Photographer Olaf Schuelke happens upon an illegal punk rock concert in Yangon.
On the eve of this year’s Water Festival in Myanmar’s main city, a colorful crowd gathers under an inner-city bridge with passing cars on two levels. An illegal punk rock concert is about to start, with half a dozen local punk bands — Kultureshock, Rebel Riot and Chaos in Burma — on the lineup. Applying for any sort of permit for these types of events is a painstaking process that usually ends in rejection, so this gathering is truly underground. The police are expected to show up at any moment.
The patches on their studded jackets and torn pants immediately bring back old memories. Band names like GBH, Dead Kennedys, The Exploited or The Adicts are just too familiar. In the eighties, I spent countless weekends at punk rock concerts in Germany and listened to tapes and vinyl records religiously. Almost three decades later, I find myself on the other side of the world amongst a crowd of like-minded Burmese youngsters. Not long ago, they would have been arrested on the spot just for being punks. But while the country opens up, the number of punks is growing as they rally against political injustice and religious intolerance. Today some of them are even accompanied by their young children. Occasionally, a passerby pauses and stares with mouth wide open at the bizarre characters. Some linger for a while, waiting for something mysterious to happen.
As two neon lights, a diesel generator and parts of a drum set are unloaded from a rusty truck, a handful of police officers in civilian clothes appear. Soon enough, a herd of punks surrounds them. The two sides debate for over an hour until a cheerful yell marks a sudden end to the discussion. Today, the punk community has triumphed. The first rough sounds erupt from the loudspeakers and the crowd becomes ecstatic, jumping around wildly, like the ground had been set on fire. If I had not brought my camera, I would have joined the party. Here in Myanmar, Punk is definitely not dead.