By Azmyl Yunor
It was interesting to see if the Street Roar Independent Music Festival 2006 could be translated effectively from its Petaling Street origins to the idyllic lake-side setting of KLPac. The context of the event, being held a week to day of the dumbfounding raid at Paul’s Place on New Year’s Eve, was inescapable: this was a legit celebration of solidarity amongst the independent arts community regardless of creed, language, genre or location.
The rain certainly concerned early revellers and delayed the soundchecks but such woes were soon squashed aside as it only enhanced the music festival-like atmosphere with mud and puddles featuring prominently on the ground.
The Experimental Performance tent provided an appetiser with a variety of sonic palate with Dian Bang, a three piece laptop noise-niks who visually resembled, in one audience’s words, “guys busy in a staff meeting.” Their set comprised mostly of assorted looped and structured electronic samplings.
Klangmutationen, comprising of members of seminal bands such as Chong Yang, Moxuan and Amid the Mimic, leaped headfirst into an improv set that was sonically of the free-form jazz ilk albeit with assortment of instruments including a didgeridoo. The rhythm section kept a tight form, providing a jagged backbeat to the free forming noise freak-out that cut through the early drizzle. Visually they resembled more of a ‘real’ band with guitarist Yeoh Yin Pin occasionally striking a pose to ponder his next move on his detuned six-string axe, even with his back to the audience.
Goh Lee Kwang and China’s Yan Jun pushed the envelope further with their abstract noise duet, with the former exploring the wondrous potential of a broken mixer and the latter using everyday objects ranging from a nail polisher to an iPod to create an amalgam of sourced-noise output that complemented each other’s works. However, a restless capoeira troupe on the main grounds stole most of their audiences.
After a slight half an hour delay, Penang newcomers White Light had the honour to open the Main Stage at sunset and displayed their potential of succeeding the post-rock torch of fellow hometown heroes Damn Dirty Apes. The band displayed a matured approach to the genre by stamping on the brevity button, cutting out the meanderings that often mar new post-rock acts. Their concise and melodic instrumental anthems were aided with a fresh twist with their lead guitarist, who traded some shredding guitar licks albeit in moderation. A band to keep an eye on.
Deng Deng roared onstage next and evoked the spirit of St. Kurt. Their blistering quiet-loud dynamics were far from average as the tight rhythm section added interesting fills and shifts which propelled their already throatyscream choruses to a higher ground. The trio certainly made use of the opportunity to showcase their abilities and left an impression on the crowd despite their short set.
Hong Kong’s Dzap Dau Dau provided adequate lovability with Shonen Knife-via-Sonic youth’s Kim Gordon-type antics and gargantuan cutesy choruses, plus a singing drummer! The catchiness of the trio’s fluorescent-guitar-crunch of songs completed the first half’s adrenaline charge.
The next two acts, Kazumasa Hashimoto of Japan and locals Citizens of Ice Cream, brought along fair amount of cerebral finesse but slowed down the pace that preceding bands had injected to the main stage. Not so much a downer but a speed bump to the adrenaline rush, Hashimoto’s delicate guitar picking (along with a second guitarist), delicate keyboard balladry and samplings of the aforementioned instruments would’ve set hearts a-swell had it been in an intimate venue (such as No Black Tie).
Ditto Citizens of Ice Cream who played some solid meandering instrumental post-rock tunes which sit well in any soundtrack with its glacial pace and sumptuous sonic layers (bring on the smoke machines!). Unlike Furniture’s post-rock, Citizens of Ice Cream’s songs tend mirror a non-climatic, almost cinema-verite sort of narratives.
Hong Kong’s False Alarm brought out the caffeine brigade again and tossed away the hearts-on-sleeves earnestness for some rambunctious set of funny and rollicking songs about, among others, sex and porn, coupled with an energetic stage presence which saw at one point the lead singer spinning his arms around uncontrollably like a windmill. Their set and presence reminded one reveller of “a cross between Frequency Cannon’s onstage energy and Ben’s Bitches juvenile references.”
Nao was definitely THE local act of the night. Arguably the best band in the local Chinese independent scene, their politically charged set, with its fair share of double pedal thumping, funkoid metal interludes, jarring dual guitar hammerings and spirited vocals, had fists pumping the air in glory. Language is no barrier (they sing in Mandarin) when passion and guts is of this level – the message will come through. It’s great to see a band of such nerve take on equally gutsy regional acts and prove their mettle on a high note with the spot-lights a-blaring. They ended with frontman Tat reading from an A4 paper, spitting out a diatribe against everything from racism to the raid on Paul’s Place to hypocrisy, all in the last 60 seconds or so.
Lady Bug charmed their way with a lovable frontwoman who sparkled charisma, an ably fluid rhythm section and a fierce lead guitarist whose jugular seemed ready to pop with every vocal fill he backed. The most musically accomplished band of the night, their set comprised of songs that crossed genres at will, covering surf rock, ska, latin flavoured flamenco flourishes and rock. They completed the festival feel with a sing-a-long outtro song while liberating lady bug Frisbees into the crowd. Their feel-good and entertaining set would sit nicely along any bigger major festival’s mainstage and works nicely as a soundtrack to frolic in the festival mud.
One word: Subs. The night definitely belonged to them. This is garage rock n’ roll of the highest order. Blistering. This Beijing-based quartet made the most of their minimal classic rock n’ roll set up (one guitar, one bass, one drums, one insanely energised vocalist) and the explosive set was a mixture of sexy passionate angst and pure unbridled roaring energy. The gospel of rock n’ roll was adequately dispensed: in the context of the past weekend’s events, Subs represented the angry middle finger of the community towards the unjust, the square and the powerful of society. At the same time you could lose yourself in their grooves and just enjoy the good ole RAWK! The afro guitarist and bassist cajoled their weapons of choice, responding with gallantry and power, while the ultra-steady drummer kept the backbeat with much Charlie Watts cool. Lead singer Kang Mao hollered twice the size of her demure frame with her valiant swagger. They reminded the crowd of what rock n’ roll music is all about: passion, passion, passion.
The Observatory closed the festival with a measured and masterfully crafted set that paid attention to finer details and song craft. Almost anticlimactic in light of the thunderous Subs, their set was a cool display of efficient playing and lyrical self-awareness of all things modern and elaborate and what might be wrong or right about them. The funny thing is they made it look so simple. Even though their set was abruptly ended due to time constraint, it was a nice touch with which to close a festival that celebrated such diversity. Although the sound system could’ve been better, good old rock n’ roll was never about technical precision and fidelity.
Street Roar 2006 lived up to its name through the quality of the acts and the new setting proved advantageous in all aspects (even the mud made it more glorious! Our very own mini Glastonbury). Kudos to Soundscape Records for organising and Tiger Beer for sponsoring.
What was also evident besides the first-class performances was the regional musicians voicing their solidarity and support onstage to their Malaysian counterparts regarding the incident at Paul’s Place – this encapsulated the importance and relevance of a free-of-charge cultural event such as Street Roar. It is a gathering of kindred souls, not consumers.
The bonds established between individual fans and their musical heroes – a bond borne out of the interpersonal nature of indie/underground music – cuts like a hot knife through the hegemonic butter; it is beyond the comprehension of those misguided by their false, politicised morals. Above all, Street Roar was a celebration by the rakyat themselves. This is what the rock n’ roll spirit (well preserved in the punk ethos) is all about: staying true to yourself and the people you believe in.
Azmyl Yunor is a multi-instrumentalist who plays for a few bands. Occasionally, he plays a guitar and harmonica for himself.
First Published: 17.01.2006 on Kakiseni