By David Frazier
TAIPEI – When the Beastie Boys traveled to Taipei, Taiwan, for an April 20 Tibetan Freedom Concert, they found themselves advocating their old cause in a unique political middle ground between the U.S. and China.
Adam Yauch (MCA) and Michael Diamond (Mike D) on Monday commented on issues related to both superpowers, namely corporate censorship of anti-war music in the U.S., and their continuing crusade against Chinese government oppression in Tibet.
On the American front, Yauch responded to a question about cuts in airplay for the anti-war Dixie Chicks, saying, “most of the media outlets are basically acting like cheerleaders for the whole war and for the Bush administration. Shortly after Sept. 11, some of these major corporations stopped playing things like John Lennon songs that just said anything about peace because they just wanted to be very careful not to do anything anti-American,” he said.
Facilitating the trend, he added, “most of the radio stations are being bought up by Clear Channel and a few other corporations.”
Neither Yauch nor Diamond expressed regret at releasing their own anti-war, anti-Bush administration views through their latest single, “In a World Gone Mad,” which was made available for free download in March from the Beasties’ official Web site (http://www.beastieboys.com).
“When we’re making records it’s kind of like a process of speaking out or speaking on what’s happening to us, or things that are of concern to us or on our minds at that moment. Each record is just kind of a reflection of that,” said Diamond, possibly giving some clues as to the content of the Beasties’ next album, due next year. “We’ve been very, very fortunate in the sense that fairly early on we sold quite a number of records and that gave us a position of power .”
However, when it came to playing Taiwan, those views presented something of an obstacle. Taiwan maintains its own democratic government, but China claims that the island is a “renegade province” and part of China. To warm up to the Chinese government and the world’s largest market, Taiwan’s music industry takes pains to avoid offending Beijing, especially by supporting Taiwanese independence or Tibetan freedom.
Even the local branch of the Beasties worldwide distributor, EMI Taiwan, was caught between a rock and a hard place. “We’re promoting the Beastie Boys, not the concert itself,” a label source admitted. “The concert is very sensitive to us. We’re concerned about the China government’s thinking. We don’t know what this will bring out.”
Yauch, who’d been in Taiwan three times before this visit, ended up arranging the concert through a small promoter who supports Taiwanese independence. Concert attendance hit around 7,000, which is large for Taiwan, and Tibetan flutist and Freedom Concert veteran Nawang Khechong commented that compared to prior events, “politically it was a much stronger response for Free Tibet.”
Yauch agreed. “From what I’ve seen it seems that Taiwanese people are very supportive of Tibet, and more understanding of it than most,” he said.
Now the only way the Beasties could attack the cause more directly would be to go a step further and play China. Yauch said he’d be eager for the chance but didn’t think it would be practically possible. “We’d love to go to China,” he said. “And at some point in the future hopefully we’ll be able to do that if the government opens up a little bit more. But I don’t think it would be wise for us to hold back on speaking out about oppression just so we could go there and entertain.”