Here we go again. Just when things were starting to look up for the venue, Underworld (地下社會) is under pressure to shut down once more.
Over the past month, The Shida Road (師大路) rock club has been issued two NT$60,000 fines by the Taipei City Government for violating building code laws.
The citations are nothing new, however, and are a throwback to the summer when Underworld was forced to close in July to avoid having to pay similar fines.
One fine is for a second fire escape that has been deemed to be too narrow, which had not previously been an issue — it has regularly passed yearly fire inspections. The other violation was an improper business license. Underworld officially operates as a small restaurant (小吃部).
Underworld was able to re-open in August, following vocal protests from venue owners, supporters and prominent musicians. It gained substantial media attention, and became part of a “cultural” issue in light of the mass closures of restaurants and shops in the Shida area, which were prompted under intense pressure from a neighborhood lobby group, the Shidahood Association (師大三里里民自救會).
The government was somewhat responsive. The Ministry of Culture made a vague promise to address the legal status of live music venues across the nation. Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs promised to launch a program to help the city’s music venues conform to public safety requirements, which appeared to offer Underworld a respite. Or so they thought.
“We thought it was unbelievable that we were issued the fines [this time around],” Underworld shareholder Ho Tung-hung (何東洪) told Live Wire, in light of the Department of Cultural Affairs proposed program, which has yet to take effect. He and Underworld supporters say one major culprit is the Shidahood Association. They believe the group continues to pressure the city government to close Underworld down.
For now, Underworld remains open and as defiant as ever. Ho says the venue will go ahead and renovate its fire exits to conform to city regulations, but without help from the Cultural Affairs Department, so they can avoid paying one of the fines, the deadline for which is November 16.
This tangle of conflicting regulations could be resolved by the Ministry of Culture, which has yet to take any decisive action on letting places like Underworld continue to exist, says Ho, who led a group of 100 protestors at Taipei City Council last Friday.
If no action is taken soon, “the next step will be to protest at the Ministry of Culture,” Ho said.
Live Wire’s pick this week is a band that has played countless gigs at Underworld, 88 Balaz (88顆芭樂籽). The nation’s favorite garage rock group has been promoting their latest release, More Handsome Than an Animal (比獸還帥), their best recording to date. 88 Balaz plays at The Wall (這牆) on Wednesday, with electronica veterans Kbn and violin/accordion duo Nineteen Tael (十 九兩) also on the bill.
■ Wednesday at 8pm at The Wall, B1, 200 Roosevelt Rd, Sec 4, Taipei City (台北市羅斯福路四段200號B1). Admission: NT$200.