Friday, 13 September 2013
HISTORY BACKGROUND OF PUNK IN MALAYSIA
By realizing it or not, punk subculture has long been in existence in Malaysia as early as in the 1970's. This coincided with the punk explosion itself that had happened in England (and not to exclude the one in the United State of America) during the same era. At first, it was only about music and everything else that came along with it. This includes the in-your-face attitude, rebellion, some post-hippie idealism and anti-society fashion statement.
When punk rock bands made their appearance in the UK and USA music scene, they had also been accepted here. Records of bands like the legendary Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, The Buzzcocks, The Damned and The Police had continuously been played on every youngsters record player and stereo set. Tunes of the classics; Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen, White Riot, What Do I Get, New Rose and Message In A Bottle can never be forget as they had been sang with a new kind of spirit, alternatives to the other kind of static popular music of the 70's. Soul, disco, adult-oriented-rock (AOR); the kids just want to listen to something else. So, what Danny Kelly (1996) has stated is true, 'punk sprang fully formed from nothing more than the desire of youth for fast, engaging music and the sheer blinding inspiration of musicians'.
From the late 70's till the new millennium, punk has gone through a tremendous culture build-up. Many sorts of things have penetrated into the punk movement worldwide. The good things and the bad one too. Much arguments and conflicts have circulated in and out of the scene. Whether been resolved or still keep being debated, they have acted upon the punk society and the outside-society where they live.
So, the sole existence of punk cannot be discarded. Whether it accidentally happens or not, that is not really the case here. As what is important to notice is that it has formed a new subculture in the normal complex society. Like any other culture, punks have their own set of values, beliefs and customary behavior. It is important to study their way of thinking, way of living or just way of doing things. And not to forget also about their roles in the society and any conflicts that has arisen. As the study is being done in the context of Cultural Anthropology so it is not really about whats positive and whats negative. Just acceptation is what it all about. Our studies of concerns are in the context of Malaysia but still stick to the parallelism of punks all around the world especially the one in UK and USA where the whole shebang has started.
So it is important to set aside first all negative perception about this subculture as punk has been assumed to be associated more with the bad things by the mainstream publics. This is true especially when it comes to the moral matter. Most people have taken one-side judgments regarding to this. Punk has been concluded as a demoralizing culture and even sometimes it has turned out as a mere joke to be laugh at. Therefore it is important that this research is done. It is about to open the eyes of everyone about the real situation. What actually punk is all about? Is it just another case of social ill like the other infamous Bohsia and Bohjan, wild young Malay sex party and apostasy? The answers lie within the texts that follow later on.
HISTORY BACKGROUND OF PUNK IN MALAYSIA
In an on-air interview with WOWFM radio station, somewhere around August or September 2000, local punk guru and former The Sun columnist Joe Kidd opined that punk first came to Malaysia in 1978. It started in the East Coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan. It was getting big in 1980.
Joe Kidd, originated from Terengganu himself, is a well known in the local punk scene and the underground music arena as a whole. Now, in his mid-thirties, he is a member of a seminally important and quite legendary punk rock band, Carburetor Dung. He is also in the side project band, The Shitworker and other bands, which, in his own words, come and go according to situations. The old punkster runs Alternative Garage Entertainment, one of the few active local underground labels. It has a couple of releases of bands such as the Japan-based grindcore band, Damage Digital and the UK melodic punk/hardcore band, Annalise besides Carburetor Dungs own record.
As a teenager during the nascent years of Malaysias punk scene, Joe Kidd was initially attracted to the fashion sported by such seminal icons as the Sex Pistols emblazoned across the English magazines his brother brought back from his west coast boarding school (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). It is also believed that the same kind of attraction had appealed to the other earliest punkers. Those punk images just couldnt be blinded off from their eyes.
There is another theory that links to the experiences of local kids that went to study in colleges and universities in UK and USA. By chances, they had observed the evolution of punk at the right place where it had all started. This is the exactly thing that had been experienced by Kamil Othman, ex-DJ of Time Highway Radios former Alternative Rock Show, in the 70's somewhere in England. It was so happened that he had attended the 1976's 100 Club Punk Festival in London. He remembered of seeing Siouxsie of Siouxsie and The Banshees at the gig. The sights; the dressings and the attitudes, of her and the other crowds were so amazingly shocking him and his fellow Malaysian students. 'We have never seen such things before', he told. But they didnt really bring this newly discovered culture baggage when they got back home. It is just another culture shock that they had been experiencing. Whether they had enjoyed it or not, one thing for sure Kamil had latter on contributed something to the local scene. But lets hold that for a while. What about the other Malaysians who also studied and lived for a while under the Union Jack or in the State? At least maybe a few numbers of them had brought something punky across the border no matter in term of punk idea or just its plain attitude. It might be the case as no real evidence to proof this.
There is clear evidence showing the influences of punk culture to Malaysian audience. In the 35th edition of ROTTW, the Malaysias first music magazine, its editor Raja Iskandar Bin Raja Halid has admitted about his brother involvement with punk. He said, his brother has become a Mat Punk in the 70's while still in the 16-17 years of age. His teenage attitude is clearly a punk and he lived with it. But one thing that is astoundingly to notice is about his success in getting a university degree later on in his life. At the moment he is working somewhere in New Zealand (Raja Halid, R.I., 1999). This story somehow has become quite an inspiration to some readers of the magazine by acknowledging few replies to the editorial that followed the later edition of the magazine.
The story shows that a punk devotee can become useful too and acts as a source of inspiration to other people especially the punk wannabe.
Now lets get back to the 80's scene. The early 80's scene here however has never really transcended the trendiness of a small group of enthusiasts. Ex-punk rocker Flopster hazards a guess that only one in a thousand underground fans would have listened to punk rock back then (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). Furthermore, the scene went quiet by the mid-80's due to the rising popularity of thrash metal within the underground music scene, but punk never died.
Before the discussion goes further, it must be known that actually the mid-80's is more concern with the emergence of Malaysian underground music as a whole. This includes all the early Thrash/Death Metal and punk bands such as Rator (This legendary death metal band played in the vein of early Celtic Frost with dark lyrics), Blackfire, Punisher, Nemesis, Betrayer, Picagari, Mallaria, and Hijrah etc. The latter, an East Coast band is now popularly known as the Pilgrims. They were the first ever punk band to record a demo in 1990, called Pilgrimage to Nowhere and also the first one to release an album Perfume Garden in 1993. This album was pretty well received and played a part in kick-starting punk once again (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). Other band in the East Coast (Terengganu, to be precise) punk scene then was Mallaria, fronted by the influential Ku Yee. However the most other underground bands had split-up without leaving any musical legacy except for some badly recorded demo tapes. The most surprising and most memorable one is Evil Symphony a demo released by Rator (Mohamed Salleh, S. 1996). Lately the underground music scene has growing bigger while getting better and moving stronger than in the old days. It does not only involve punk bands but other themes like New School Hardcore, Modern Grunge, Metal, Indie, Electronica and Nu-Metal. Many new bands have come out of the closet and reveal themselves to the underground masses. Some have even made it to the overground and join the mainstream. But were not going really into detail on the whole underground thing, as we want to focus only on the sub-portion of it, the punk side. Still the interrelation of it must not be denied as they have inspired each other. The important thing is punk like most of other extreme music started from the underground scene.
It is nothing wrong to say that punk now has been evolving greatly. In the eyes of some people they have yet to notice it. For those who have been long enough in the scene and follow it thoroughly they can surely tell. This also true to the one whom has made deep observation to the scenario. They know whos who and what has happened and what is still going around.
WHO AND WHERE ARE THEY
These are two big questions arise from the scene outsiders who want to know more about them. Well, those punks can be as young as primary school kids and as old as 40 years old and above. But most of them are still in their teenagers and those below 40 . Many youngsters started to commit to punk culture when they have just finish with their schooling as they have gained new kind of freedom. With no more school they can do whatever they want. However, learning is still a process to go. This time in the shape of new culture the wild, exciting, young-angst rebellion of punk. Whether they further their study in colleges and university, got hold to a job or just loitering around wasting their parents money, it cant stop them from pledging alliances to the punk community.
Some who's lucky enough, even got to know about punk while still in elementary level of education. They by chance got the opportunity when their big brother brings them along to gigs. During the past few years till recently we can easily notice small kids with clean cute face and nice combed-hair within the vicinity of many underground gigs. And yes, they are sure looked punk enough in embarrassment of the other older attendees who are not quite punky.
Therefore punks can be just about anyone. High school students, undergraduates, sales persons, eatery place workers, engineers; these punks are everywhere. Punk must not be from big cities like Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuantan, Ipoh and Alor Setar, they can also originated from other ordinary places (and also remote areas and far-away villages) like Jelebu, Kangar, Teluk Intan, Trolak, Pasir Mas, Sg. Petani or even Labuan. They can always be seen in any underground gigs especially punk related shows. In Kuala Lumpur and its neighborhood Selangor, places like Damansara's Piccadilly Discotheque and The Pyramid Club, Life Center, etc. are classic places where underground punk gigs always being held. But that are in the past as most of these places have been closed down or not active in organizing underground gigs anymore. Newer places have taken over their roles. Today most gigs are been held at the Artist Club (ex-Carlos), the Actor Studio (more of a theater place actually), the new and grand MCities at KL Plaza, and other small pubs and discotheque around the city. Besides that punks are known to hang out and lepak at the Central Market (CM) , Pertama and Campbell Complex, Medan MARA food court and Kotaraya Complex in Kuala Lumpur.
Males are more into the punk culture than females. This can be understandable, as the punk culture itself doesn't deal with soft agendas but rather harsh, wild and aggressive belief, style and way of doing things. However the number of punk girls has increased. Some even to the extent have formed their own minor girl-riot (girl power?) movement. But still there are not many of them involve with any band and if they do usually as the singer and not any of the instruments players.
DEFINITION OF PUNK
If you went by the basic definition of punk in most English dictionary such as the one in the Collins Gem (1988), its meaning are inferior, rotten, worthless (person or thing) and petty (hoodlum). It is ironic somehow that the punk idol, John Lyndon the front-person of Sex Pistol, had been christened John Rotten, after his catchphrase, 'You're rotten, you are' by his band mate Steve Jones (Aizlewood, J. Et al. 1996). Are these the real meaning of punk in our context of discussion? In this same dictionary, the last definition of it is a style of rock music. But punk is not about music per se. Has this dictionary miss some other things that worth to be defined too?
According to Joe Kidd, his definition of punk has always been changing in accordance to his maturity. When he was a 13-year old kid deeply enthralled by pictures of Johnny Rotten and The Ramones, punk was a crude, shocking and revolutionary fashion parade with raw, unschooled and deeply honest (highly exciting!) music in tow (Kidd, J. 1999). Later on he recognized the spirit of change, independence, creativity and also the political side to it as he step further and started to venture out of the usual punk trappings and discovered other things that are punk as well. So his perception of punk has become widen. But basically he stressed out that:
Anybody or any group of people who sincerely push boundaries, create challenging bodies of work with integrity and thought, is considered by me as punk, especially when the expression positively reaffirms individual freedom and allows for the betterment of the world we live in. Thats my conclusion. Thats punk.
Through what he has stated above, that has been featured in a written interview column in a local punk fanzine, Callus (1999), punk can take a bigger definition than anyone can ever understand. Punk can go across the boundary of music. Punk takes part in other side of life too. In fact, punk helps to shape life itself. Punk is an alternative way of living that can change certain aspect of life of some individual or group of people if not for the whole society.
This is also coincided with what Weng had said in the same publication and also in his own newsletter Hickey on Your Brain #4. He is another punk activist who used to help running a Kuantans underground label called Dull Entertainment Programme. As for him, punk has always been about doing the right things and doing things right, being in conflict with the mainstream ideas/values that have been dictated to us to be followed blindly. Its about sticking up for our rights as a free and individual human being while being ethical at the same time using punk rationale and common sense. To him personally, its about taking control of our life. He has seriously stated that, Punk, you either get it or dont...its not just music and its not for everybody!
WAY OF LIVING
THE DO IT YOURSELF (DIY) ETHICS
The Do It Yourself or simply DIY ethics is an important component of local punk scene and in the globalize punk scene as well. It can be traced back as early as in the 70's. At first it hailed out through fashion. The guy who was responsible for this is non -other than Malcolm McLaren, a Fine Arts graduate and clothing retailer. This is the same person who helped to form Sex Pistol. He had introduced anti-fashion statements for the band members including bondage clothing, safety pins through the skin and short, spiked, dyed hair. Most of these new kind of fashion at that time were simple and easy to make. No wonder that the new fashion craze had been caught up by those young punk-wannabes in a short time. They just simply trashed out their already available apparel and turned it out as a new one. This was where creativity and innovative came in. Not to forget also the term anti-mainstream. And so against the mainstream it was that the whole society had looked upon it as something out of norm, novel and kind of nihilistic. But lets put aside about fashion and anti-mainstream for a while, as we will touch more on them in other sub-topic of discussion later on. Lets hear what the punk has to say about DIY.
As what (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000) has put it, the most positive aspect of punks influence in the local underground during the 80's was probably the self-determining spirit of DIY. Weng thinks that DIY is basically a punk ideal about having control of what you do and taking control of your life in general by refusing to be a part of the mainstream business system and in our little underground world, releasing and distributing stuff on our own. What he means by having control in what we do is more related to things like doing our own records, spread our own ideas by making our own literature stuff and organize gigs or other shows and events by ourselves without or with less help from outsiders especially those business -minded person.
In Weng own experienced of releasing punk related stuff, he and his companies finance, record, produce and market the stuff on their own effort without relying on backings from corporations or record companies. Therefore through DIY way they have complete control on their releases especially the price part. They can keep the price fair and lower than those normal prices at shop. Usually the price of underground/punk DIY records is as low as RM3 and not exceeding RM10 for cassette releases, and for the compact disc format, it just a little higher than the cassette one. For example, DEP labels own third releases are Enslaved Chaos self-titled tape that is sold for RM6 and the price can be less than that. This price is possible, as elimination has been done to the hierarchy of a normal mainstream business system of middlemen and distributors and shops where at every step on the ladder of hierarchy, there is a definite price mark up (Weng, p40-42, 1999).
As Joe Kidd put it, DIY is a method used to circumvent the evils and pitfalls of commerce. This is true as punks nowadays are really against the idea of capitalism. DIY is anti-capitalism. So it is the solution to this problem. DIY gives producers of expression (bands, writer, artists etc.) total control over his/her ideas or products. Through DIY he/she will be able to be creatively free with his/her ideas and more importantly, to control the way his/her creations are being distributed to the masses.
This is in reaction to the normal (mostly and usually unfair) business practice of dictating bands, writer, artists or other creative people to dilute, tweak or tailor their products toward a certain standard (their standard) which will not only ensure their profitability but also make it appealing to the largest market possible. This kind of practice forces the creations/expressions to be safe, unchallenging, conservative and trapped inside established lines. In short, your band is going to be more than boring, youre fucked! (Kidd, 1999).
Joe Kidd has further on stated about the unfairness of the usual recording deal is one of the other reasons why the DIY ethics is important in the punk scene. As what we all generally know, normal business practices main concerned is making profit. And usually a huge chunk of the profit made is taken out of the bands, artists etc. share- meaning unfair division of the profit been made. This problem is still a major concern in the music industry worldwide and keeps being debated. But still someone will say that there is nothing wrong with it as it is a common thing in the music industry. The record company has the money and capital to invest for someones music product. Is it what capitalism all about? Again, as it is about unfairness, that is why punks are against it and they resolve the problem through DIY.
This battle between DIY and capitalism of ordinary business can be clearly seen through a real example. Usually many underground and alternative bands that signed with VSP are given RM1 for each cassette sold. Lets say VSP sold the tape to the record shops at RM10 per cassette and the cost of producing one cassette is RM3. That means, VSP has made a clean profit of RM6 out of the whole shebang! The company gets RM6 and the band RM1. According to the punks, they do not get a fair share. But there is other way to handle this.
If a band decides to record, produce and duplicate their products on its own (DIY) and give the distribution rights to VSP meaning the band gives VSP finished product (tapes all sealed up and ready for sale) VSP will usually give the band RM5 per copy of ready-made cassette. VSP then sells it to the record shops at the price of RM10, thus making a clean profit of RM5. The band then has to pay for duplication, covers etc. which cost, lets say RM2 each. This means that the band has made a profit of RM3 per cassette.
This is way better than signing to VSP and getting RM1. The band is able to control its creativity and gets a fairer deal for their toil, but the band still cant control the price at the shops. Usually shops sell the tape at around RM13, making a profit of RM3. This doesnt mean that the band is less DIY, they still did it all on their own, they stuck to their principle but they lose out on how much the product is going to be sold for at the end of the process.
So, the best way to deal with it is to go at it totally DIY right from the point of writing the songs to the other end of the line where a consumer is holding and enjoying the bands product. This where local punk band such as The Bollocks has been admired and hailed as hero. They have been selling their tapes at RM3 by hand and RM4 by mail or DEP who sells their tapes at low price such as RM5. By working with DIY distros , they cut out on the involvement of middlemen; the culprits who make the products become expensive.
But this doesnt ensure how the product is going to be sold at the end of the line anyway. It has been a big issue recently in the underground circle where the piratisation also came in. The Bollocks own recording has been wickedly pirated and been sold as high as RM9 in the shops. The same kind of thing also happens to another band, ACAB. These things happen, albeit in a smaller scale than that VSP/DIY band example.
Still Joe Kidd has another way in handling this kind of situation. He suggested:
I think the best way to go about it is to have your products distributed by both DIY distros and normal distributors. The area covered by distros such as ASAS, DEP and such is mainly in and around the scene. People in the scene will find it relatively easy to obtain the products but what about those who dont go through the gigs or read zines or order stuff through the mail? Are they automatically excluded here?
Furthermore, With that in mind, we must make these DIY recordings or products widely available or at least widely known, but we must do it in such away that doesnt compromise too much of the control we have over it. Thats where the method used by Dischord Records and so many other respectable/reliable labels comes in.
However, by selling punk stuff cheap and in the ethics of DIY, it doesnt mean that the quality has to be sacrificed. Weng thought that the best way is to release something as good as we can within our own budget. However Weng still strictly stressed on quality product:
All people who play in bands want their releases to be of good sound quality. But can we afford it? Releasing something is always better than nothing but we must try not to get people to equate DIY releases with poor quality so that DIY releases will earn their much-needed credibility even comparable to mainstream prices but of cheaper price. In this case, the message (of punk/hardcore) will truly get across. People will see through it by making comparison of the prices and everything will be more crystal clear.
PUNK AND ITS LITERATURE
Punk as a subculture for the chosen young generation also lives on with its own kind of books and writings. As punk is about making statement, therefore the existence of literatures is important in this subculture. Punks literatures, usually in the form of fanzine and newsletter act as a media to deliver ideas and messages about things in and out of the scene. It works as a tool to spread the ethics by providing information and discussing the philosophy of punk culture.
The existence of these literatures came along with the arrival of the punk culture itself especially in the late 80's and early 90's. One of the first ever punk fanzine is Aedes. It was written and self-published by the punk guru itself Joe Kidd, back in the early 1987 till 1994. Aedes had also brought itself the effort to documented music by early underground bands through 1994 self-produced compilation tape featuring many influential underground bands. Another worthy to be mentioning fanzine is Vortex From The East. This is a bilingual (English/Malay) fanzine done by an old-timer in the underground scene, known as Ajizz. Vortex From The East is also the longest running fanzine in Malaysia. However this zine is more involved with the whole activity of the underground scene and not focusing solely on the punk agenda. It is a multi-genre style zine but mainly covers the metal side.
Till today there are too many zines that have been written by many individuals or party of people from various corners of Malaysia. This also surprisingly includes those that are from remote places and never-been-heard villages. The scenario shows that punk-related ideologies have penetrated deep into the heart of many persons throughout the country. It is easier actually to track down the spread of punk culture to local young individuals through the existence of zines. Kluang, Clang, Mentakab, Taiping, Tronoh, Kuala Pilah, Kemaman, you name it, punk has arrived to just anywhere and everywhere. Not forgetting also those universities like USM, UM, UTM, UKM, UPM etc. Somehow without we ever realized it, our next neighbor had spread his/her written messages to all around the world through his/her own copies of zine.
Actually, there are two forms of literature that dominants in our country. They are fanzine or zine and newsletter. Fanzine has more pages compare to newsletter. It can be less than 20 pages or as many as nearly 100 pages or more. While newsletter usually has 1 to a little more than 10 pages. They can be in various format of presentation. In term of size, most of them are either in full-size or half-size of A4 paper format. They can be amateurishly photocopied or professionally offset-printed. The Raincity fanzine from Taiping, Perak is the first Malaysian zine in newsprint paper. And what is more impressive about it is that it has been done by a group of young punk kids who are still in their teens and had just finished school. This same format has later on been followed by another new zine, Callus. It is more of collective sort of effort as it involves various people in the scene. These people form Callus Collective and base in Batu Caves, Selangor.
Other publications include Embrace (Kluang), Pangcore (Skudai), Chaos PS (USM, Minden), Broken Foundation (UKM, Bangi), Ganyang Resistance (Parit), Cronically Donut (JB), Buddy Holly (Kuching), Solidaritas (Tronoh) and Periodical Dissonant (PJ). As for newsletter, there are Network and Subnetwork (KL), Quandary (KL), Voice From The Mind, In The Name Of Love and another Joe Kidds own personal side-project, the highly-irregular newsletter cum statement, Communion. There are many other zines and newsletters that have made their existence to the scene that are not mentioned here. Some of them have been published till a number of editions and then vanished. Some have managed to carry on with their work and still active till today. Theyre usually the high-spirited one and consider punk culture as basis for something they fight for.
What about the standard and quality of all these fanzines and newsletters? As all of them are done amateurishly and DIY, we can expect the worse and still be amaze at the same time. The quality can vary. Some of them are badly published and not even nice to look at. With all that sad written sentences, bad English and even to the extent of adding everythings up rojak style. Nevertheless there are still that have been done with an excellent performance of writings and at a standard command of language. These include Wengs Hickey On Your Brain and Joe Kidds own Communion. However it all depends on the standard of education that has been gone through and how it is being practiced. But above all, the things that must be stressed out are the message and the information regarding the scene and everything that surrounds it. In simple words, it is not for syok sendiri. It is just not for the sake of fun of doing it. It is for other people to enjoy and at the same time get the message and knowledge attached to the literature. These literatures are for other people in the scene and outside the scene to know better about punk culture and the real thing that is going on around the world.
PUNKS CODE OF FASHION AND STYLE
We have touched a little bit on the punk theme of fashion before under other topics. Here is the more detail of it. Punk is discovered by many young people in this country through fashion alongside the music itself. So it can be said that punk is very much easier to notice through fashion. If we stroll off along the street in the busy city for our usual hang out or shopping treat, by chance of luck we can easily happen to come across the punks. The first thing that strokes our eyes is their appearance. And sure enough they're somehow different from the normal people. Most of us then will keep our eyebrow high and act with disguise towards them. This is the common thing that happens in Malaysia.
We must not forget the role that has been played by one of the punk creator, Malcolm McLaren. He is an important person because he had helped to create the punk culture at the first place through fashion. When he introduced the ever-popular anti-fashion statements for the Sex Pistols, the bands followers in the UK and all around the world have also caught the same phenomenon. The same situation is also applied to the Malaysian punk audiences. They employ the same style of fashion. They also want to wear the bondage clothing and torn out T-shirt, jacket and jeans, insert safety pins through their skin and made their hair short, spiked and dyed. What made these kind of thing more interesting is the fact that it can be done DIY-ly without going to the hairdressing saloon or spend so much money on designer-label branded clothing items so punk now can be equate to affordable and inexpensive subculture. Other style and code of dress that are the in things are Mohawk hair, almost bold hair, Doc Martens boots, leather jacket, spikes, studs, body-piercing, propaganda T-shirts, Converse shoes and cargo pants. One thing that is quite fascinating to notice about punk fashion is actually they are not like any other kind of mainstream fashions. What does it mean here, it is not about following the latest trend. It does not wear out with time. It is still applicable through many generations and years the 70's, 80's, 90's and now the new millennium. What those Sex Pistols followers wore in the 70s, punksters now are still wearing it. And yet new things keep coming up and been added to the current style of dressing. Lately, dreadlocks hairstyle and the wearing of wallet-chains have becoming hot items.
It must be made clear that all punk styling that have been elucidated above applied to the punk rockers generally. As punk culture consists of many themes where they are associated with somehow different type of punk music, they also wear quite different style of dressings. The Anarchopunk wear black cargo pants, T-shirt with slogans or logos of bands, patches, khaki backpacks, dreadlocks or spiky hair. While the Hardcore kids are spotted with cargo pants, loose denims and T-shirts, wallet-chains and baseball caps among other things. As for the skinheads, they are synonym with bald or shaven heads, tight jeans rolled up above the ankle, suspenders, berets, denim and suede jacket, Fred Perry shirts and Doc Martens. The skinheads are more fashionable, smart-dressed and sometimes dont really show that harmful looks.
MUSIC AND THE MEDIA
Music is the important thing in punk culture as it is where it all started. Punk is rooted from Rock genre. Actually, punk music has not been created by the Sex Pistols as what many people have assumed. Punk sound has been derived from the music of garage bands of the late 60's with bands such as the artistic and experimental Velvet Underground, New York Dolls and the very acclaimed Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Their music has been termed as proto-punk. It means the early projected sound of punk before the real punk culture itself existed. So, musically punk came from the United States of America.
Then, in the early 70's, The Ramones from New York has made their appearance for the first time. This is an important band as it has introduced the simple 3-chord melodic music termed as bubblegum punk music. At this same period of time, UK was more associated with Glam-rock. It is a soft side of punk and its predecessor, Rock n Roll. It is popularly concern with man that wears make up and a little bit of woman clothing. The Glam-rock followers will try to dress as glamorously as possible hence where the term came about. The Glam-rock era has clearly been pictured in the film by Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine. The film who has been starred by Ewan McGregor among others, is a valentine to the sounds and images that erupted in and around London in the early 1970's: to Brian Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and the extraordinary inversions they imposed on our notions of the performance, sexuality and identity. The film shows some of the elements that help to the emergence of punk later on.
But not until the mid-70's that punk has became a music genre of its own. In both major countries, the USA and UK, young and new bands had started to establish their own style of music and wanted to get away than the mainstream music wave like hard rock. They want to give priority to their own taste and passion of music.
In the UK, the Sex Pistols has been labeled as the first punk band. Even though the Sex Pistols and The Ramones have different agenda and sound, they have revolutionized music in their own country. The Ramones music is faster more to the bubblegum music as what has been said before. While the Sex Pistols play Faces riff boisterously with more rough sound and noisy.
In America, punk stay as an underground music movement, and they try to explore Hardcore music and indie-rock in the 80s. But in the UK, punk has become a major music trend. There, Sex Pistols has been pictured as a band that gave threat to the government and monarchy, but what for sure, this band has led way for other new bands to emerge. Some of the bands tried to imitate the Sex Pistols, but there were many others who had succeeded in establishing their own sound like Buzzcocks near-pop music, reggae and rock influenced of The Clash and experimental music of Joy Division.
Than punk music has been converged into sub-genres like post-punk (more experimental and artistic), new wave (more into pop music) and Hardcore who made punk music harder in sound with strong lyrics. Through the 80's decade, punk has active been played in the Hardcore music arena in the USA and UK. In the early 90's, new era punk bands, headed by Green Day and Rancid emerged from the underground music wave of America and get signed to the major label.
In Malaysia, punk music first gets through to the youngsters through records playing and on the stereo set. As the record and tapes of overseas punk acts are very rare and hard to find locally, those early punks always trade amongst them. They are lucky enough if they are in the same school and have the same taste in punk music. But, that is not always the case. For Joe Kidd, he remembers in the old days where he had a strong continuously friendship with his pen pal, Abazz of Taipings Karatz:
Me and Abazz were writing to each other back in 1979! Fucking 20 years ago! He was living in Penang then and we always traded tapes, pictures, cuttings and zines. When he moved to Kuantan in the early 80s we always hangout with each other as I was studying there. And when he went to Taiping in 1985/86 I visited him once, hanging out at his house and watching Suburbia and Ruth! A Music War videos (Zahid, 1999).
So, during those early pears, there was no band, they were just trading the noise among them (Bollok Wok cover notes, 2000). Joe Kidd says, Punk rock was a worldwide phenomenon back then. For a bunch of kids living in Terengganu, it was like being touched by the hand of enlightenment (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). In the same interview in TONE magazine, he had added, Musically, it was raw, fast, quirky, intelligent and by far a lot more potent, dangerous and alive than the whole content of all TONE magazines combined.
During the era of rising popularity of the underground scene in the mid-80's, most of the punk bands that existed at that time play quite the same kind of punk rock music. Many of the tunes have energy and strength that replicate the one of the Sex Pistols. As passion for the music is above everything, musical talent is not something that is very important. As long as you knew three chords, you were a guitarist. Talent was optional ((Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). But they keep on improving themselves with frequent jamming sessions and started to perform in small underground gigs. It was fun no fights, no animosity; just a bunch of kids having a lot of fun thrashing out their own brand of music, reminisced Joe Kidd in his column Blasting Concept in The Sun (October 1994).
Therefore, the first sub-genre of punk music that has been played by local punk band is Punk Rock (sometimes it is spelled Rawk) itself. Besides the legendary Carburetor Dung, Hijrah and The Pilgrims other bands that play this kind of music are The Splatters, Karatz, DEP, Tayar Soton, The Bollocks, etc. They play fast and straight-ahead version of 3-chord music. Sometime, the tunes are catchy and melodic. They employ meaningful and no metaphor lyrics to their songs. The song can be about almost anything; abortion, politics, friendships, racism, sexism, having fun, environmental issues and the list goes on.
Their influences include western bands like the Sex Pistols (always the numero uno of any punk related list of preferences), The Ramones, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, NOFX, The Damned, The Clash and The Adverts. Even the 90's grunge-superhero, Seattles Nirvana, has been credited for bringing the sound and spirits of late 70's punk rock to the mainstream pop audience. Smells Like Teen Spirit has become the anthem for young people alienated by baby boomers Michael Jackson and Madonna. The band consisted of three hippies and punk rockers wannabe fronted by the late Kurt Cobain who committed suicide in 1994, Dave Grohl (who now the front person of Foo Fighters) and Chris Novoselic (who later formed Sweet 75 after Nirvana was disbanded).
There are also bands that play a simpler, sing-along kind of punk tunes. Most of the tracks they play and record are catchy and easy to remember. Their style of music is termed as street music as it is popular to the kids that always hang out on the street. The music is also kind of popish, hence the term pop punk also applied. If the band members hail and very much involve with skateboard activities, they can be known as skate punk. Musically, their hero is more of The Ramones other than the Sex Pistols. Not forgetting also the more recent bands especially the Americans act like Green Day, No Doubt, and Blink 182. They are of more from the mainstream arena and being signed to the major labels. But still the music has meaningful lyrics of varied subjects. The most important local punk band that is well known with this style of punk music is the legendary Subculture. The band is still active till today even though they have successfully been employed to other real and permanent job. But the band has not be getting very much support from the local undergrounders lately due to their involvement with the more mainstream crowd. Their songs also always being played on the local radio station as the songs are radio-friendly enough to penetrate the ears of major listeners. Other local bands in this category, which are worth to notice, are Head cleaner and H.A.S from Ipoh and the going-to-be-big Spunky Funggy from Kuala Lumpur.
Then, there are bands that instead of keeping true to traditional 3-chord punk search within contemporary and historical references, from pre-punk band Velvet Underground to Can and Beefheart (Ismail, Z. Et al. 2000). Those bands such as The Pilgrims, Naked Butterfly, and Shitworkers (Joe Kidds indie-punk side project) are attached to Post-punk. It is the 90s punk revivalism with a heavier, more metal-like sound than the original punk. The three bands mention are seasoned punk rockers and not new to the scene. They try to create challenging cerebral music; experimental, bleak, abrasive and serious at the same time.
The very good example is The Pilgrims. Earlier it has been explained that this band plays punk rock just like Carburetor Dung and the Splatters. Before they change their name to The Pilgrims due to the breaking up of Hijrah they have been playing Sex Pistols-fueled music. Then when they signed to Pony canyon, a major label who keens to engage local rock acts, The Pilgrims has been known as a humor punk-combo who play variety of punk rock music, from the usual sing-along tunes to the fast hardcore songs and also some surf numbers courtesy of their surf-crazy guitarist, Combat. When they started to perform Hindustani cover song they have become much more popular even though this was not intended. In an interview with R.O.T.T.W (Seir and Herman, 1998), they had expressed the feeling of sorry for including Churaliya/Deko Abto in the Pony Canyons 1996 Da Capo album as it has made the album sold like hot chocolate.
From the word Da Capo itself shows how The Pilgrims started wanting to change their music direction. That particular album signifies how the band wants to start something new and fresh due to the splitting of its original group members. The coming in of its new front man, Bob has given new light and shed new ideas to the band. The Post-punk sound becomes stronger in their next albums like The Wiser Fisherman and the latest one Achtung! This is not a metal album!. The later has been criticized by many due to its complete near-metal sound and losing its punk touch. But the band doesnt really care about that and believe in what they are doing.
The next punk theme is Hardcore (HC). This type of music is a derivation of earlier punk music. It has been made popular by the early or old school western punk bands such as Minor Threat, Youth Of Today, Rollins Band, Black Flag, Sick Of It All and Warzone. Hardcore music is harder and more extreme than punk rock. The elements of hard rock and metal have been added to make the music more aggressive. The lyrics are very important in accordance with its hardcore sound. They must deliver strong and meaningful messages.
The term old school is referring to the early bands they have their own sound in distinction with the new school'. Some of the old school bands are the legendary Chronic Mass, Basic Right, Disaster Funhouse, N.E.T (Never Ending Threat) and 24 Reasons. However only Disaster Funhouse has the real old school sound resembling those of Minor Threat and such. The others represent variety of Hardcore sub-genres such as raging and brutal HC, progressive-experimental HC, rapcore, Doom HC etc. As for the new school bands they are Tabaraka, Standstill, Self Defense, Kharisma, Carbon 13 and FSF among others.
Skinhead punks music is Oi! And Ska. Oi! Is like crowd-friendly sing-along punk tunes. There is also the more extreme Strength-thru Oi! with more aggressive and sometime harsh style of singing. Oi! Influences come from Sham 69, Anti-pasti, Oi Polloi, Cockney Rejects, UK Subs, Last Resort, The Oppressed, etc. Ska is slower with similarities to reggae. In fact, it is believed that ska came first before the appearance of reggae. Some of the ska heroes are Madness, Bad Manner, and The Special. As for the local acts, there are ACAB (All Capitalists Are Bastards), Oppression, The Official, The Maniacs, Boot Off!, Skin-Rovers, Drinking Squad, The Opponent, Crewkutz and Individuous.
Anarchopunk has gained much attention recently. It is punk that adapted to anarchism, which derived from Greek word an archos, meaning no government. The sound is exactly like punk but the difference is in the political and social themes in the lyrics. Anarchists like Crass, Conflict, Dis-bands, and Flux of Pink Indians have influenced local anarchopunks such as Mass Separation, Parkinson and Aghast. Many of the anarchopunk bands have thrash music elements embroidered in their tracks so it makes it hard for the casual listener to grasp what they are singing (or screaming?) about. That is why the usual supplement of lyrics sheet is important to understand the messages of the songs.
The involvement of mass media even though not thoroughly, has in one way help to promote and introduce punk music and the culture to the masses. But it is not in the form of daily playing of songs on the radio or spinning of video clips on television musical programme like any other pop stars. It is more in the form of special radio show or television programme that dedicates to rock and alternative music acts.
On Time Highway Radio (THR), there is one radio show called Alternative Rock Show hosted by the superpower DJ Kamil Othman. The show has premiered the show somewhere in the mid-90's and has been terminated few months ago. Since it first started, it has gathered much cult and faith followers who will wait patiently for the show to be aired at 10.00 p.m every Saturday night. The show only plays and introduces rock related music and other alternative kind of songs not usually air on radio. DJ Kamil Othman has dedicated himself to bring in many local underground music to the music and introduce many segments that committed to certain genre of music like metal, electronica, Malay rock, experimental music and certainly punk music itself. Usually he will start with the classic tunes and later on will be followed by newer acts with international and local bands. He will also explain certain information like the history of the music and relate it to other materials. Sometime he held some interview and discussion sessions with local personalities like underground bands, musician and music expertise, not to exclude Joe Kidd himself . DJ Kamil Othman has become an important informants about the local scene and very much respected from the crowd.
On television there is once a programme called Alternatif . It was produced by TV3 and featured international and local so-called alternative music. This 30-minutes weekly programme first been aired around 1995. The show has taken advantages of the local underground scene by introducing acts like Carburetor Dung , The Pilgrims, Subculture, Spiral Kinetic Circus, OAG (Old Automatic Garbage), The Beads and Apple Greens among others. It was first been hosted by Lee of the Carburetor Dungs fame and later on, who else Joe Kidd. The show has also introduced another host, Reza of Saturnine during its last seasons.
WAYS OF THINKING
CODES OF ETHICS
Like any other subculture, punk has its own specific codes of ethics. They are usually derived and extracted from various ideals, politics and ethics currently in vogue in the Western scene. The acceptance of punk ethics is varied, either the music first than come the ethics or vice versa. As for Shahrail of the band Nitty Gritty (early Kuantan underground band), I started by listening to underground music, then came the ideas. I was hooked by the energy and I always felt that we (myself and punk rock) had this mutual affection (Ismail, Z. Et al.).
In discussing about these ethics, in the same publication, Ismail, Z. Et al. continue to emphasize that; These are usually picked up from lyric sheets of bands or opinions in DIY bedroom fanzines, an essential medium of communication within the underground network. It has been explained before that most punk songs have meaningful and full-of-message lyrics even though sometime it is hard to understand what the songs all about (the inclusion of lyrics sheet is very much important in that case). The songs and lyrics signify what they are believed in and fight for. Many of them really serious with their ethics like what they're singing and writing about. They will practice what they preach. They will defend their belief in any debate and ready to argue about it anytime and anywhere. However there are few guys who dont commit to their ideal culture. Their actual behaviors are not in accordance with what they say they fight for.
Nevertheless, the most positive aspect of punks influence in the local underground during the 80s and still applied till today was probably the self-determining spirit of DIY. Punk activists like Joe Kidd and Weng will never give up on the idea of DIY. It can be seen through what they do in everyday life like what have been explained under Way Of Living topic. The quite lengthy sub-topic of DIY can even goes forever, as there are still lots of articles on DIY ethics in local and overseas punk fanzines.
PUNK INTRINSIC IDEOLOGIES
The most popular ideology that has been subscribed by some local punk is Straight-edge with its famous acronym, SxE. It is more attractive and significant to the Hardcore kids. Straight-edge is about healthy living and positive lifestyle. That means they dont; smoke, take drugs, drink and practice free sex. Even though it sounds almost impossible by other people, some of the punk/hardcore devotees really practice it. But for sure no one is perfect. Some will play truant and not commit fully to the idea (especially on the smoking part!). Others will go back to practice their original lifestyle. The straight-edge way of living can also contribute to veganism, which is commitment to strict vegetarian. But the case is rare.
Lately, a quite new ideology has penetrated into the scene. The rather extreme Anarchism has made its way to our shore. Outside literature like APF Anarcho Punk Federations (USA) Counterculture has been distributed by local anarchists. They (local anarchopunks like Jimbo of Parkinson and Broken Noise Record)) are in the process of setting up anarchist group like ALF, ABC or ACF in Malaysian society. Like what has been has explained before under Music and Its Media anarchopunk worship anarchism, with the clue word itself anarchy, which derived from Greek word an archos, meaning no government (However, we dont go very detail with this issue, as it is still not fully understood by us). Anarchopunk is famous with their slogans like Ignorant Is Bliss and Awareness Is A Crime.
According to Weng, Anarchism has always been part of punk, maybe not as a whole but its the basis of the movement itself. Anarchism is an ideology and if you want to set up anarchist groups you got to truly believe 100% in the ideology itself in the first place and believe me, anarchism is not meant for everybody. He responded that way because many kids who say that they are into anarchism but in reality they are into it just for the sake of being cool and the word anarchy itself is quite fancy to them. As for Joe Kidd, anybody can be an anarchist but how true are they in that particular school of thought? Nowadays, its a fashionable thing to be anarcho, especially here. And that is really sad. Its funny too (Zahid, 1999).
To sum up everything, punk is a unique subculture that has been in existence in Malaysia since the punk explosion itself that had happened in England and the United State of America. It becomes more popular during 1980's and 1990's due to the emergence of local underground music scene. Like any other culture, punks have their own set of values, beliefs and customary behavior. Their way of thinking, way of living and other way of doing things have been studied in many range of subtopics. As a whole, it can be said that punk culture in this country is not only about music as it covers other aspects of life as well.
In doing this particular research we have applied what we have learned in class and also our non-formal learning through everyday life. Different and variety of methods of data collection and analysis have been used to satisfy our objectives. Some of the field techniques of ethnography have been applied. We are lucky enough as one of our group members has been following the underground scene for quite a long time. He is a faithful observer and has a close attachment with the local scene. But still he wants to be known as an insider and outsider at the same time. He has also been attending underground gigs since 1996. Many of the information attained are from his own account of experiences. Therefore direct, firsthand observation of casual punk behavior, including participant observation of punk activities has been utilized. Emic and Etic research strategies have been used to study this particular subculture. Most of the information that we have gathered are from personal articles been written by punk well-informed informants and also interview sessions with punk activists and band members that are featured in the underground punk DIY zines and newsletter.
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