An ode to contortion. K. P. Liu, on stage, bends and unfolds, turns in all directions, loses the sound of his guitar by pulling too hard on its cable, lets his instrument escape from his hands, offers it to his audience, whole or broken in two pieces, then flies away, carried by the hands of the enthusiastic spectators.
Born in Japan to a Taiwanese mother and a Japanese father, it was at the age of 23 that K. P. Liu decided to move to Taiwan and shake the island up with his improvisational rock music, founding the masterful Dope Purple (yes, I did spell Dope Purple with an "o"!) in 2016.
Pictures of the Real, Crazy World
— You're the main guitarist and composer in the band. Did you learn the guitar following the classical way, or are you self-taught? I am asking because you have a very particular style of playing. How would you define it?
I was 21 or 22, still living in Japan, and I wanted to play in a hard rock band like Black Sabbath. I couldn't find a guitarist who could play guitar solos such as those in Black Sabbath or other old-school rock and roll bands, so I started to learn guitar on my own.
Then I got in touch with Hibushibire, the Japanese psychedelic rock band, and Acid Mothers Temple. The foundations of my playing style were probably laid at that time. And I had no idea about the equipment at that time: because I saw Acid Mothers Temple using a Stratocaster, I bought the same guitar!
Then I came to Taiwan and started Dope Purple. I then needed to explore the guitar sound and bought a lot of fuzz pedals. I thought that if I wanted to play psychedelic music, the guitar sound of the fuzz pedal would be very important. I found the perfect pedal and it is still the one I use. This pedal is unique because if I'm not playing guitar, it oscillates by itself and makes a very loud noise. If I use this pedal, I can't stop playing!
So, I think my guitar style comes mainly from three elements: the first is Black Sabbath, or British classic rock music, the second is Japanese underground music and the third is my guitar pedal.
— In improvised music, sometimes you have to unlearn rather than learn, don't you think?
This is a very important point in Dope Purple, because we are mainly amateur musicians. Many Taiwanese musicians are thinking technique is the only weapon of the music. I think the most important thing is to know how to define yourself and how to shape your own musical characteristics. Dope Purple is still a rock band, so it must be attractive.
We need to entertain our listeners. We need some musical skills and some basic techniques. When I recruit a band member, for example a rhythm guitarist, I look for someone who plays with a certain stability. Sometimes I use a metaphor: we are creators of videos, but not Hollywood movies. We are the kind of cameramen who go out and shoot graves. We don't make good movies, but we take pictures of the real, crazy world.
— But are you still practicing to find your style, or do you think you already have your own style, which has already been built up?
I have to find my style, but I don’t practice! [laughs] For me, exploring the characteristics of my music is more like exploring a mountain or a desert. I take my guitar and effects pedal into the studio and play until the morning. It is like tuning the radio, I have to find my frequency.
On Stage Without a Net
— All Dope Purple records are live recordings. What is the creative process behind these kinds of tracks?
There are two reasons why we don't record in the studio. The first is that it's too expensive! Dope Purple hasn't yet received any funding from the government or any private company!
The second reason is that I simply prefer live albums. Many musicians think that live albums are of a lower quality than studio albums. But I love Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Deep Purple, King Crimson and of course Les Rallizes Dénudés.
— Do you write the songs before playing them, or are they completely improvised?
I usually think of about five guitar riffs at a time, and only one of them becomes an actual song that I will play live. As all the members of Dope Purple are very busy, and as we all have jobs, when I prepare a song, I keep it simple with just one or two phrases.
You have probably noticed that we always have one riff per song, or sometimes one riff for the first half and another for the second, like in Black Sabbath. That way, we don't have to rehearse for long to remember the song! And the advantage is that you can improvise more freely over it in concert. We can improvise until the song is finished.
— And when do you know it is over? When it is the right time to switch from one riff to the next?
Oh, I'm mostly watching the faces in the audience. If they look bored, I will stop the first riff and move on to the next one!
— It is very impressive to see you playing guitar on stage, you seem possessed: does the stage or the music put you in a trance-like state, or are you very focused on what you are doing (or something in between)?
Actually, I’m switching between trance and rational states. I need to pay attention to what the drummer and the other members are playing, so I can decide which state I want to put myself in at any given moment. And I can tell you that I'm not completely in a trance. In the band, the only one who is really in a trance is our drummer! Sometimes I have to become more reasonable when the drummer gets crazier! Especially as we are playing rock music, we don't play completely free music.
— I have seen you smashing your guitar almost every time you are playing. How do you deal with all these broken guitars? Do you have a large guitar collection or do you simply repair them?
Many times, the fans in the audience take the broken guitar home. And sometimes, when nobody wants the broken guitar, I take it home and use it to repair another one. I mainly use very cheap guitars when I am on stage!
Taipei Psychedelic Rock Festival volume I and II
— Last year, you created the Taipei Psychedelic Rock Festival at a venue called Revolver in Taipei. You were the main headliner. It was a great success. I came along and there were lots of people – I remember they even turned some of the audience away! Can you tell us a little about this festival?
This event was not originally supposed to be a festival. Initially, Lin Zhe-an, the bandleader of Cold Dew, and I, we wanted to organize an event at the Revolver. And I thought the bands we invited could be described as psychedelic. So, I named the event Taipei Psychedelic Rock Festival. My usual method: simple to understand and remember, it is easy to figure out what kind of music will be played.
It was also a humorous name! It was funny because the Revolver is a very small venue, and a music festival requires a much larger space. It was just a joke for me, but many musicians and spectators took it seriously [laughs]. Of course, I think Taiwanese psychedelic music should be more popular in Taiwan. Before this event, nobody had any idea that there was a psychedelic music scene in Taiwan, but both Lin Zhe-an and I thought that there was indeed some kind of psychedelic stream running through the Taiwanese underground music scene.
— So, you said that people were taking this event seriously as a festival. And now, you are currently working on the second edition of this festival, which will take place on December 2 this year at The Wall Live House! What can you tell us about it?
It should be bigger and more intense, heavier too, than the first one. At the first psychedelic festival, we received some criticism: we were told that our music had nothing to do with the good old English or American psychedelic rock of the 60s or 70s.
In fact, what we wanted to do had nothing to do with nostalgia for old English or American music. We want to make world-class Asian psychedelic rock! We don't want to play music similar to Western psychedelic rock music, we want to play modern Taiwanese psychedelic music!
So, with the posters and logos I'm preparing for the second Taipei Psychedelic Rock Festival, I want to focus on the ethnic-inspired elements of psychedelic music. The first time we emphasized the psychedelic music theme, but this time we want to emphasize the difference between Asian psychedelic music and Western psychedelic music. Next time, we will play louder, and it'll be very different from old-fashioned Western rock music!