Tucked into a bedroom-sized space in the basement that houses music venue and youth culture emporium The Wall, Metal Gate exists to part wearers of black leather jackets from their money.
The record store is crammed with replica medieval daggers, gothic-lettered concert posters, a listening station and around 30,000 imported and locally produced compact discs by fringe to downright obscure European, Japanese and US hard rock bands.
"We release the CDs, we promote the local artists and we organize the concerts," said owner Space Chen (陳征), president of Metal Gate, Rock Empire promotions and Screaming Shout Records. "We're the most professional metal store in Taiwan."
Occupying the slightly larger space next door, not to mention the opposite end of the rock 'n' roll spectrum, White Wabbit Orange (小白兔橘子) carries an equally comprehensive collection of post rock, post punk, new folk and indie pop.
If Metal Gate is ground zero for guitar fiends who hammer note-perfect chord progressions on their Fender Stratocasters, White Wabbit is the place where, if customers hang around long enough, they are likely to meet all of the disaffected synth-players in Taipei who remember what they were doing when Kurt Cobain died and view the term "shoe-gazer" as a compliment.
But White Wabbit (www.wwr.com.tw) and Metal Gate (www.rockempire.com.tw) share much in common, even if some of their customers wouldn't be caught dead in the rival store. Both opened five years ago, around the time when the Internet and mega chains were driving independent music stores in other parts of the world out of business. And both have thrived on foot traffic generated by concerts at The Wall and by pairing their retail operations with music labels that release CDs by Taiwanese and foreign bands.
"People who listen to this kind of music buy CDs," said White Wabbit head Yeh Wan-ching (葉宛青), better known as KK, a comment that was echoed by staff at other music stores in Taipei. "They might download a song or listen to a sample on the Internet, but then they'll come to our store and buy the CD." (Samples are available on White Wabbit's Web site.)
Her store carries imports, which sell for NT$400 or more, and licensed albums which it sells under its White Wabbit label for NT$360. It also produces albums by local artists like Bad Daughter (壞女兒) and Peppermint (薄荷葉), and KK's band Nipples. KK estimates the store sold around 200 CDs a month when it opened. Last year she sold around 1,000. Not bad for a business that started life as a side project to her band, inside a converted men's restroom in the now-defunct music venue Zeitgeist.
Chen said sales at Metal Gate have grown by a similar rate, from 100 to 500 a month, though he believes the figure would be higher if people weren't downloading music from the Internet. "We're small potatoes compared with stores in Europe and Japan," he emphasized several times, with no hint of false modesty. Still, his Taipei location generates more sales than his stores in Hong Kong, Singapore or Beijing.
It's been a different story for larger stores that sell non-mainstream music. A decade ago, the old Tower Records on Zhongxiao East Road was the place to go for young music buyers who suspected that Faye Wang (王菲) and Phil Collins were not the last word when it came to rock music. Tower carried such artists, but mixed with those titles was a decent selection of indie, techno and hip-hop albums by lesser-known international artists. Staff knew what they were talking about, and customers bought what they recommended.