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Taiwanese DJ Duo Salamander Bring 'Shmup' To Electronic Music
Focusing on complex but danceable beats, Salamander's high octane music should have no problem getting listeners to head-bang the night away
By Dan Engel
(more articles from this author)
2012-11-28
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Z the Phoenix and Yen at MIC Taiwan

1986 video game Salamander belongs to the class of game known as 'shmup' – a contraction of the phrase 'shoot-em-up' – in which, in the form of a spaceship, the player scrolls either left-to-right or bottom-to-top shooting at armada upon armada of spaceship, alien, and/or floating space debris. Shmups are generally characterized by intense, seemingly unending sequences of button mashing, explosions (both in-game and emotional), and the constant thrum and whoosh of lasers and projectiles being fired on-screen, to produce high tension and – after clearing a hellish bullet-riddled stage – euphoria.

Rather than being an acquired taste, shmups like Salamander instantly call out to a certain kind of people: people drawn to the challenge, the fast pace, the one-man-army sensation only badass AWOL super-soldiers in movies are supposed to feel. Listening to Taiwanese DJ duo Salamander (沙羅曼蛇 ), I can almost immediately feel the connection. The first type of media which kids born in the 80s experienced was not music, but video games. We are one of the first generations for which video games played an integral part in shaping our sensibilities and, dare I say, personalities. It's unsurprising then, that DJs Yen and Z the Phoenix have produced music which channels the energy and tempo of shmups like Salamander.

That's not to say the DJ duo emulate the 8-bit video game music; their music is in good company with many of the artists they cite as influences: Aphex Twin, Royksopp, and other electronic/IDM artists. Focusing on complex but danceable beats, Salamander's high octane music should have no problem getting listeners to head-bang the night away. In a recent interview, though, Salamander discussed the lack of interest, among Taiwanese audiences, in the type of music they produce.

Having never played live outside of their home country, Salamander are left to the existent but unimpressive electronic scene in Taiwan. Unable to consistently get shows and bring out audiences, Yen and Z must look for alternatives. They've found musical odd jobs, such as doing remixes for bands, and even composing themes for government-sponsored events. Though it pays the bills, this isn't the kind of work that excites Salamander. The two Djs discussed fantasies of working with Cat Power, Bjork, and Sonic Youth – an indication that these artists are interested in expanding their brand and commingling with other genres. While discussing the topic of reaching a wider, perhaps international market, Z the Phoenix made it clear that, while it was appealing, he wasn't interested in sacrificing his principles to achieve greater attention. He remains determined to "maintain authenticity" and although he acknowledges the idea of a Taiwanese electronic DJ duo would probably excite foreign audiences, he doesn't plan on exploiting his nationality for greater attention. "We're not going to scream 'We're Taiwanese! We're Taiwanese!"

One would hope Salamander will not have to rely on such gimmicks to promote their music: there easily available work can be found streaming here and here. As geographic distance is becoming a trivial issue for the relationship between bands and their fans, it isn't hard to be optimistic about Salamander reaching an audience that will appreciate their percussive feats and infectious beats.


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