One of the biggest struggles for clubs in Taiwan is getting fresh and affordable talent on to the stage. But exorbitant DJ fees make it hard to bring in big names because Taipei’s small venues, small budgets and small crowds just don’t compare to clubs in rip-roaring cities like LA and Las Vegas. With the amount of cash they rake in, it’s no wonder everyone wants to be a DJ these days.
There was a time when artists flew right over Taiwan as they headed out to play in Japan and China, but things have changed. Or at least no one complains about how boring Taiwan’s DJ scene is anymore. Sometimes this means we see the same DJs roll through our clubs twice, thrice or more. Some people enjoy whining (or bragging) publicly about how bored they are of seeing the same shows, so they stay home, bored. But I think that what keeps these artists coming back is the love.
Besides, the most brilliant DJs aren’t those you should be satisfied with seeing just once; it should instead be those you can’t wait to see again and again, and that seems to be how crowds respond each time artists from UK-based label Hed Kandi return to Taiwan. In light of her show at Opium Den tomorrow night with DJ Dan Van, Hed Kandi saxophonist Aimee Jay took some time to talk to the Taipei Times about why she thinks her band has not only survived, but thrived, in an over-saturated scene where trends change as fast as the weather in Taiwan.
For one, she said, flavoring house music with a saxophone is that special something that Jay does to ensure that no two Hed Kandi parties ever sound alike. She says that they never rehearse shows and that she never has any idea what the DJ might play. They feed off of each other and the audience, and that’s what shapes their selection of music.
“There is always a sense of spontaneity and I get so excited about playing every gig because it is always such a musical journey,” said Jay in an e-mail interview.
Jay began her career at nine and played classical music before discovering house music. To the disapproval of many, she never looked back, saying the saxophone symbolizes freedom and power. “There are so many influences within house music of funk and soul, yet it is current and fresh too, I love it and feel like I have finally found my place.”
There are so many DJs that have garnered bad reputations for being boring just because they never look up at the audience. But with the evolution of the automated beat matching (there is a synch button on DJ programs like Traktor), DJs can’t rely so much on skill anymore (which is a sad evolution, by the way) and are focusing more on the show. For some, spending a wad of money on extravagant light shows seems to be working, but Hed Kandi prefers to win over their crowds with live elements. For Jay, this is the wow factor that gets hands in the air.
“I can walk out and play with the crowd, interact with them and break that boundary between the listener and the music. We play with the aim to enhance the breakdowns and emphasize the drops, add powerful melodies and solos but always remaining a part of the music. This adds that extra dimension and enhances the Hed Kandi experience.”
This unique formula is working for Hed Kandi because the brand is just as strong now as it was when it launched in the UK in 1999. The Hed Kandi experience is intimate and interactive, and this what is keeps them top billed in places like Ibiza in a world full of Swedish House Mafias. So while the iconic Justice might never illuminate a dance floor in Taiwan, Aimee Jay and her saxophone will certainly ignite one. It’s not always about a name; it’s more about the music.
■ Aimee Jay performs with DJ Dan Van Saturday night at 10pm at Opium Den, 2F, 297, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 5, Taipei City (台北市忠孝東路五段297號2樓). Admission is NT$800. Tickets available at the door.