I was assigned to interview one of the local bands that introduced me to old school hardcore. During the Valley of the Dead days, I still remember seeing a Killeur Calculateur gig poster just outside of my first ever jamming session in a dodgy studio in Shah Alam. It’s been years and now, Killeur Calculateur are considered legends by many, and at least by me.
On a rainy Friday night, I drove down to SS15, where the devil sleeps in between the cars in the unbearable traffic congestion. There, members of KC, Smek and Ali Jo were already waiting for me after having dinner at Grafa’s. The ambience were a bit chaotic, as Ali Jo suggested us to head outside and get the interview done there. Funnily, there were a set of small chairs and table just waiting for us to have tea in the fashion of Sid’s little sister in the first Toy Story. Little that I know, that this interview affected me on a personal level and to be frank – I wasn’t ready to experience it.
Ze: So, Book of Flags came out in 2014, and the reception was crazy. But how was the reception in your eyes? Did it meet your expectations?
Smek: To be honest, it was kinda overwhelming. Kinda surprised that people really have like bad taste in music [chuckles] but it exceeded our expectations. We pressed 300 copies of the LP, lepas tu habis within 2 months. Then like somebody cakap it was reselling for RM350. Since 2014 tu dah habis, other resellers were trying to push it RM350, RM280. We went out for RM55 when we put it out, lepas tu it got sold out. Also because we went on tour to support it as soon as it came out. We played weekend tours around the country, so that’s probably why it went so well la. ‘Cause bila tengah panas lepas tu kita jalan main show en, but we didn’t expect it to sell that well.
Ze: Playing punk today, dari zaman 2014 ‘til now, how is it different than playing punk during valley of the death era?
KC: Like different in what terms? The scene or making punk music?
Ze: Overall, in making punk music, the response, the arguments you guys raised
KC: Like, the backlash of Trump getting up? But honestly, we don’t resonate with that because we’re not Americans in the first place, politically pun we’re not very politically blind as well. But I think it’s better now, the scene’s better, the general ideals of punk for modern people especially post-Trump’s America throughout the world, even before Trump actually punks had the internet. That itself lends to a whole lot of better understanding and information about how to respond to something you don’t like about the world. Which is very much a punk-way of writing lah, commentary, or pisstake or marah about something. And now budak budak yang baru buka band pun ada clearer ways to get information, inform them, and feel about whatever they feel through the music.
In a way that’s good now, but all good things are a double-edged sword so there are a lot of misunderstanding about what punk really is, about where it’s headed to, what is punk, who is punk, how is punk, semua tu macam sekarang ni bastardized in a way. But like every ideology after a few years? It gets bastardized. It’s not all expected, but as the band, I think it’s a good time to be within this independent music movement, I wouldn’t say the punk scene because the punk scene is always gonna be there. As a band, that is outside or whatever you call it la, on the fringe, or middle ground-lower, under or whatever, it’s nice because we can do whatever we want, we are very well informed about how we want to sound like. Kita pun dah tua juga, so there’s less of thinking of what we want to be as a band, cos we all understand each other better, cos we’ve been in the band for long enough.
Smek: On the scene part, like now in Southeast Asia, it means a lot, because now we have a lot of good bands from Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia included. For the past 2, 3 years i’ve been just listening to alot of Southeast Asian punk bands, I have to say like diorang jenis berkualiti, cos like you know you have a power violence band that would probably gonna sound the same with 800 other bands, but how do you relate to someone? The Indonesian bands are doing good, our bands are doing it right, so yeah in that sense, right now is the best time for punk in Southeast Asia.
Ali Jo: Everybody has an entry to be in a band, especially in punk, with the internet again, dah banyak gila benda yang macam rooted in punk or hardcore or aggressive music for that matter but never really fall into that pigeonhole. Everybody knows that aggressive music is some sort of a punk thing, that empowerment is important. Back then there was a cookie cutter sound, and very few people broke the mole la. When a band breaks the mold, it empowers a great bunch of other bands. So masa zaman we were growing up dulu, we would see like 13 bands a punk show and maybe 9 of them sound the same. But now when you see 13 bands at a punk show, only 2 of them sound the same, it’s very diverse now. That’s one of the great effects of the internet, you learn so many things, it’s open.
Ze: Despite that, you know there are still a lot of media outlets, Malaysian mainstream music scene, online magazines in the UK and the US say that punk rock music is dead, just because of the rise of modern day hip-hop. What do you think about that?
KC: We listen to a lot of modern day hip hop. I listen to like Playboy Carti before coming here. I don’t know like, you say that but then again you go to every f–king Foo Fighters concerts they’re all f–king sold out, you go to even f–king Bon Jovi concert they’re also sold out. So like, f–k the f–king media dude, they don’t know shit. But you know, history or every other article is written by the victors anyway. I think that’s the very, acclaim that divides the difference- makes up the difference that’s actually not there initially, but lines are blurred now. Punk and hip hop kids hang out, indie rock and metal kids hang out, so I don’t think the fall of one genre is the rise of another. And if you ask people who are aware enough, mostly at festivals you see, like Lollapalooza ke Coachella ke apa, there’s a balance of guitar-driven music acts and also hip-hop acts. So, we’d have to exist in the same sphere sebenarnya because at the end of the day it boils down to us musicians and in fact the rise of, if the media claims that modern hip-hop has risen over
Ze: Do you think social media has given a positive impact in this growth?
KC: Social media is a good way for people who have influence over music in the world, to connect with a small brand for Malaysia for example, because it feels personal. For example Simon Cowell retweets Zee Avi or Yuna, it really feels like Simon f–king Cowell pressed retweet on his phone, so that kind of validation from somebody big – I’m just using stupid examples here – that shows that it’s important la ‘cause people get kicks out of that shit. 200 likes or 5000 retweets diorang macam rasa best. Sebenarnya in real time currency benda tu tak wujud ah, likes, retweets, mentions. Thats where we are right now, it helps a lot of bands because the internet is borderless so if somebody does a mistake right here but it might get picked up by somebody in the states.
Benda tu gempak ah, and how bands are using it here you ask, I think the younger bands really know how to work social media without having to go to a course about how to manage your social media accounts. We don’t necessarily manage our pages that well, but we are very in tune, that’s how we reach our crowd anyway. The internet is the world, the world is the internet. So we exist on the internet, but we’re more of a band yang you need to watch live la. If you can’t come to our live shows, tengok youtube pun takpe. But still, you know, one side is the music like bandcamp, soundcloud and stuff but there’s always a live element to every band, and that one also, we need to catch both la at least.
This internet thing allows many people to live without their true selves kat depan tau, so many people are behind that wall, benda tu membuatkan fandom pun meningkat, ‘cause you don’t have to feel malu because you’re a fan like you can tweet Drake “champagne papi i love your music!” and he likes it, so example things like it gives validation to the fan, to the band, as Drake himself like “f–k ada orang malaysia sial suka gua!” sama cam kita la like fan from Brazil like “whoa! jauh betul” and that is f–king awesome, like kids doing fan videos for us, yeah in that sense it’s great. Macam dulu the VCR days susah ah kita nak pakai lagu favourite band kita dalam video, tapi now everything is an app thing you know, the very fact that they discovered us online, and use online tools to express it, then post it back online for us to know, and tag us, it’s great, creativity is flown in many ways now, it’s so free, and benda tu good la for bands.
Ze: After good vibes, is there anything new?
KC: We’re always working on new material, so right now jamming pun macam tulis tulis lagu juga.
Ze: So is there like another KC 2017 coming?
KC: We’re trying to push out the split with Vague with the upcoming split so yeah but i think it’s a less extensive compared to the last one. Ideally we would like to tour with them all venues, both countries, but i don’t know we’re working people. That’s the plan for this year la, we’re putting a 7 inch split with Vague from Jakarta, 2 songs each band, supposedly in 2017, so that’s the new music we have but as a band we’re still writing lah. There are dreams of writing more where we can put out more things but don’t know when lah, in Malaysian band punya timeline it’s tough to say that we can come out with something new next year because life takes over but we’re not stopping la we’re still thinking about writing, ideas are flowing, so we’re very excited.
Ze: If let say you guys keluarkan the two songs, ada any plans to upload it as a single or tak plan apa apa lagi?
KC: We already uploaded it, [you] can check out on Soundcloud or Spotify or Bandcamp, so the two songs are both out.
Ze: So after that?
KC: Sekarang ni we’re still writing parts, so nothing concrete as yet, tapi the progress is very steady lah. So ada lah lagu baru but no plans yet. But I think after the two songs we completed right now kita nak kumpul lagu dulu lah for whatever- we don’t know.
Ze: So like KC is one of a kind, dalam line up Good Vibes, you guys je yang this genre. I like it and i think more bands like this should masuk but what do you think about that: you’ve been in the scene for years, korang tau there’s a difference between gig campur and gig true, so what do you think about it, is it good that we have gigs campur macam ni?
Smek: I love gig campur. main je lah. Malaysia doh, Malaysia kan macam selalu campur. It’s such a small country with a scene that is not even huge so it’s important yang you campur because sebenarnya many of our friends also play in non punk bands and I’m sure many of other people who are in bands in general have friends in punk bands, [the] hip hop scene, producers, so that itself shows that there shouldn’t be any segregation although I do understand gig organizers yang suka buat gig satu genre, they want people who are really into that sound. That’s not a model that we think is stupid, but for us we wouldn’t play those kind of shows as much. We don’t get like invited to those kinda gigs anyway, so gig campur is the way to go la because when the underground scene started probably in late 80s, the gigs were all campur. ‘Cause there were only a handful of bands.
Ali Jo: These days banyak gila bands, banyak gila venue, that’s the risk of being isolated in a scene that celebrates itself. Personally as music listeners, kita pun tak dengar satu genre je. In our tour, we played many states, all the shows were always with bands that were not the same genre. We discovered good bands from JB, band best daripada Penang by playing shows yang campur. In Indonesia especially, we played with really far out bands that doesn’t sound hardcore at all and they probably really gentle, that’s why we like gig campur.
Ze: As a band who have been in the scene for a number of year jugak, like people say that nowadays kan as a band, you cannot reach the level of success that bands in the past like before 2010 punya level lah. I mean you see bands like White Reaper, you know all those newer bands yang international, even The Vaccines for example, they can’t reach The Strokes punya level. Tapi in Malaysia the situation is more dire, macam bands nowadays they feel very discouraged, the fact that they can’t play shows properly. So my question is, what advice would you give to the upcoming bands?
Smek: Hard work, you gotta have stamina and endurance among your bandmates. You have to have stamina for the scene. Stamina involving whatever means you have to put out your music or to reach out to your fans or your listeners. Yeah, stamina is like very underrated. I mean I feel like it’s something that bands don’t get exposure or cannot replicate the kind of exposure say Hujan or Bunkface garnered. Like Jaggfuzzbeats album is kinda good but I think it’s somehow overshadowed. So yeah I get what you mean in that sense.
My problem in that sense is that they haven’t reached or hit the halwa telinga of listeners yet. Stopping when you’re failing is a bad idea. Bands who think stuff like “oh we’re not making it” apa semua tu should quit that and just play the show, whenever and wherever. Hujan and Bunkface are where they are now because of hard work.
Ali Jo: Being in a band ni macam, nawaitu lah. It all goes down to why you want to form a band. If you want to do it to be popular, then there are already examples to make it. But you have to be true to yourselves la, in the end tu yang best.
For the first time, things like “s–t, music diorang mungkin apa benda aku tak tau tapi damn they look like they really believe in what they’re doing” and that is what we’ve learnt from many other bands that have been around longer than us. Plague of Happiness for example, Couple also, Carburator Dung, they’ve been around longer than us, there’s evolution in all these bands, there’s growth, but there’s also sustenance, there’s continuity and those little elements and understanding in the band yang buat kau nampak macam wow after all these years are still at it. And they seem to have a lot of fun. So kita pun try to think about that la. Satu lagi benda that I guess all of us have been through bands that we try to start and then end after a while, to restart something else is a pain la. Gotta find new friends, new chemistry, new work, but doesn’t mean we’re not into trying anything new cuma, yeah la i guess that’s why we’ve been together for so long because kita takda target nak jadi popular, so long as we keep doing what we believe in.
We’re not gonna quit our day jobs just to do Killeur Calculateur full time. All four of us know that enough, but at the same time the band is really what we are as people as well. It’s a big part of what we are, it’s a big part of how we carry ourselves to people jadi dia jadi macam you still have to make that la, you still have to be in that band, you still have to make music. The best thing is being in a band together, you get to travel together with you best friends, so those are the things that young bands should probably think about la. Like yeah best gila kalau kau dapat main somewhere, and you don’t go traveling with your family but you’re with 4 of your best mates and have a good time and you play the show. Whoa, what a feeling.
Ze: KC is raw, gritty. But these days, to have those kinda songs in an album is costly. Because the return you get when you jual an album, you might not get cover balik benda tu. So, should rock bands turn to electronic recording? To save money, practically in this era.
Ali Jo: Honestly if you listen to bands that we like, they don’t really have the best recordings but it’s the vibe that we get. So I think for this kind of music, yeah it’s not really as costly as you think. If you say you wanna make a recording as good as converge then maybe yeah. But if you say you wanna make the record sound like probably archaic or more cult bands and it goes with the sound then why not. The thing that is costly, if you have an expectation like ok i’m gonna do this music which cost me this much of money and i’m going to sell this few copies and i’m gonna like cover the cost, you probably shouldn’t be in a band or artist anyway. I don’t think if you ask a painter like how much do you sell this painting for – it’s probably a few hundred. But I bought all the f–king colors semua benda would probably cost me around 2000 bucks but you know, it’s my expression so I guess sometimes people think of music as a more common commercial sort of art but I guess we should see everything as it is. At the same time it’s not wrong to commercialise what you’ve made but at this level you kena manage expectations from the start la.
I mean, if we, as a band are thinking to sell 2 million copies then we are stupid la. But I guess kita pun, satu lagi kalau a band ada aspiration tu tak salah because we’ve seen friends in Malaysia to work towards getting a sound like ‘ok I want the analog thing’ but they can afford, so if you can afford it by all means, go ahead. And I say it works from bad recordings to affording his own studio and bunyi sedap lepas tu. And then again he’s a pop artist la it’s different la. But for bands, what I like about is that friends we have around kita semua live within our means. If you can only afford that studio that’s RM55 per hour go with that because you can’t afford the RM120 per hour studio. So many bands are doing their recording in their rooms now and i’m sure you can get the sound as close as you want. It’s an open world that you can, if you think you’re creative in creating your sound you should be creative in thinking about solution in recording, markets, promoting yourself. These are all creative processes too. As a band semua kena fikir sama sama., how are we going to achieve that recording sound & quality just like our favourite band. I think I’d probably never get to achieve Radiohead quality but okay what to do. Tak boleh sebab takda means, tapi kalau ada means boleh je jom ah record kat Abbey Road macam takda hal la.
Ze: Killeur Calculateur music is best served with?
Smek: Manga and Top Puff.