Excerpted from Banana Punk Rawk Trails: A Euro-Fool’s Metal Punk Journeys in Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia by Marco Ferrarese © 2016. All rights reserved.
Rumah Api is an institution. Every passing self-respecting hardcore punk touring band, local or Asian or international, has performed here when in Malaysia. The main problem that hangs like the sword of Damocles over the heads of Kuala Lumpur’s punks is the announcement of the construction of a new highway, which would run straight over Rumah Api’s lot of shophouses. In the typically Malaysian we-don’t-give-a-damn-until-it’s-too-late run for the Vision 2020 development, this means that when construction gets underway the people living in the affected areas will be forced to move elsewhere. However, this doom has been pending for a few years now, and it seems that the project has been halted, at least for the moment.
The wall next to the gig room’s door lists a series of negations that would make the boring punks at Profane Existence, HeartattaCk and Maximum Rock’n’Roll happy and proud fathers. It’s all about saying no to racism, sexism, homophobia, drugs, alcohol and violence. It’s perfectly in line with the positive depiction of skinheads and punks shaking hands, sharing a space and an ideology pictured on the outside wall. However, me being me—a European with a history of love-hate with the anarcho-punk scene and an upbringing that has been more favourably influenced by the garage punk scene of the 1990s and 2000s, GG Allin and the Confederacy of Scum—I feel that there’s a bit too much of a chastising ‘punk by the book’ attitude radiating here. To me, it’s a bit like going to church and seeing too many pictures of Jesus hanging everywhere.
Whatever one’s idea of punk could be, that of Rumah Api’s punks is clearly leaning towards the precepts dictated by DIY punk culture worldwide, which has been embodied by the stances of the fanzines I already mentioned – with the clear difference that in Malaysia the idea of the punk sound has become a one-way street that funnels and incorporates only the fastest, most obnoxious and screechy subgenres of its parents’ world. In other words, hardcore, crust, d-beat, powerviolence, ultracore, sludgecore and God only knows what else.
An anarcho-punk and a skinhead shake hands on the wall next to Rumah Api’s living quarters entrance.
Thinking back to the past, otai bands from the 1990s such as Carburetor Dung, the Pilgrims, Spunky Funggy and the Bollocks were, indeed, playing at least what I would consider to be the more traditional sound of punk music. But today, the Malaysian punk scene seems to have forgotten all the changes that punk rock went through after ol’ Kurt blew his brains out, putting a full stop to Nirvana in the mid 1990s. I’m referring to the new currents of garage punk promoted by Crypt Records, and the Pacific Northwest’s sounds of Kill Rock Stars, Amphetamine Reptile and Sub Pop to cite just three influential labels.
That’s possibly a reason why Rumah Api’s entrance is ‘tattooed’ with the menacing principles of the anarcho-punk game. They warn the visitors to follow the house rules directly on the doorstep and literally write their influences over the punk house’s sleeves. However, I might also be terribly wrong, because thinking back through the troubled history of Malaysian extreme music and its hiccups with the authorities in the early 2000s, you could say that the punks used these mom and pop slogans to protect themselves, showing that their establishment is a clean place, and please cops, back off. After all, the cop shop is just across the road. Or, to put it more simply, Rumah Api’s punks want to be punks, and as such love to show their affiliation with global anarchic-punk culture more than anything else. After all, I also used to hang all sorts of things that were offensive to my parents back at my mother’s house, just for the sake of showing my musical influences … don’t get me started on that GG Allin’s ‘Expose yourself to kids’ T-shirt, where a cartoon caricature of good ol’ GG with his junk in hand jizzed in … all right, let’s forget about that.