Monday, December 3, 2012

Not A Fest Vol. II, with Snaggletooth, Last Chaos, Osmantikos, Nuclear Summer and more 11.25.2012

The first Not A Fest back in September had the unlikely distinction of being a local show that actually started on time. Not only did I get to hesh out like there was no tomorrow to bands from Indonesia and Japan, I didn't have to rush to catch the last train and arrived back home before midnight. It was one of life's little victories. Would it happen again this time?

....not a chance. Malaysian Time trumps all. I heard the delay this time around was because one of the opening bands didn't wake up on time. I wish I was making this shit up. If anyone else at Rumah Api was perturbed by this, it wasn't apparent. Most looked content to hang out and kill time with cheap alcohol from the nearby liquor shop. Several distros set up in the duration, and soon the little foyer space had turned into a bustling DIY pasar malam.

The event also served as the release party for the 5th issue of the Shock and Awe zine, the centrepiece of which is an article about the history of KL's punk scene, written by Carburetor Dung's Joe Kidd. I was probably more excited about this than any of the bands. I'd seen little previews of it on Facebook, and it seemed essential to my understanding of this place and its history. Packaged along with the zine was a 4-way split 7" featuring local fixtures Pusher, Sarjan Hassan, Garrison and xCrimescenex. All in all, a recommended purchase for anyone who wants to know more about the Malaysian DIY scene.

When the gig finally did start, it was up to local guys Skitsofrenia to kick it off, which they did by playing D-Beat hardcore in that glorious Swedish style. It's notable that while recent releases from ground zero Göteborg seem intent on subverting the crust punk paradigm (Disfear, Martyrdöd, and Eskatologia), bands in South East Asia still take an almost dogmatic approach to the style. Skitsofrenia's passion and vitriol are commendable; but a little risk taking never hurt anyone.

Singaporeans Vaarallinen are similarly reverent of Scandinavian hardcore, but add an interesting/amusing gimmick that separates them from the rest of the scene: all their lyrics and song titles are in Finnish (as is their name, which translates to "unsafe/dangerous"). Other than that, their crust punk is business as usual, for die hard fans of fast songs and umlauts (though maybe not Umlaut).

The last time I saw xCrimescenex, their set was waylaid by mic problems. This time, with no technical difficulties to hamper them, they were able to build a momentum through slow, sludgy doom before erupting into bursts of manic power violence. With a line-up comprised of Rumah Api regulars (Man and Manusia from Sarjan Hassan among them), it was given that the audience would treat them like local heroes. I did my best to stay off to the side and avoid the carnage as the bodies started flying through the air.

Garrison, as DIY punks playing reggae, were an oddity in the line-up (and possibly the entire scene). I appreciated the change of pace, but even the Bad Brains couldn't sell me on reggae-influenced punk; punk-influenced reggae, it turns out, holds my attention even less. After a few songs I took my leave to try get some writing done outside the venue. I was scribbling down some notes when a young (and very drunk) fan sat next to me to see what I was doing. He made his way up from the southern state of Johor just for Not A Fest. I tried prodding him for his thoughts on the gig, to record what he had to say for posterity's sake; what he did say, unfortunately, was garbled and lost into the ether (which may have been what he was drinking, for all I know).

If nothing else, Garrison's chilled reggae served as the perfect segue between the crusty earlier acts and Nuclear Summer's off-beat post-hardcore. You can see why they were selected as an opening act for Refused's recent Australian tour, as these guys embody everything that's progressive and cerebral about heavy rock right now. Transitioning from upbeat sections, to slow ethereal parts reminiscent of Rosetta (also a recent touring partner), to guitar noodling straight out of Steven Brodsky's playbook, there was a sense of both history and inventiveness to their music that, frankly, is missing from a lot of the local scene. Hope I wasn't the only one paying attention. A perfect set, except maybe they should have headlined.

Looking like three guys who wandered into a punk show on the way back from a fishing trip, Osman Tikos were the most pleasant surprise of the evening. Crust bands aren't in short supply in Malaysia (and certainly not around Rumah Api), but these guys take the style to a new low - I mean that in the best possible way. This aging hesher doesn't know much about punk, but he does know a lot about heavy; and Osman Tikos are fucking heavy. Fast and bass-driven to the brink of incoherence, Osman Tikos sound like Doom and early Bolt Thrower in a duel to see who can wreck your sub-woofers the fastest. Even with my earplugs in, I thought my brain was going to melt.
Touring Aussies Last Chaos, as their name suggests, play blistering anarcho-core (heavily influenced by Finnish/Japanese hardcore, the internet has just informed me), with the occasional rock and roll moment. [In a bizarre coincidence, I saw some of the members last year in Brooklyn when their other band Teargas played there. These dudes get around.] Rumah Api loved it, and crowd and band were in sweaty, crusty heaven ....until a well-meaning attempt by the audience to carry around the vocalist ended with him crashing unceremoniously to the floor. Ouch. [My malaysian friends - if you're going to pick up visiting bands, please DON'T drop them on their heads.] Noticeably irritated, and with his mic chord snapped, he attempted to clear the stage, to little avail. [The tree of anarchy must be refreshed from time to time with broken mics and bruised scalps, as Thomas Jefferson never said.] Kind of a down note for the band to end on, but credit to them for giving the crowd one last song to rage to, even if they couldn't exactly sing along.

I was tempted to call it a night after that, but on the recommendation of Pat from Atomicdeath (a man who clearly knows good metal), I made it a point to stick around for Singapore's Snäggletooth. There's tremendous buzz around them due to a cassette EP that was cleverly promoted, limited to 50 copies and then sold out immediately. I'm happy to say that for once the hype is justified. With Vaarallinen's drummer on deck, their crust-fueled mix of Motörhead (natch) and Venom held few surprises, except for how much I enjoyed it. Their take on black 'n' roll is one of the more straight forward ones I've heard, but also one of the more bludgeoning. They may have ended up headlining this month's Not A Fest more out of happenstance than intent, but they closed out the proceedings in style.
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