Welcome to Excursions; our new feature series where we interview the providers of cultivating dance floors and distinctive musical affairs from around Asia. Today we introduce you to Break The Wall; the innovative and community-driven music brand making waves in Taiwan's house music scene.
One of the founders of Break The Wall — Thomas Futoso — earned his stripes in Germany and China before settling in Taiwan. His well-rounded view of the electronic scene has left him and Break The Wall with an exciting insight into what makes Taiwan tick. While based in China, Thomas and his team established themselves as key players in the house music scene and made quite the name for themselves, despite the country's social media ban. They brought their reputation and invaluable learnings to Taiwan and, alongside other influential figures, helped revolutionise how the island perceives house music…and how the rest of the world views Taiwan's underground scene.
Taiwan may not be top of mind when it comes to the Asian underground music community but Break the Wall and its growing support system are slowly but surely changing that perspective with each and every event. They mainly focus on shining the light on the vast pool of local talent and leading the way in bringing in some of the biggest and best artists from around the world to the island.
From the exceptional events that have come before and the exciting upcoming opportunities, Thomas Futoso shares with us some captivating stories, struggles and successes from the last couple of years and how the crew are frontrunners when it comes to house and minimal in Taiwan and beyond.
Hi, Thomas! Can you share with us what Break The Wall is all about?
Break The Wall is a community-driven music brand that promotes house music in Taiwan. We are known for our iconic and joyful event atmosphere and we are leading the way in Taiwan in booking international artists while supporting the incredible local DJ scene. In Taiwan, we launched Break The Wall during the COVID-19 pandemic and since then, we have had several different events across various venues in Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung. Some artists we've brought to Asia during the past years include Gescu, Mihai Pol, Sepp, Nu Zau, Alexis Cabrera and Silat Beksi, just to name a few.
Can you enlighten us on your beginnings and the root idea behind Break The Wall?
Break The Wall was founded by my friend and partner, Yangbing. The name itself came from a documentary called ‘Break The Wall’, which describes the history of China's underground music culture. We formed the brand a few months after the documentary was released and started hosting events and booking international DJs. Break The Wall in China was mainly based in Shanghai and Beijing, but we also had events in Chengdu, Qingdao and Hangzhou.
Coming into a new Asian scene in Taiwan, it was evident that there wasn't a big market at the time for the style of music we love. The market was saturated with EDM while Techno drove the underground. The idea was that we would break through the wall, push our sound against the grain, and bring our unique signature to an already talented underground scene.
From moving to Taiwan, I met my wonderful wife, Celine, who has become an essential part of the brand and is in charge of branding, marketing, event production and much more. Then I met my ‘second wife’, Kiko, whom I always joke I spend most of my time texting with. We clicked immediately and organically developed a friendship and working relationship where the three of us would plan and execute the events together.
What makes Break The Wall stand out in Taiwan?
Several elements allow us to stand out. Firstly, we bring a fresh style of house music that was rare on the island before our arrival. Prior to Break The Wall in Taiwan, you only had a few local DJs like Sean Kuo, Minijay, Klosing and Koliseum, etc., who would host events pushing a similar sound, setting the groundwork. Secondly, we prioritise creating a welcoming environment for our people. We don't care about your race, religion, gender, or sexuality — if you have an ear for good music and a good vibe about you, then you are our kind of people.
Finally, we feel a strong sense of community at all our events. The crowd is what really makes these events what they are and we are so lucky to have cultivated such a pleasant, fun and consistent fanbase at our events and venue.
What got you interested in events in the first place? Are there any in particular that majorly inspired you?
It was all driven by a passion for the music. Growing up in Frankfurt, Germany, I was constantly surrounded by the freshest underground sounds, inspiring me to get involved in events. The defining moment came when I attended the Sunwaves Festival in Romania. It's hard to describe how incredible that experience was, but the music and the way people partied there were very different from what I was used to. That opened the door for my love of these events and it inspired me to do the same.
Break The Wall events have become a staple in Taiwan. How do you feel their presence has contributed to the island’s dance music culture?
I feel we have had a very healthy impact on the scene and the culture in Taiwan. We have brought a unique and high-quality sound that enhances the experience for all and it's nice to see how many people show up at our events, carry the experience home and come back with more people for the next one. When you have people driven purely by the love of music instead of just making money, it creates a magical environment.
Due to COVID-19, obviously there were no international DJs, so we had to build our sound up locally. This was great as it allowed the local artists to shine and help build Taiwan’s house scene. We pushed our sound for two years and focused on building our strong community. By the time we were able to bring international artists back, our community had already come to understand and appreciate their music and it was a very special experience for us all. It has been a beautiful thing to witness over time, seeing people turn into fans of new music at our events.
Are there any unique challenges to holding events in Taiwan? How do they compare to hosting events in China?
In Taiwan, the biggest challenge we face is unpredictable weather, which can be a major problem for outdoor events. Even with the perfect plan and lineup, a sudden tropical storm can force us to cancel or postpone events, especially when bringing international DJs over.
In China on the other hand, one of the biggest challenges was creating awareness and hype for our events due to the limited opportunities to use social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. This forced us to get creative and use other platforms to create an audience for our events, especially as the music we were hosting was relatively unknown at the time.
How do you see the club and rave culture evolving in Taiwan?
I think the rave culture is heading in a great direction. The Taiwan underground scene has developed in creativity and versatility since we arrived a couple of years ago. Beyond our brand and also our club Studio 9, the obvious standout is Pawnshop — an underground club with very high standards.
Then you have the likes of Grey Area, Final and 23 Music Room, which are all unique in their music, style and crowd, but all of which are as important as each other to the scene. Each club's sonic offering shows the diversity of genres available to the public.
Enlighten us on your plans to expand the brand after having much success in China!
We aim to continue expanding Break The Wall's presence in Taiwan while building stronger connections with our friends and partners in Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Although the Asian music scene is smaller compared to Europe and the U.S., we see great potential in working together with other key players in Asia to develop the scene and culture.
You mentioned the documentary ‘Break The Wall - 20 Years of Chinese electronic music history’. Can you tell us more about it and how it became important to the establishment of the brand?
The documentary was made before we stepped into the scene on a bigger scale with our international bookings in China. For me, it was good to understand more about the history of the underground culture in such a large country and it allowed me to know and eventually meet those figures really driving the underground scene in China.Break the Wall events feature a diverse range of electronic genres. How has the audience in Taiwan responded to this range of sounds?
What's the link between the Break The Wall brand and the venue Studio 9?
Studio 9 evolved from when B1 (a former staple in the Taiwan club scene) shut down and there was nowhere to play our music. I remember sitting at the riverside thinking, “What are we going to do?”. Lloyd (Minijay) suggested that we open our own club. It sounded outrageous at first but then the idea became reality after we checked many venues together and found our new music home in the centre of Taipei.
Break The Wall at the time was one of the few promotors organising events and we had already begun building a community which we felt was strong enough to support us in opening up a club. Since then, Studio 9 has grown with the help of the community, as well as some great promotors, which are run by really good people, creating an incredibly well-charged environment of good vibes. Studio 9 has become, no doubt, one of the hot spots for partygoers in Taipei.
The indoor space is where the music and dancing happen, while the large outdoor terrace is where people can relax and meet people from all over the world. Since the borders opened after COVID-19, we have had the privilege of booking a few international artists each month. In addition to the plenty of Romanian minimal, we try to find a good balance between different genres such as minimal, house, electro and some techno.
Can you tell us a bit about the hotel rooftop parties in other cities that Break The Wall has become known for?
Yes! Besides our club nights, we host monthly daytime or outdoor events at different locations in Taiwan. The first one we had was at a riverside spot in Taipei — we attracted around 800 people and it was definitely one for the books. A few months later, we found a new rooftop location in the city's centre called Nomore Space. There we started a monthly Friday night series and the event created a very special vibe with our music and a stunning 101 view. Last but not least, we have our monthly rooftop event in Taichung at the Moxy Hotel, where we bring international artists to Studio 9 and try and push the music we love all across the island.
What have been some of the highlights of Break The Wall since its inception?
One of our main highlights that stands out was, funnily enough, one of our worst moments. We had prepared for one of our Back To The Riverside events. Everything was set up and we went to bed and awoke to some truly horrendous weather. What was incredible was how the community came to support us. Many friends gave up their time to rally together and clean up the mess in the most horrendous torrential rain imaginable. We had so many people offering to help we even had to turn some away! That made us realise how special a family we had here in Taiwan.
Another highlight has been bringing international artists such as Mihai Pol, Sepp, Gescu, Sampol, Rio Kawamoto and Radio Revolution to Taiwan. These guys are constantly playing on the highest level, so bringing them here and watching them absolutely kill is always incredible. Then to see them experience the beauty of this fantastic island and show them around is an unforgettable experience in itself.
It's always impressive to see how much our international bookings enjoy playing at our venue and immersing themselves in the rich Taiwanese culture. Also, how much our community appreciates the sound these artists bring in — Taiwan is often not the first place you think of when it comes to Asian underground music scenes and it's nice to see perspectives on this change.
How has Asia's music scene evolved since you first started Break The Wall?
One of the most significant changes we've witnessed is the evolution of people's music tastes. It's been incredible to see staunch techno or trance fans evolve to appreciate house music. Although the Asian music scene is still a few years behind other countries, it's an opportunity for us to develop and grow something meaningful and unique together.
What’s one thing the world needs to know about Taiwan's underground music scene?
One thing that stands out to us is the quality. Taiwan has so many great local artists that are sometimes overlooked. It's truly a hidden gem when it comes to Asian underground scenes and we hope it starts to get more recognition. Additionally, the community in Taiwan is incredibly supportive, with promoters and DJs frequently attending each other's events and showing love. Maybe it's because the scene is still relatively small, but I have yet to experience that in too many other places. To me, that's really what music is all about.
Can you tell us about other brands and promoters leading Taiwan's music scene?
You have the Velvet Collective boys, who are absolutely killing it. They are mixing art with music and creating a really dope experience with every single one of their events.
We also want to mention the Evaporate label, which has continuously been doing things right regarding event promotion and delivering a signature sound. Smoke Machine, the most established promotor in Taiwan, is excellent at pushing its name to be recognised internationally. Other fantastic brands such as Penghouse and Candyland also actively contribute their distinct style to the scene.
Seems like you’ve got another unique event for us in Taiwan on May 19 — can you share some details and why we should be excited about it?
Of course! For May 19, we are planning an indoor festival called ‘No Sleep In The City” at our club Studio 9, and also, for the first time, we’ll be combining two floors with the venue Westar which is right below us. Westar is this incredibly unique space with 360-degree visuals and a capacity of around 1000 people.
The event will have three stages, all with their own genres and identity, with Janeret from France headlining the main room, alongside a powerful local line-up. The concept behind this is that we almost outgrew our usual monthly parties and wanted to start organising events on a larger scale and booking even more top international artists to deliver a new and exciting level of music.
Keep updated with Break The Wall’s future events by following it on Instagram here.
Henry Cooper is an intern at Mixmag Asia. Follow him on Instagram.