In the ink black of the night, JUICE ventures out in search of the people and promoters who fill the darkness and keep the city pulsating with life after hours. While others sleep, these individuals inhabit their workspaces – clubs, bars and music venues – working to bring interesting new events, build a solid scene, and push new music and talented young artists, keeping our post-meridian playtime and preferred haunts on the bubble. And not because they have a budget, a brand to promote and a biz card that says they won’t get paid if they don’t, but because they have to. It’s what they do. It’s in their blood.
Without these graveyard shift creators, we’d probably wake up for breakfast and go for a jog in the morning, but the trade off would be that a mental night out would involve watching a fight go down at a mamak stall over a spilt teh tarik. Ho hum. Whether it’s fresh hip hop beats delivered live and local, or jazz cats and beatniks dropping prose and poem, or rumbling basslines spilling out from the speaker stacks, just when you thought you’d had enough of the city and its spew of ordinary offerings, they’ll drop another hot reason to head out. And we remain creatures of the night, chained to the moon because of them. Awooo……
All That Jazz
When night falls, music comes alive. Or at least that’s the way it is at No Black Tie. A stone’s throw off the bustling Changkat Bukit Bintang, No Black Tie owner and pianist Evelyn Hii prepares for work. The first NBT concert was in March 1998. It was a classical concert with singers and instrumentalists. NBT has since evolved, moving and then undergoing renovations at its present address to include 2 floors of beautiful wooden interior that reflect acoustics the way it should.
“We have an eclectic music policy, with the focus on jazz, from acoustic original music, world, classical, blues, cabaret, comedy to poetry reading,” says the Sarawak-born Evelyn. Even the venue’s ambiguous name, No Black Tie, “was coined as a reaction to the ‘Black Tie’ or formal dress code imposed on classical concert goers.”
Although Evelyn graduated in Piano Performance from the US and went on to perform at concerts, lecture music courses and open a music school, it wasn’t until NBT that she truly had her own platform to perform. Thus it was only natural then to extend the same platform to musicians of all genres. All genres including punk rock. JUICE remembers spending one of our best New Year Eve’s at NBT when “The Godfather of Punk” Joe Kidd threw a guzzling-show there in 2002.
“It was only a matter of time for us to also showcase our best comedians and punk rockers. Mixed reactions I’d say from our patrons, but mostly of curiosity and amusement, as it provides a window unto our musical landscape,” recalls Evelyn pointedly.
After more than a decade of live musical events, poetry slams and stand up sessions and open mic gigs held week after tantalizing week, Evelyn rates the spontaneous jam sessions between local musicians and visiting artists and “the magical moments of music-making.”
And she’s in an ecstatic mood now that NBT’s 11th Anniversary week is coming up. “Come October 26-31, we’re having 58 musicians over a week-long musical celebration, showcasing and highlighting our finest musicians and singers,” says Evelyn. The line-up includes drum and percussion legends Lewis Pragasam and Steve Thornton. “Music has always been my life,” quips Evelyn. We agree and so does the night.
For NBT’s full calendar of events, swing your mouse over to noblacktie.com.my.
If there is one person for whom the phrase “take it to the next level” is most applicable, it is Low. A DJ, producer and promoter, Low isn’t just one to push his own persona. A decade ago he started Loops Collective; this November marks its 10th Anniversary – that’s 10 years of blood, sweat and some city’s best DJ focused deebee and break events. Evah. Amen.
Low’s Loop Collective DJ school and training centre had been responsible for jettisoning into the scene some of the hottest DJs talent around – 2008 JUICE DJ Quest champ is an alumni. And Low’s events like Bring It On, Looking Good, Inferno, Liquid Jump Up, Sessions, Chemical, Flava breaks, the regional deebee pow wow that is Re: locate, and Loops Collective’s Malaysian DJ Battle Championship which moves into its 4th year this November, are not only some of the messiest most thrilling gigs going, they have been instrumental in keeping the deebee and breaks order alive and helped to support the hordes of fresh blood looking for some exposure and a place to drop their honed skills.
But 2009 ha been truly special – it marked the launch of Choon Awards, which utilizes public votes to determine its winners. Beyond giving credit where credit’s due, Choon Awards far reaching outcome is likely to cast light on DJs and producers previously unheard off, and it’s something Low has been wanting to do for 3 years: put Malaysian DJs, producers and musicians at the forefront. He’s chasing that up with Choon Awards 2009, a 2-disc album which will see the light of the day this October 10.
The challenges that come with getting such events off the ground and running consistently like funding and approvals from the relevant authorities hasn’t slowed Low’s enthusiasm down any. Low is in the midst of finalizing the acts for the anniversary party. And if Low hooked the city heads up with London’s Elecktricity back in 2004, you can look forward to drum and bass legends Eastside and Metalheadz who are scheduled to rinse it here soon.
Throw in plans for a bar/ club, a record label called take Off Records for sound editing and event hosting, a merchandise line called Unknowncolors and activities in Sarawak and Sabah by next year, and 2009/2010 could mark a Low takeover.
Know it all here at www.loopscollective.com.
One Man Army
Ever wondered why it’s so hard to get all those big music acts to perform here? If you’re somebody that’s well-connected and has wads of cash lying around, it might not be so difficult. But for a straight guy on the street with a dream, you’re going to have some sleepless nights.
As the guy that brought Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, Envy, Battles, Mono, Toe, the list of bands goes on…, Mak has been doing things the honest and hard way. And to think, he got into rock music after watching Bon Jovi??!
Luckily enough, an indie organisation called Huang Huo in the 90s taught Mak that there was no mystery behind organising shows. It was just work and determination. And when that organisation dissolved in 2000, Mak took it upon himself to set up Soundscape Records. Simply put, Soundscapes promotes local bands abroad while bringing in those aforementioned big names and keeping jaded musos a reason to keep believing.
Under the current Soundscape roster are Nao, Deng Deng Etc, Lang Mang and Citizens of Ice Cream. “These are the bands we are currently working with, but they do not have any contracts with us, it’s all based on trust and friendship,” says Mak proudly, who has already run a string of live music events featuring his rollcall.
However, when bringing in foreign acts, Mak is up to his neck with problem ranging from permit issues to technical f*ck ups. And that’s when his professionalism sees him through. “It’s been a roll-coaster ride of highs and lows, but it was worth it. My most memorable moment would be the Explosions In The Sky concert at Ruums, the band, the people, the atmosphere, everything was great.”
On Mak’s 2010 wishlist of artists he’s like to see performing here are Sigur Ros, Placebo, Crystal Castle, Zazen Boys and Micachu. And if there’s one man who can pull it off, Mak is that man.
“When I started the label, I wanted to continue to support the local Chinese scene, just like Huang Huo. But I think my goals have changed now. I hope the label can contribute to the whole local scene (regardless of language) and try to make Malaysia a touring destination for international acts.”
From Camden To KL
What does a prestigious UK club that has hosted everyone from The Sex Pistols to Jamie T have to do with KL? If you’ve heard of Koko in Camden, then you’d know that a couple of determined guys have an ace up their sleeves for our city.
Koko Asia is the new kid on the block of promoters and event organisers featured here. An initiative by British expatriates David Brown and John Thubron (they are also joined by DJ Johnny Mayo and local journalist-turned-rocker Zack Yusof), both are from Sunderland, but met in KL. When the opportunity arose to expand Koko’s presence internationally, the duo managed to put together a solid presentation that caught the interest of the bigwigs back in London.
But what was it they saw in Malaysia? “It’s got a lot to do with how the music business has changed,” says David. “Nobody really knows how it will pan out, but what was sure was the trend of music in the UK, with the decline of house music and the resurgence of the live music concept and the fusion around that, incorporating DJs and new sounds. In many ways, that was the secret of Koko’s success. It was perfectly placed as a live music platform and also to get involved digitally. And in many ways Asia is leading that.”
John adds, “I think you can see that from the traffic from Myspace. Malaysia has one of the highest traffic for Myspace and that’s an indication of the passion here. It’s also an indication that promotion here is very much DIY. So we’re very passionate about the talent here and we believe they deserve an international audience.”
The timing was perfect as Asia has been experiencing a boom, not just economically but also in cultural exchange. “At the moment, the focus is on South East Asia, partly because of its musical heritage and also because its slightly more British music-friendly,” says David enthusiastically. “The first phase for us was to do the background work and to understand the region properly,” David says coherently before adding, “and to not just to be a British brand who thinks it can walk in and be the next best thing since sliced bread.” Why did they conclude that Malaysia would be the best place to set up Koko Asia?
“There are 2 levels to that,” says David. “Malaysia to a certain extent seems to be starved of a certain profile of artists and bands. That in itself is an opportunity, although the DJ side seems to be a bit more covered. We’re obviously personally passionate about Malaysia. KL has got a cool scene and set up although condensed. Whether it’s a nice little bar like Palate Palette or Barsonic, the point is it’s all there.”
Another crucial factor here is AirAsia. “I think AirAsia has made a big impact on the regional music scene. With the ability for bands to fly short distances economically, it’s opened up a lot of things. Also, with the high internet usage here, many young people are tech-savvy and it has made the world smaller. It has made trends travel faster,” summarises David.
Plans are afoot and although a series of gigs are yet to roll out, David and John have been putting the Koko brand to good use. The group launched with a club night that fused live music featuring The Standards and an indie rock DJ set. They followed that up in August with a gig featuring Simon Subsonic, Johnny Mayo and local upstairs MIA, an enthralling indie humdinger which already has JUICE thinking it could be our new home yet.
In addition Koko Asia is working to take local talent abroad. “One of the things we’re working on now is a competition and the prize will be a chance for a band from this part of the world to play in Koko UK. Not only will that band be performing in London, but our team in UK will do their best to get that band exposure and possibly slots in festivals and on our compilation CD,” answers John. “But hopefully we’ll be able to educate all these DJs, bands and artists worldwide that Malaysia is an amazing place to come and play your music to some unbelievably passionate and knowledgeable fans,” says John. Amen.
Already an October gig is in the works. Rumours have it while the guest list will be small the band will be big – we know who it is and all we’re saying is it’s the stuff of dreams! David jumps right in, “I would simply say for that, JUICE will reveal all in good time.” John adds that “JUICE will have the exclusive.” And we’ll hold them to that.
For the latest on Koko Asia events, visit their website at www.kokoasia.com.
The Fabric Of Sound
Barely a year ago, independent music, fashion and art venue Cloth & Clef threw open its doors. Intertwining good times with great music, the 2-storey venue quickly became a safe haven for the artistically-inclined and those seeking a different sort of thrill.
Owner Ethaya Kumarasamy aka E was a born music lover or as he puts it, “Music found me.” “I wanted to provide a platform for everyone to showcase their talents because there was nothing available or easily assessable on street level,” says the young entrepreneur.
Working around the clock, Ethaya has put his heart and soul into Cloth & Clef and created some of the most exciting indie gigs and festivals of recent times bringing some musical cred to a strip where live music was largely missing. Tenderfist, Slowjaxx, Masia One, Homogenic, United By Haircuts, even Zee Avi, have all perform here in Cloth & Clef’s short year long span.
More importantly, in an industry where a majority of club owners have a strangehold on the musical policy, dictating down to the track on a playlist, Ethaya has also been open minded and long sighted enough to let other’s bring their own expertise and sound to the site, the result of which has been nights that are as eclectic as they are electric.
The venue’s first event, Freaklub, for example was hosted by DJ RaySoo and Tootekool, while homebrewed events brought to you by Vandal’s Movemint, Low’s Loops Collective, Bud Culture and even hip hop collective Rogue Squadron have parlayed some seriously heavy beats here, besides other art-themed nights and poetry slams.
Despite being a medium-sized venue, Ethaya has also taken on the ambitious task of organising Disko Papan 3 with Esam of Stone Revivals. Over 20 live acts, both solo artists and bands, performed within the span of 24 hours on 2 stages, with live graffiti, food, merchandise and a fire show going on the same time. Needless to say, the party was as hot as it was chaotic and you don’t just have to take our word for it. “It was simply amazing and we recorded it, visually and audibly, so look out for the limited edition box set coming soon!” promises Ethaya. Still, that’s no reason not to go catch more events like it live.
Checkout what’s happening at Cloth & Clef at www.clothandclef.com. For instant updates, become a friend on Facebook.
When it comes to hip hop, Toronto’s Jason Schadt aka Vandal has got it down for some serious non-BS biz. The MC/producer/beatboxer/hustler/traveler started rapping and freestyling around 1990 and made beats in 1992 when he got his first Roland W30 Sampler, but Malaysian has been good to him. As he puts it, “Malaysia and I have a long and deep history together.”
Being Canadian has yet to prove a handicap (er, that didn’t come out how we meant it to). He’s been around long enough for the folks that matter to know he ain’t some fronting foreigner. Like the rest of us Vandal has been frustrated with the hip hop in the clubs and radio and the lack of cohesion with a scene that should have coalesced a long time ago. The Movemint is his platform for the heads, a website for alternative street marketing and events.
Among the longest running event he has organised so far is Think You Got Skillz, which is now in its 2nd season and has already spat out young gun Kraft, while getting ornary folks within spitting distance of fast rising MC Jin Hackman. Raw, fierce and dripping with testosterone it’s also where you’re like to find industry types talent spotting for fresh meat. The Beat Meet which pits beat making and production work against each other is designed with the same competitive spirit. The all female Ladies First redresses the gender imbalance and Skool of Rap does what it says on the tin. If that’s not plenty then there’s the latest addition to The Movemint’s growing stable of hip hop themed events, Cypher Sundaze, a lazy Sunday afternoon barbeque with beats and beers. Sweet!
With that much going on, it’s a job not without its challenges: rallying up support, working on a tight budget, and coordinating the performing acts. He has one single word of advise to offer: “Be there on time!” But it’s the things that Vandal has yet to accomplish that get him going, saying “You better be ready to pounce when you see it!” In the works are more battles for DJs, B-boys and beatboxers and a hip hop community centre next to Sunway Pyramid in Subang Jaya.
For the man himself, Vandal’s in the midst of a project called The Silk Road with his partner in crime Illsteez, setting up a production studio and also “just developing some more ideas to take things to the next level.” So hit it up whenever you hear about it. Word.
Log on to themovemint.blogspot.com for more updates!