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17 Mar 2021

Beyond the Boundaries, Creating a Scene of Your Own: An Interview with Hsu Chieh of Final

by brian.hioe | News, Interview, Nightclub Events, clubbing culture, Feature

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Photo: FINAL


Hsu Chieh was the organizer of the Rebels of the Neon God parties before opening Final, which is holding its two-year anniversary party this weekend. Final stands out for its aesthetic among clubs in Taipei, as a club run and frequented by some of the younger, newer voices and party crews in the underground scene, with a distinctive style all their own. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted by Electric Soul with owners of underground nightclubs in Taipei.

Brian Hioe: Could you first introduce yourself for readers that don’t know you?

Hsu Chieh: I’m Hsu Chieh. I’m responsible for Final. 

BH: How did you start Final?

HC: Before Final I was promoting events here and there, also DJing a bit here and there. I wanted to do a club that was more suitable for my aesthetics, musically and otherwise. I didn’t think there was a club like that in, dedicated to the kind of sound I was looking for--beyond just house and techno. We wanted to do something a bit more focused on new sounds that are more experimental when it comes to club music. 

A lot of people see Final as more focused on deconstructed club. It’s relatively newer and more niche in the underground. Or experimental club, you might put it. 

But even then, we want to do more than just any particular genre. We just wanted DJs to not have boundaries, to play anything, rather than just straight functional club music, such as house and techno. 

Not saying there’s anything wrong with just house and techno, but it gets a bit dull for me, and for certain people. We’re trying to do something that’s outside of that. To be able to play anything--not just club music, but also pop music, and Chinese-language songs. 

Anything goes, so long as it’s good. But we’re still trying to find that balance. 

BH: Why did you want to differentiate yourself from other clubs through this focus on different genres?

HC: Clubs can be boring, it can be repetitive. If you’re there every weekend, we definitely want to do something different. But I guess sometimes it’s a bit confusing for people, because they might come one night, and they come back the next day, and it’s completely different. It's important for us to have different kinds of stuff going on, so it’s not the same thing all the time. 

BH: What do you think the challenges of running a club have been so far?

HC: Number one: What we’re doing is definitely more niche, so you don’t have the crowd. Especially most of the music that we do, we don’t really have that crowd compared to house or techno. Even in Taiwan. It’s been years of that, so people are used to that. 

And now people really look up to Berlin and are really into the techno aesthetic associated with Berlin. There’s definitely a scene for that, but not so much with Final, because we kind of don’t do that. By contrast, we have to build a scene or a crowd from scratch. 

Number two, because we have COVID, we can’t have international guests come in and it’s definitely not as interesting, music-wise. Not to say that we’re stuck with the same local DJs, but you definitely lack that variety of music acts. 

BH: It’s harder to build a crowd when you’re doing something new, but I’m finding you seem to be very successful at it. I see a lot of younger kids as well, I feel like they’re being turned onto this kind of stuff for the first time, which is very cool to see. 

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Photo: @ringringkaidy

HC: Yeah. But I think a lot of people would come for a few times only. A lot of them don't have that habit of kind of finding a club that’s for them. I’m not saying that they should or have to have loyalty to a club, but they don’t have the concept of, “This is where I hang out now on the weekends.” 

They would just come out if a friend’s doing a thing there, or if they want to check out a space, but I’ll just go wherever my friends are going. It’s not really like, “this is where we hang out,” recognizing this aesthetic as for us. 

BH: It’s interesting to me, because historically in Taiwan, it’s always one club. One major club. But it’s changed recently in the past few years. Now there are a few places. The challenge is to distinguish between these places and to develop different places between them. Just it’s limited, because there are only so many people that go to underground events. 

HC: The aesthetic of Final is not something that people are used to. It’s not something that people are familiar with, that they recognize as something that’s tasteful. We play around with that. Some people will think we’re very low culture. The stuff we write in our event promotion, we use a lot of references from pop culture. Things that are exclusive to Taiwanese pop culture. 

The visual aesthetics for us aren’t things that people would think it’s low culture, but it’s not necessarily something they get either. If you look at the typical flyers for underground events, for house and techno, they’re trying to go for that really dark aesthetic. Not to say that our aesthetics aren’t dark either, necessarily, but it’s not in a very traditional and obvious way. The stuff we write about how we promote our events, I personally find to be more down to earth and more fun, but I guess it’s not always appreciated. 

BH: It can be very humorous, I find. You see the performers oftentimes making jokes about themselves in the flyers. Other times, it can be very self-serious. 

HC: I think underground culture is somewhat corny. It’s less corny than the EDM culture but I don’t find it as...progressive...as how people imagine it to be. It can be dull as well. It can be trying too hard to be cool. I definitely think it can be fun and silly, as well. 

BH: What do you think is different between organizing parties and doing a club? Because you were doing the Rebels of the Neon God parties before. 

HC: Throwing events is a lot easier, since you’re not doing it every weekend. You can really put a lot of effort into promotion and everything else. You only do it when you want to do it, when you feel like you have something to say and something to do. But I guess if you’re running a club every weekend, you always have to come up with new things. 

Not necessarily for us, because for me, a good club night would be just to have good DJs. But it doesn’t always bring in a crowd. If you put on events with just music, you always have to come up with something else to draw people in. 

Running a club in Taipei--unless a club it’s Xinyi, in which you have table service and you’re selling tables--it’s hard to make rent. It’s difficult, especially because the kids that are into the scene probably don’t have that much money to spend on drinks. 

BH: And it’s harder without touring artists.

HC: Yeah, I guess now, without international acts, it’s definitely harder to spice things up. So now, we have some live performances, some afterparties for bands, as well. We did a Sex in the City themed party even. 

I personally am not into themed parties, but for the Sex in the City thing, because we had a 1990s, early 2000s house music policy for that event. But that’s actually against what we’re for, since we don’t want to have the same genre, especially for the whole night. It’s a bit contradictory. 

BH: You talked about touring and international artists just now. The dynamics post-COVID are interesting. You see local DJs now, but it’s hard to introduce a stimulus into the equation. Having people coming in internationally brings something new to the table. Pushing people to do new things during this time can be difficult. 

Along those lines, what do you think the challenges from COVID have been over the past year?

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Photo: FINAL

HC: For Taiwan, it hasn’t been so bad. We only shut down the club for about a month. Things are back. But for people to go to a club, I don't think there's a huge difference. 

But, as a club, being unable to book international acts--that was one of the reasons I wanted to start Final, to be able to bring artists from around the world to Taiwan, especially people that I think are influential for the kind of music I want to play, or simply for the sake of having different sounds. There are local DJs that play similar music, but it’s still not the same--they’re not the OGs that started this. I don’t see borders necessarily opening, even this year. So I don’t think we’re able to do what we really want to do as a club.  Yet we are trying to build an identity for other stuff this year. 

BH: It’s been interesting to me to see the network that Final was able to create from artists that came here. I saw Gabber Modus Operandi play at Final, for example, and now they do collaborations with Taiwanese artists. Are there any highlights that stand out in your memory of artists that have played at Final?

HC: It’s hard to name a highlight from the artists that have performed, there have been so many. I feel it’s sort of not fair, but I guess I’d give a shoutout to my homeboy Tsuzing. I think he definitely played the most of all the international acts, because he spends a lot of time in Taiwan and because of the music he plays for us. 

I think he’s definitely one of the best DJs we’ve had at Final--to me--maybe in the world right now. Because he’s always trying to do something new and he’s never stuck in one place. Not just genre-wise, but always seeking to push things. He puts a lot of effort into his DJ sets. 

BH: You also see DJs you never see elsewhere at Final. Like DJ Jerry, for example. You wouldn’t see him play at any other underground club.

Right. Like he plays at his own club. He plays around. But what he plays definitely isn’t underground music. A party is about having fun. He has the audience. We have the club. Everybody’s everywhere. I don’t know if you were there that night?

BH: Yeah, I was. 

HC: People went crazy that night.

BH: I thought that was very interesting, since the people I saw weren’t all club kids. But we grew up listening to him, so outside audiences came. 

You have all these karaoke things in Final and playing songs people grow up listening to, too. It’s very generational, I find. It’s nostalgic for people and hearing it in that kind of club environment is very new. 

HC: Yeah, if they see him at where he usually plays, they might not go there. But if you put him in a different context, say, Final, then people would come see him with a different perspective. 

BH: Do you think that the scene in Taipei has grown over time? Because personally, for me, from the Korner era until now, it feels like the scene has gotten larger. 

HC: For sure. I think it’s growing, since underground music isn’t so underground anymore. Compared to just a few years back. House and techno has become more mainstream. Definitely more people are exposed to this. There’s a lot of people looking at the Berlin aesthetic. 

I think it’ll be good for sure that more people are involved. That people come to parties or do parties. But I also just don’t think Taipei is the city for this, too. 

Not saying that we don’t have talented DJs or producers, but I think every city has its own thing. I like Taipei for the other stuff, beyond the underground. I guess when I was younger, I had this vision or belief that I had to push this in Taipei, my hometown. I had to make Taipei cool! [Laughs] 

But, no, again, I feel like you just find your own crowd. And if you find people into what you do, then you’re lucky. But if not, it’s perfectly okay, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Everything else is great. We don’t have to be like Berlin or London. Because they don’t have what we have. They have something we don’t have. Which is fine.