(The following is one person's reflection on the recent events surrounding Underworld, Shida Road, livehouses, and Taipei. I speak for myself. I write to refute misperceptions and to express my concerns.)
Underworld. For me, it is not just a bar nor a livehouse. It is a home.
My home. My friends' home. Maybe your home, too. Underworld is a home for those who enjoy music that comes from the heart, not a marketing office or a focus group. It is a home for those who ask questions - loudly, quietly, even awkwardly - about the world we live in. It is home for people with something to say, even if they might not know how. It is a home for those who, despite the pain, confusion, and struggles that come with being human, choose to embrace life and enjoy it. But ultimately, Underworld is a home for those who wanna rock.
Yes, Underworld is smokey. Yes, Underworld has cockroaches (show me somewhere that doesn't). Yes, we love rock 'n roll. Yes, we drink alcohol. And yes, we have fun. I didn't know any these were crimes.
There have been stories running in the press about how horrible we are. Says who? How do they know? When they accuse people of getting blind-drunk every night, how would they know? Do they actually go down to Underworld every night? Exactly how many people are blind-drunk? And exactly what does 'blind-drunk' mean? Where do they get these statistics? The same goes for accusations of us spitting all over the floors and all other nonsense. In all of my years down there, I've never seen anyone spit on the floors. Where do they get this shit? From the same place one gets any piece of shit: from their ass. They're making it up. They are lying and certain friends in the press repeat it.
Hey, good job!
Smear tactics are nothing new when those in power want to influence public opinion: paint your target as something less than human, something savage & prone to beastly behaviors, and the people will rally behind you. So they've slammed us at Underworld with false accusations of bad manners and vice. And they are wrong.
Sex and violence? Apparently we're accused of that, too. But that is also untrue. From a society where banks promote themselves with bus ads highlighting a woman's ass to lawmakers that routinely engage in fisticuffs, it is the epitome of hypocritical thought to throw those stones. And, for me and my friends, it is grossly inaccurate. People who behave disrespectfully to women are asked to leave - by other customers, if not the staff. The people who regularly visit Underworld don't accept that conduct. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. For violence, I can only recall witnessing two fights in twelve years. I think that qualifies it as a rarity.
So I'm asking you, I'm telling you, I'm demanding of you: Stop lying.
And finally, there is the issue of racism. It is blatantly and viciously being spewed forth AGAINST the young people who (used to) enjoy the neighborhood. Blaming problems on foreigners is another tiresome tactic and, not that these haters care, it is needless, offensive, and hurtful to that community and embarrassing to the public at large. Shame on you. And if that weren't bad enough, both Taiwanese and foreigners are disparaged should they choose to date one another. I myself am in a mixed relationship. So are several of my other friends. So fucking what. Why does it matter to anyone else? Isn't there enough hate in the world? Shouldn't love be celebrated? Yes, yes it should.
So to all of the ignorant & divisive people spreading this fear: Don't you dare judge my heart. Don't you dare judge my love. Don't you fucking dare.
Are the people of Underworld such horrible creatures, such social deviants, as suggested by some? My first reaction is defensive: Of course we're not. Why? Because we're not!
But as it all settles in, I contend with a different response.
Ask me again: Am I - ME - one who enjoys frequenting Underworld, the individual writing this, a social deviant?
God, I fucking hope so!
Listen: I was raised to be polite, respectful, considerate, and modest. I was also raised to think independently, to make responsible decisions, and to help the world be a better place. That's how I was taught and that's how I've strived to live my life. Furthermore, I was raised not to be judgmental, but to be open-minded, tolerant, and to exercise leadership in support of such humane principles. I have been raised to love.
Therefore, should I be falsely accused of atrocious behaviors, as is happening to me and my friends, then I will speak up in my own defense. I have done - and will continue to do - everything in my power to deviate from any elements of society that demand absolute submission to another's moral code.
Now then, IF being a social deviant means NOT submitting to the pressure to conform to arbitrary & puritanical mores, IF it means being a free-thinking, fair-minded, compassionate human being, IF it means living as a self-respecting and concerned citizen of the world, then I guess THAT is what I am. IF it means being monster, then no, you are wrong. Very wrong.
I am simply a simple man who enjoys music, friends, and a drink or two at the end of the week.
You don't want to drink? Great. Don't. I do. And I will. Cheers!
I wonder, how am I - how is Underworld - different from those fellow citizens in business suits who also enjoy their music, their friends, and their alcohol? Is the difference in our clothes and our hair? The size of our wallets? Where is the uproar about them? I'm not saying we should now rush to judge those folks as well. No. I'm saying people are exercising a double standard, and that is wrong, too.
Knock it off.
But back to us: Who am I? Who are we? We are friends and we are family. We laugh, we cry, we play, and, yeah, maybe we sometimes even argue together. The important word here is together. There is a real support and love between people in Underworld. Not just for one another personally but also for Taiwan. We've marched together to protest nuclear power, missiles from China, & human rights abuses at home. We've always been a gay-friendly environment and a place where women can come and feel safe. Underworld may have often felt like a sausage party, but it has never been a meat-market. You may not agree with our politics, but you can't accuse us of being lazy, selfish, or indifferent. In short, the friends of Underworld have fought for endless issues concerning the integrity and health of Taiwan.
It's more than I can say for some people, with a record of destroying businesses and livelihoods and culture.
So once again, who are the people of Underworld?
We are creative, curious, fun-loving, and free.
We are proudly independent and passionate.
We are good people trying to do good things.
We are imperfect, and you know what? We're fine with that.
It's called being human.
It scares me that these qualities are considered a threat to society.
These are the real feelings and experiences of my 12 years at Underworld.
Beyond the clouds of smoke, Underworld is a beautiful place.
What's happening here and now is the same as what you read in the headlines anywhere in the world, all throughout time: self-serving politicians, money grubbers, & morally superior do-gooders teaming up to make their play.
Is it not ironic that the same government that proudly latches on to our indie bands and exports them to foreign countries in order to promote our "vibrant youth culture" is also ripping it out by the roots?
Are property values the only values this city and this country really care about?
What is the value of art?
What is the value of music?
Music is a sublime form of communication. Music resonates deep within each of us. It understands us, comforts us, and gives expression unlike any word, image, or action. Maybe some of you would even agree with me that music is a holy thing, however you define your spirituality. Music is not just a lifestyle. Music IS life.
Imagine a world without music - no songs to sing at K-TV, no entertainment to enjoy on holidays, no catchy melodies for selling beverages, no cool beats to dance to, no declarations of love at weddings, no rhymes for children to chant, no choruses to shout aloud with your arms around your best friends, no exciting sounds to pump out at political rallies.
But we do live in a world with music, thank god. And it must come from somewhere. But where?
One of the primary joys of music is its sociability, the empathy and community it creates. An artform FOR people needs a place WITH people. So we have dance clubs, karaoke lounges, festivals, and concerts. And we must - WE MUST - have livehouses, too. They are essential to the development of new works and creativity, and they also serve as a place for us to experience our cultural legacy. Just as a laboratory is crucial to a scientist or a field is necessary to a farmer, a livehouse is vital to the livelihood and growth of music, musicians, and their audience.
So what is it Underworld is asking? It is asking for a law to acknowledge reality, that livehouses DO exist and SHOULD exist and NEED to exist. But from all the critical hyperbole, you'd think it was a place for burning children or eating kittens.
The neighbors want peace and quiet, and you know what? That's exactly what I want when I'm at home, too. Everyone should enjoy a clean, safe environment. It is not Underworld's fault that, up until recent months, there were only *2* public trash cans for all of the Shida Road park area - and each with openings the size of a half loaf of bread. How does that adequately serve the community? And I've seen no evidence to suggest Underworld is opposed to hygienic standards inside. Believe it or not, that place gets cleaned every night, all throughout the night. I've seen it happen. I've even helped out.
Look: Underworld is made of people just like you and me. Musicians, entrepreneurs, writers, students, teachers, designers, waitresses, engineers, doting parents, and more... I've met and befriended people from all walks of life down there.
All we want, much the same as our neighbors, is a good home.
Live music needs a home. For the musicians, for their fans, and for a healthy, happy Taiwan.
Who doesn't want that?
Back in the good 'ole days of police harassment, it was usually just 2 or 3 cops at a time silencing the bands or shutting down the music at Underworld, checking IDs, etc. But in the past year, I've witnessed that number swell to double digits. Really? That many to "check the paperwork"? No, that many to send a message.
The years of bullying and humiliating Underworld have only bred contempt, at least from this individual. That's not how I want to feel or live. Furthermore, how is it even in the interests of the police or their masters to cultivate this animosity? The relationship between people and their government should be one built on trust and fairness. So much for that. My parents taught me that respect begets respect. They taught by example. It actually works. But one has to try it to find that out.
The other day I watched residents, restaurant proprietors, and bureaucrats, tense from months of bitterness, get tangled up in yelling & pushing matches in the lanes behind Shida Park. People's frustrations have boiled over. Is this what the city has come to? Is this the city we want to live in? Do we really want people fighting in the streets?
What I want is some leadership and calm, intelligent dialogue. There is nothing that can't be resolved without communication - sincere, open, & respectful communication. Since our so-called leaders can't provide this, then we must rise to the occasion. We must continue to make our demands loudly and clearly. We must continue to show our adversaries how they are wrong, that we are mature, thoughtful, and important people. On the other side, it'd be nice if they could listen. It'd be nice if they could learn to treasure the talents of young people and musicians. It'd be nice if they could remember that we ALL live here and we are ALL important. It'd be nice for ALL of us to find a way to keep our homes and keep them beautiful.
But the world is not a nice place. That's what all of this has taught me. Nonetheless, I will still fight for that idea. Nice is something I believe in.
Not long ago, Shida had a soul. It had a personality. It had a vitality and energy that made it one of the most interesting areas of Taipei. Now it has all the charm of some vapid yuppie dickhead who enjoys kicking dogs.
I don't know the names of the people spreading the rumors. I don't know who exactly is making the decisions to silence Underworld and our artistic freedoms.
But I do know this:
These people are killing Taipei.
These people are killing Taiwan.
These people are killing my home.
These people are killing your home.
These people are the danger they are warning us against.
Many people have asked me, what just happened to Underworld?
I think the greater question to ask is, what is happening to Taiwan?
Right now is the time to tell the world that the house is on fire and it won't be long before the only survivors are the ones holding the matches.
What to do?