The Monsoon season has started and it’s raining gigs in Kuala Lumpur. Great bands are flooding the stages of The Bee, Gaslight and Laundry. Tonight, only the most hardened rock fans have made it through the rain to attend ‘Viva Last Blues’ at Live Fact. The underground club in KL suburbia has the finest programming in town, but clearly struggles to find an audience. Who cares? Four bands are going to prove the absent in the wrong. ’Expect post punk vibes clashing with acid folk, Americana and psycho pop’ warns the invite. It’s Remembrance Day (Nov 11) but will it also be a night to remember?
Mystery Tapes - What came first, the tape or the band?
Mystery Tapes is a band that really lives up to its name. In times of shameless auto-tuning, Pro Tools and overdubs, frontman Zack Yusof has grouped a gang of analogue believers around a 4 track recorder. The result is an EP of ‘Unheard Songs’ that was released - guess what? - on tape. The cassette has that little noise, just like a record has that little crack and a face that little wrinkle. The only mystery here is: how do we play this thing? No need to. Just go and see the ‘Mystery Tapes’ live.
I’ve heard the band before at Gaslight, playing the songs in a stripped down orchestration. Tonight, they’re going all electric. From the first chords of ‘Mission’ I’m transported to the wide open roads of the American Mid West. But this is not a road trip. The doomy bam-bam-bam bassline of ‘Off Guard’ announces a nerve-wracking pursuit. Like the dark mystery truck in Spielberg’s ‘Duel’ we’re chased by Zack's dark thoughts. In the rear mirror I can read: "Songs may appear more cheerful than they are". Pleasant melodies are hiding urban paranoia and political malaise. “There are sharks in the swimming pool” he warns. In 'Ghost' a disillusioned socialist waves a white flag, not a red one: “There too many holes in the boat.” Even the love songs show a little power game. “You are the keeper and I am at the gates. Let me in and I’ll do whatever it takes.” Or is it a plea for “Yes, we can” attitude? All part of the mystery.
Foxlore - Schizofrenic set
Foxlore and Spinal Tap have one thing in common: drummer issues. For the first 3 songs, there’s a painful void behind the drum kit. The band starts extremely mellow against a sad background of doomy synth tunes. Before I reach for the Prozac, the band announces a new member to mount the drum throne. All hail Queen Kim! She’s only 17, body language is tense, but the drumming is tight. From the first beat, the band gets its second breath. Gloomy Taman Danau Desa turns into Taman California. And we’re dreaming. Psychedelic guitar licks crash on swelling bass lines. Hollywood smiles turn into dark grins. This is Dick Dale on steroids, a bad ass surf trip. A rip curl goes through the audience. Don’t fight it, ride it. Aloha rock ’n roll!
Etc. - It takes two
Why do bands have 4 members? Indie veterans Etc. only need 2 to rock the place down. Ben Harrison’s guitar sounds louder than a wall of Marshalls. Drummer Harvey has transformed into Animal from the Muppet’s. The snare rattles like an AK-47 and the cymbals are smashed off their tripods. Is this drumming or a hard core workout? Meanwhile Ben howls on top of his screaming guitar, while doing a 21st century duck dance. It’s great entertainment. Two used to be company. Now it’s also a party. And a band.
Joi Noir - Rocket from Russia
Top of the bill is Joi Noir, a post punk trio that’s been making waves in the scene. Rooted in Siberia, formed in Congo-Brazzaville, recorded in Malaysia, mixed in London, mastered at Abbey Road and promoted all over the world, Joi Noir proves that music goes beyond borders.
Punk has always been portrayed as negative and destructive. I believe the opposite. Punk is the ultimate celebration of Do It Yourself culture, where the concept is more important than the execution. Back in the days, with safety pins you could make your own fashion, with cutouts your own magazine and with 3 chords your own record. Now, with a laptop, you can basically do anything. After a few emails Joi Noir got Depeche Mode producer Gareth Jones on board. More emails later, they hung out with Mister Steve Albini, who worked with this little Seatle band called Nir-something. Hello-hello-hello!
The band has something cartoonish, especially after their recent Tokyo trip. Front woman Olga walks straight out of a Manga. Barefooted guitarist Igor comes from the Dojo. Only drummer Mie didn’t dress up, he is already the real life Russel from Gorillaz. It’s called post-punk for a reason. Igor waves Robert Smith guitar mosaics over simple bass lines. Olga howls like a Sioux riding the tundra trail. Mie cuts the beats like a Lumberjack. It’s raw like a Tartar steak, Minimal like Malevich. Dada and Haha. "Do you know Bela Lugosi?" Igor asks in between songs "Well, he’s dead".
But punk ain’t.