MSO did a great job organising a pasar malam (night market) event last night, complete with a performance stage to boot. When I was in my first year back in 2005, I’ve always dreamt of performing under that great tree in front of drunken Aussies. Alas, it wasn’t my fortune to have that luxury.

It warmed my heart to see my mates cheering for, and even performing a repertoire of songs from indie bands like Kluk Kluk Adventure, O@G and the up-and-coming Meet Uncle Hussain. Mind you, KKA and O@G have been around for ages.

During the mid-90’s, they have this TV show in Malaysia called Alternatif, showcasing hot Malaysian alternative bands’ music videos. Those days, terms like “alternatif” and “underground” were easily thrown around and used to describe rock bands which were not remotely “kapak” and mainstream. Those days, those all-encompassing terms would include college rock, grunge, britrock, pop punk…or easily any band with distorted guitars and sings in English. It was during this time I first heard of OAG (as it was spelt back then) and similar bands like Saturnine, et al.

When I was in high school, I had a good friend called Joe. Now, Joe was pretty advanced. What guys are listening to at that time, he would’ve listened to it the year before. When people were listening to A.C.A.B. and the rest of the Oi!/skinhead bands, he had already graduated to rap-metal with bands like Prana and Projek A.K. When people started listening to underground rock and Carburetor Dung, he had sworn off it altogether and listened to hip hop acts like Too Phat, Teh Tarik Crew, M.O.B and Poetic Ammo.

Me? I was stuck with the grunge phase. Aifat, one of my best friends introduced me to what I would say the greatest contemporary Malaysian band ever: Butterfingers. They’re like the Malaysian Silverchair. I had mad respect for them, it doesn’t matter that most of them went to Malay College, our arch rival.

After high school, the college days were like an explosion to me. Media like the Kopi Sechewen compilations, TONE magazine, WOWfm radio station and websites like jamtank, i-bands, malscene (most of them now but defunct) dug out numerous bands, most of them with talents in bucket-loads. My favourites at this stage were Love Me Butch, with their fresh take on alt-metal and Seven Collar T-Shirt, with their intelligent experimental sound. I’m sure a lot of people would’ve also heard of the catchy track Redline by a promising band called Shizuka. God knows where they are right now. Indie bands like Couple, Telebury, Polythene and Custom Daisy flourished. Disagree, Gerhana Ska Cinta and One Buck Short became national phenomenons.

Then the world sort of shifted. My idols the Butterfingers went out and produced a full Malay album, Selamat Tinggal Dunia. O@G stopped putting out a token Malay song for each album and did Opera Radhi-O Friendly, another full Malay album. At that time, I contributed this shift from singing in English to Malay to a desperate bid to reclaim the listeners from Indo bands which were dominating the airwaves. It was a major risk, potentially dangerous in alienating old fans of these 2 big powerhouses.

Whatever the cause was, it did the job in jump-starting the stagnant Malaysian music industry. Listeners who were torn between being unpatriotic and bland sappy pop rock Malay band now had a chance. Half a decade since the revolution, the Malaysian scene right now is enjoying a healthy growth and not showing signs of slowing down.

Indie is not underground anymore.

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