Friday, February 4, 2011

Youth in Malaysia

    The fact is $8,000 fell into my lap and I wanted to leave Vegas for an extended period of time.   I wasn’t  ready to physically move from Vegas but I wanted to go somewhere outside the country for more than a few weeks.  A few months prior I'd broken up with a woman who I 'd planned to marry.  Since my domesticity had fallen through I was on shaky ground and this windfall of cash couldn't have come at a better time.  Really there is no bad time for shit like that to happen but you get my drift.  I wanted to test myself and see something I’d never seen before.  Eat scorpions, get into a bar brawl, wake up in a foreign jail cell.  Shit like that.

    This was Summer 2002 and I was thoroughly disgusted with the post 9/11 rhetoric which had souped up the country and the world at that time.  No one could listen to reason so it was time to bail to South East Asia for no fucking reason.    

     Every foreigner I’d meet on my trip, including Canadians, were quick to express sympathy over the United States' tragic loss.  When I'd eventually find myself in these conversations I'd try my hardest not to let on that I thought the United States was full of shit and deserved worse in relation to the way we treat the rest of the world.  I was on vacation and I wasn't trying to talk politics between drinks.  The passing of time has given me some perspective on this period in history but it does nothing to change my hatred of United States imperialism.  I won't go into such boring and predictable analysis.  This post is once again about my favorite shit: music.  More specifically the music I experienced in my travels in South East Asia.

    I would advice everyone to take a trip to this part of the world.  I enjoyed every second.  I started in Japan, went to Thailand, took a side trip through Cambodia, snaked through Malaysia and lastly explored every inch of Bali before landing back in the desert South West.

    I have a great story for every country I saw along the way.  But this isn’t a travelogue.  Every country was great but this post is focused on Malaysia.  By the time I got to Kuala Lumpur I had been touring SE Asia for nearly two months and quite honestly I’d done a lot of the clichéd tourist shit you would expect.  All of which was great but I was hoping to do something a little crazier than passing out on the streets of KL. 

    I gotta bring up a funny side story which involved a sack of weed I bought in Ko Pha Ngan Thailand.  I stayed there a few days and took mushrooms at the full moon party on the beach which was internationally ridiculous.  While sitting in my hut a few days later I rolled this whole bag into joints and threw them on my backpack.  I'd been warned about Malaysia's zero tolerance policy towards drug smuggling so I tried to make sure I’d smoked all the joints before crossing the Thai/Malay  border. 

    Of course on the day I made that hungover crossing it occurred to me that maybe one or more of those joints might have fallen into my backpack by mistake.  There’s so many compartments in that goddamned thing.  When the bus I was on crossed over and I saw the huge sign that read “Drug traffickers receive a mandatory death sentence” on the Malaysian side of the border I got a little nervous but didn't let it faze me.  I smoked all those joints already right?

    Turns out I had a right to be nervous as I found a joint in my backpack at the hostel later that night.  What a fuckin moron.  Still I’ll admit to being really stoked to smoke that joint on a bridge overlooking the state mosque that night.  The state mosque is across the street from a Catholic church, down the road from a Hindu temple and well I’m pretty sure there are no Jewish temples in that neighborhood but you get the idea.  It’s a fairly liberal Muslim country.  Probably the most liberal in the world.

   This trip was coming to a close in a few weeks and I was bored with the routine debaucheries.  Not to mention the fact that after two days I wasn’t as enamored with Malaysian food as I'd been with the food on the coast of Thailand.  

    It was in a market in KL as I looked at bootleg DVD’s and random rock and roll t-shirts that I noticed an innocuous flyer posted to a bulletin board.  Could it be true?  Did I stumble on to the Malaysian punk scene?  The flyer had a roster of bands I couldn’t possibly be acquainted with but it was unmistakably an underground show of some sort.  The only graphic being, of all things, the dancing guy from the Specials. 

   My travels up to that point were following a pattern of confusion and elation which was fun and inventive but not all that original.  I’d perfected a cycle of stumbling into a strange new place, finding a cheap bed, checking out the scene until I’d gotten comfortable and then moving on to discover the next strange neighborhood.  I kept hoping I’d be able to immerse myself in some sense of intrigue that would challenge me and maybe push some adrenaline into my brain.  And here it was on a community bulletin board.  There was no way I was  gonna miss this fuckin show.

    Considering the amount of glowing praise I’ve heaped onto some of the bands featured in this blog it might surprise you to know that I’ve actually come to be disgusted by the music, aesthetic, and world of “punk rock” as it’s understood in 2011.

    The shit I've done with this blog to solidify some semblance of written history within my secluded little scene (Vegas) is worth the effort I’ve dished out.   And I don’t see it as nostalgia because even though it was a blast I’ll admit it was a brutal past life I had in hardcore punk.   And yet when I think about the concepts of "punk" I'm confronted with the failings that make me sick.  One of the things that makes me cringe, well two things really, are the cliché arguments that people have leveled since day one.  Namely “Punk shouldn’t be a codified sound and style.  Punk is anti-punk.  It’s whatever you want it to be.  It doesn’t have to be 4/4 beats and Ramones style buzzsaw guitar.”  People have been saying those tired lines for fuckin ever.  Just bringing up that argument makes me feel like I'm following the rulebook even more.  And yet the suck part is that it’s still a legitimate reason to say punk blows.
    The other side to the coin is yet another cliché in it’s own right.   When I was younger few things would annoy me more than an old fart hipster telling me how much better the world was in the past.  “My music was better, my ideals were better, we stood for something back then. Etc. etc.”  The truth is my generation didn’t do things much different than the last 10 generations.  Each generation makes at least a little noise but then it gets quiet.  Fuck that.  I'm making noise forever motherfuckers.     
    And yet when I see musicians today aping a style as cliché and trite as “standard” punk it almost offends me.  I just don’t see the relevance anymore.  It’s not scary, shocking, or innovative and in truth it’s been dumbed down to the point of embarrassment where those who truly have nothing to say are given the mic front and center.  And those who see themselves as more demented than GG Allin can be a carbon copy of mediocrity ad infinitum.

    In this way I think the value of DIY ethics and aesthetics are proven to be an annoyance when you pick up where the previous generation left off without trying to push the music or the scene in any way.  I just don’t see the point.

     And maybe that is the point coming from me a 39 year old man in 2011.  Punk style, punk music, punk whatever the fuck, it’s far from new to me.  And while I’ve been there and done all that I can’t fault the kids for shaking their ass and their fists to something that’s brand spanking new to them.  The reality is that punk is new every second of the day to some kid somewhere in the world.  So maybe if it’s relevant to someone somewhere it can still means something?  

      Personally I just think it’s boring.  But not this night September 2002 in Klang, Malaysia.  I had to take two buses to get to Klang which seemed to be a semi industrial town near to the coast.  I ripped the flyer of the wall of that market in KL so I had the directions.

     I don’t think many white people visit Klang in general so I was real popular right off the bat.  Just out of curiosity a few people followed me around for a few blocks after I got off the bus.  This whole experience was again one of the many instances in my life where my inability to give a shit made the whole experience possible.  

   In truth I think it was largely my blind faith that people with their respective scenes are usually  accepting of others who share their love for the music.  Plus I had a camera and everyone wants to be captured and noticed for all posterity.  That's why you get dressed up before a show right?  Well that and the fact that you might meet a cute girl.  

     Klang ain’t much different from KL, and from what I saw it’s not that different from Bakersfield for that matter.  That’s kinda harsh.  It’s definitely nicer than Bakersfield.  It’s more like a cross between Sacramento and the run down side of San Diego.    There was a 7-11 and a big arcade on the first floor of the venue which was an old store front which at one time was probably a restaurant or possibly a hardware store.  It was hard to tell.  It was ramshackle and run down.  The perfect place for all ages underground music no matter what country you live in. 
A bunch of punks.  Please note these guys are not into grunge.  They were adamant about that point.  

These guys will never know this photo ended up being out of focus.
These guys told me to take their picture.  I wasn't about to say no.

These guys were obviously grunge.  Notice the sullen dancer in front of the band.

     The vibe was just as I expected.  Not unlike the dozens of underground shows I’d been going to since I was 14.  I was lucky enough to make friends immediately with a few of the kids at the show.  The average age looked to be late teens early 20’s

    These images speak for themselves.  If you’ve been to an underground show you’ve seen these people all before.  The thing I found curious was the range of music genres that the bands were performing that night.  It surprised me to find that all the bands on this bill were comprised of three different styles: Punk, Grunge, and Oi!  Although I do remember seeing a band who were vaguely metal and they were the least popular and not as technical as most metal I was used to seeing.  I think there were at least a dozen bands.  

    If you haven't figured it out by now the vast majority of the kids at this show were SKINHEADS!  Skinheads in love with Oi music.  If you are not familiar with Oi I ain’t got time to explain it to you.  I’ve never been much of a fan.  Actually I mostly hate it.  At one time I investigated it by buying a 4 Skins LP and I thought was a joke.  Strangely a few days later I came home drunk and put it on to find I kinda liked it.  No question you gotta have a few drinks to appreciate Oi.  Maybe more than a few.  That night in Klang I drank Carlsburg beer in the alley by the 7-11 just like I would at a show at home.    

    While I’m still not a fan of Oi music I'll admit that after watching a crowd of well over 200 kids dancing and singing to the band ACAB (All Coppers Are Bastards, a 4 Skins song no less) I've come to respect Oi music a little more.  And in essence, looking back, I’ll have to say it was this experience that helps me to respect the legacy of punk at least to a small degree.  As an institution, which is what it's become,  punk has failed me personally, and it’s failed us all.  But maybe I ask too much from something that's just music.  I expect too much from those who can easily dye their hair green and get tattoos all over their fuckin neck.  It meant the world to me and it changed me in some respects for the better.  I think I would have been a radical anyway even if I'd not encountered punk but it sure helped to reinforce that impulse.  

    Taking the elements of youth culture to their logical conclusion you might be surprised to learn there were Nazi Skins and Anti-Nazi skins within this scene.  A fight broke out at one point during a grunge bands set.  The kid I was sitting with told me “Fuck those Nazi wankers!”  I guess it’s only natural that such teen angst has to manifest itself as the good guys versus the bad guys much like it has with every other "punk" scene in the world.  Another example of the failings of the scene.  Well, there ain't nothing wrong with another unity song but who listens to the fuckin lyrics anyway?  

    I’ll admit I still get suckered into paying to see a reunion show from an old hardcore or punk band that comes through Portland every now and again.  The odds are 50/50 that it'll suck or be great.  When I saw them in 2003 Stiff Little Fingers were great.  MDC is fucking embarrassing and they live in Portland so they drag us down routinely.  I won't make mention of Poison Idea but I will tell you that Raw Power floored me last year.  Social Unrest was crap last year. 

     You gotta believe in something huh?  I believe punk is crap.  But just in my book.  And yet I haven't sold any of my Conflict records yet.  Still got those Misfits records too.  Here’s to hoping kids today will start writing their own books to prove us old farts wrong.  If nothing else I’m hoping these images will convince my “punk” friends who come to this blog to re-connect with their roots and their history, that there is still hope and anger and energy and hopefully some unity in the young world who are still finding the soundtrack to their angst even if there isn’t a whole lot of originality happening there.

  We have a lot in common with the kids on the other side of the world.  Even the ones who never even heard of Slayer, Fuck Shit Piss, or Black Flag or even the Beatles for that matter.  Their dreams are our dreams and their struggles are our struggles.    

    Other strange things happened on that trip.  Within a few days I'd be in Bali, Indonesia.  When I got home October 13, 2002 a friend anxiously called me up.  “I so glad you’re home man!  Turn on the TV!” said Todd Dombrowski at the other end of the line.  

     If I’d stayed one more night in Kuta beach on the island of Bali I would have been injured or possibly killed by the terrorist bombing of the nightclub Patties.  Over 200 people were killed instantly where less than 24 hours before I’d been sitting having beers on the last day of my trip. 

 ACAB All Coppers Are Bastards!
The dude in the center in the green shirt was the coolest guy at this show.  We hung out the whole time.  I can't find my journal from the trip so I don't remember his name.  Damn those Malaysian skinhead girls are hot!  
 I'm the white guy acting cool in the center.
These guys also insisted on being photographed.  How could I refuse?



  1. I've since come to love Malay food. It's like a mix of Thai/Indian/Chinese. Delicious.

  2. The last photo, the guy with checkered shirt on the right, bassist of the then A.C.A.B band Anaskin?

  3. cool article you have here. love to know you really enjoy your experience here in Malaysia. I was in the State for three and half years in 92-96,,, in Pittsburgh,PA exactly and man I love to be there again.. and now I am 39 haha..