Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Osmantikos Interview

Osmantikos are a long-running Malaysian crust band, a staple of the local scene who epitomize the dark hardcore sound that's becoming increasingly popular. I find them endearing for their lack of pretension - made evident by the fact that they're comfortable playing shows in whatever they happen to be wearing that day, dad hats and all. With a new split release and their first Japanese tour eminent, it seemed like a good time to sit down with them and talk about their past, present, and future.

Dreams of Consciousness: Would you mind introducing yourselves?

Yus: I play drums and vocals.

Borhan Shah: I play guitar.

Azedan Hamdan: I play bass and vocals.

DoC: So let’s start at the very beginning. When did Osmantikos form?

Borhan: The middle of 2006, if we’re not mistaken.

DoC: How old were you guys?

Borhan: It was 9 years ago…now I’m 34, so…

DoC: So you guys were in your mid-twenties.

Borhan: 25, 26. Around that.

DoC: What was your musical background? Did you guys grow up on crust punk, hardcore, that kind of music?

Yus: Earlier, I played thrashcore, fastcore, faster stuff like grindcore. Then I heard Tragedy, From Ashes Rise. We were influenced by the first Tragedy [album]…

DoC: Tragedy and From Ashes Rise were a big influence on you guys?

Yus: Yeah, the first big influence, until now.

DoC: What about them impressed you?

Yuss: The music. The music first, and then the lyrics…

Borhan: The song structure. The song structure, for me, wasn’t the typical song structure that you heard previous bands [play] before. The lyrics, the meaning, the energy, their voice through the vocals…the energy really inspired us to form a band at that time. As for myself, I started to really listen to US bands like Detestation, Severed Head of State…

Yus: Defiance…

Borhan: Defiance! Yeah, punk rock bands like that. In the mid-2000s, we [searched for] more crust, crust influenced by Tragedy. And Tragedy influenced crust by Japanese bands.

Actually in 2006, Osmantikos was a joke band. We had a lot of free time, we weren’t working at that time. So one night, after dinner, we said, “Hey, why not form a crust band.” Because at that time, there weren’t so many crust bands in Malaysia. So the three of us, our main influence of course was Tragedy, and so of course we wanted to be a Tragedy clone. The first time we played, we didn’t play a cover song, we played our own songs.

DoC: Was that unusual at the time? Because I know most of the bands that I meet in Malaysia, they’ll write a couple songs, but they mostly form to play covers.

Borhan: At the time, we tried to be a little different. When we were practicing, we played our own songs; after that, we played Tragedy just to…

Yus: ...just to add to the setlist.

Borhan: Of course, we had to play a cover song. It was like a tribute to our favorite bands, like Tragedy or From Ashes Rise. The irony is, when we were recording our first demo, and one night we wanted to make a sleeve printing. Yus usually was our designer. And at that time we were asking ourselves, "Tomorrow we want to go to the pressing plant to press our sleeve. But what is our band's name?"

DoC: So you guys had written songs and recorded a demo, but you still didn’t have a name?

Borhan: Yeah, it was something a little different compared to other bands. Because at the time we just wanted to make our music. So we just played, we just practiced, we did a live recording in 2-3 hours, [it cost] about RM50-60, if I’m not mistaken.

DoC: When you say a live recording, you mean you recorded it all together in the studio?

Borhan: Yeah, the drums, the bass, the guitars. And after that, the vocals [were overdubbed]. At the time, Yus was inspired by an Eighties movie called Kembara Seniman Jalanan.

Yus: There was a character named Osman Tikus [Osman the Rat - Dreams of Translateness].

Borhan: The movie was about the struggle of a young guy from the village, who moved to the city, who wanted to be an artist; a pure artist, who didn’t care about fame, or glory. Just to express music. And he had a friend, named Osman Tikus, who was a pickpocket. We thought the movie was awesome compared to other Malaysian movies. At that time, there weren’t many socio-political movies, because our government banned movies like that [there are very strict restrictions on movies showed in Malaysia -Dreams of Fuckthisplaceness].

DoC: I’m curious, you guys were based in KL from the very beginning? What was the scene like back then?

Borhan: In 2006, we were in Serdang at that time…

DoC: Because this is when Joe Kidd had his Ricecooker shop. So there was a little bit of a punk scene through that shop, and I think there were a few places that punk and hardcore bands could play. But it wasn’t like Rumah Api, where there's a centralized location…

Borhan: At that time, the gig venues varied. There was no one main place like Rumah Api. So we would play in one area of KL, and the place would get shut down, or the police would raid the show.

DoC: Did that happen a lot? Police raids?

Borhan: Yeah, a lot. The issue was “black metal”…

DoC: Yeah, I remember that. Because I moved back to Malaysia in 2003, and my friends would tell me that there was a “black metal ban”, and cops would raid the rehearsal studios. Anything with distorted guitars or yelling, they would say, “Oh, this is black metal.” Did you guys ever have any of your shows shut down?

Yus: Yeah, our show was shut down in Malacca, in the last two years.

Borhan: In 2013, if I’m not mistaken. At that time, Osmantikos and Azedan’s main band, Virginia on Duty were playing together. Before VoD’s set, two policemen came in and said, “Oh, this is a black metal show.” [laughter] “You have to stop the show. If you don’t go, we’ll arrest you.”

So we said goodbye, went to eat, and then went back to KL.

DoC: So it’s still a problem in some places?

Yus: Yeah, but luckily here in Ampang and in Rumah Api, police don’t pay attention to the kids. So we can hang out here.

DoC: Do you consider yourselves a political band?

Yus: For the lyrics, I think yeah, but…

Borhan: We’re political in our own way. The lyrics aren’t directed at the people we want to smash.

Yus: But we get our own way to get the listener’s attention to what we want to express.

Borhan: Since 2006, the lyrics have varied from each album. In 2006, we were angry young men. You should know, "angry young men" lyrics are energetic and…"fuck off" lyrics. Along the way, we got more mature, the lyrics could be considered more solid, and we wrote more about our surroundings. Still political in our own way.

Yus: Writing about our surroundings…

Borhan: Our society; our job environment; racism; sexism; the gender based problems that happen here. So we blend it.

Yus: It changes from year to year. We don’t write a story of what happened in the last 5 years, but what happened in the last year. The current situation that affects us personally in our society.

DoC: I’m curious what the reaction was to you guys when you first started playing. Because I know His Hero Is Gone and Tragedy were a really big deal when they came out; but at the same time, they really changed they way people played crust. Because before that, everything was very much…

Borhan: Straight forward.

DoC: Yeah, straight forward. The d-beat, the fast parts, stuff like that. And after Tragedy, people started slowing down, adding second guitars, more “textures”…

Borhan: More melodies.

DoC: Yeah, exactly. More melodies. Did people understand what you were doing when you first started playing? Or was it like, “No, this isn’t really hardcore!” / “This isn’t crust!”

Borhan: Some of the reviewers overseas said we were one of the Tragedy clone bands, or one of the "Tragedy bandwagon" bands. And at the time, we weren’t angry about that, because we were born with a huge influence from Tragedy and HHIG. But from time to time, as we grow older, and as we listen to a lot more bands, not just crust bands…we try to make our music and our lyrics our own. I think it’s normal for a band, for example any band recording their first demo, of course they want to copy their influences. And after that they develop their own sound, their own lyrics, their own energy. And so, [it was] the same with us in that situation.

DoC: But locally, when you guys played shows, did the punks "get it"?

Borhan: Yeah, they’d say it sounds like Tragedy. And I think it was a big compliment to us. And I’d say at the time, "Come to our show and see our Malaysian version of Tragedy."

DoC: Well you guys actually got to play with Tragedy at Not A Fest. What was that like? You guys must have been pretty excited.

Borhan: Yeah, of course! When we first heard, “Tragedy is coming to Malaysia”, oh man it’s good. But playing with Tragedy is another story. But the main thing is, we had to attend the show because we watched them countless times on Youtube.

Azedan: I heard that when they played with Tragedy, the show was quite fucked up with all the technical issues. So it [looks] quite bad for us here [in Malaysia]. But we have to move on.

Borhan: As for me, what impressed me was, they play around the world. They play in Iceland, they play in Japan, and that time they played a jungle in the middle of KL.

Azedan: They had the chance to get a "proper" show, but they chose to play in the jungle, at a DIY show...

Borhan: ...with unknown bands, and unknown crowds, and an unknown backline. We didn’t know what would happen that day.

DoC: That’s true anarchy.

Borhan: They’re pressing, distributing, selling their own stuff. They have their own international DIY network. That really inspired us.

DoC: Including having your own label and doing your own distribution?

Borhan: Yeah. In 2004 I started my own DIY label called Bullwhip Records.

DoC: Talk to me about the 3-way split that just came out.

Borhan: It was an idea between me and Aizu from Black Konflik Records, the label that co-released it. Aizu has a good relationship with a band called Battlescard from Yokohama, because previously Aizu had released their demo on his label. When I was planning the Japan tour, I asked Aizu if there was a way to do a split with a Japanese band. It was one of the strategies for us to penetrate the Japanese DIY punk scene. He suggested Battlescard, [who] were looking for a band to do their own split; at the same time, Battlescard wanted to do a split with Absolut. So Aizu suggested, why don’t we make a 3-way split? And the other two bands said, "Why not."

We recorded about six songs for this split. One song we put on the official tour discography CD that we’ll release in Japan. Hopefully if there are no problems, [it will be out] maybe in mid or early April. We’ll be selling in Japan first, in record stores and to the DIY hardcore audience; and if time permits, I hope I can get a few copies to sell to Malaysian friends before we go on tour. We pressed maybe 300-400 pieces of the discography CD, small quantities because it’s a tour CD. That's the story with the 3-way split and the official tour discography.

DoC: Have your releases been available in Japan before this discography?

Borhan: Yes, in 2007 our first 7” was released by a label in Florida called Bacon Towne Records. And at that time, I was also doing a label, doing trades and consignments to my friends all over the world, including Japan. And Osmantikos stuff started appearing in the DIY scene in Japan in 2007.

DoC: Do you know if you have a big following in Japan?

Borhan: I think nowadays the world is much smaller, because of social media, so a lot of Japanese punks know Malaysian bands. A lot of Japanese bands, starting 2003-2004 started touring SE Asia. I think the first Japanese band I saw was Battle of Disarm. They came here and played with lots of SE Asian bands, and when they returned to Japan, they told other bands, why not tour SE Asia.

DoC: Did you play with any of the bands that came to Malaysia/Rumah Api?

Borhan: There was one grindcore band, at that time they were a three-piece: Sete Star Sept. In 2007 we played with them in Puchong. If we are not mistaken, Sete Star Sept is the only [Japanese] band that we played with. Because as you know, the three of us nowadays work at different times, sometimes we have outstation jobs, and it’s hard to play a show every month. Careers, families. But at the same time, we were busy at work, but it doesn’t mean we won’t play gigs, it doesn’t mean we aren’t planning releases, touring, making our own merchandise.

I’m a family man, I have three children, and it’s kind of hard to find a balance between career, family and the band. “Forecasting” is really needed when we plan for Osmantikos. The Japanese tour was planned in early 2014. Back then I contacted a close contact of mine, [asked him] "Is it okay for Osmantikos to tour Japan?" Previously, if they liked a band from Malaysia, they would pay for the flights and the accommodation. But the current economic situation has fallen. So they told us, if you want to come to Japan you have to pay for everything. And I said, "It’s no problem at all. This is the way DIY HC should be: We’ll pay for our own flights, we’ll pay for our own food. We’ll save [up] our money."

Yuss: This is our struggle.

DoC: Is this the first time you’re playing outside of Malaysia?

Borhan: This is our third time playing outside Malaysia. The first time would be after our split CD in 2009, with a band from Singapore called Distrust. In 2013, we toured Java, Indonesia. It was a one-week tour.

DoC: And this is the first time playing Japan?

Borhan: Yeah, it’s our first time to Japan.

DoC: And were you looking forward to this for a long time? I know you’ve been planning this for a while, but was this a goal before?

Borhan: The goal before was to tour Australia, but in 2013 the Japanese government waived visas [for tourists] from South East Asia. The previous law was that you needed to have at least RM5000 in your bank account in order to apply for the visa. So at that time, I had some contacts from Australia who asked if Osmantikos wanted to play Australia, they could organize a two week tour. But the Japanese government waived their regulations, so I told my band, "Why not go to Japan, because it’s much easier." One crust band from Johor Bahru called Hellexist played Japan last year with no problems. So I think that’s a golden opportunity for us.

DoC: How many dates are you playing in Japan?

Borhan: The tentative dates are five shows, maybe an additional one. As of now, it’s only five. We’ll be in Japan 8-9 days. Most of the time we’ll be in Tokyo, maybe one or two shows outside Tokyo in a town called Sendai.

DoC: Before the Japan tour, you’re doing a Malaysian tour as well, right?

Borhan: Yes. We have confirmed 3-4 dates in Peninsular Malaysia. JB, Seremban, Melacca… maybe one date in the north like Sg Petani or Penang. We’ll finalize that later in a week or two. The Malaysian tour is also important, because we need the live vibe to kick the shows off …a good warm up before we go to Japan. A lot of Japanese bands are fast, intense bands. You’ll never see a Japanese band that plays slow, non-energetic…

DoC: Well… check out Coffins.

Borhan: [laughs] Yeah, Coffins and Boris are a different thing. We’re looking forward to playing with Japanese bands. For me, we want to represent the SE Asia DIY scene to our friends in Japan.

DoC: What about the Malaysian DIY scene do you want to represent to Japanese audiences? What do you want them to come away with?

Borhan: The energy. The sincerity. As you know in Malaysia, compared to foreign bands, getting good gear is hard, unless you’re a rich kid. It’s very expensive. Yus and I saved for many years to have a [good] guitar, to have EMG pick-ups. That’s the economic situation. But it’s not an excuse to make up for our music.

DoC: And are you playing Rumah Api before you go to Japan?

Borhan: Yeah, April 25th. The guys from Tools of the Trade are throwing us a “farewell party.”

DoC: So the first time I saw you guys, I think you just came back from a fishing trip. You want to tell me about that?

Borhan: [laughs] No, actually it was raining! It was raining, and I was leaving my house, and I didn’t have my umbrella. So I just took my hat. I didn’t realize I was still wearing it until after the show. It’s kind of funny. It’s kind of a shock to people; maybe the first time they see Osmantikos, they think we’re a joke band.

DoC: Well, I think the reason why it stood out to me is we’ve got a lot of bands that “look” punk, and they’ve got their hair, and they wear their vests and their patches and all that. And there are bands that actually “live” punk. And for me, especially as I’m getting older, I don’t feel the need to dress in some kind of “costume” all the time.

Yus: That’s why we wrote the song, “Against All Odd” [sic].

DoC: And hopefully when you get back from Japan, we can go fishing sometime.

Borhan: Yes! Definitely! Definitely.

"Doomed Before The Doomsday" - Osmantikos Peninsular Malaysia Tour:

18 April (Saturday) - Batu Pahat
19 April (Sunday) - Malacca
25 April (Saturday) - Kuala Lumpur
26 April (Sunday) - Seremban
3 May (Sunday) - Johor Bahru
10 May (Sunday) - Mentakab

Osmantikos on Bandcamp

Bullwhip Records

Osmantikos e-mail: osmantikos[at]yahoo.com