Taipei troublemakers still have something to shout about

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 February, 2007, 12:00am

When a couple of English teachers got drunk on a Taiwanese beach and formed the Deported in early 2002, they took their punk-you-very-much name from a series of laws that could have them kicked off the island for plying their chosen trade.

Foreigners living in Taiwan can technically be deported for performing - or doing charity work, or taking any other work not specified by the standard one-job-only work permits - even if it's unpaid.

The rule hadn't been enforced until 2004, when a provincial police officer brought videotaped evidence against an American folk singer who'd made the mistake of helping a government cultural agency set up a series of performances for marginalised indigenous musicians.

Fortunately, most Taiwanese police don't bat an eye at who's on stage, and in recent years the Deported have been able to steadily carve out a niche as Taiwan's mainstay expat punk band. This Saturday, they'll bring their rowdy Boston punk sound and activist overtones to Edge in Central, where they'll play with local bands Hardpack and Little Fat Pig, on their way to tour Japan.

The Deported have stayed true to their name by giving the finger to Taiwan's visa laws. Founding guitarist Jeff 'Damage' Curran overstayed his visa by four years, and Taiwan's Foreign Affairs Police just didn't get the irony. They also weren't impressed when the band's first drummer overstayed and, when asked to pay a fine at the airport, threw some loose change on the counter and tried to make a run for it. Both are blacklisted and can't re-enter Taiwan.

For the foursome that remains - which includes one Taiwanese member, drummer Wayne Liu Wei - the episodes are mostly just 'some screwed-up crap in the past', or maybe even the beginnings of a quaint mythology. The band remain committed to in-your-face shows and a broader goal of working for what frontman Andy O'Brien calls a sense of 'solidarity in the DIY scenes all over the world'.

'The state of punk rock, especially in the west, is pretty damn sad,' says O'Brien. 'Not only do bands begin to put the music over the spirit, but they begin to put a monetary value on their music, and where they end up is in middle-class lockdown.'

After graduating from college in the US in 2001, O'Brien came to Taiwan, teamed up with Curran, Liu, guitarist Tony D and French bass player Kader, and extended himself into the local punk and activist scenes.

O'Brien has published his own fanzine, been involved in Iraq war protests, and worked as a reporter with Taipei's alternative weekly, POTS, where he broke a story of the physical abuse and illegal deportations of migrant Filipino factory workers by one of Taiwan's biggest companies.

When it comes to the Deported's music, the politics are perhaps more closely tied to where they play than what they sing. Two years ago, they did something few other western bands have done - a grass-roots tour of low-budget venues in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. O'Brien has also visited the Philippines where he connected with local activist punks, visited their jailed friends and even initiated a documentary project about their clashes with the military as they protested against government corruption.

'These people live a life most in the developed world can't even imagine,' says O'Brien.

He also says they're giving a whole new life to punk rock.

'In the Philippines, they're aware they're using a form of music that's a product of globalisation, but they don't really care. They can use that anger and rage to express their everyday reality. The passion is still behind it, and that's what punk rock is really all about.'

The Underground, featuring the Deported, Hardpack and Little Fat Pig, Sat, 9pm, Edge, 60 Wyndham St, Central, HK$80. Inquiries: 9486 4648