Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rumah Api: A Love Story

[This was written last year for an issue of Punkcaroba Zine. I was waiting for the issue to come out before posting it here for posterity's sake; but in light of last night's raid on Rumah Api, and the ensuing arrest of several of my friends, I decided to put it online now. I hope Man, Wan Hazril and the rest get out soon.]

A lot of people assume that I have some deep love for the local scene because I write about it on my blog. The truth is, I’m one of those people who are compelled to write about themselves and their surroundings, and I just happen to find myself here. Coming to Malaysia basically meant losing everything and everyone that was important to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate this place with an unbridled passion.

In Malaysia, I constantly have to be wary of people who try to take advantage of me, because they assume either I have a lot of money or that I can somehow help them get ahead in life. There are few people in KL I find myself spending time with, and even fewer that I trust. Work-wise, I usually find myself at the mercy of small-minded power trippers who think the cheque they hand over for the work I’ve done gives them license to treat me like shit. Talk to anyone working in the design field in Malaysia, and you’ll hear the same thing. This is a country run by mean, petty, small-minded people, and to be successful means to be just like them. I spend most of my time in my apartment trying to avoid the world around me. I probably only deal with the rest of Malaysia for 12 hours on an average week. Most weeks, that’s still too much.

But I think the alienation and frustration I’ve experienced in Malaysia would have been bearable for most of my time here had I found a music scene to replace the one I lost. Between 2003-2007, I didn’t see a single metal or hardcore show in Malaysia. I couldn’t find anyone in KL to play music with. For someone whose life revolves around metal as much as mine has, moving to Malaysia has been suffocating. Move a potted plant out of the sun and into a closet for three years, and you’ll get an idea how I’ve felt since I moved here. Friends have told me that I’m overly negative, and to stop feeling sorry for myself. That advice is about as helpful to me as it would be to the plant that I just described.

One of the few bright spots in my life here is a little punk squat I discovered by accident. There was graffiti everywhere, and the furniture looked like it had been dragged out of a war zone. It was, in short, kind of a dump. But I immediately fell in love with that grotty little concrete sweat box. That place, of course, was Rumah Api, and it gave me a way back into a world I thought I lost - a world of angry kids making angry noise for angry people. I soon became a regular visitor. These days it’s the only place outside of my jiu jitsu class that I go to by choice and not obligation, where I can find people who share my interests and outlook on life.

Man, Emi, Ci Chaan, Wan Hazril and all the rest have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into carving out a place for the local scene to plant its flag, as well as a hub for DIY bands from other countries. It’s a haven for someone who hates the corporate wage slave mentality. Someone who finds him or herself at odds with the culture at large. Someone who wants to make a difference, who wants to do more in life than just fill up a bank account and wait for retirement. Someone like me. And if you’re reading this, someone like you.

Rumah Api isn’t perfect - there’s only so many times I can watch the same 5 bands play the same half hour sets before it all feels a little bit stale. And the vast majority of people that play there have no real ambition besides sounding like a crappier version of their favourite band. [Also, it would be nice if a show actually started and ended on time, so I don’t have to rush to catch the last train home.] But Rumah Api is better than what I had in Malaysia before I discovered it, which was nothing. And for that I’m eternally grateful.