Thursday, January 06, 2005

Gone but Not Forgotten (Part I)

This piece on the pioneering act of local fringe music scene was published in two parts in the Below the Radar column in Malay Mail on June 16, 2004.

IF you think local English bands are just the ones you see on MTV, think again. `Below the Radar' went deep into its archive to introduce to you some of the lesser-known legends of Malaysian independent music. Here's the first part.
Did you know that we once had a band called Naked Butterfly who could be easily mistaken for funk metal combo Red Hot Chili Peppers?
Or did you know that before Pop Shuvit `broke' rap rock into the local English music scene, there was a band called Projekt AK who had been playing covers of songs by Rage Against the Machine and other stuff on the Judgment Night soundtrack back in the mid-90s?
If you didn't, worry not, because generally, not much is known about the origins of the local English music/independent music scene/DIY (depending on which one you are comfortable to call it) scene.
Why? Because there hasn't been any serious effort to document this particular aspect of Malaysian music history.
Apart from the Blasting Concept! column in The Sun that ran from 1994 to 1998, Thr.fm's Alternative Rock Show in the mid-90s, Radio 4's Under Currents (also in the mid-90s) and TV3's Alternatif, there hasn't been any dedicated platform that highlighted, in-depth, home-made music in English.
Then again, the lack of platforms for such music may be caused by the fact that there hasn't been that much interest by the public. Local English music is regarded by some as a novelty. But then again, it actually has two categories in Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM), which gives it a certain amount of legitimacy.
Yes, there are two dedicated categories for local English music in AIM but is the music judged by a qualified jury or at least by people who care?
In fact, does it even matter in the first place to have such categories in AIM when almost all the winners and nominees would be forgotten within a few months down the road?
Well, that's another story altogether.
This week, Below the Radar will highlight some of our local bands that, despite their lack of exposure, made some outstanding music.

CARBURETOR DUNG
IF there's one band that would be at the top of the list in Malaysia's independent music hall of fame, it would definitely be Carburetor Dung.
Each of its band members played a strong role in the development of the local independent music scene.
For instance, apart from being the guitarist for the band, Joe Kidd also plays in numerous other bands of various musical stylings.
He also wrote regularly for Blasting Concept, the sole and regular source for news and info regarding the local independent music scene back then.
Lead guitarist, Pari, played in A.R.T, one of the pioneering melodic punk rock bands back then. Vocalist Shahlan, played a role in forming Basic Right (one of the notable hard-core bands alongside Chronic Mass) and used to drum for Kuala Terengganu punk pioneers Malaria and Stoned Crows. Drummer Lan Bear also played guitars for Infectious Maggots, the sorely missed grind-core combo.
Carburetor Dung's debut album, Songs for Friends was released on Sept 27, 1993, via the now defunct VSP imprint and three days later the band made their first public appearance at the Revenge of the Rats gig alongside bands like Subculture, the Splatters, the Pilgrims, Chronic Mass and Lovely Ugly Carnival.
Held at Garfunkel Pub, Life Centre in Kuala Lumpur, the gig was also the first `punk' gig (prior to this, punk bands usually had to share the stage with thrash/death metal bands).
Carburetor Dung offered well-written lyrics and in-your-face melodic hardcore/punk anthems as can be heard on its album on songs like Boo Hoo Clapping Song, Oppression and Cruel Blue Van. These songs were inspirational to most of the independent music enthusiasts at that time.
As a matter of fact, that album also inspired a lot of other kids out there to form their own bands.
The band went through a line-up shuffle in 1995 and then went rather quiet. But Joe and Fendi kept busy with the Shitworkers, a project band they both formed in 1994.
In 1998, Carburetor Dung resurfaced with three songs for Hishamuddin Rais' Dari Jemapoh Ke Manchester soundtrack.
The following year, the band released the Allure of Manure mini LP, showing their harder sound and more direct, in-your- face lyrics. They then released a UK-only seven-inch single, Sheepfarming In Malaysia.
The band went through another long hiatus from 1999-2002 before resurfacing early this year with a new vocalist and a new drummer.
You can find more details about the band and stuff related to them by visiting their website at http://dungpeople.kerbau.com

CHRONIC MASS
DEFINITELY one of the best hardcore bands in the country, Chronic Mass was formed back in 1991 in Universiti Islam Antarabangsa by Knox (guitars), Jon (bass), Awang (vocals) and Shah (drums).
The band went through three reincarnations - first as X the trash metal band, then as Necrophilia a grind-core/cross-over combo before settling as Chronic Mass. The debut demo, Chronically Messed, despite being only available as a limited edition, went down well with hard music lovers and was regarded as a collector's item.
In 1996, the band released a split EP with another hard-core band Basic Rights. The EP captured the band at its prime and at the same time introduced their new musical direction - a trashy metallic hard-core style with progressive influences all over the place, intertwined with heavy grooves.
In the same year, the band contributed two songs on Visionville Hardcore compilation, alongside four other local hard-core bands, Disaster Funhouse, NET, Projekt AK and Another Side. After the release of the compilation, the band went quiet and has yet to resurface. There have been rumours though, of the band getting back in action.

THE PILGRIMS
ORIGINALLY known as Hijrah when they were formed back in 1987 in Kuantan, the Pilgrims was, without doubt, one of the best bands to ever surface on the local English music scene.
The band, Lee (vocals), Kombat (guitars), Ili (bass) and Nazim (drums) started off by playing speed metal alongside punked-up versions of joget songs.
In 1991, the band released A Pilgrimage to Nowhere demo and in 1992, after signing a deal with Sonic Asylum Records, a subsidiary of FGM Records, the band released its debut album Perfume Garden (the first punk album to be released in the country).
Backed by a strong following and their punkish remake of folk song, Sua Sue Good Morning/Air Pasang Pagi, the album sold more than 3,000 copies within a week!
Unhappy with their label, the band members then hooked up with Alternative Garage Entertainment (a record label run by local punk guru Joe Kidd) where they released their second album, Away From The Numbers in 1994.
Despite complaints from those who enjoyed the raw Perfume Garden, Away From The Numbers turned out to be their finest effort and most under-appreciated.
Gone were their punkish robustness replaced by more thoughtful and well-written post-punk/neo-psychedelic gems like Beware Your Heart, Falling Down Allover and Celebrating Mother.
The original members of the band went separate ways soon after that but resurfaced as The Pilgrims DC in the mid-90s (the only original member was guitarist, Kombat).
Unlike the original Pilgrims, the new band took a more comic-y stand in their music and after releasing a couple of albums under Pony Canyon, the band decided to call it a day.
Kombat is currently playing with his surf band, Kombat and the Kugiran. Lee had a stint as the vocalist of Carburetor Dung before moving to Australia.

INFECTIOUS MAGGOTS
ARGUABLY the meanest and most ear-grinding and boundary-pushing grindcore crossover act in the history of local independent music.
Infectious Maggots was also one of the first metal acts to come out with an album alongside Modar, Cromok and FTG.
Some of its former members include the likes of Fathul (Spiral Kinetic Circus), Knox (Chronic Mass) and Lan Bear (Carburetor Dung) – Infectious Maggot's debut album, Deep Within Our Grief Factory Milks Run Red in 1992, paved the way for local metal bands to experiment with various other elements like industrial, electronics and even drum `n' bass.
Despite the non-commercial nature of its music, the album went on to sell more than 10,000 copies and received a lot of good reviews by both local and international metal music enthusiasts.
The future of the band then was in doubt when most of its core members went separate ways but it didn't stop Fathul (who was at one point the sole member of the band) to come with the Cookie Jar EP. More experimental rather than metal, the EP caught the attention of Pony Canyon Music which later signed the band. After going through another line-up reshuffle, the band released its second album, Unknown.
A more polished and less experimental effort, the album didn't make much of an impact except for a few bright sparks here and there.
After a few live shows, the band disappeared before it was revived by original vocalist Fathul in 2002 with the release of the third album in Bahasa Malaysia, Karat Besi Simfoni...

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