A song about breaking up with a girlfriend is not something one would expect from a classically trained musician who studied avant-garde music.
Pierre Hujoel, a Belgian expat living in Taipei who holds multiple degrees in classical and contemporary music, wouldn’t have expected it either. That is, until several years ago, when he wrote his first song about life without a lover.
Today he couldn’t be happier about his dive into pop — albeit an experimental sounding pop. The 32-year-old, who also goes by the Chinese name Hu Yue (胡月), performs on Thursday at Riverside Cafe (河岸留言).
Hujoel’s music, which can be heard on his Web site and on YouTube (www.youtube.com/user/pierrehuyue), is dark and brooding, playful and dramatic. His piano-driven songs are adorned with accompaniment from cellos and violins and often peppered with idiosyncratic electronic drumbeats. And Hujoel, whose native language is French, sings mostly in Mandarin.
It was indeed his own breakup with a girlfriend that inspired Hujoel to write Afterwards (之後), one of his first songs that wasn’t a classical or avant-garde piece.
But it took a former client to get him to do it. Hujoel used to work in the advertising business, writing music for commercials for companies such as Samsung and Mitsubishi.
Three years ago, says Hujoel, a client rejected one of his projects, telling him, “You must be bored in the advertisement field. Why don’t you write an album of your own?”
“So I wrote the first song, and I thought, all right, this is fun. And then I wrote the second one and so on. A year later, I brought it to the stage in Belgium,” he said in an interview earlier this week with the Taipei Times.
WHAT: Pierre Hujoel (胡月)
WHEN: Thursday at 8:30pm
WHERE: Riverside Cafe (河岸留言), B1, 2, Ln 244, Roosevelt Rd Sec 3, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路三段244巷2號B1), next to Taipower Building (台電大樓), tel: (02) 2368-7310
ON THE NET: www.youtube.com/pierrehuyue, pierrehujoel.com
Since then, he has quit his day jobs as a piano teacher and composer-for-hire and now devotes all of his time to his own music.
Hujoel has lived in Taiwan on and off since 2001, and spent several years studying Chinese at National Taiwan Normal University.
He co-writes many of his lyrics with the help of a collaborator, Liao You-ching (廖于靚), who has also created illustrations for Hujoel’s music and encouraged him to post his self-produced videos on YouTube.
Writing and singing in Mandarin, says Hujoel, has been liberating. “I know it, but it’s not my mother tongue. And so I have a distance that allows me to write what I have in mind.”
Silence (沉默), which is also about a faltering relationship, “yells at people, who, when facing conflict, choose to be silent,” he said. The song has a brisk rhythm that matches the crisp, single-syllable cadence of Chinese so well, in fact, that it obscures the English lyrics sung later in a brief interlude.
In addition to his training at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, Hujoel cites a range of influences, from video games (he says he played them because he liked the music so much) to rock. He grew up listening to Pink Floyd and is a big fan of Faye Wong (王菲).
He also says Bjork was an inspiration, as can be heard clearly on songs like Hujoel’s Mist of the Heart (心之嵐), which is full of distorted MIDI riffs and fizzing electro beats, because she combined elements of classical music with electronica.
Hujoel says it felt “weird” when he first made the shift to writing very personal and pop-oriented songs, especially in light of his musical training.
He says his conservatory experience has proven valuable to his new music, but he holds mixed feelings about his schooling. Hujoel says he encountered rigid and stubborn ideas about what constituted avant-garde and contemporary music.