Australians have played and recorded some of the earliest forms of punk rock and hardcore, from the proto-punk of Radio Birdman and The Saints in the 70s to the angry hardcore punk of Depression and GASH in the 80s. Although, by being geographically isolated from the rest of the world, for a long time the only option for an Australian DIY punk and hardcore band to tour overseas was to gain enough courage and booking contacts to be able to play in Europe and the United States. For so long, there was no other option to tour overseas.
The Other Option: Punk and Hardcore in SE Asia
The idea of The Other Option documentary appeared in 2009 when Aussie punk-rocker Rohan Thomas began producing his D.I.Wireless Podcast. At that time Rohan was looking for bands to interview for his podcast, when he came across a punk band from the Gold Coast in Australia called Not OK, who have just recently returned from an extensive South East Asia tour. Two things immediately got stuck in his head: The fact there was actually a DIY hardcore punk scene in South East Asia to speak of; and how come a relatively unknown, local band end up getting to play shows overseas.
That’s how he decided to make his first documentary The Other Option: Australian punk and hardcore in South East Asia, in which Rohan Thomas traces the history of Australian punk and hardcore bands touring Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, the three countries laying at just a few hundred nautical miles off the northern coastline of Australia. As it turns out, these places, which have been off the map of international DIY hardcore punk touring circuit for so long, are still developing their underground scenes in their own unique cultural and socio-political environments.
The Establishing of the DIY Touring Circuit
When it comes to punk and hardcore shows in South East Asia artists from all over the world have created a whole underground folklore about playing crazy shows at the most bizarre locations imaginable. And there is no doubt that places like Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore City have been attractive locations to alternative bands since day one, if only just for their sheer exoticness. Buzzcocks and Rollins Band have played in Singapore in the early 90s, while in 1996 Green Day and Fugazi rocked the stages respectively in Indonesia and Malaysia. And when it comes to Australian bands, surprisingly, the skate punk outfit Bodyjar played in Singapore before any other band from the land down under.
Although, all these stories of bands sporadically playing a gig somewhere in the SE-Asian region in the early to mid 90s are not what Rohan Thomas’ movie is all about. It is, on the other hand, about establishing bonds of friendship and connection between underground scenes divided by the Indian ocean; and it wasn’t until 1998 when the Aussie crust punx Warsore toured the region for a first time, and therefore putting South East Asia on the map as a legit DIY hardcore punk touring circuit. So the Australian underground folklore was made up, the grindcore duo Warsore was the first ‘real’ DIY band to make a bond with the local punx in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
For a dozen of years after Warsore’s tour in 1998, only 8 Australian artists dared to undertake a journey into the same region. It wasn’t until 2010 when a high-profile Australian bands like Parkway Drive, Miles Away and Carpathian brought a new spotlight on the region as the other option for touring overseas, and therefore paving the way for hundreds of small and bigger bands from all around the globe to experience it at first hand. Now, in 2016 there are over 15 different bands to tour South East Asia per year.
“If I play your town, you should come play mine”
For me, the most intriguing part of the movie was the one about returning the compliment, or what happens when the bonds of friendship and DIY cooperation formed in 15 years of supporting Australian bands touring the South East Asia means a SE-Asian band is going to play “down under”. But, as we can see in the film, the things didn’t go so smoothly the other way round.
To make it more clear, the movie tells us the story how the fierce anti-immigration laws are stopping bands from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia from entering Australia. And when you become familiar with how fucked up the borders are, and how border officials of westernized countries like Australia look at the poor punx coming from so called “Third World” countries, you’ll get upset by the unfortunate story of the amazing Malaysian screamo/post-hardcore band Daighila, who have been turned away at the border in 2008 with their full Australian tour booked and after spending overnight in a detention center for “illegal immigrants”. Although, the movie also shows off the positive examples of bands who have made it to successfully tour Australia several times, like astounding screamo band My Precious from Singapore.
Filmed across four countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and 5/7 of Australia’s states, The Other Option is an awesome DIY hardcore punk documentary that goes in depths into underground scenes most of the people in Europe and the States are not so much familiar with. The film features exclusive live footage and informative interviews with the crucial figures that made it possible to establish the important bonds between Australian and South East Asian underground scenes.
Among them we can see people like Yeap, the singer of Australian d-beat/crust band Pisschrïst, who is originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and other prominent figures such as members of Australian bands who have toured the region: Warsore, Steve Towson, Miles Away, Michael Crafter, Surrender, Up and Atom, Relentless, and SE Asian bands such as Antiseptic, Carburettor Dung, Straight Answer, Second Combat, My Precious, and Burgerkill.
A Third Option Production. Written, directed and produced by Rohan Thomas of D.I.Wireless Podcast. It’s a DIY to the bone movie for those interested in hardcore and punk thriving outside of the mainland Europe or North America. To get your DVD and learn more about the movie go to http://otheroptionfilm.com/