One looks to rally against the status quo, while the other seeks to rejoice in a romanticised past. We help break down this month’s dilemma and their strange post-colonialism parallels.
Text Aizyl Azlee
Images Rizki Maulana + Butterfingers
Malaysians who enjoy being in large crowds of sweaty people have a tough decision to make on Saturday 19 November, as the fifth instalment of the Bersih rallies is set to take place on the same day Butterfingers is reuniting to perform at the Rockaway Fest ‘16: The Saga Continues.
With the 1999 Transcendence album selling over 60,000 copies to an age group still well within Bersih’s core demographic and the under-25s today, who may have never even seen the band perform live due to its disbanding eight years ago, the dilemma is real.
One might think that Bersih organisers, Bersih 2.0 (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections), would have thought this through considering last year’s rally being criticised for seeming to be short on representation from the Malay community. But here we are…
The significance of both events
The entirety of this year’s Rockaway festival calls to mind South Park’s “member berries,” a satirical manifestation of this decade’s obsession with nostalgia; poking fun at Hollywood’s reboot culture, Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” tagline, and the placing of ‘80s and ‘90s pop culture on a pedestal.
Positioning itself well in line with the zeitgeist, Rockaway’s lineup is significantly made up of headliners aimed at tugging on the nostalgia strings like Scorpions, Wings, The Darkness, Third Eye Blind, Zainal Abidin, and even Alleycats.
The Butterfinger reunion falls well within the theme, being pushed as a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of their debut album 1.2 Milligrams.
It also comes fresh off the band’s release of the book Untuk Seketika Ku Hilang celebrating the tenth anniversary of their first Malay album Selamat Tinggal Dunia (which some quarters have unfortunately grown accustomed to calling STD), which marked a musical shift for Butterfingers not only for switching from English to Malay lyrics, but also for turning away from the grunge sound that made them popular in the first place.
Since the announcement of the reunion performance, Butterfingers have not come out to say whether it would be a one-off performance or whether the band is getting back together again
And what we have on the other hand is Bersih 5.
As partisan as the Bersih movement may seem today, it remains one of the most, if not the only, successful platforms to galvanise civic engagement in the country for this generation.
There was a time when it was simpler to align one’s self with Bersih with its calls for electoral reforms for cleaner and fair elections.
But since, the demand list has expanded to include “saving the economy” and last year’s rally being an open call for resignations within the government, which have brought up questions of the purpose of the coalition.
However, it is understandable that the burden to take on issues beyond their scope falls on Bersih due to its existing clout compared to starting a new movement.
Though with a redelineation exercise being carried out at the moment that is being opposed by many with claims of gerrymandering and malapportionment through the shifting of voters and changes to a constituency, the original agenda of Bersih may just resonate again.
Dissecting its parallels
It is not a huge leap to point out that both Bersih and Butterfingers are products of post-colonialism.
The entire Butterfingers chronology plays out the struggle of searching for identity.
The band gained fame for leading the local grunge movement, unironically being referred to as the Malaysian Nirvana. The sound and approach largely remained with only slight variations up until STD (yup, we’re going with the acronym).
It was an interesting shift because up until that release, the band had made it a point to not record any Malay language tracks.
Among the reasons for that was because the ‘90s was a time when rock bands seemed to believe that writing a Malay song was a form of “selling out.”
But the band ostensibly became aware of how silly a notion that concept actually is as they grew older, and arguably spearheaded a following movement of “nusantara” pride among the next generation of bands that try to challenge the pedestal the English language and Western culture was placed on within the music scene.
Loque seemingly headed the movement with monoloQue – tengkolok at the ready, never to be seen without it again.
As for the Bersih rallies, the pushback by the movement is against a system that has remained largely unchanged since inheriting it from our colonial masters.
The same alliance the country was handed over to have been the leaders of the nation for 59 years. With the lack of political competition all this while, it has been left seemingly complacent.
The gratification involved
If you were part of the overlapping demographic that is torn between the two events, perhaps categorising the two by the type of gratification you get out of attending either one would help.
The reunion gig is obviously more immediate; you get to see disbanded legends perform live for possibly the last time, and it’s a positive emotion attached to a fun experience.
Though you could still probably catch the smartphone bootlegs of the concert online if you choose to skip it, where’s the fun in that?
Whereas with Bersih, the actual results of the action are subjected to long drawn out processes that do not guarantee any form of acknowledgement. The first Bersih rally in 2007 was arguably successful in getting some electoral reforms carried out, like the introduction of indelible ink to prevent double voting.
However, do keep in mind that the redelineation exercise is taking place now, and the general elections is due to take place by 2018, so any change the rally instigates in its calls for fairer elections can be seen sooner than you might think.
It’s also important to keep in mind if you’re considering attending Bersih 5, that while authorities have been more accepting of organised peaceful rallies in recent times, Bersih is facing its own pushback in the form of thuggery by the anti-Bersih group dubbed the “Red Shirts.”
At time of print, neither Bersih 2.0 nor the organisers of Rockaway have publicly acknowledged each other’s presence. For all we know, the Bersih rally might just schedule its timing to allow demonstrators to head off to Extreme Park, Bukit Jalil in time for the gig.
Or it could go the other way and try and top last year’s 34-hour demonstration – which would totally suck.
(Update [Thursday 17 November]: In a press statement dated Wednesday 16 November, The Malaysian Bar argues for Bersih 5’s legality as such a rally doesn’t require any licensing from the police since the enactment of Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 [PAA]. Read more here.
However, the writer of this article notes “[while] the Malaysian Bar argues that the law no longer requires a license from the police and that they only need to be notified, one of the core arguments by the police is that the PAA requires the notification to include a copy of consent by the landowners. In this case, Dataran Merdeka’s ‘owners’ would be Kuala Lumpur City Hall [DBKL], and they have refused permission, and so the police will not issue a permit. It’s all nasty legalese, but if this kind of nonsense is something you want answered or cleared up, then I guess your weekend plans are all set.”)
At time of writing, Bersih 2.0 had yet applied nor been approved a permit for its Bersih 5 rally. We do not condone participating in an illegal gathering, so stay abreast with the latest news before making your own decision.
Rockaway Fest ‘16: The Saga Continues featuring the Butterfingers reunion is on Saturday 19 November.