By Rafil Elyas
About two weeks before the cops hunted down satanic elements at Paul’s Place, I accepted this assignment from Kakiseni to review Rock The World 6 (17 Dec 2005, Stadium Merdeka) and unwittingly exposed myself to some potentially dangerous music. At that time, I had neglected to check if any of the bands had any Black Metal, Scandinavian or Norse Mythology affiliations, or if the organisers and venue had the appropriate licensing and permits to hold this rather large event attended by over 25,000 people. Nor did I check for goats. In hindsight, I was putting myself at risk, for ignorance is no excuse. I have however, added these items to my PDA checklist.
On that day, I made my way down to Stadium Merdeka at 4 pm with fellow Disarseter Records colleagues, Ben (Bitches) and CJ Gan (our Art Director). This was the first time I’d been to Rock the World. Other than Furniture, the Pilgrims, Cassandra, Frequency Cannon and Cosmic Funk Express, I hadn’t heard any of the other bands before. I was looking forward to catching what was touted to be Malaysia’s best in class independent music acts.
The first thing I noticed was the combined Police, Rela and Rent a Cop force. I knew I wouldn’t get skanked to death by some rabid Gerhana Ska Cinta fans. Guided by friendly ushers screaming “Masuk! Masuk! Masuk!” through megaphones we made our way to the field.
The stage was indeed impressive, a pantheon to the local cream of the independent (and not so) crop. Lest we forgot who the organiser/sponsors were, Celcom X-Pax banners decked the stage. Stalls selling merchandise, including Disarseter Record’s fine compilation Panic in the Peninsula, refreshments and donation booths ringed the field. There was a big red fire truck behind the stage, I assumed stationed to handle any pyrotechnic mishaps.
The show began relatively on time, about 4.45 pm or so. The MC for the evening greeted the crowd with the standard RTM Radio DJ greeting: “Dah makan!??!” He made sure that people realised that this was a ROCK concert, the Mawi show was at Dataran Merdeka. To make sure people were limbered up for the moshpit, he started the event with some organised calisthenics.
Cosmic Funk Express kicked off the show with their brand of Fusion Shred Jazz. Their set was besieged by gremlins, Zack Kim air shredded while the techs brought his sound on but they soldiered on bravely. The sound engineers got their act together in time for the third song, a “Hip Hop Influenced Slow Song”, according to bassist Alda Tan. Zack showed off his prowess doing a Stanley Jordanesque double guitar feat for this cool number that evoked memories of Shakatak. Alex drove complex percussive beats with cool ease. This band is indeed a pleasure to hear and watch. Ben’s contribution for this set review consisted of “The Korean Kid gives G3 a run for their money”.
Frequency Cannon, the second band up, woke up that morning and took their Punk Pills. Now, I’ve never considered Frequency Cannon a punk band, perhaps power pop punk along the lines of Sum 41. This particular set was Frequency Cannon meets the Husker Du for a Stadium Rock jam. Frontman Kuachee, sporting his trademark hand socks worked the audience into a mosh pit while Yuri and Siva’s punk guitar buzz got the crowd’s endorphins flowing. Azrul and Dino, the rhythm section fuelled this power station through their four song set. The ended the set with a cover of Lo’s “Evening News”. I failed to check if they paid Lo royalties for this.
Deja Voodoo Spells were up next, starting with an instrumental medley of rock favorites, Deep Purple, Metallica stick in my mind. Front man and lead guitarist Rithan, brought on an onslaught of classic rock, blues and funk to the alternative rock crowd. Their second song, Five, a progressive number was elegantly arranged, shred guitar work complemented by cool synths.
At about this time, I decided to leave the plebeians on the field and head out back stage. I had a media pass, I could go anywhere, goddamit. Now, my regular venue, Paul’s Place has no back stage. There isn’t even a space for one to sacrifice goats or clean chalices to drink their blood (should the need arise). We immediately made a beeline for the food. Fried noodles, curry, briyani rice, tea, coffee, the works. There, the who’s who of the local independent scene milled about, Peter Hassan and Markiza from Soft Touch, Ben’s Bitches, 360 Degree Head Rotation, the Furniture crew, Bob and Kombat from the seminal Pilgrims, Izuan from Auburn and of course the mastermind of this whole shindig, Mr. Jason Lo.
I normally find myself at Process Simulation and Mathematical Modeling seminars discussing the merits of implementing equation oriented versus sequential modular solution strategies for real time optimisation, so this was a totally different world. None of the conversations I had required me to pull out a calculator or look up GPSA standards for blowing down pressure vessels. I was feeling light headed, rubbing shoulders with these glitterati. After tucking into the free meal and bringing my blood sugar level up to acceptable levels, I proceeded to the side to catch OAG’s blistering set.
“Maaf, kita bukan band yang rancak”
I have to confess, I’d never been an OAG fan. I was pleasantly surprised by their set. Radhi and co evoked old memories of Weezer, Teenage Fan Club and other Brit Indie Pop bands. They kicked off their set with a teaser of 60’s TV and went on to stoke the crowd with their own brand of indie pop, playing their latest hit “Permaisuri”. Radhi whirling like a dervish through their set, in true bad boy rock and roll style demolished his guitar (I’m assuming a Fender Strat copy) after Sweet FA.
The next two bands, while giving excellent and tight performances unfortunately, fell in the category of “Sounds Like”. While one may argue that this is a bogus category, since everything is derivative of everything in the past, I believe the challenge for this and the next generation of musicians is to impart enough of a differentiator and nudge the envelope outwards.
Disagree gave an Eddy Vedder, Seattleish spirited performance. While being a tight and fiery band. I hope they’ll take their technical expertise and spirit and carve out a differentiator for themselves in the future.
They were followed by The Times, their sound evoking sonic images of our neighbors Dewa and Padi. The crowd moshed and body surfed to their driving pop tunes, leaving me completely baffled. While pleasing to the ear, this isn’t really the type of music that would inspire me to launch my 100 kg mass of finely tuned engineering flesh, toned by years keyboarding, mousing and of living off of hotel room service and breakfast buffets, into the air kicking and punching. The last song, “Disco Dansa”, however, was a breath of fresh air. They were joined by Roots and Boots frontman Achmad Sa’ad for this Disco Mod offering. Very cool, made me want to buy a Vespa.
Now what sort of alternative rock show would this be with a PUNK SKA band? The audience got a Skank Injection in dispensed by Plague of Happiness. While not the tightest band that night, they were certainly a pleasure to watch. The brass section ran rings around the stage while a rabid crowd went skank happy. Punk Ska is like a nice warm mug of Milo, something that’ll put a youthful glint in your eye and a spring in your step even when you’re pushing middle age and coveting a red Ferrari.
A.C.A.B. Now this is an X-File. Had aliens abducted the original A.C.A.B, grew their hair back and given them rock and post punk sensibility implants? I was wandering about baffled on the field, went back stage to check that this was THE A.C.A.B. Once I dispelled the Oi! mindset and expectation and actually LISTENED to them, their new sound began to grow on me. Their new rock persona fit them well, almost late 60’s David Bowie.
Now for something completely different. Furniture got up to claim the next set with Ron’s disclaimer: “Maaf, kita bukan band yang rancak” and “Sorry, we’re not a band with stage presence, we just stand around and play.”. Well, stand around and play they did starting off with “Postcards” and ending the set with “Hush, the Dead Are Dreaming”. The set wasn’t what I expected, having seen Furniture perform at other venues. Furniture normally weaves gorgeous aural soundscape with swelling crests and icy ravines. This was not represented fully by the sound system. Standing in the middle of the field, there was almost no dynamic. Moving closer to the speakers or by the side of the stage provided higher resolution on their sound.
“What do you want to hear?!”
The next band up was one of the bands in the early/mid 90’s that inspired me to start a band when I returned from my studies. Playing old school punk, The Pilgrims, featuring punk theatrics of the inimitable showman Bob and not so slow hand surf punk guitar maestro Kombat brought me back to a time when I could mosh and not get hurt. My notes for this set consisted of a single line: “Fucking Excellent.” Now, these guys made me want to hurl my mass at the swirling anti clockwise moshpit that Bob had invoked. In full kitsch regalia, Bob entered the stage wearing a shroud with Pilgrim’s Hindi punk staple “Churaliya/Hey mari menari” (deko abto). Followed by the Unexpected Trilogy (“Unexpected Shower, “Life… Live it” and “Fear”). Assuming that there’d be fans of Indonesian Pop in the moshpit, they launched into a cover of “Waktu ku Mandi” by Jamrud. They were joined by back-up vocalists “the Se-Dozen” who usually do the back up for the more non-punk Ruffedge.
“What do you want to hear?!” bellowed a slimmer but not less irreverent Bob. The entire stadium screamed in unison “Sua Sue” and so, along with two “soberly insane” guest vocalists, Catt and Azan from Ruffedge, they launched into the 1990’s Bahasa Melayu punk anthem.
As with of the ‘senior’ punks, Bob and the boys have been concentrating on their day jobs, setting up families over the past years. Their performances have been few and far between the past half-decade. Fortunately, they haven’t slowed down one bit. This set was in my opinion the highlight of the show.
Rock the World and alternative rock svengali Jason Lo and his band took the stage next. Decked out in military fatigues and radiating benevolence, “I love you all!” Lo launched into his brand of alt rock. Given his responsibilities for the day as one of the organisers as well as performers, he played an energetic set.
Next up were two bands hard core bands, Vormit from Sarawak and Klang Valley’s Cassandra.
Vormit cranked their grind flavored hardcore with full force. Major mashing ensued. To the untrained ear, all one may hear from this particular musical genre are “Growl, growl, scream, scream growl”. One needs to be an aficionado to extract the full meaning and message of this style.
Cassandra was on next and their bassist was hit with a strap malfunction mid song but continued playing on his knees while frantic roadies/guitar techs wrestled the offending strap off and attempted to replace the strap with a new one. Unlike Vormit, Cassandra provided a little background into some of the songs, notably “Suicide Hotline” which the frontman explained “Kisah bapak rape anak sendiri”. People misconstrue the hardcore punk and other underground subcultures as genres that glorify violence and evil. What they misunderstand is bands like Cassandra bring to light the darker aspects of society and make sure people take notice, things that are forgotten and swept under luxurious afghan carpets. Kudos to them and their peers.
“Kami makan daging kambing!”
My second favorite act for the night was Seven Collar T-Shirt fronted by Saiful Ridzuan who took the stage and enveloped the stadium in an exquisite aural tapestry. I was so impressed by this lot, I went over to the merchandise tent and picked up their latest CD, Drones. I got some Legendary Pink Dots vibes from this band. The third song, ”The War is Over”, threw up a swelling post rock wall of sound to the moshed out crowd. Muhammad implemented what I can only describe as the first hairdryer guitar method on a Malaysian stage. They ended their set with an aural delight, “Faith”. I certainly have faith that these lads will go far with their work.
What better to follow up all this cerebral stimulation with some laid back traditional ska. Gerhana Ska Cinta, pop ska darlings hit the stage with the horns blowing out the Imperial March/Darth Vader theme and skanked into a bubblegum ska pop rendition of “My Boy Lollipop”. I was initially unimpressed as I found it rather, well bubblegummy. I thought that this was the extent of the female vocalist’s range but their second song, “Asmara”, set me right, when she transformed into a 60’s pop yeh-yeh diva. This band was working the tachyon beams as we were taken back into time when women wore beehives and ska was cool. The third song, “Dance with Me” was a traditionally arranged ska song that provided a booster shot to crowd just coming out the Plague of Happiness’s punk skank innoculation. They morphed back into cool pop mode with their last number, “Serahkan Segala Padamu”. The kinda of tune I’d listen to at the end of the day, chillin’ in a lounge sippin’ a dry martini and smokin’ on a fine Cuban cigar. Definitely my third preferred band for the evening.
The penultimate act incurred the wrath of the Heavens. As soon as the announcer growled their name, “LANGSUYR!!!!” the skies let loose with rain, thunder and lightning. Now, why can’t that happen when my band plays? Frontman Azlanthor educated the crowd on their genre, Death, not Black Metal. “Kami tak minum darah kambing!” he explained to those committed drenched souls, “Kami makan daging kambing!” Azlanthor worked the crowd, moving like he’d clawed his way out of of FW Murnau’s Nosferatu. On the whole, they provided a good representation of this country’s disseminated Metal scene. Let’s hope that unlike vampires of the old, they survive this current onslaught of idiot villagers out to stake anything wearing a shade darker than gray.
“Don’t go away,” said the MC. “We’ve got a surprise coming up for you.” That intrigued me to stay on the field for the last set despite being wet and exhausted from being on my feet for over six hours.
Last act for the night, Pop Shuvit challenged the venue’s PA system with “Unknown Agenda” followed by a personal favorite, the industrially tinged radio staple, “Old School Rocka”. Hip-hop became the flavor of the night when Zain of Ruffedge joined them for the urban flavored Journey. Not a big hip-hop fan, I was zoning out until they brought their old Picadilly days buddies, Nox and Yunos from Chronic Mass for some industrial and hardcore mayhem. They closed the night with “Jump!”. And Jump, the audience did. Just as they were about to finish this tune, the “surprise” came. Fireworks, about 10 shots, if I counted correctly.
In summary, while I hadn’t found the next Velvet Underground, Cure, Joy Division or Bauhaus that night, I felt that the organisers and bands put together an excellent show. All the bands performed admirably, their hard work and dedication to their craft showed that day. The audience had a rockin’ good time, no one got hurt, no one opened a portal to Hell and summoned, Azazel, Beezlebub or Lucifer, and no goats, black or otherwise were sighted.
Rafil Elyas builds mathematical and simulation models, and fronts the band called 360 Degrees Head Rotation.
First Published: 16.01.2006 on Kakiseni