Live Wire: Is this the end of Roxy 99?

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - Page 11

In the gossipy small town of Taipei’s live house scene, there are two big headlines this week. First, the Wall’s (這牆) three founders — Chthonic lead singer Freddy Lim (林昶佐), Spring Scream founder Jimi Moe and Chairmen guitarist A-chi (阿吉) — have quit the club. They have divested their holdings and handed over control to the person who has already been driving the bus for most of the last eight years anyway, Orbis Fu (傅鉛文), The Wall’s CEO. Yeah, he seriously calls himself a CEO. Of a live house. Back to that in a minute.

The second headline in this week’s Taipei Underground Sentinel, a.k.a. Live Wire, is that The Wall has a new potential competitor, at least if you look at things in terms of expanses of soundproofed floor space. The Roxy chain has opened a new live house called The Park (公園展演空間), which is just as big as The Wall but without the multimillion-NT-dollar sound and lights setup. It kicked off with a free band lineup last Saturday, and there is another free show tonight.

Roxy is also moving its flagship, the late-night disco Roxy 99, to the sub-basement directly underneath the new live house, making for a new multi-basement super-flagship located near the breakfast shops on Fuxing South Road. The grand opening of “the new 99” is next weekend.

Now the end of “the old 99” gives cause for reminiscence, as the club has in its own twisted way been such a pillar of Taipei’s late night club scene, that once it leaves its basement hole on Jinshan South Road, one half expects the building upstairs to collapse on top of it. The venue has been open for the last 15 years, famed and frequented mainly because it is the only nightclub in town open till 7am on weekends. One can only ponder the innumerable bad decisions that have been made in this seedy cavern, especially in the wee hours between 4am and 7am, after all the other clubs have rightfully ejected their slurring, bleary-eyed patrons.

It is an impossibly high standard. Will the new 99 measure up? In 2009, when Roxy’s owner Ling Wei (凌威) tried to move his late-night haunt, Roxy Vibe, from its Shida area digs to the upmarket Xinyi District, it did not work out so well. He ended up closing the new place after a few months and refocusing the late-night business at Roxy 99. Last weekend, Ling took me on a tour of the new 99. It will be spacious and fancy, a passable replacement. But what it will really need is the patina of cigarette smoke, spilled beer and embarrassing stories about “that night at 99.”

As for the new live house, The Park (named for Shida Park, from which the Roxy’s were chased out by witch-hunting neighbors last year), it can hold at least 400 and has potential as a live music venue. But to compete against The Wall or any of the DJ clubs will be a challenge. What it lacks is a die-hard scenester, either in rock or dance music, with an imagination for good events and the ability to bring a crowd. Ling has run clubs for 30 years in Taipei, but his regulars are aging and the kids prefer the bling-bling Xinyi dance clubs or, if they are rockers, The Wall or Legacy. The Park will work as a venue for indie parties — promoters take note! But the opening last weekend felt a bit generic. The new Roxy 99 will hold onto its spot as the only bar/dance club open till 7am, and that seems a surer market.

Back to The Wall, briefly. Orbis Fu became manager of The Wall live house eight years ago, before rising to become CEO of The Wall Music. Under his tenure, business has expanded to include two of Taiwan’s largest music festivals (Formoz and Megaport), branch venues in Greater Kaohsiung and Yilan, an arm for artist management, a promotional division that brings a steady lineup of major international acts, and government contracts for the Taiwan showcase at SXSW and other events. He also instituted a Japanese-style pay-to-play system, which some local bands resent, viewing The Wall as a sort of landlord over Taipei’s indie scene to which they have to pay unjustifiably high rent.

Two weeks ago, Fu, who is also a shareholder in The Wall, announced on Facebook that he had been “fired” and would be leaving. The problem, said several sources at The Wall, resulted from major differences over financial management. Negotiations with other shareholders followed, and in the end, Fu stays while the three original founders take an exit.

A popular rumor among the band scene is that the internal disagreement came to a head on account of financial losses incurred by the Formoz Festival, but investors, both remaining and departing, say this is incorrect.

“It was not because Formoz lost money. Formoz did lose money, but not a lot. The difference of opinion was more about the long-term view of where The Wall is heading,” said Gary Chiang (江季剛), one of the remaining shareholders. (Note: This new information contradicts an earlier statement by Fu, who told the Taipei Times he expected the Formoz Festival to break even.)

“All the shareholders were very happy with Formoz. We were just too busy with the festival to have the shareholders’ meeting until it was over,” said Chiang.

As for the differing visions, Fu is looking to grow the business aggressively, possibly more than some felt prudent. That has already been the case for some time now and, though the recent changes could be considered a shakeup, the real result is that business at The Wall will hardly change.

The Park grand opening with guests 88 Balaz (八十八顆芭樂籽), Skaraoke, Destroyers (擊沈女孩), P!SCO and IGU Band (那我懂你意思了); tonight from 7:30pm to 11pm at B1, 27, Fuxing S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市復興南路二段27號B1). Free entry.

Roxy 99 new location grand opening, Sept. 27 and Sept. 28, B2, 27, Fuxing S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市復興南路二段27號B2). NT$400 includes one drink, or free with invitation.