently, but this is because it is cool and because I like it. When Mogwai came last year they clearly though the same thing and departed a high profile Japanese tour for a low-profile Taiwanese festival in the middle of nowhere.

The only flat piece of ground in Wulai - between the mountains and the volcanic hot springs - is the local school perched on the edge of the ravine. Mogwai played the local elementary school yard, complete with running track, kids' toilets and artwork on the walls. It was kind of like some severely mutated parent's evening. But with rock music.

Mogwai - Scottish Rockers (they ain't the bay city rollers)

First of the inevitible drunk self portraits (beer was a frankly ridiculous 30p a time - cue epic hangover)

The laser sword is the ultimate symbol of authority in Taiwan - with it you can get anyone to do anything. I had quite some fun bossing people around with my one.

Myself, Tanja and Michael (at the hip hop gig in the school gym...)

A well-chosen location, near the hot springs. We have no idea why they like building concrete everywhere. But still they continue, no doubt inspired by China's 3 Gorges damn.

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