Follow The Cute Young Punks

Where to begin with Urbanscapes? Even before reaching the venue, a vibe could be felt from within KL Sentral station. An unusual number of cute young punks. Lots of guitars, lots of black. And a wall of music, emanating from God-only-knows where. Follow the cute young punks, crossing two thankfully deserted roads, and the music got a whole lot louder.

Once you pass the security gates (with the mean-looking Rela guards, more on them later), you’re confronted with a mess of small tents directly in front of you. What you can’t see (but can hear) is the main stage behind these.

The first tent directly in front of you is the Freedom Film Fest tent, inviting you to enter documentaries for the second Fest to be held later this year.

As you wander, the rhythm draws you towards the the Malaysian AIDS Council/ Malaysian AIDS Foundation stall. Five or six percussionists have zoned out here; dancers too. Some of them are wearing anti-HIV­ discrimination placards (‘I’m HIV+. May I walk beside you?’). The drummers later migrated to the Women’s Aid Organisation stall, where they accompanied a dance piece on the difficulties of being stereotyped ‘woman’.

At the ArtisProActiv stall, bohemian-at-large Vernon Adrian Emuang and the other APA-ites successfully bullied people into buying a question-mark badge. On a yellow throne in the aisle between stalls, Chang Yoon Chia was embroidering pictures of dead people to make a ‘Quilt of the Dead’. This is a long-term project of his: he’s collecting photos from obituaries and embroidering them, black on white. When he has enough, he’ll make them into a quilt. And he seems such a nice, sane boy.

Sitting around at tables and concrete blocks near the stalls, former ISA prisoner Hishamuddin Rais held forth on the Lokman Adam fiasco. Pete Teo was strumming his guitar as a host of hormones sang raucous love songs.

You could learn to sign (as in using your hands to talk, very useful given the volume of the music!). Henna tattoos and flowery bags on offer. People are selling, flying and fixing rainbow-coloured kites. There are even second-hand books!

Behind the stalls was a cinema tent. It was partitioned into two. As you walk in, six TV sets blinked out 10 shorts. The only one I managed to catch from the beginning was Linus Chung’s Demolition Frog, an amphibian’s tale of love, cruelty and revenge. In 10 minutes. And in plasticene.

On the main screen beyond this TV room, I caught the tail end of Amir Muhammad’s 6horts and the start of Scarred by Chin Hor. Unfortunately, the sound was loud and the picture was too whited-out. If this was an intentional effect, it didn’t work.

Outside the cinema tent, grafitti artists were at work. There were two of them on a large wall-sized piece as I went by: feather-light can-strokes, bright orange and grey subversion. All observed by a rather scandalised Rela member standing on the wall overlooking the grounds.

After this is the main stage, also known as the Groove Zone, where all the big action was taking place, captured on film by TV3.

A couple of mysteries about this stage… First, they seemed determined to keep the audience as far away from the performers as possible. There was a fence, some strange box things and a whole lotta space separating artiste and fan. What were they scared of?

The second mystery was the bizarre fencing arrangement. To get to the official ‘enclosure’ of the main stage, you had to make a big horse-shoe type perambulation, because there were fences preventing a straight A-to-B manoeuvre. Why?

This stage was where the super-duper sound system was. When I arrived OAG were strutting their stuff. It was the first time I’d heard the band, and because of the hype, I was expecting rather trite rock. Hah! OAG were fizzballs, transmitting to the largest mosh pit I saw that day. (Officially their music is ’60’s Crunchy Pop Fuzz’. Whatever.)

Later, I caught Reshmonu donning a chicken-head.  Big, fluffy more than feathery and very yellow. Once he escaped this hereto-unreported strain of bird flu, he broke out into more palatable R&B numbers, dragging crowds back after dinner.

Later still, there was Too Phat, a fashion show and a few DJs, but I huddled into the Gallery Stage for most of the evening. Air-conditioning and a place to sit made it irresistable, and I’m not one for dance music, R&B or rap. Sorry.

The Gallery Stage was a great little venue in itself. To the right and left of the stage were mini-art galleries comprising multimedia presentations and artworks. Including art-in-progress. Sidney Tan’s comic strips may not have been natural neighbours to Ena Hadzir’s fantasy spirals or Tan Chun Woei’s psychedelia-inspired ‘Beautiful Junk’-scapes, but given the background music and the sheer diversity of the entire gathering, it worked beautifully.

As multimedia presentations go, that house collection’s of cats and people combined Maggi mee, painting and projected animation to interesting effect. Josh Lim and Associates’ piece on time was clever and artsy – a countdown of when yesterday was, when tomorrow will be and when you are right now. And if you stood in front of the projector, you could stop time.

An award, however, should be given to Fizi. She was completing a collage piece, replete with tudung-clad sirens reclining on the arm of a ravening blue beastie, mere metres away from the rock’n’roll extravaganza going on on­stage.

Although there were other acts earlier, my day began with Singapore’s Force Vomit, the mystery unannounced act. They’re cute, they’re raucous, and they rock. They played their songs from the soundtrack of Dari Jemapoh ke Manchestee (directed by the above-mentioned former ISA prisoner before he was an ISA prisoner) and ‘Siti’, a sing-along track featuring everyone’s favourite mega-star.

Jerome Kugan was obviously drawing on the energy of the crowd when he crooned through ‘Homesick’. A rockier than usual version of the song ensued.

Qings and Kueens came on later, with throaty rock numbers. They win the prize for ‘Performers who enjoyed themselves most onstage’. They loved the music, they loved playing. And you can’t help but get infected by that sort of wide-eyed, cheeky-grinned enthusiasm.

The duo who stole the stage, however, were Double Take. You could drown in the silk and cream of Mia Palencia’s voice. And when accompanied by Roger Wang on guitar, the superlatives fail me. I’ve heard Mia sing before, and she was great. On Saturday, however, the earlier performance seemed like a pale dress rehearsal.

And they managed to avoid the DJ Goldfish set. DJ Goldfish did not play on the Gallery Stage; he was on the Groove Zone not far away (and obviously not far enough). He drowned out those who were playing in the Gallery – in particular Pete Teo. It wasn’t DJ Goldfish that was at fault, I’m sure. But Pete could barely hear himself play and the audience had to do some serious on-the-spot editing.

The evening ended with dance music on both stages. The few thousand-strong crowd had dwindled. But the remaining hundreds of people still found the energy to dance both in the Gallery Stage and around the Groove Zone.

In this review, I wanted to tell you about hair and hats, about the clothes and the cool, and a whole lot more about the music. People volunteered at the Suaram stall. People signed petitions, donned placards. They listened to WWF, to the SPCA. They had their face painted by Red FM.

There were, however, signs of authoritarian paranoia. The shut-down time was brought forward from three a.m. to midnight. The boys-in-blue came to check out Force Vomit, although they seemed more interested in what   was happening off-stage than on. The ubiquitous Rela members really did not seem to be enjoying themselves. I don’t think they caught anybody doing things they weren’t supposed to be doing, and that seemed to piss them off. And they obviously didn’t like the music. Which makes you wonder whether it would have been possible to find Rela members who would have found this a dream detail, though I suspect it unlikely.

It also made people aware of how unique the event was. A couple of thousand young (of all ages) people were allowed to enjoy themselves, with minimal interference. Rarely are we allowed this much fun. Which leaves me, at least, with the question: Why?

First Published: 06.02.2004 on Kakiseni

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