On weekends, the pulsating heart of northern Malaysia’s music underground spurts blood from the first floor of a battered building along the shoreline of Georgetown on eternally gridlocked coastal thoroughfare Pengkalan Weld. Its ribcage—a black-tinged loft where Penang’s wretched rock and roll youth come together to mosh away their frustrations—is a do-it-yourself concert hall, rehearsal room and recording studio with the unambiguous name, “Soundmaker”. On weekdays, when the rest of Penang’s underground firebreathers douse off inside office cubicles, a man named Cole Yew is the only person keeping this place alive. A skinny, tattooed Malaysian Chinese, Yew is Penang music scene’s cardiologist. Whether he’s behind the mixing board, the bar, or on stage fixing up the backline, he keeps the heart of Malaysian rock red and beefy and always, always pumping blood.
Yew, 33, comes from Brinchang in the unrockable tea-estates of the Cameron Highlands, and spent the past eight years nursing underground subcultures on the island of Penang—the second largest urban area in Malaysia, and one that seriously lacked a musical action spot. It hasn’t always been the case: from the 1960s, Malaysia and Penang boosted a great number of western rock and roll-inspired bands called the “kugiran brigade”.