Wed, Feb 27, 2008 - Page 13 News List

[ MUSIC ] Rock talks

On Monday, the Czech band that helped spur the Velvet Revolution discussed human rights and Communism

By Ron Brownlow  /  STAFF REPORTER

Plastic People of the Universe is a Czech band that came to Taiwan to mark the anniversary of the 228 Incident.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF TRA

There are rock 'n' roll bands that sing about revolution, but only one can claim to have actually inspired one. They are the Plastic People of the Universe, whose Velvet Underground-influenced, psychedelic art rock the Czechoslovak Communist regime found so threatening that in 1977 it sentenced them to prison for "organized disturbance of the peace."

The case attracted international attention and became a rallying point for Charter 77, a civic movement that ultimately overthrew Communism in Czechoslovakia. The Plastics - who play tomorrow night at The Wall - even coined the name for their country's peaceful democratic transition in 1989: the Velvet Revolution.

On Monday, the band participated in a talk as part of this year's Spirit of Taiwan (正義無敵), the latest name for the Taiwan Rock Alliance's (TRA) annual music festival held to commemorate the 228 Incident. They sat down in an auditorium at Eslite's Xinyi branch, joined by Chinese dissident Wang Dan (王丹) and several figures from Taiwan's indie-music scene. The panel was supposed to discuss transitional justice, or how a country comes to terms with past human rights abuses and moves on.

"We lived under a Communist regime. If you want to ask us how was it, how it will be, we are ready to answer your questions," said frontman Vratislav Brabenec in his opening remarks. Brabenec was jailed at least 70 times before emigrating to Canada with his wife and daughter in 1983.

But not everyone in the audience of mostly university students wanted to talk about politics. The first person to ask a question noted that most Taiwanese bands break up after a few years. He wanted to know how the Plastics had managed to stay together for four decades. Another said he liked heavy metal and asked what Czech metal bands were good.

Spirit of Taiwan rock festival

Plastic People of the Universe perform tomorrow night at 6:30pm as part of the Spirit of Taiwan rock festival (正義無敵音樂會) with Feng Lai Fang (風籟坊), Tube, Orange Grass (橙草) and 1976 at The Wall (這牆), B1, 200, Roosevelt Rd Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). For more information, log on at blog.roodo.com/taiwanjustice. Tickets are NT$300 and must be purchased the day before the show at White Wabbit Orange (小白兔橘子), telephone: (02) 8935-1454, the indie music store inside The Wall's shopping arcade


When asked about their experiences under Czechoslovakia's Communist government, Brabenec, bassist Ivan Bierhanzl and Eva Turnova, who joined the band 10 years ago, gave thoughtful answers.

"The Communist Party feared us because we are poets," said Brabenec, whose long white beard and round glasses made him look like an aging John Lennon. "We were pushed to be in the political field because of the process against musicians in the Czech underground movement."

But it wasn't until late in the evening that an attempt was made to draw a connection to Taiwanese politics. And the person who made the connection was a Taiwanese politician.

"It seems that in our society in Taiwan people are [more] reluctant to appear politicized or to take a position on matters related to social justice," said Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweight Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴). What can a government do, she asked, to encourage a sense of transitional justice among artists?

Brabenec responded by saying artists themselves should speak out against the government.

Ko Ren-jian (柯仁堅), singer for indie-rock band LTK Commune (濁水溪公社), said he was impressed by how the Plastics sang about Communist politicians being afraid of artists.

"Bands in Taiwan are a little bit tired about the [domestic political] situation," he said. "The politicians here are not afraid of the bands. They're not afraid of anything. I think it's hard for us to make a change. That's just my personal thought about the difference between [your country] and Taiwan."

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