Tainan has seen its fair share of invading forces, from the buccaneer Dutch through to the expansionist Japanese. But few of the visitors to this southern city are as eccentric as 41-year-old Oklahoma native Darin Starkey.
The wild-eyed proprietor of Tin Pan Alley, a bar-cum-diner-cum-nightclub, who set out for Taiwan in August 1997 after reading in a guidebook that the country loved loud sounds.
“I didn’t realize they meant firecrackers rather than music,” said Starkey, a self-professed graduate of the “University of Psychedelicatessen.”
“But within six months of arriving [in Taiwan], I fell in love with the place and I knew that I was probably going to be here for the rest of my life.”
DRIFTIN AND DRIFTIN
After drifting from enterprise to enterprise during the tail end of Taiwan’s economic boom, Starkey eventually realized his childhood dream of opening a western-themed restaurant in Taichung. He called it Papa’s and imagined it as something out of a movie.
However, the magic of the silver screen failed to project itself into the real world and the eatery closed a year later.
Starkey and his Taiwanese wife Terra, then based in Taipei, hit the road once more and took the food with them to Tainan.
A disused lot on the city’s Beimen Road, a stone’s throw from Tainan’s historic art deco-inspired railway station, provided the unlikely base for Starkey’s next — and current — venture, Tin Pan Alley.
Starkey and his father, who traveled from the US to help out, built the venue — named in honor of the fabled New York music scene — from scratch.
Since then, Tin Pan Alley has become the venue of choice for many leading expat DJs operating out of Taiwan, including UK break-beat expert DJ Two Hands and the eclectic Russian re-mixer DJ Lyova Lyubov.
Increasingly Taiwanese bands and DJs are performing at the venue and proprietor Darin Starkey has his eyes on change.
While heavy industry may have helped Tainan motor through several decades of development, the city is increasingly turning its attention to tourism and its wealth of ancient temples and colonial-era ruins are helping draw the crowds.
A Tainan City Government report into the city’s finances stated that “in 2010 there were 3.5 million tourist visitors to the city.” Part of a nationwide trend, the city is continuing to see increasing visitor numbers and many regard it the nation’s key cultural hub.
“The international community is increasingly happening here and we are hoping that Taiwan can represent itself more in that mix,” Starkey said.
DJ Chambers, originally from Somerset, England, headlines tonight and Friday where he will be spinning a fusion of drum and bass, hip-hop, nu-funk, reggae and house.
The DJ and producer, who also moonlights as a host at International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT), is squeezing in a last show at Tin Pan Alley before he jets off for a series of gigs in Europe, including a slot at the hugely popular Leftfield Glastonbury festival in the UK.
“Tin Pan Alley … allows total freedom and flexibility in terms of which styles of music to play … With my DJ sets, I try to play as broad a range as I feel I can get away with,” says Chambers.
The 24-year-old Chambers, who professes to have fallen in love with Taiwan after moving to fill a residency slot at the Brickyard in Kaohsiung in 2010, says the country’s west coast is now home while he manages to travel to dates within Asia.