Fringe: Outside the Pop Periphery

source: Rizki Maulana


Danceable rock, heavy on synthesisers, blares out from a vaguely café-looking venue, but curiously its interior is grubbier and a bit pub-like even – there’s a bar for one. More importantly, there’s a performance stage with a band playing to a crowd that straddles the line between 2 niches; gig goers and clubbing hipsters. This is Dance Punk Party, a (ideally) quarterly gig series by Jarrod, frontman of an unsurprisingly ‘80s new wave-informed band, MOIST.

Consisting of guitarist Moe, bassist Ezzart, synth maestro Faliq (yes, of Pastel Lite), and drummer Gast (who looks really good in Ray Bands), and him, the band is Dance Punk Party given a literal form. It’s the embodiment of the catch-all term ‘dance punk’, which to quote Jarrod is “the template for bands that produce ‘80s-influenced, post punk, indie dance music.” Most aptly exemplified on ‘Zodiac’, the track featured on JUICE Mixtape released last year, MOIST makes poppy, synth-heavy music that is misleadingly upbeat – the lyrics are often time wry observations of the human condition (in this track’s case, our penchant for shaping our lives based on the divination of make-believe).

With bands like them and kindred spirit Tenderfist, the polished sheen of Kuala Lumpur and the darker side underneath that façade seem to act as a muse to musicians who make deceptively-cheery-but-really-melancholic synthy tunes. While not claiming KL is brimming with depressed people, Jarrod didn’t deny the correlation we made; “[The city] attracts the spiritually stateless, the destitute, the outcasts, overruns, and the overlooked – all hoping to stake a claim amongst the insalubrious, dengue-infested blocks of heaving humanity that is KL.”

Being the educated person that he is (Jarrod teaches), he used a female metaphor to further elucidate his “love affair” with the big city. Describing KL as a manic pixie dream girl trope (“She is as much a muse for [me] as [my] many doomed relationships.”), the city is something of a “sensual beast of contradictions,” one that can inspire love and hope as much as it can resentment and hedonistic indulgences.

“Synth music, the woeful strains of the digitised strings, the dreamy quality invoked in service of what normally cannot be expressed adequately with prose or words, is just a vehicle for these things.”

This traces back to their main influence, the UK’s The Chameleons, a band whose dichotomous nature Jarrod credited for their music’s cheery disposition counterweighing the forlorn lyrics. Shifting the tone droller – he also revealed that they really just want to make music girls dance to. The name MOIST was really “a reference to the female genitalia in a state of arousal.”

Adroit music fans would notice this generation’s predilection for returning to ‘80s-borne sound founded by the likes of New Order and Talking Heads. It’d be a mistake to think MOIST is just filling an ephemeral gap in the local scene though, the band has taken a grounded, neutral approach to where they fit in the increasingly uncompartmentalised music scene.

“[We] do not concern [ourselves] with being a part of a wave or movement. By the same token, [the band] does not think about being separate from other similar acts.”

Despite that, Jarrod is something of a cultivator of the scene. Dance Punk Party has had numerous bands, some completely inexperienced, performing to a crowd of people who might not even know who they were. Yet almost every time they would react with an almost primal energy to these bands, dancing or “swaying awkwardly” (in Jarrod’s words) to the music.

“Right now there are more and more indie dance-dance punk bands coming out of the woodwork and flaunting their love for the ‘80s. It is becoming a more vibrant, supportive atmosphere.”

Despite the new wave (pun intended, we’re lame) of likeminded bands, Jarrod saw himself as more of an ‘enabler’. Comparing what he does more to sharing his playlist with friends, he believes that the scene has a life of its own with or without Dance Punk Party. That’s really all he needs to keep MOIST going; “As long as there are friends amongst us still waking up at night in KL with pangs of loneliness, we’ll be there to document it.”

And we will be listening.