AMPM studio - Interview

I heard about AMPM while having a talk with a friend. I decided a week later to pay them a visit skateboarding in hand I went sightseeing in the neighborhood, in less than 15 minutes I was in front of their wonderful location. Andy aka Dbsk1 & his wife Joe were inside. I took a quick tour, checked out the shelves were a few Graffiti, Fashion & Skateboard magazines were displayed, went downstairs to see the last exhibition held and took a look at their clothing space. I sat down and began to discuss with Andy about his time spent in Paris, he even gave me a Photography zine he made about Graffiti. Two weeks later we settled a date, back in AMPM space to chat about his life, passion for Music, Art projects & more.

à Taipei : une discussion avec Andy, AMPM Studio.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas

you can listen to some tracks by clicking on ()

Where do you come from?
Andy: I grew up in East Coast Canada. I started to be curious about music at an early age. The first tapes I bought off the TV infomercials where ‘Hooked On Classics’ box tape collections. I grew a deep interest in music when I was 7-8 years old, especially through listening to the collection of Beatles records my parents owned and from a bunch of cool early New Wave tapes my uncle bought me one Christmas. I knew it was at the beginning stage of discovering something special. I also grew up in the 80s with the Pop music and the MTV music video explosion generation boom, so this was very influential at that time although ultimately my sister was my biggest influence on me, whom which was more into punk and the goth music scenes, so around 11 years old I started to really get into and listen to punk music, an that took me from one stage in my life to another one very rapidly, I was psyched about this discovery of alternative music at that age,but where I grew up was also very difficult being into that kind of stuff during this time… You were automatically considered weird and an outcast at school, this was a very niche scene and wasn’t really cool or tolerated like it is today- you literally could get beaten up for looking like a punk during that time… Definitely, a challenging period of my life when you were getting hated on by everyone around you for your choice in clothes and tastes in music.

Do you remember which records you were listening to?
Andy: Since 1984 I was mostly listening to Punk of that era and earlier, such as Ramones, D.O.A, Clash, Vandals, DRI, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, PIL, whom where some of my earliest classic favorite bands of that time but initially, the one band that shaped my whole entire music taste for this entire genre was the Sex Pistols. It was literally the first Punk band I've ever listened to, it was then in my dad’s car, driving along I was sitting in the back seat with my sister just after she bought the tape ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ () she asked my dad to play it, the first songs played were ‘Holidays in the Sun’ () & ‘Bodies’() I just remember it quite vividly - it left quite an impression on me - I could still listen to either of these two songs today and enjoying them. After this, I officially dropped my 80 ’s fanboy pop vibe for punk, haha, a very easy decision. I immediately fell in love with the alternative rebellious vibe, meanwhile, my dad was freaking out while driving and tried turning it off, but we insisted to keep it playing, he was so pissed, aha! Swearing, screaming, obnoxious loudness, fast raw music, right away I knew it was something great! Skateboarding was also relevant in the scene in the same period however the skate kids where I grew up were mostly punk kids, they were skateboarding in my neighborhood in combat boots and cruising around and stuff, it was raw, cool and appealing to me. My dad was always

trying to run them down in the car, I knew this was something awesome but a little different. One day I was in a bookstore close to my house where I used to buy comic books, I stumbled on some Thrasher & Transworld magazines from California which I never saw before. I started flipping through them, I never knew it was an exotic sub-cultural thing and it kinda embodies that punk attitude, the style, it had that edgy feeling too. I became very immersed into this shortly after this exposure.

What about your studies?
Andy: In high school I was studying many different subjects but obvious interests of that time were photography, I aspired to be a journalist, a correspondent because I didn’t know what I was into at that point, what to do, I kinda liked journalism and photography so I guess it could have been a direction for me. I moved to Montreal when I was 18 and stayed there for a while where I discovered Graffiti through a friend I used to skateboard with. That is also at the same time I started to teach myself drawing so I could get better at practicing some Graffiti lettering/characters.

So you built a portfolio?
Andy: Yes however my first year wasn’t what I expected at all. I was just trying to have my BA (Bachelor of Arts) but felt that I needed to do something else. I decided to switch to

Fine Arts and Graphic Design. It didn’t work out, I had no art training whatsoever so I began to work regular day jobs and dropped out of university.

You just dropped out?
Andy: Sort off, I couldn’t get back in. During this year, I was improving my illustration skills and I thought about working in animation. I felt frustrated because I couldn’t get in the program I wanted form the University I was applying to, my stuff wasn’t good enough. A family friend informed me about a course at Vancouver Film School so I applied and got into the program. I stayed two years in Vancouver, got hired in a video game company after graduation.

We kinda skipped the Graffiti part, would you mind if we come back to it?
Andy: Not at all. I started around 92'. I fell into it because I was watching out for my friend while he painted and smoking weed (which was my favorite pastime besides skating during that period … haha), although Graffiti is a participation sport and I was bored of watching my friends doing it,so I wanted to be more involved, doing it myself. It was super tough in the beginning. After a couple years I had a crew, some friends from Montreal, we were doing mural pieces and bombing the city. I’d say 92' - 93' were the more experimental years. Onwards after 94' I really found my ways, discovering how to do it and what I want out of it. 

Were you mostly doing lettering works?
Andy: Yes because we were inspired by the New York aesthetic & style. Therefore, Hip Hop and old school 70’s x 80’s NYC subway works played an important part in my Graffiti/Art education during that come up period.

Music definitely shaped your life..
Andy: Definitely. Around 92 I was done with the Punk/Metal/Grunge phase and was down an upon discovering this scene instantly dove into old school, the bboying, traditional Hip-Hop styles. I even started to collect Hip Hop beats & break records, I was obsessed with it. It was so different from what I knew. I put all my energy into it. I think if it wasn’t for Graffiti though I wouldn’t get into Hip Hop culture as much as I did and I’d probably be listening to the same stuff from before… Although nowadays I just listen to everything anyways, haha! I have an eclectic mix of stuff I enjoy listening to more chill to super speedy, raw to classic, contemporary music, a lot of different genres depending on my moods! I also became interested -at that time- in clubbing styles and the whole “Rave” culture during that early 90’s period too, so I was introduced to a lot of cool electronic music through my roommates who where also Rave party promoters, and djs. 

What was appealing, what did you enjoy the most about doing Graffiti?
Andy: The shapes, the colors and also the “steezy” style vibe, of all the street personas and the urban caricatures, you know? This was an interesting cultural outlet I found inspiring. When I read some books about the NYC subway graffiti lettering it, a and seeing how the bboys were dressed, you can feel it, this was so fresh, the vibe, it felt like I was discovering a whole new world. Also being out there, doing it with my friends, getting a little rush of it, knowing that we were not allowed to do it. That’s fun, you are up there, going out by night... In the end, you are still creating something. I could relate to it and focus my energy and get something from it, use what I learned from Art. I was bored with my day to day life and working my 9-5 job and trying to figure out what I needed to do, to find a balance it was too difficult to find.

Did you take this path more seriously than your friends?
Andy: Yes, basically, a lot people I knew dropped out, it has too many juridical risks for less return for anything. That’s one of the main problems with Graffiti: “all pain, no gain”, because you put a lot of efforts and sacrifices into it and sometimes can’t really expect a lot back, depending of course on your motivations and on what level you want to take it after you get better. The main reason is that you gotta stay anonymous and back then there weren’t any Instagram or social media outlets to get any coverage of your work … You had to be into it for the heart of it to really stay in it, it’s sounds corny but it’s actually totally true.

But they were magazines…
Andy: Yes, only a few where you’d send photos.

Nevertheless, if you were doing Graffiti that means doing it for yourself and for the challenge. You didn’t think like « Oh I am going to do cool art on the streets for free for people » even though it’s the whole idea somehow... You always wish that people, when they pass by your work, will be blown away, or at least get inspired by it and people know who you are without having to work through the regular formal channels in commercial society… That was funny and exciting to get away with it.

Did you travel with it?
Andy: Yes throughout Europe, the States, most parts of Canada, Asia. That is how we get into the new chapter of my life's journey!

Did you stop working at the Anime studio?
Andy: Yes, I did, it was an amazing job, with a nice salary but

it was tiring. It wasn’t my vocation. I felt pulled in between two directions and had to make a choice between that and Graffiti lifestyle because I couldn't do both. I was more satisfied whilst doing Graffiti. I had to take some time off to think about everything. I left to Asia and ended up in Taiwan because I had a friend who was already working there. 

How old were you when you arrived there?
Andy: Around 26.

Have you traveled through Asia before ended up in Taiwan?
Andy: No, I haven’t, even though I was really into Japanese Anime, Sci-Fi, Asian cultural references. I had a romanticism notion of what Asia could be like! You come here and you are blown away by the urban lifestyle. I thought about staying here for a couple months, then maybe a year, get my head right but I ended up staying for ten years teaching English while doing some freelance work here and there. There was no way I was going back to Montreal to find a crappy 9-5 day job after this,when I could stay here, enjoying and experimenting life. This was my opportunity to try and focus on my art an developing, taking it to another level through exposures from influences of these environments and culture. During my last four years of teaching, I was doing AMPM with my wife as a gallery space primarily.

So AMPM came first?
Andy: Yes precisely around 2005 with a friend of mine who’s a Graffiti writer from San Fransisco. Our main attention was to build it up as a Street Art/Graffiti Supply gallery/shop and evolve it from there. Unfortunately, he left and I took over with my wife Joe, we began with a retail space. Later we re-opened the space and added the gallery. Joe had already a shop although we thought that it made sense to make AMPM as our main shop.

What’s the meaning behind AMPM?
Andy: AM/PM, morning and night. Just a metaphor or vibe of what our lifestyle represents in terms, of life in perpetual motion, the creatives lifestyle of being on the go twenty-four hours, building, creating, all of it.

Have you ever thought about opening your own place?  Is it something you’d ever think about doing?
Andy: Not necessarily. When I had the idea of opening the space with my friend I thought it could be exciting to have a graffiti store here because they weren’t any at that time and we wanted to build a place for underground artists, create a platform for this specific scene. My wife was already making clothing, she had a brand called PetShopsGirl and I had  a street wear label called R.T.T.C. It was just another outlet of creativity, which relevant to all the scene we were involved in; Fashion & Art.

It’s all combine.
Andy: Yes.

Was it harder for a foreigner to settle here, try to build something from scratch?
Andy: It was clearly rough even know we were reaching to a lot of foreigners it was still mixed, perhaps 40% would be local people and the other 60%  were non-native, consequently yes it was tough to approach people, it still is a little bit because my Chinese isn’t that great as well there are some cultural, generational gaps involved in there as well at times. We come from different upbringing, environment, different knowledge bases so these are sometimes hard for relating with some types of information, especially for the new types of establishing alternative scenes here, which back at home are already 4- 5  decades set…

Yes, but they are speaking English pretty good here…
Andy: They do and that’s the problem. A lot of my Taiwanese friends have really good skills so we will mainly be conversing in English. I’d say that is my weakness and I am not practicing much Chinese. I gotta catch up now, with my little boy because he speaks more Chinese than me! It is has been so busy for a few months, when AMPM & ‘Damage Group’ took off about 4, 5 years ago, everything was snowballing fast, trying to do anything else became complicated..

What about ‘Damage Group’, could you run me through the details of how it came about?
Andy: Well, as I mentioned earlier Joe & I were running two different labels at that time and our other shop was located in East Area, it was a small boutique, a select shop with a bunch of independent designers. We aspired to create with ‘Damage Group’ a cyber-punk/futurists gothic inspired clothing brand. I thought it was fun to collaborate together, using each other’s creativeness & skillset to build something unique. We were having fun with it and literally took off a lot of people were into it fortunately and it had a solid response from the onset.Then, we had to give up our individual brands and start focusing on doing ‘Damage Group’ as our main brand. 

It sounds exciting, who does what?
Andy: Joe does all the logistics and some of the clothing pattern design work, mostly the women’s items general production. I work on developing the concept and art direction for the collection, graphic design, features and more. We have to manage a lot of stuff between two people, while running a shop and being parents… Sometimes it gets crazy but it’s exciting.

What about the space, seems that you are now settled, did you change anything, was it built like this when you opened?
Andy: No, it was insane, it was a lot of work. We moved from our shop and decided to expand our brand, to make an interactive space. We built a skate ramp, I thought it could be fun that my son come here and I’ll get the time to teach him skating. It took us almost one and half year to find the place even know it’s not the perfect location.

Why so?
Andy: Well, the people that used to come by, our main clientele are hanging out in East area shopping area or Ximen ding shopping area. It is a bit off the path for some people. It is challenging, we don’t get the same traffic as before. It is the compromise we had to do for expanding otherwise it would be impossible to put our hands on a space like that in the East area shopping district because of the extremely high rents.

Do you have a schedule for the gallery? 
Andy: Well, we just re-opened it.

If people come and want to propose for a show, we will consider it for sure. Sometime I’ll just organize group shows with artists or find an artist that is looking for a space to exhibit, work on a collaboration. We don’t have a schedule yet because it is kinda new. Our turnover isn’t super consistent right now. We are considering about working with someone on the gallery part, to manage the shows, a curator to take over the job. 

And I saw the GQ party you throw… 
Andy: Yes, we rent the space for different type of events, fashion or music related it depends. We try to do something cultural and fun.

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