Yuen from Shock&Awe! Media on Punk in Malaysia
Conversation with Yuen from Malaysia about DIY Hardcore Punk, zine and politics in SE Asia
Being thrilled about DIY hardcore punk coming from distant parts of the world I was curious to contact Yuen from Malaysia, the editor of the fascinating Shock&Awe! fanzine, author of Borneo DIY HC Punk Blog, Midin distro, gig organizer and a participant at Phantom Limb community space in Kuching. In our conversation we talk about punk, politics and the activities he has been involved in.
Hello there! So, first of all, let’s start with your personal story, how did you start listening to punk music and got involved in the DIY scene? What constitutes being a punk in Malaysia and what’s the difference between hardcore punk kids at your place and the rest of the world, in your opinion?
Hello, my name is Yuen. I used to run a distro called Midin Distro but that has been on hiatus since two years or so ago. Nothing eventful on the discovery of punk, during teenage years, like all teenagers, I seek new music to listen to and it happened that one day someone brought a punk compilation and then I bought another compilation—so the love for punk later grew more and more, one cassette tape at a time. Not really sure what constitutes a punk in Malaysia but I guess the basic common denominator would be a consumer of punk music? I would speculate that there might be a degree of “punk-ness” varying between individuals in regarding the job they do or what they contribute in the scene but generally, and optimistically, a punk would be a person that has ‘agreeable’ ideology of no discrimination of people according to their social markers of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality etc etc.
I don’t know what is the difference between punk at my place compared to the rest of the world. To answer the question forces a need to categorise and segmentation, so… On the other hand, there is various similarities between punks around the world—so much that sometimes everything seems so uniformed—especially all the visual elements among different genres—fonts, record covers, content of lyrics etc.
Tell me about the current social conditions and politics in Malaysia. What about the political institutions, religion, global neo-liberal capitalism, natural disasters like floods, etc. and how do the punk community react to all these? What actions do you think are possible or necessary to bring about social change in a country like Malaysia?
A very loaded question there, my friend. I can only answer as general as I can. Partisan politics in Malaysia reaches a high level of absurdity everyday. To the point that I think to myself, how can people consider Anarchism to be absurd when it could only seem to be the only solution to the absurdity that is surrounding us in Malaysia? If there’s anyone who keep themselves updated with the news in Malaysia they would know how absurd this whole country is, and in an unfortunate sense, how high of tolerance to BULLSHIT that the Malaysian citizens have. Pathetic.
Politicians are nagging whiners who are power crazed and lazy inasmuch as using ethnic and religious issues as their playing card. Opposition party mirrors the ruling one, nepotism and elite dynasties are so obvious they are not even attempting to hide it.
Neoliberal capitalism is thriving in the country and the country had just signed the TransPacific Partnership Agreement during the previous Obama visit—not many in the country care to know about the agreement but instead harping on and on online about the bloody selfie picture taken by the two “premiers’. I don’t know about other punks, but I am fucking cynical when it comes to my opinion about the country.
Social change? Change to what? I think people need worse oppressors to rise above. People are too blissfully ignorant until the flood reaches their doorstep, which by then it’ll be too late.
How do the gigs in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries look like? What do you think people around the world should know about the DIY hardcore punk scene in the region and what about the touring bands?
Once again there is variations. In a broad sweep there is on one end—clothing & merchandise “DIY” “distro” shows that can be quite huge and on the other end sweaty sauna practice studio shows. What people should know about SE Asia? It is not much different than their countries’ scene I guess, but at some place it is quite vibrant. The capital cities in SE Asia have been receiving regular visits by touring bands and they come in various shapes and sizes and attitudes. Some good, some bad. In general touring band is no longer an ‘exotic’ thing as circa 90’s, in busy weeks sometimes cities like Kuala Lumpur would be receiving two touring bands from all over the world.
There are various ‘scenes’ here as well, just as elsewhere with a sizable crowd—scenes breaks to cliques and according to genres. So every genres should have its own fanbase, there is no worries about people here “never heard of the genre”—it’s a globalised world with equal access to information via the internet and relative cheap air transport via budget airlines. So that is as far as the ‘democratization’ that the market is currently offering to citizens of the world. in short, what you have, we also have, what you know, we know too :-)
Touring bands should come with a spirit of having fun and knowing more people and be prepared to leave the comfort of their homes and not to expect it at SE Asia countries. We do made a lot of good friends with some of these touring bands, but there are also some that we never wanted to receive again. Be a good sport, have fun together and adapt, for adaptation, Darwin said, is the key to survival. Hahahaha.
What about the gigs and festivals you have organized, your Shock&Awe! zine/media project and the Borneo DIY Hardcore Punk blog? What are the highlights of your involvement with DIY punk? In what other activities or hc-punk related projects you have been or you’re currently involved in?
This is a “what have you done” question. The things that I have done, I have only done it together with my friends. It’s a team effort. What you have mentioned is a bunch of things that I have done in the past, so some had already been on indefinite hiatus, some ongoing, some on full speed, some on a slow-mo.
BorneoDIY was a blog I started due to the lack of dissemination about shows back then—it was a time that Facebook has lesser proliferation in the lives of people in Malaysia at least—Myspace was on its twilight and so I started a blog just to post flyers up generally and put on some gig reports when I can. That blog is dead and is an embarrassment right now, but I kept it there just to keep the info available out there, for any purpose that people have.
I used to do shows at my house cum community space known as Phantom Limb. After a while it gets quite taxing for me and there is more venues that are available to organise shows so I quit having shows and now mostly available for kids and activists to use for discussions, forums and movie screenings.
In all honesty right now I am involved only in Shock&Awe! I also organise shows occasionally if there is touring bands who like to come over to Kuching. Other than that I am kinda tied up with my day job. Ho-hum. Man gotta eat. Man gotta pay rent.
Want to do some shout out though. If you want to checkout exciting thing now, checkout Tandang Store, the punk record store that is housed at the punk space known as Rumah Api, home to the annual Chaos in Rumah Api “fest” (I cringe to that word now, everything is a “fest”). Shock&Awe! is refusing to die and we are working on our Issue #7 since a year ago. It’ll be out, sooner or later.
Are there any particular bands, zines, websites, videos or anything else related to the DIY hardcore punk underground in SE Asia that you think we should check out?
Buy issue #5 of our Shock&Awe! (the one with a 7″ vinyl—STILL AVAILABLE!). Too many to list down here. There is some videos made by Shock&Awe! too, you can check that out on Youtube. Everything else now sadly are ‘homed’ on bloody Facebook. People are too lazy to even maintain a bloody blog.
For blogs, a shout out to Prohibited Projects, Singapore. I also personally like HungryHeart crafts, a collective that make punk pillowcases—they are cute. there’s an “art” zine that came from the scene from Indonesia known as Penahitam—nice crisp professional printing. Ricecooker maintained by Joe and others have been documenting punk scene in the region for a while now. There is also annual Zinefest that is organised by punks in Bandung and Kuala Lumpur—a simple Google search would inform any curious mind.
We’ve all heard about the punx in Aceh, Indonesia. There was a wide coverage even in the mainstream media around the world. Is this thing happening in any other parts of SE Asia and do you have a unified scene between Malaysia, Indonesia, or any other places? Are there any punks in Brunei?
There have always been efforts to curb punks to a certain extent in Southeast Asia. In a general sense it might not be that bad as the enforcement of raids and arrest have been irregular, sometimes seasonal. It is when there is a smokescreen that needs to be created and when punks are made into an issue by politicians and authorities that the punks have to bear the brunt. There seems to be a strong solidarity that could be witnessed globally through the Aceh incident. The punk scene is ‘unified’ in a general sense but conflicts and personal politics do exist her and there. Unity is violent insofar that the powerless are perceived to be agreeing on things, it is a coercion into agreement that is undetected. We do have an active network among the countries you mentioned, which includes Singapore and to a certain extent, Philippines as well. I don’t know whether there is punks in Brunei, but I heard that they have a vibrant metalcore scene, though I don’t know anyone there.
Thank you for the interview, anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for interviewing me. Keep up the effort and stay productive!