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Rumah Api: The Home of DIY Punk in Kuala Lumpur

A brief conversation with a founding member of the DIY, political, music and art space in Kuala Lumpur

Save Rumah Api artwork by Adam Jamal

Rumah Api is an alternative space in Kuala Lumpur, which is dedicated to spreading the DIY punk ethos of non-conformity and counterculture in its area. It exists by putting into practice the broader societal values of self-organization, solidarity and people working together to build stronger communities.

Inspired by spaces such as 924 Gilman in the US, Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, or Köpi in Berlin, Rumah Api (it translates as House of Fire) is committed to make punk a real alternative movement for young people in Malaysia. Fundamentally opposed to any form of discrimination or violence, the anarchist punk house has been targeted and attacked numerous times in the past by either cops, Malay Power skinheads, or the city council.

Unfortunately, despite their long and exhausting struggles, which also include helping mobilize local communities to resist the construction of the controversial Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang (SUKE) highway and save the old punk house sitting on the main road of the construction plans, the house was eventually demolished. The people of Pekan Ampang have subsequently lost the fight to Malaysia 2020 Vision development plans and lost an unique space that valued self-governance and freedom before power and profits.

Interested in the present state of Rumah Api after the crew has relocated to its new home in a state-owned building, we’ve had a conversation with Man Beranak, an original founding member of the collective punk house.

mdc-rumah-api
Punk legends MDC playing at Rumah Api

Can you start with a brief introduction to Rumah Api and how it came to be?

We started around the end of 2010. Before becoming Rumah Api the place was called Gudang Noisy, which was run by someone else. After the Gudang Noisy tenant overdue the rent and ended up with owing lots of money, the landlord kicked him out. That person was really close to me and asked me to take care of the place. This is how me and some friends started Rumah Api as a collective punk house.

Why did you change the location and what’s different about the current space compared to the old house? I think, you were forced to leave because of a controversial highway project affecting the whole community in Pekan Ampang. What actually happened during that time?

We changed the location because the government wanted to demolish the building to make a new highway called SUKE. Yes, they forced us to leave and paid some money to Rumah Api and the landlord. We did protest, we spread flyers to inform the people how bad this highway will be for the area and the neighbours but in the end the landlords agreed to have their building destroyed because they got lots of money from the government.

chaos-rumah-api

Tell me about Kuala Lumpur and the place where Rumah Api is situated right now. What’s the current situation with the authorities and do you still have any threats of eviction or police raids at punk gigs, even at the new location?

Kuala Lumpur sucks. There’s huge traffic all the time. Rumah Api is now located at the 18 floor of a City Council building Pandan Indah. So far we haven’t had any problems with the authorities at the new place.

What are the guiding principles and values for Rumah Api? Do you all see punk as a vehicle for social change and how do you continue to interact with the society outside of the punk subculture?

Rumah Api still exists by the punk principles “no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, etc”. Actually, the community in Kuala Lumpur knew about Rumah Api. Some of them agree with what we are doing and some do not. Mostly they don’t agree that we are supporting LGBT because, as you know, Malaysia is a muslim country. So, maybe it will take more time to deal with these people.

rumah-api-no-discrimination-policy

How many people are involved in running Rumah Api and what kind of group dynamics do you maintain? How do you make decisions and who can participate in the collective?

Right now we have almost 20 people involved in running the space. Anyone can be involved and to make a decision we vote, then the decision are made by the majority rule.

What kind of activities take place in your space? Do you still have a Really Really Free Market and Food Not Bombs groups operating in Kuala Lumpur? What are some other antiauthoritarian and autonomous collectives outside of Rumah Api that you work closely together with?

Besides gigs, now we are doing a talk show, our own radio podcast and zine. We stopped doing RRFM and FNB since it’s hard for us to do those in the new place. Also right now FNB is, I think, ran by other people who are not from Rumah Api. Honestly, I dont know if FNB is still operating or not. Another autonomous collectives that we are really connected to is The Wall from Batu Pahat, Johor and The Key, Melaka.

rumah-api-fnb

Do you still run the festival Chaos in Rumah Api? How it came to be and what were the most exciting moments in organizing such event?

Last year we stopped doing the festival. But I think this year we might try it again at the new place. But we will see. For sure we managed to meet so many new and old friends from over the world at the festival. That’s always the most exciting part.

How does the hardcore punk scene in Malaysia look like at the moment? Are there any great bands, zines or labels from the local scene that you’d recommend us checking out?

Right now it’s doing great. Many good bands, good labels, a record store and lots of hardcore punk shows which are happening every week.

You can check some local bands here.

Find some labels and zines here.

What are some of the best foreign bands that have played at Rumah Api recently?

D.O.A, M.D.C, The Restarts, Mob 47, Lubricant, Daily Ritual, Lich King, Rotten Sound, Wormrot, arghhh…. There is a lot to list

chaos-in-rumah-api
Indonesian band Kontradiksi playing at Chaos in Rumah Api #2, picture by Dreams of Consciousness

Would you say there is a strong DIY network among the people and collectives who are into hardcore, punk, crust, grind, screamo etc. in Southeast Asia? Some sort of mutual support between them?

Yes, we have a strong local DIY network and also contacts around SE Asia. If some of the collectives around SE Asia gets in trouble solidarity initiatives will happen all around SE Asia, mostly in Singapore, Indonesia and The Philippines.

What’s the political situation in Malaysia from your own perspective? How does the global political climate also affect Malaysia and what are the pressing issues that you face on a daily basis?

We have been constantly fucked by this country for a long time. The ex-prime minister is extremely corrupt. We are doomed because of the bad economic policies of the country. Right now the current prime minister is trying to fix the economy.

Support each other to survive the damage.

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