Taiwanese quintet, CthoniC, play extreme metal that incorporates traditional instrumentation and a strong sociopolitical stance. They are banned in parts of China for addressing the bitter fight for sovereignty long fought by the Taiwanese against China. Their avant-garde music is a vehicle for promoting this and another causes, alongside addressing “Taiwan’s histories and traditional myth.”
The band doesn’t just talk about the issue; they also are actively involved in advocating for independence for Tibetans and Uighurs since their inception in 1995. Vocalist Freddy Lim is part of the Taiwanese chapter of Amnesty International and his work necessitated that bassist Doris Yeh (who joined the band in 1999) take over his work as spokesperson and business manager for the band. She has remained active in protesting alongside Lim, endorsing the Awakening Foundation and collecting funds through the band for victims of the Japan earthquake. In short, CthoniC’s music sends a strong message, and as such, we thought it’d be best for Doris Yeh’s answers be left in their own voices.
BeatRoute: Bú-Tik was released last year. Can you describe the album, what you were looking to accomplish or change from others in your cannon, and what you focus on lyrically? Why did you decide to incorporate the conch, dizi, shakuhachi, shehnai, and crystal bowl?
Doris Yeh: From every [one] of our albums, you will see different stories from this Orient land, but if you see deeper, you will “feel” different emotions and affections for a human being towards to his/her roots. Bú-Tik is a very old word, you can also find this word in the movie like The Last Samurai, those movies, which is talking about a kind of human’s spirit towards to life, and this spirit has been revealed by different generations and histories. To use traditional instruments is a very natural process for us to make music from our first albums to this seventh album. Those sounds are inside our bloods when we’re born, it’s part of the story of our land, we couldn’t find a special reason why we choose to use them.
BR: What does the name of the album mean?
DY: Bú-Tik means righteous defense, or the spirit and a way to elaborate justice. It’s also the old word that East Asian culture usually use[s] in martial arts. We love this spirit for long time and finally we found a good timing to use it as the core concept of our album.
BR: Your band has always been politically charged and strong on the activist front, and have long advocated for Taiwanese independence. Why is that issue so important to the band? Can you please explain what work you and your bandmates are doing on that front?
DY: We never thought music is music, politic is politics. As a normal and complete human being in this Universe, you have to realize that politics always control your living and thoughts, including the thoughts “politics is dirty,” or “touching politics means you’re not pure.” For us, this is stupid enough. It’s very nature for us to be an activist for social issues. [The] vocalist of ChthoniC, Freddy, is the chairman of Taiwan Amnesty International. We love the way to be not only musicians, but activists of public issues, only this way makes us complete.
BR: You use much aboriginal instrumentation. Can you explain how the issues that you work towards and how the artistic influence of aboriginal Taiwanese persons work hand in hand for your band aesthetic and your life’s work?
DY: It’s just very naturally because aboriginal culture is part of important culture which couldn’t been ignored, so [to use those] sounds from them is a beautiful thing to our music and we enjoy it a lot. Our aboriginal friends are interesting and always with kind and pure hearts, when we asked them if they want to be involved the project of our music, they always feel happy to work with us.
BR: Given the misanthropic, violent history of black metal, it could be seen as sort of a paradox for a black metal-influenced band to be so involved in bettering the world. Do you associate with black metal, and if so, do you enjoy playing with that contradiction?
DY: Our music includes some elements of black metal, but not all, as you can hear from our music. I believe most bands [have] their own characteristics. I think people nowadays should jump out of the box of the category of white people, black people or yellow people, etcetera. The genre can get you easily to point out a new thing but also it put you into the cave; the stereotyping deeper and deeper. We never felt any conflict or uncomfortable being ourselves with many different elements: Oriental, heavy metal, death, black, politics, folklore, yellow monkeys… to be ourselves is our responsibility, to think of what we are is yours.
BR: What more do you hope ChthoniC can accomplish in the future? Both in music and activism?
DY: Stop touring and take a rest, stop seeing the members for at least three months, haha! We have too many dreams to accomplish, but our lives are so limited. I hope we can do everything about music by a comfortable ways for all members, life is too short and we should focus on things, which will make us feel no regrets.
See CthoniC at Paganfest with Korpiklaani, Turisas, and Varg on Wednesday, May 7 at the Republik.
By Sarah Kitteringham