Death of City?
Since the fire at Ala Sax Pub in Taichung a few months ago, it seems that Mayor Jason Hu has instructed police to crack down on ‘illegal’ establishments, especially bars and clubs. It is rumoured that hundreds of bars / restaurants have either been closed down or threatened with closure, often on the premise of very literal interpretations of the law or the licenses that were previously awarded by the same City Government. A few notable casualties include The Londoner (moving to Wenxin Road), 89K and Fubar amongst others.
This has aroused the ire of the foreign community which has found that its evening watering holes have been dropping like flies, leaving very few places for people to congregate and socialise. Indeed, a facebook group started encouraging foreigners to collect around designated 7-11s on random nights as a form of protest.
However, those who have lived in Taichung for the last ten years have witnessed both an explosion of cultural activity and a subsequent slow death that puts paid to the lie of the Mayor’s boast that Taichung is Taiwan’s city of arts, music and culture.
Between 2002 and 2006, Taichungese experienced a mini-renaissance. The city was awash with nightclubs and pubs, music and art events, magazines and parties. For foreigners, there were at one point no less than four monthly expat magazines and at least five party organising crews as well as numerous artists and musicians. Not many people realise for example that Spring Scream originated out of the Taichung scene. At one point Taichung expats were proud to point to their city as THE city of live music and art events in Taiwan. The intensity of creativity and the strength of our community vibe was not to be found anywhere else in the country.
Five years later, Taichung now resembles more like a morgue in terms of art and music activities. The only venues regularly running music and art events outside of the mainstream are now Scott’s excellent Retro and the now the aptly named Refuge, run by lifer Boston Paul and his awesome wife Sandra. And that is in Daken, some 30 minutes ride out from the center of town.
Whilst musicians have suffered from the closure of one venue after another, artists have had a slightly less harsh experience but have also found themselves limited in the number of galleries open to receiving their work. Where once they would plan a combined music / art launch event to promote new work, now they most often just quietly announce a new showing within a commercial venue such as a restaurant or cafe, rather than a gallery. Friends of mine such as Scallart (the Banksy of Asia) have sought locations and opportunities outside of Taichung to continue opening their work to the public.
Taichung now resembles, in terms of spontaneous and grass roots art and music, a shell of what it once was - a veritable ghost town when compared to rivals Taipei or Kaohsiung. We still boast some of the best live bands in the country (.22, Dr. Reniculous Lips, 3 Day Bender, Dirty Skies etc) but these bands lack decent venues to play and when they do play more often than not the police are called in for noise complaints (because Taichungese can handle any amount of white noise pollution during the day but god forbid someone fart in the wrong direction after 10pm).
Sure, there is the huge amphitheatre on Wenxin and Shang Shiang Road but it lacks any kind of intimacy and playing there means engaging with a City Government which regards foreigners as little more than somewhere between a necessary evil and a curiosity to be exploited twice a year for the Jazz and Food Festivals.
Mayor Hu looked the other way when it was foreigners on their own steam that provided a rich variety of night life and cultural production giving residents an opportunity to enjoy something other than KTV or cover bands in dodgy bars run by gangsters. Now, he has put the nail in the coffin of what remains of the ‘Taichung scene’.
Admittedly, it is likely that many native Taiwanese Taichung residents will not have noticed any discernable change (or could care less about strange foreigners and their ‘noisy’ music), but for foreign residents Taichung has become somewhat of a dead city, culturally and entertainment wise. With almost nowhere to go to enjoy live music, watch sports or socialise over a drink this summer is looking like it is going to be long, hot and joyless.
Thanks Mayor Hu.