On June 1, 2006, I wrote an article about saving music venues The Wall and Underworld. Today, six years later, The Wall remains a sacred spot for indie bands, but Underworld has been closed by the Taipei City Government.
It is not that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his team lack cultural policies. When I spent a few years as a legislator I pushed for the reuse of empty historical buildings and an international arts village and Ma, who was then the mayor of Taipei, and his team delivered. However, when it comes to cultural affairs, Ma’s administration behaves in absurd ways and the closing of “live houses,” or live music clubs, is one example.
In 2004, the city government strongly recommended Underworld and The Wall in Taipei City’s quarterly Tourist Magazine and in 2006, the New York Times and the New Yorker also recommended both establishments. At the same time as Ma and his team were pushing for these two clubs, they clamped down on other live music clubs in the same way they did with the so-called “eight major industries,” including clubs, bars, dance halls, KTVs, barbershops and saunas, by resolutely shutting them down.
In 2006, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) and I held a public hearing in the legislature calling for live music clubs to be saved. As an urgent relief measure, we pushed what was then the Council for Cultural Affairs (CCA) to issue an “important art performance space certificate” to these clubs as protection and asked city councilors to demand that police stop closing them down.
As a permanent solution, I demanded that live music clubs be added as a new item to the regulations governing business registration. After agreeing, the Ministry of Economic Affairs included such clubs as an art business in item J6 of the business registration, calling them “music performance businesses.” Next, the CCA was supposed to generate an appropriate definition — something it ended up needing four years to do.
The definition is “a for-profit business whose main business is to provide creators of music and art acceptable to the general public with a performance space with loudspeakers, lighting, hardware and equipment to function as a stage for the live performance of their music.” It took four years to get this down on paper, an average of about a letter per day. By this time, the responsibility for the issue had been transferred from the CCA to the Government Information Office.
However, after the definition had been completed, the concerned agencies did nothing and local building control authorities inspected these establishments using the old regulations which governed the eight major industries.
Then last year, Witch House in Taipei and Sound Live House in Greater Taichung were closed down and now it is Underworld’s turn. Many peculiar things have happened during the process: The Wall, for example, was told to buy three refrigerators to fulfill the requirements of a food and beverage establishment. The owner had no choice but to comply, but the electrical outlet for the refrigerators still has not been inspected.
The situation in Taichung was even more absurd. Different agencies inspecting the premises told the owners to make various changes. One of the requests was for changes complying with demands for a “dance hall,” but after the changes were made, they were still closed down because they no longer complied with their business registration requirements.