KL, a city built for rock and roll

KL, a city built for rock and roll

Revel in the nostalgia of Kuala Lumpur’s rock music scene to discover how alternative music influences a capital’s experimental spirit

THE history of rock and roll in the country has never been more vivid than in a city that knows how to party.

Much like other centres in neighbouring states, Kuala Lumpur also hosts several ports for rockers that serve as important creative grounds producing many rock groups of the past and present.

The Vibes Culture & Lifestyle revisits memories of these places or renown to uncover the significance of rock music to practitioners and listeners alike.

But first, let’s roll in the history

Although its origins can be traced to the late 1940s, rock music resonated across the airwaves in the mid-to-late 70s when the children of the post-World War II generation started to explore the thrill of rock and roll. Eventually, the appreciation towards it garnered steady attention as an alternative of the pop genre.

Influences came from legendary bands such as Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Metallica and many more.

One band that came closer to our shores was Sweet Charity, fronted by none other than the charismatic Ramli Sarip. Hailing from Singapore, it’s no surprise that the band had such a hold among Singaporean and Malaysian audiences that it later led to a rock explosion locally in the mid 80s.

Other notable mentions of course include Search, Wings, Ella & The Boys, The Lefthanded, The Burnmarks, D’Febians, Titanic and Split Times.

While EDM (electronic dance music) seems to be the go-to bop among moppets today, rock music was once the genre of choice to celebrate the perplexities of adolescence – emotional upheaval, subversion, growth, and anything in between.

Having said that, rock and roll is equally, if not more, adored to remind and reminisce of one’s youth.

But it wasn’t all celebratory fist pumps in the air as rock and roll was misunderstood even by our own local government. So much so that it led to a ban on all public rock concerts by the former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the mid 80s.

This action came after a public outcry against the behaviour of young people who threw chairs, bottles, and other objects at a Battle of the Bands (BOTB) rock concert. However, the ban was short-lived as it was eased in a matter of days, except for heavy-metal music.

Then culture minister Datuk Seri Abdul Najib Razak had described it (heavy-metal music) as antisocial and a form of ‘satanic escapism’ that induces listeners to perform masochistic acts.

The alternative focus of urban youngsters

“But metal [rock] is really a way to offer more depth to the rock and roll genre,” expressed death metal vocalist Jaei Jokkhannaz, noting, “local rock music, especially in the late 80s to early 90s swere predominantly sounding more and more corny – no offence, but I’m talking about ‘rock kapak’.

Born Abdul Ramzee Abdul Hamid in Perlis, Jaei is part of a band called Sil Khannaz, which formed in 1987. He moved to Kuala Lumpur after completing his STPM with the commitment to pursue a career in rock music and has never looked back.

“You could say that the 90s rock generation was bored with what was offered in the past where the music became predictable.

“They wanted something fresh, something that melodically does not senselessly focus on heartbreaks. This was when the underground music scene (also known as the Malaysian independent or urban music scene, with the term ‘urban’ introduced in the late 90s) really took off.

“The revolution truly started when thrash music (an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music characterised by its overall aggression and often fast tempo) was fast emerging,” he added.

An easy example of this type of music is by looking at what American band Metallica brought to the table, as well as a more homegrown ones such as Nemesis and Punisher among them.

The writer had a chance encounter with the rocker when making rounds at Campbell Complex, one of the notable hangout joints where rock fans would converge back in the day.

Jaei owns a store together with a community of partners there called Mamat Records selling – you guessed it – metal music goods and merchandise.

“We (rock enthusiasts) became more unapologetic when it comes to creativity, and by this, I mean writing (our) own lyrics and materials, not depending entirely on cookie-cutter composers/producers that exist outside of the band,” he noted.

“This also extended to the formation of independent labels to break away from the major ones.”

The death metal vocalist shared that the underground scene is still thriving until today, “… and even more exciting than the rock scene the masses are more familiar to.”

“While new materials to emerge from rock bands today, good songs that people can’t get enough of are still the evergreen ones.

“This is different with the underground music scene where you are continuously bombarded with new alternatives that keeps things interesting.”

Hangouts and hideouts

In his attempt to highlight progressive innovations, Jaei shared that he has recorded an album together with his band during the pandemic and has already performed the new music via a livestream audience.

“We are actually looking to start another (album).

“I don’t think any major record label would want to even take such risks due to budgeting concerns, factoring the events that occur the past two years,” he said.

Explaining his experience of the music scene back in the days and how certain locations around the city came to be a hub for afficionados of the rock genre, “…Central Market or ‘CM’ was a popular spot for the rockers.

“Not necessarily to perform but more to gather since there were not much spots to chill that could serve the community,” shared Jaei.

If you were in the know, flyers for gigs would spread to Pertama, Wilayah and Kota Raya complexes, respectively, apart from CM, as well as Medan Mara for shows at Paradise, Semua House and also Metallica Lounge.

This was because a lot of the music supporters would frequent the area, being the then ‘Bukit Bintang’ where one could get anything and everything.

There was a stage where band performances used to take place for public participation where Sulaiman Court (KL’s first high-rise apartment) once stood.

Now, Sogo shopping complex occupies the site, which was a focal point for buskers to perform for pedestrians to enjoy pre-pandemic.

“Known jamming studios (for band practices) are situated along and within these premises as well so that made things more appealing. It’s the perfect answer to why the locations became such a centre for rockers and rock fans.”

Jaei shared that the presence of music engagements was certainly felt as dealings and information transfers were more visible back then.

“We would physically trade the latest music and merchandises with one another and discuss on materials coming out by underground bands local and overseas.

“Even though the bands may come from outside Kuala Lumpur, the activity and traction of support were concentrated within the city. I believe part of what makes KL eventful is because of rock music, especially the love for its subgenre(s).”

Rock’n Roll is not dead

Fast forward to 2022, the remnants of such a scene could only be seen visible at Campbell Complex, where you can find rows of rock stores catering to the community’s liking without being consumed by modern or newer trends.

In fact, Kid and Din Search’s live concert this present weekend was hosted on the rooftop of the decades old shopping mall because of its historic significance.

For most of the time the stores serve as a literal place for the bands to catch up with other fellow members and friends who follow the scene.

Piruzaman Azizan aka Aru, former vocalist of legendary thrash metal band Nemesis, now lead for Koffin Kanser and The Republic of Brickfields, paid a quick visit to Jaei’s store much to our delight.

He was there to kill time before a meeting with other rockers who were geared up for the Search concert.

“People are still listening to rock music, but they don’t necessarily portray the culture in their lifestyle – not like how it was in the 80s at least where you could see visible in the attire, style, and attitude. You won’t get to experience the same vibe then, today, but that doesn’t mean the scene is dead,” he said.

Having been active in the underground scene since the mid 80s, Aru noted he has never had the setback of not being able to perform, “… and I am confident that the alternative music scene would not faze out.”

Highlighting that there have been more practitioners that uphold the wide range of what underground rock music offers, some still don’t understand what being independent means, especially when promoting themselves or the materials.

“It’s less about just fitting a genre, and more about producing music with original lyrics/sound and recording/releasing it independently without the help of labels,” said Aru, who now explores a different kind of metal variation – specifically Nu/Groove Metal and Reggae.

“There are no boundaries to be creative nowadays, so I feel now is the exactly best time to experiment.”

source – The Vibes


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