Interview by Hajime Oishi
(This interview was conducted in Japanese, English and Mandarin Chinese all mixed together)
I love Silver Apples
--Hello, nice to meet you.
(In perfect Japanese) Hello, my name is Ban Ban. Very nice to meet you.
--Why do you speak Japanese so well?
Eight years ago, I lived in Morioka City in Iwate for about three months working part-time. I grew up with Japanese music and animations, and I love Japanese films. Also my grandparents speak Japanese because they lived through the colonial era.
--How was it for you to participate in Asian Meeting Festival?
I incorporate elements of improvisation in my own live performances, but this was my first time to improvise with other musicians on stage. We all came from different countries and spoke different languages, but I felt we could play freely because we had a common sensibility.
--What kind of music did grow up on?
My father was part of a choir when he was young so he traveled often to perform, but he also listened to a lot of jazz. So I listened to jazz, too. Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, Miles Davis, and Joao Gilberto and other bossa nova.
--When did you start to play music?
I started taking private lessons in jazz piano at 13, and at 15, I started to write my own songs. My first band was when I was 17. That band is called Freckles and we still play together. In 2003 and 2007, we joined a competition at the Gongliao Hohaiyan Rock Festival, and won in 2007. Gongliao Hohaiyan Rock Festival is one of the few music contests and it has become a gateway to success for many young bands.
--By the way, I noticed that you were listening to Silver Apples (the experimental electronic pop group from New York that recorded two seminal records in the late 60's) on your phone.
Yes I was. I really love Silver Apples. Freckles stopped once in 2008, and I started a band called Boys & Girl, and it's around that time that I started to listen to more experimental bands - Velvet Underground, Silver Apples, Can, My Bloody Valentine, etc. Members of Boys & Girl without me are in a band called Forests now.
The music scene in Beijing and Taipei
--You moved to Beijing in 2010. Why did you move?
I have always wanted to experience new things. Since I was a child, I was interested in culture from the Mainland, but there isn't much communication between Taiwan and China, and it felt like there was a wall in between. So I moved there out of curiosity.
--How was it for you?
The indie scene in Beijing is very big. There is a label called Maybe Mars and the run a venue called D22, which is like CBGB in New York. Many Chinese bands play here and on Wednesdays they have an improv night. I met many friends who are into experimental music there. After that, I joined a local indie band called Car Sick Cars as their drummer for six months.
--What is the difference between the scene in Taipei and Beijing?
The environment is completely different. Taipei is much smaller and there are limited places to play. Beijing has many venues and there are larger audiences - there are just more people there. What is in common between the two is that both cities are still developing and they are cut off from the West. I spent some time in the States so I particularly feel this. For example, I feel that the final goal to play music shouldn't just be to release an album. Both in Taipei and Bejing, indie musicians are feeling something missing in their surrounding musical environment and they probably feel pressure from society. But in the States, music is blended more into daily life. I hope I can continue my music like that.
--What do you think of the Taipei scene?
Thanks to the Internet there is much more information available and I think the situation is much better than when I was growing up. However, what is holding the scene back is that the audience that come to see shows are shrinking every year. Perhaps because we can see live performances online people don't feel the need to go out. But I am optimistic. In these circumstances creative people will come up with more attractive ways to make music and because it is cheaper to start up one's own studio and musical environment anyone can start DIY style. There is more competition now in Taipei.
--One of Taipei's iconic live houses Underworld shut down in 2013 and it seems like many places are closing down in Taipei.
There are many places that have to close down because they can't afford the high rent, but at the same time many new places are opening too. Of course, it is a challenge to have a venue run for a long time. Perhaps we need more support from the government, but it's not easy for our kind of music to receive such support. Some people say that more formal concert halls will also have to shut down, but I don't think so. There will probably always be places for music that match the surroundings.
--Can you tell me your future plans?
I want to connect with people around the world through music. Asian Meeting Festival was a great opportunity to do this.