Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Extreme Noise Terror and Desecration in Johor Bahru

"Man, what a shithole."

As the bus crossed from Singapore into Johor Bahru, I looked out the window and couldn't stop my mind from forming that thought. Maybe it was just the juxtaposition of coming straight from Singapore - possibly the cleanest, most orderly country in South East Asia. Malaysia's one of the few countries in the region that didn't suffer through decades of war, but you wouldn't know it from the crumbling buildings and decay that greeted you as you make your way from the immigration building to downtown JB.

That aside, the venue for the show wasn't without its charms. With arcade games, pool tables, and footsol on one side, graffiti all over the walls, and the stage set up behind a dividing wall, the C.T. "Arena" sports café seemed like the ultimate playhouse. Anyone who saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie as a kid will understand my glee at finally uncovering the Foot Clan's hideout. (I was hoping I'd catch members of ENT and Desecration killing time by playing pool - unfortunately, no such awesomeness happened). Also of note were the giant light up beer signs on every wall. Unfortunately, concrete floors and high ceilings do not a great concert experience make - the sound got cavernous the further back you got from the stage (not that there was any reason to be that far from the stage - turnout was sparse). Not sure I understand why the promoters felt a barricade in front of the stage was necessary when attendance was only in the double digits - except this is a part of the world where the relationship between customer and vendor is often characterized by distrust. [More annoying was the barricade that separated the designated "concert" area from the bathroom - almost as annoying as the lack of toilet paper in the bathroom, but that's to be expected in Malaysia.]

I was expecting to see more people from KL - and not just because I was hoping for a ride back. But apparently an eight hour round trip on a Sunday was too much for most people - either that, or I overestimated how popular ENT are with the sizeable grind/crust scene here.

Desecration's set was delayed due to problems with the monitor set-up. Between Friday night and Sunday I had only scrounged up four hours of sleep total, so I used the delay (as I find myself doing more and more these days) to find a quiet corner and take a nap. Extreme Snooze Terror.

Desecration were worth the wait, even if I had seen them just the night before - though without Home Club's pristine sound set-up, their faster moments were reduced to an indistinct rumble of blastbeats and rumbling guitars. There's a whole subsection of death metal fans who seem to think that this music should sound like a cement mixer broadcast over AM radio - I'm not one of them. Unfortunately, even with the lengthy set up, they were waylaid by technical problems early into their set. When they got back on track they managed to pick up steam and were firing on all cylinders at the end. They made the layover in JB worth my exhaustion. Hopefully these guys will be back - in an era where "old school" affectations have replaced creativity, Desecration are the real deal.
If sheer physical size was the deciding criteria, Damokis would be the heaviest band in the region - when they're all on stage together, they look like the Malaysian Crowbar. The band members introduced themselves as "Extreme Fat Terror", so clearly they're having fun with their appearance. Grindcore bands are a dime a dozen in Malaysia, but to Damokis' credit, they strive for fun, memorable songs over short tuneless blasts.

With a large stage to play on, the members of Extreme Noise Terror seemed to enjoy pulling every pose out of the big book of rocking out - including Dean Jones drunkenly lying on the ground and shouting into his mic (one of the benefits of having two vocalists, I presume, is you always have the other guy to pick up the slack).

As expected, there was a tribute to Phil Vane ("I miss my brother," Jones said in the middle of a rambling dedication, and the words fell heavily), but watching him so blitzed on stage that he struggled to get to his feet, it was hard not to worry about ENT losing their other vocalist as well. A lifetime devoted to punk's music and ideals is commendable; succumbing to its self-destructive nihilism is not.
That aside, Extreme Noise Terror lived up to their name. The simplicity of their music jived with the raw sound (or at the very least, wasn't adversely affected by it), and the kids in JB did their best to act appropriately, starting the obligatory circle pit and eventually disregarding the barricade for some stagediving. And of course, there was the guy who takes his shirt off and headbangs on stage at every gig, one of the few KL people who made his way down to JB for the gig. [I declined to ask him for a ride back - recognizing each other is awkward enough.] With the gig over, I rushed to make the last bus for KL - arriving just before the trains started up. Getting too old for these road warrior shenanigans. Hopefully the next time ENT and Desecration come through, we can make a KL gig happen and save me the bus trip.