Sound of the Land

Whether it’s precocious art school screamers, full-on electronica new wavers, crunk Tamil tigers, rap’s bastard child of globalisation, Kedah-Manchester garage rockers or the next singer-songwriter princess, these local sounds of tomorrow prove that there are many parts to this jigsaw we call the Malaysian music scene. Trust JUICE‘s obsessive-compulsion to put them together for you.

Tenderfist is certainly a name that has been in the spotlight in the past month or so. Not only did they open for Kings of Convenience’s gig recently, the latter also opened for Tenderfist at Cloth & Clef a night before the concert. With a name picked from a typeface mag when they formed in 2006, Tenderfist had other choices for band names that included Trotsky Fudge (catchy!). Aged between 21-31, the band comprises of Nazri on sampler and synths, Faiz on keyboards and analogue sequencers, and Edzwan on vocals and guitar. Tenderfist often cites New Order as inspiration but they are also inspired by Jens Lenkman, The Radio Dept, some interview footage of Ol’ Dirty Ba$tard and “the wide shot thing Wes Anderson does in all his movies”. For now, you will be able to hear their old songs and demos on MySpace as they are in the middle of recording an independently released effort. They’ve had a lot of memories so far, from opening for Killeur Calculateur and Stoned Revivals at Disko Papan 2 to playing at Urbanscapes 2009, where their equipment nearly melted in the hot sun. In the future, they hope to play gigs outside of KL or Malaysia and have a blast doing it. With the underrated talent they possess, we at JUICE fully support Tenderfist all the way!

This shy girl is probably the closest thing you can get to Jill Scott here. With a voice of an old soul that could put Whitney Houston to shame, Najwa started at singer Mia Palencia’s Bedroom Musician Series before meeting singer-songwriter Reza Salleh and asked to perform at his gigs. She moved on to perform on bigger stages after numerous stints at No Black Tie, Bangkok Jazz and Laundry, with her biggest accomplishments opening for James Taylor of Kool & The Gang and Babyface’s KL concert, as well as performing at the much-talked about Sunburst KL International Music Festival 2008. She was also invited to share the stage with Yuna for an intimate event called Malam Nada Biru recently, but it was her vocal contribution to Malique’s ‘Kau Yang Punya’ that got her the attention she deserves. She’s now working on her debut album of neo soul sounds with a touch of jazz and blues.

Gila Monstarz
Small town boys with big dreams, Gila Monstarz’s early incarnation as the K-Town Clan won them the top spot in Astro’s band search competition Blast Off! back in 2003. But now members Roshan and Young Ruff are dishing out their Gila Monstarz project to bring us some more of that signature hip hop and crunk flava. Unlike most hip hop releases, the duo’s recently released album 43Thousand concentrates solely on the strength of Gila Monstarz’s writing and producing skills without a gazillion featured artists. Expect a Gila Monstarz mixtape and a video to their latest single ‘Let’s Get Mary’d’ soon. As if that wasn’t enough, K-Town Clan’s album Playground is in the pipeline and Young Ruff will also be releasing his solo Tamil album. Throw yo’ hands up!

Figure of Speech
This self-proclaimed “bastard child of globalisation” is half Japanese and half Chinese, but he can’t speak either language. Figure of Speech came to KL and bumped into DJ Classick at Echo Park in Sungei Wang Plaza. That fateful meet led him to be recruited in drum n bass crew The Works and later becoming a member of Rogue Squadron with other slammin’ talent like Jin Hackman, The Rebel Scum and SSK. Since then, he’s appeared on the official theme song for Malaysian basketball team KL Dragons and will also feature on The Rebel Scum’s LP The Time Has Scum this year. With his new release The Veil taking cues from heroes Gil Scott-Heron, Rakim and Nas, this fast-flowing MC describes himself as a writer more than a rapper. If you like your rap politically or socially motivated, Figure of Speech is a winner.

A band that literally came together from being tormented by the weather, the members of alternative prog rock band Phlox met through sleepless nights in a Coldplay forum online. They’ve been gigging and writing songs for the past 2 years and have a 4-track EP that’s available for streaming on MySpace. Phlox, which means flame-coloured flower in Latin, does feel a little Coldplay-ish at times, but maintains an overall mystical aura courtesy of dissonant arrangements that stray away from the normal 4-chord pop formula. You might have seen them at Indie Youth Fest 2009 and Doppelganger open mic sessions at No Black Tie, but if you haven’t, now’s a great time as any to discover Phlox as they are currently adding the finishing touches to their new, self-produced mini album Where You Go?, which should be out in mid-2010.

What do New Order, Human League, Suicide, Ladytron and Tubeway Army have in common? If your answer is that they’re all electronic-driven bands, then you’re right. But to go further, they’re all influences for rising local dance rock trio Zeue. Consisting of Zul (vocal, DG-20 Gynth-a guitar-synth instrument), Tina (Roland Juno-106) and Vurhan (drum machine, synths), Zeue has been brewing a quiet storm since 2007 when Zul and Tina were still in uni. Prior to discovering modern DJ acts like Kavinsky, Justice and MSTRKRFT, the band sounded like “disco hantu” (probably due to Zul’s love for all things Bauhaus). But soon 707 kicks, snares and claps were incorporated into their infectious but off-kilter music. Going crazy over the wide array of sound choices made available by electronic arsenals, Zeue decided to keep things open-“anything from Kraftwerky, TV Pendidikan-ish tracks to digital dancehall soundsystem-ish”. Ditching drummer and bassist for drum machines and synths gives them more freedom, and although the band has only one track available on MySpace (they’re in the process of recording as we speak), their shows are usually packed with fans who are tired of the usual contradictions of dance rock (ie.:The Killers or any goon with a synth and some eyeliner on MTV). And with a majority of their lyrics about power, corruption and lies, Kay Hell had better be ready for them.

Part Time Lovers
With their namesake taken from a Stevie Wonder song, it’s easy to mistake PTL for a pub band. Sounding more Franz Ferdinand than a soul brother, Omar (guitar, vocal), Red (guitar), Matt (bass) and Nasrul (drums) serve a slice of 80s new wave with a modern kick in the gut. Formed in 2003, the band started with covers of Interpol, Raveonettes, Danzig-era Misfits, Pulp and Joy Division. Describing their sound as “soft punk”, it’s still customary for the boys to start their jamming sessions with New Order/Joy Division’s ‘Ceremony’ and end it with Kings of Leon’s ‘California Waiting’. “I’m fascinated by choruses. We make music that goes straight to the chorus. No verse nor bridge, cutting the unwanted parts,” Omar informs us. “I notice 80s pop focuses more on the choruses. We want to recapture that feel.” And they’re well on their way with the 5 songs posted on their MySpace. ‘Redirection’ boasts a rumbling intro with a guitar riff that could have very well come from that bygone era of cassette tapes and boomboxes. The contrast between PTL’s melodious pop and heavy rock distortion is framed nicely by Omar’s voice, which sounds like the frontman of an SST hardcore band. Emo as he is, the lyrics are generally about lasers and wolves, giving up things you like the most and also past lovers. Currently working on a split EP with Kuching shoegazers Love/Comes, it looks like PTL will be releasing their debut album by the end of the year.

The Bourjuis
Slurry, mock-Brit-accent vocals, broken-English lyrics and killer hooks, The Bourjuis are everything you wouldn’t expect from a bunch of kids from Jitra, Kedah. Formed in mid-2007 with hardly any instrument-playing knowledge, the pet project of Ben (vocal, lead guitar), Joe (vocal, rhythm guitar) and Matt (bass) soon turned into a full-on garage rock band, heavily influenced by hard-hitting Brit indie acts like Arctic Monkeys and The Kooks. Since then their music diet has expanded to include experimental-ish rock bands like Tera Melos, Fang Island, RX Bandits and Dr Manhattan, as has their line-up, which now has Padoug on drums and Lan on keyboards. In 2008, they released debut EP Lo-Fi Youth Culture Scene (Sub Human Production); tracks like ‘Warm Liking Song’, ‘Dame’ and ‘Thousand Men Like Me Before’ show the essential combination of raw energy and bluesy riffs that have made The Bourjuis who they are. To date the band has recorded 11 songs, but with members currently scattered between Kedah and KL, it might be a while before we see them in gigging action again.

Ozona Sonora
Another Kedah band that has been vibrantly resonating in the north is Ozona Sonora. The conception of this post-rock instrumental outfit happened impromptu in 2008 after recording 2 tracks, which were quite literally unrehearsed. Currently consisting of Kecik (bass), Alan (drums), and Bourjuis-guitarists Joe and Ben, the band has so far only played one gig in Penang, but according to witnesses, it was a fogged out, atmospheric set worthy of stadium stature. Of their 2 recorded tracks, ‘Morning Dew’ (which is available on their MySpace) gives out a bright and shiny vibe with a driving Americana beat, while ‘Delusion’ is the polar opposite with deep, dark and brooding textures. Name-checking My Disco, Sun Ra and “the other side of Sonic Youth” as their influences, Ozona Sonora are well on their way to becoming the next Damn Dirty Apes.

Best friends since the age of 13, guitarists Zul and Hafiz decided to start a band one day in 2006 and recruited Raeesa (synthesisers, keyboards) as well as a bassist and a drummer. 41 started out as a post-rock band but things change, as they so often do, “Line-ups changed, hearts were broken…and so did our music. We just grew and developed into something else.” Hoarding inspiration from odd things like a Kancil’s turbo exhaust to glitch, post-hardcore, Ioma Prieta and Envy, 4 years later the 3 remaining original members recruited Muzaimi on drums and Falique on bass. They have played a lot of gigs since then, opening for My Disco on their Malaysian tour, and playing at I Am David Sparkle’s benefit show To Texas And Back in Singapore, at Motion Picture Soundtrack 3 and even at a lot of RM5 screamo gigs. 41 are now in the midst of recording and hope to tour South East Asia in future.

For our take on what international bands will be big in 2010, check this out

Text Ben Liew, Kevin Yeoh + Miranda Yeoh