WORDS: James Weaver
Since their humble origins in 1995, Taiwan’s CHTHONIC have forged a unprecedented reputation in the global metal community. Forging black, death, symphonic metal elements alongside traditional music from their homeland has led to the band performing around the world on the some of the biggest stages. Frontman Freddy Lim made the headlines right before New Years, as he prepares a political campaign to stand in the parliamentary elections. We caught up with Freddy to talk all things CHTHONIC, his political campaign, the social issues Taiwan faces and what 2016 holds for both him and the band…
You are currently preparing for a huge free show in Taipei on Boxing Day to perform for around 10,000 fans to mark 20 years as a band. How are the preparations for this show going?
Freddy: The event ended with great success. Nearly 30 thousand participated. There is no such tradition as boxing day in Taiwan, by the way.
CHTHONIC have been active for 20 years now, so you must have experienced a whole tale of stories. What have been the stand out moments from your musical career?
Freddy: There are tons of them. The moments we stand on the stage of WOA, of Fuji Rock, of Summer Sonic, and of Download gave us great sense of achievement. Nonetheless, more moments that really stand out are those when we are back on the stages in Taiwan.
Perhaps what is most interesting about your band is the fusion of both metal and traditional Taiwanese music, was this always the aim of CHTHONIC?
Freddy: It can hardly be seen as an “aim” that is set deliberately. Rather, it is a natural outcome of our life experiences. Immersed in traditional Taiwanese music and heavy metal, we take these two elements as the nutrients of our creativity. The longer we produce music, the more natural it is for us to respond to these inspirations deep down in our hearts.
Also, with the band fusing these two rather contrasting styles together, do you feel it gives your band a name of it’s own?
Freddy: We often see ourselves being categorised as different genres, spanning from symphonic black metal, melodic death metal, to folk metal. Some call us oriental metal, or outright Taiwanese metal. There are quite some classifications, so I guess we are unique in a sense.
Back to the 20 year anniversary show, are you hoping to use your band’s influential status to bring a positive change for your country?
Freddy: Taiwan is indeed a country that needs to be changed, where social equality, social justice and the state of independence and dignity are eroded by China-leaning capitalists. Most of the public are longing for changes. Since we are standing at a very special position in Taiwanese history, we feel the need to take on the responsibility to lead everyone towards a better place.
You’ve been a long time political activist alongside your musical career. Often people state that music can be the catalyst for social change. Do you agree with this?
Freddy: Most definitely. We can see that from a sorts of events and festivals calling attention to human right issues and environmental protection, such as Live Aid, Free Tibet. Amnesty International holds music event fairly often as well.
You are running as the NPP (New Power Party) candidate for central Taipei. If you are successful in the campaign, what do you hope to achieve with this position in politics?
Freddy: There are a lot of things to be done, but further deepening democratic policy in Taiwan is the primary goal. In the past, Taiwanese democracy is only demonstrated on the voting day. Once the congressmen are elected, there are barely any means for the electorate to oversee their representatives. I aim to push forward reforms that actually allow Taiwanese people to participate in democratic politics, including the amendments to the referendum law, lowering the thresholds for recalling elected politicians in Civil Servants Election And Recall Act, lowering legal voting age to 18, and enhancing the transparency of the congress for the people to oversee.
You’ve always been at the forefront for the Sunflower student movement, what has been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Freddy: The biggest challenge is that, no matter how hard we tried, how many people to express our opinion on internet or on the street, our government doesn’t seem to be responsive at all.
It’s very admirable what you are attempting with politics. Have you always been focused on changing Taiwan for the better?
Freddy: Besides from letting more young Taiwanese people to learn about the stories of their own land through our music, I also served as the chair of Amnesty International Taiwan Section for 4 years (2 terms) to push forward human right issues in Taiwan. Also, I’ve been participating in cultural policies and environmental issues to make Taiwan and the world a better place. I will never stop this.
The policies of the NPP are often focused in Chthonic’s albums, what was the decision behind including these elements to your music?
Freddy: CHTHONIC’s music addresses many of the real, historical stories that are covered up by KMT government. For example, the tragedies of Taiwanese people being ruled by foreign races in the past hundreds of years, the stories of Taiwanese aborigines fighting against Japanese before WWII, of Taiwanese people fighting for the Japanese during WWII, of the oppressions, massacre, and human rights violations under the rule of Chinese KMT (literally Chinese Nationalist Party) government after WWII, and of Taiwanese people fighting against all these. There are a lot of values in these stories: transformative justice, autonomy of aborigines, freedom and human rights. These values all echoes to the pressing problems Taiwan has to deal with today. CHTHONIC address these issues in its music, while scholars and attorneys in NPP also act in similar veins in their fields of expertise. Under such common themes of idea, these values became the consensus when we formed NPP’s political proposals.
According to polls, the NPP has grown into the third biggest political party in Taiwan. Does this make you feel that you are achieving something in politics?
Freddy: Not yet. It all depends on the results on January 16, and the ensuing events in the next 2 to 3 years. To achieve out goals, we have to first obtain substantial success in the legislative election, and then call for more of the young generation to join NPP, participate in politics and consolidate reforms.
And lastly, what are your plans for the coming year?
Freddy: We hope to come up with a new album. But again, this depends on the schedule of me if I were indeed elected.
Thank you Freddy and best of luck for the future!