Malaysia was once graced with an excess of indie bands during the peak of the KAMI era. Bands like The Times, Bittersweet, and Hujan would gather for small sauna-like studio gigs to gigantic concerts like Panglobal Rocks where thousands would show up sweaty, ecstatic, and sometimes, shirtless. Hundreds of images would surface on Myspace, edited and watermarked on picnik to help spread more awareness. Those were the good times and it looks like the good times may make a comeback.
Noh during his earlier days. (photo by lifeinkl.com)
You can hear complaints and rants every time a cringey Malay pop song goes expectedly viral on the radio stations. Abuse will be given, offense will be taken, and the cycle continues. However there was a tinge of positivity in that nonsense: the demand for good music is real, and in a way, those cries were heard and answered. It started when rumors were circling regarding the potential return of indie’s poetic darling into the scene, Hadi Jaafar. Many fans heard that Hadi, who traded his Laila’s Lounge days for another path, wanted to perform again as short snippets of him strumming his trusty old guitar surfaced on Instagram. Then, the big news came – Laila’s Lounge was back together (now disbanded), and was due to perform in the Klang Valley for the first time since God knows when at Tempatan Fest finale during new year’s eve 2015.
Laila’s Lounge during the promotion of their Kosong EP.
Laila’s Lounge reunion – first look.
Ever since that, many who left returned to pick up where they left off. Hujan and Bittersweet released new albums, Naza brought back The Times while Irfan joined Edwin of They Will Kill Us All to form Toko Kilat, The Lipstik shone their shoes and rebranded themselves into Masdo!, and rock giants Disagree, Pop Shuvit and Butterfingers gave their all for one last hurrah. The hearsay weren’t just chatter anymore – the second wave of indie scene officially arrived in 2016.
The Lipstik rebranded – Masdo!
Emmet and Loque’s first official photo since Butterfingers’ brief reunion for Rockaway (photo by Rockaway)
It would feel odd to say that the direction would eventually lead back to Indie, especially after the underground focus shifted to Metalcore and Hardcore for almost a decade, or even more. The metalcore scene’s growth hit a snag when authorities generally accused all heavy music outfits as Satanic worshippers and the notable closure of a few key venues starting with the breeding ground for metal bands, One Cafe. When the Sani brothers’ ALT HQ, which was the hardcore scene’s final official fort, the hardcore and metalcore scene lost not only a place to gather, but its community center, where no ketayap and serban-wearing adult can accuse them of anything and kids can have fun even with its strict no-drugs policy. The heavy side of the industry is not dead, mind you, but instead of having gigs at one or two places week by week, the scene is scattered across the Valley in newer locations, like Ultimate Blast Studio Puchong, Penvia Studio Taman Medan (formerly Pennylane Studio) and Behave Studio Ampang to name a few.
ALT HQ’s final goodbye show.
Despite the fact that the metal scene was unable to garner mainstream coverage on the radio due to the heavy nature of the genre and the fragile sensitivity of the public in general, bands like SOG have achieved commercial success with their ‘Kitalah Juara’ campaign with Media Prima while the likes of Kids On The Move and Tools of the Trade have bragging rights and strong fanbase overseas. But the metal scene and the indie scene has one awful similarity that no one really wants to talk about, and the one that brought them to their knees: sustainability.
The problem with both of the scenes was their inability to sustain it as a whole. Hell, ask any scene practitioners who were actively gigging during the KAMI days – only a handful of them were playing music full time. The rest? Some of them work tirelessly for production houses, advertising firms, banks, you name it. Most of the time, being in the band isn’t just profitable, or at least sustainable. Fans would rather torrent songs for free, organizers can’t afford to pay them on a standard rate, promotional outlets like JUNK and XFM gulung tikar – there just weren’t enough funds to keep the wheel spinning and at one point, it stopped. Sadly, most of us were at the bottom of it, and it’s a global phenomenon. Even Liam Gallagher complained that he has to make coffee for himself, when he used to have three minions on that duty alone.
2016 has passed and the seeds of a revival were successfully planted. New players are sprouting like beans in the names of Ramayan, Jaggfuzzbeats, and many other young, frizzy-haired and skinny jean-sporting outfits looking to try their luck in this ever-so inconsistent ecosystem. Venues are also popping up at strategic locations and with the LRT and MRT extensions, gigs are much more accessible than ever. Local channels such as ourselves (proudly), IM4U, mykampusradio, The Daily Seni are working towards educating the masses that ‘Hey, Malaysia pun banyak good artists tau!’, not forgetting Alijo’s little project at BFM in promoting quality local music and the most surprising one of all: the president of CENDANA, PM Najib Razak’s art development initiative, admits that a chunk of money from their RM20 million budget will be allocated to focus on ‘indie music’.
Relic: The Junk of our hearts.
The launching of CENDANA, an agency aimed to help with the development of the arts. See a friendly face there?
It won’t be much of a surprise if this so-called ‘comeback’ will be brief, but given that DIY businesses are thriving these days, music-streaming is beating piracy RM0.005 cents per play and social media platforms are fully equipped to help small players, so it is only fair to say that the indie scene deserves a second chance.
But this time, the scene shouldn’t be restricted to only Britpop-Garage rock-sounding bands, or any specific genre for that matter. This time, ‘indie’ should go back to its roots, and remember its true birthname: ‘independent’. Indie is going to be diverse, and as diverse as your guilt-free Nasi Kandar. It’s going to be Alena Murang at 7.00pm, I Lost The Plot x SOAP at 8.30pm, alextbh at 10 and Dangerdisko sampai subuh. Indie is going to be everyone, and will include everyone, and finally sustain the scene, but to bloom as an industry, from Alor Setar to Miri, like a rainforest of so many newly-discovered species of beauty waiting to be appreciated by man. With all the pieces falling to place, this is not going to be a dream – this is happening, and all we need is to pull our shit together.
Parti Indie Menari gig at Perfect Square Space, TTDI this coming weekend.
Take your time digesting this. Look around you, scroll down your timeline, what do you see? Non-stop releases? Brand endorsements for indie acts? Gigs everywhere? When it finally hits you, come find me, somewhere in the neighborhood bars of TTDI, where I’ll be waiting for you with a fat, satisfying pint of ‘I F**king Told You So’.