By Shazwan Zulkiffli
Universiti Teknologi MARA or UiTM has long been associated with the idea of conservatism, especially in the arts and music division. With it’s core bumi-only policy, it’s not surprising that people think UiTM conserves the art within a certain culture and art form, rather than letting art and music practitioners progressively experiment with the elements of said culture and art form to create something innovative. But that’s what people think, though UiTM never actually moved to correct that perception before.
Sekumpulan Orang Gila, better known as SOG, on the other hand, is the innovative post-hardcore band that has earned massive respect in the local scene and fans across the Nusantaran countries including Brunei and Indonesia. Despite the Malaysian general public perception towards “band menjerit (screaming band)” being one that, by conservative-society standards, should never be allowed to be enjoyed by the public in fear of ill-mannered influence, violence, and even worse, “black metal”, SOG has enjoyed mainstream success with a couple of AIM nominations, a clean sweep at the VIMAs, and their song “Kitalah Juara” being televised across the country via TV3. Perhaps it should come as unsurprisingly, the band is spearheaded by two UiTM alumni: Raja Nazrin Shah and Raja Nazmin Shah.
In a country where change rarely happens (because most people dislike change) and heavy music is considered as taboo, you wouldn’t expect two contrasting entities from both the conservative and innovative fronts to collaborate in order to create something that would break down barriers in one night. Well, let’s just say, it actually did.
SOG and UiTM’s HIFA collaborated to host SOG’s biggest acoustic show yet, backed by an orchestra ensemble consisting of UiTM students and alumni. The show, which was organized by UiTM and Hashtag Media, was attended by members of the media, SOG fans, UiTM lecturers and students, passionate scene kids who were ready to start a mosh pit at any point of the show, fellow musicians, comrades and familiar faces in the music industry. The show was also blessed with Jennifer Thompson’s involvement, making sure that not only the music was top notch, but the concert as a production went smoothly.
SOG kicked it off with “Malaysian Invasion” – a song we’d perhaps never have imagined played acoustic, the wildly different rendition startled the fans in a positive way. Syada Amzah and Ajim Juxta joined for a few songs, but it was SOG’s latest single “Bulanku” that really broke the atmosphere and brought the audience to a new, innovative, and yet comfortable perspective of Nusantara-infused music. SOG fans, who were mostly fans of heavy music, were in tears during “Bulanku” as SOG sent them to a level of emotions that they’ve never experienced before with nusantara compositions. Even the SOG twins were in tears, as the song was written and partially composed by their mother who passed away earlier this year.
“Bulanku” aside, SOG brought the beast into UiTM’s Dewan Sri Budiman hall with songs like “Amat Mudah Untuk Hanyut Dibawa Arus” and “Sumpah Pendekar”, which features lyrics written by the legendary Dato’ M.Nasir. There was a huge roar coming from the crowd when Riko started to scream his lungs out, and frankly, a part of the roar came from UiTM lecturers and students. This was when most of the members in the crowd and critics realised that, heavy music was not only being enjoyed inside the hall of one of the most conservative universities in the country, but it was being accepted, celebrated, and endorsed by the same people who may not recognised heavy music as art and considered it as noise.
But noise was not what was heard onstage that night, because the only noise that was left was irrelevant chatter on how heavy music shouldn’t be considered as art that were drowned out by the cheers, singalongs, and screams of both fans and critics alike. After 9 years of planning, SOG and UiTM proved that change is possible, but it may take some time and through roads that a lot of people may not want to endure. They proved that if change was going to happen, it should happen from the inside, and in this case, they literally changed things from the abdomen of UiTM’s core values itself, even when the wait can be excruciating.
For SOG, it’s a show to showcase their songs in a “Nirvana MTV unplugged” manner that many fans including the members of the band themselves enjoyed and an experience to forever be kept in their minds to be embodied in their future work. For UiTM, it was a long awaited shift towards progressiveness. It was a wrecking ball of pop culture minus a naked Miley Cyrus on top that will change the way UiTM see, plan and execute things from now onwards. But for the industry, it opens up a door for endless possibilities. Heavy music in the radio airwaves? Maybe. More Malaysian alternative music content being promoted? Should be. Nusantara music being enjoyed with a mix of alternative fusion? In time. The HIFA x SOG show was a sign that a certain hierarchy might die to make way for a healthy music ecosystem, a statement that was sent to every parts of the scene, and a lesson to learned for the betterment of the industry.