Hongshulin Whiteloft 紅樹林白厝

A skeletal outline in the riverside park next to Hongshulin Station, Tamsui.

Yesterday I seized an opportunity to combine two of my passions, the exploration of abandoned places and appreciation of underground electronic music, at a one-off techno party titled The Whiteloft 白厝. From the event description:

The Whiteloft was originally an abandoned villa where only wild dogs go to sleep. Buried deep in silver grass, just alongside the Golden Waterfront of Hongshulin, Taipei, the building hovers the Interzone between metropolis and mangrove jungle. Humdrum pedestrians seem oblivious of this colossal fortress: its skeleton rusted and exposed, leftover building materials strewn astray. Despite its shroud of mangrove leaves, the building appears raw and naked. We tried to find historical records about this building, but found nothing but total blankness, hence the name The Whiteloft.

The structure in context. This was shot from the top of the parking garage attached to the MRT station next door.

As noted, the ruin can be found along the riverside bikeway behind Hongshulin Station 紅樹林站 (literally “Mangrove Forest”) in Tamsui 淡水. Coming from Canada it is almost unimaginable to me that such an event wouldn’t end up shut down by the authorities—the building is located mere meters from the back of the station and hard, grinding techno music blared across a pathway frequented by literally thousands of passing pedestrians and cyclists. (Apparently the cops arrived later into the evening but let the festivities proceed. There’s more to say here but I’ll leave it at that.)

Climbing up the rugged stairs to the third floor.
Here you can see how close it is to the many modern high-rises in the area.

The building itself is exactly as described, a blank canvas, incomplete and unfinished, without any adornments or sense of history whatsoever. It is a strange thing to find standing out in the parklands north of Taipei 台北. What were they building it for? Why did they stop? And now to have a bunch of local youth move in, apply a fresh coat of paint, bolt chains and netting to open gaps in the buildings to make it somewhat safer, and kick out the jams—even stranger.

On the rooftop at the Whiteloft looking back at the high-rise across from Hongshulin Station.
A magical moment on the rooftop of an abandoned building in Tamsui. Just picture a hundred dragonflies buzzing around.

Ascending to the rooftop I observed a most magical sight: a small swamp teeming hundreds of dragonflies swarming in the late afternoon sun. It was impossible to keep up with their elegant oscillations, much less photograph them with what limited gear I had available to me, so you’ll have to take my word: it was a beautiful moment to behold, especially thanks to the modular synth soundtrack bubbling up from below.

Back down on the second level the party is just getting started.

Back downstairs the party was just getting started. Only a few people had shown up by the time I put my camera away (a man’s gotta dance) but the place filled up nicely within an hour or so of starting. After sundown white strobes and black lights illuminated the space. A pair of security cameras connected to twin projectors created participatory visuals. I was greatly amused by the quirky characters who emerged from the dance floor gestalt to make faces or engage in shadow puppetry over the course of the evening.

The raspy, mechanical techno was a great fit for the space and most DJs sounded great to my ears. It helped that the organizers had setup a proper sound system: clear, powerful, and so full of bass that I briefly contemplated the structural integrity of the crumbling ruin we were all dancing inside. I’m not always in the mood for pure machine music but it perfectly suited the environment and I left satisfied.

Powering up the sound system at sunset.

Suffice to say it was a unique event, much like the mountain party I went to a couple of weeks ago. Taipei 台北 has a surprisingly good underground scene to tap into—if you know where to look. Judging by the near-complete absence of non-Taiwanese faces on the dance floor I get the sense that not many foreigners care to find out (or make the effort to travel beyond city limits). I don’t mean to keep these things a secret, but if you’re at all interested it isn’t hard to find these sorts of events. Make some contacts in the scene, add a few promoters, follow a few pages, and trouble yourself to scan event listings. It’s all public for the most part.

I hope humans believe…

Taiwan is an unusually permissive nation with fewer boundaries and restrictions than most nations I have visited. The relative ease with which these organizers instantiated a temporary autonomous zone would be the envy of most of my party-going friends back home—if they even knew.

That being said, you can’t host an event in any old ruin. Many are too dangerous to attempt any such things—others are considered historic (and you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of a social media backlash for disturbing such places). But there are also some places that prove to be acceptable enough to nearby residents, conservationists, and the authorities to host officially sanctioned events at times, for instance the Nangang Bottlecap Factory 南港瓶蓋工廠. It remains to be seen whether techno will return to the Whiteloft—and if not, may this elliptical recap serve as a small reminder of what happens between the lines here in Taiwan.

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1 Comment

  1. I passed by this abandoned building several times when biking to Danshui.

    Every time when I wandered too close to it, I was welcomed by stray dogs, and by the time I walked back to my bike, there would have more and more stray dogs clearly sending me the message that I was not welcomed to explore this abandoned place!

    How did the hosts get rid of the stray dogs? :)

    As for the history of that building, I’m pretty sure it’s an illegal construction that was stopped by the popo before it was completed, but of course no one wanted to pay for its destruction, so it’s just sitting there since then.

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