by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: CHTHONIC 閃靈

IN REFLECTION upon the last two years of art and politics in Taiwan, it strikes that Taiwan is currently experiencing something of an artistic renaissance. Whether Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, the Japanese anti-war movement, or Occupy Wall Street in 2011, it’s notable that recent social movements quite often lead to an explosion of art. However, in the two years of development before the Sunflower Movement, Taiwan has developed a rich youth culture in which the most innovative and interesting music and art often are connected with activist politics.

12232727_10153236762417503_5016704592409547467_oAd for the December 26th concert. Photo credit: CHTHONIC 閃靈

Freddy Lim’s concert held at Freedom Plaza in Taipei on December 26th has drawn international attention on the basis of the unusual nature of a political rally which was, in part, a concert by a heavy metal band. The concert was also to mark the twentieth anniversary of Chthonic (閃靈). Though Freddy Lim is currently an electoral candidate of the New Power Party (NPP), which was formed after the Sunflower Movement and includes key Sunflower Movement activists within its ranks, Lim originally rose to fame as frontman of symphonic black metal band Chthonic. A sign of Lim’s fame is that he is popularly known simply just as “Freddy” among activists, many being entirely unaware of what his Chinese name is. In the past, Lim also served as chair of Amnesty International Taiwan.

In spite of Taiwan’s general obscurity internationally and lack of cultural exports, Chthonic is renowned across the world in heavy metal circles. Chthonic has also been rather political as a band, being explicit about support for Taiwanese independence in songs or music videos. But, if it is that Lim’s concert rally has drawn attention internationally, where else in the world would can we see a famed heavy metal musician runs for political office other than Taiwan as a serious political candidate and not as a publicity stunt?

AS LIM HIMSELF stated in an interview New Bloom conducted with him in August , Lim would not have too much time for music these days as a political candidate, although Lim also stated that he has no intention of giving up music either. But since Lim would almost certainly have less time for music if he were elected into office, in some way this would be Lim’s farewell concert. Lim has certainly been toning down his heavy metal persona as of late in order to present a respectable image for older voters and we can see this in his neat dress for many parts of the concert.

10547921_10153310329422503_1663582972014507986_oPhoto credit: CHTHONIC 閃靈

It is not insignificant that the chosen site for Chthonic’s concert was Liberty Plaza in Taipei. One of the incubators of the explosion of civic society which was the Sunflower Movement was the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan. For close to two years weekly, the “Five-Six Movement” (五六運動) anti-nuclear rally was held at Liberty Plaza every Friday without fail, even during typhoon conditions. Organized by a group of film directors, led by Taiwanese New Cinema director Ko I-Chen (柯一正), weekly “Five-Six Movement” rallies brought out many of Taipei’s finest musicians and performers, including everyone from avant-garde performance artist Black Wolf Psalmanazar Yingfan (黑狼姚映凡) to the frontman of post-punk group Touming Magazine (透明雜誌). 

Freedom Plaza, formerly known only as the the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, has a longstanding history as the site of political demonstrations, going back to the Wild Strawberry student occupation in 2008 which was a prelude to the Sunflower Movement and the Wild Lily student occupation of 1990 which was a pivotal event in Taiwan’s democratization. Director Ko of the “Five-Six Movement” is also currently a member of the New Power Party.

6718_10153768682530539_9043691515259533165_nFire EX. playing at the concert on December 26th. Photo credit: 滅火器 Fire EX.

The Sunflower Movement continued the intimate connection of art and politics in Taiwan, with indie band Fire EX. (滅火器)’s song “Island Sunrise” (島嶼天光) becoming the theme of the movement. The most direct predecessor of Freddy’s concert at Freedom Plaza was Fire EX.’s “ON FIRE DAY” concert which was held in December 2014 that was, like Chthonic’s concert, an event in which all of Taipei civil society seemed to come out for. Fire EX. was one of the bands that played at Chthonic’s concert at Freedom Plaza.

But before that was the “No Nukes! Long Play!” (不核作 – 臺灣獨立音樂反核輯) CD in which it seems as if the majority of Taiwanese indie bands had rallied together against nuclear power in one album, whose release was followed up by a show at Legacy in Taipei. And the close relation of popular bands with activist politics has continued after the Sunflower Movement. Popular indie band Sorry Youth (拍謝少年) was among those bands who played at the Ministry of Education occupation, for example, having been one of the bands whose songs were on the “No Nukes! Long Play!” CD.

PhotoCreditLibertyTimesKo (left) and Lim (right). Photo credit: Liberty Times

None other current Taipei mayor Ko Wen-Je would make an appearance at the concert at Liberty Plaza as indicative of the the mainstream acceptance of the New Power Party and activist-politicians such as Lim. Amusingly enough, Ko sang a song during his time on stage, though Chthonic members remarked it would have been rather difficult for Ko to sing one of their songs. Ko won mayorship of Taipei as an independent political candidate during nine-in-one elections in November of last year and was himself backed by many elements of civil society. In this sense, we can see the increasing closeness of the NPP and mainstream political parties in the rally, as we can also see with campaign ads taken by NPP candidates and DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-Wen. But although many have predicted that the Third Force will turn on the DPP in the future, or that its strength to perform in elections remains untested, we can see how the Third Force is not a marginal development.

MUCH OF THE international attention paid to Lim’s political rally is probably on the basis of exoticism, but it is not wrong either to draw attention to the extraordinary nature of art and politics coming together in Taiwan in the present.

1931229_1099332240138131_6424055572036416000_nPhoto credit: CHTHONIC 閃靈

It may be that few other places in the world are experiencing what Taiwan is in the present, not only with the intimate relation of art and politics, but in regards to radical experiments in democracy. The NPP generated its party list through an online nomination system in which voters could nominate anyone they wanted as an electoral candidate, for example. Although many found this silly at the time, indeed, it became a joke among some to nominate their friends or to nominate KMT figures such as Sean Lien, on the flipside, we can perhaps view this as an indicative of the Third Force’s aspiration towards new experimental forms of politics.

Third Force parties, NPP or otherwise, have across the board expressed an interest in using the Internet as well as the relation of art and politics which exists in Taiwan to develop new forms of politics suited for this generation. Certainly, many have pointed to the importance of the Internet and of social media in social movement organization in recent years, but in Taiwan we see a pioneering integration of politics with the Internet. Indeed, this is quite visible with the large amount of political discourse which is circulated through Facebook memes and viral videos nowadays in Taiwan.

PhotoCreditCHTHONIC 閃靈Photo credit: CHTHONIC 閃靈

But perhaps the most visible sign of youth entering politics in Taiwan to date lies in this political rally held as a heavy metal concert, as representative of two years’ development of youth culture and politics. We see this with Lim’s concert and we will see in the future as to what other new forms of politics arise in Taiwan which, potentially, may not be seen anywhere else in the world.

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