The Other Option: Australian Punk & Hardcore in South East Asia
The Other Option documentary explores what happen when Australian punx find out about the Underground scenes in South East Asia
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. However, due to Australia’s geographical isolation from the rest of the world, for a long time the only way for an Australian DIY punk and hardcore band to tour overseas was to gain enough courage and booking contacts to play in Europe and the United States. For so long there was no other way to tour overseas.
The Other Option: Punk and Hardcore in SE Asia
The idea for The Other Option documentary came about in 2009 when Australian punk rocker Rohan Thomas began producing his D.I.Wireless podcast. At the time, Rohan was looking for bands to interview for his podcast when he came across a punk band from Australia’s Gold Coast called Not OK, who had just returned from an extensive tour of Southeast Asia. Two things immediately stuck in his head: The fact that there was actually a DIY hardcore punk scene to speak of in Southeast Asia, and how a relatively unknown local band ended up playing shows overseas.
So 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, three countries located just a few hundred nautical miles off the northern coast of Australia. It turns out that these places, long off the map of the international DIY hardcore punk touring circuit, 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 Southeast Asia, artists from all over the world have created an entire underground folklore about playing crazy shows in the most bizarre places imaginable. And there is no doubt that places like Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore City have been attractive venues for alternative bands since day one, if only for their sheer exoticism. The Buzzcocks and the Rollins Band played Singapore in the early ’90s, while Green Day and Fugazi rocked Indonesian and Malaysian stages respectively in 1996. And when it comes to Australian bands, skate punk outfit Bodyjar surprisingly played in Singapore before any other band from the land down under.
However, all these stories of bands sporadically playing a gig somewhere in the Southeast Asian region in the early to mid-90s is not what Rohan Thomas’ film is about. It’s about building bonds of friendship and connection between underground scenes separated by the Indian Ocean, and it wasn’t until 1998 that Aussie crust punks Warsore toured the region for the first time, putting Southeast Asia on the map as a legitimate DIY hardcore punk touring circuit. The grindcore duo Warsore was the first “real” DIY band to connect with the local punx in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
For a dozen years after Warsore’s tour in 1998, only eight Australian artists ventured to the same region. It wasn’t until 2010 that high profile Australian bands such as Parkway Drive, Miles Away and Carpathian put the region in the spotlight as the other option for touring overseas, paving the way for hundreds of small and large bands from around the world to experience it first hand. Now, in 2016, there are over 15 different bands that tour Southeast Asia every year.
“If I play your town, you should come play mine”
For me, the most intriguing part of the film was the one about returning the compliment, or what happens when the bonds of friendship and DIY cooperation forged over 15 years of supporting Australian bands touring South East Asia lead to a South East Asian band playing “down under”. But as we see in the movie, things didn’t go so smoothly the other way around.
To make it clearer, the movie tells us how the strict anti-immigration laws prevent bands from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia from entering Australia. And if you’re familiar with how fucked up the borders are, and how the border officials of westernized countries like Australia look at the poor punks coming from so-called “third world” countries, you’ll be upset by the unfortunate story of the amazing Malaysian screamo/post-hardcore band Daighila, who were turned away at the border in 2008 with their full Australian tour booked, after spending a night in a detention center for “illegal immigrants”. However, the film also shows the positive examples of bands who have managed to successfully tour Australia multiple times, such as the amazing screamo band My Precious from Singapore.
Filmed in four countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and 5/7 of Australia’s states, The Other Option is a fantastic DIY hardcore punk documentary that delves deep into underground scenes that most people in Europe and the States are not so familiar with. The film features exclusive live footage and informative interviews with the key figures who have made the important connections between the Australian and Southeast Asian underground scenes.
We see people like Yeap, the vocalist 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 Southeast 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.