Dissonant Voices: Contesting Control through Alternative Media in Malaysia

Original article here

Dissonant Voices: Contesting Control through Alternative Media in Malaysia[1]
by Tan Sooi Beng
Universiti Sains Malaysia

With the advent of new forms of media such as satellite television, DVD’s, CD’s, and the internet, transnational popular music promoted by multi-national conglomerates has flooded the music scene in Malaysia in the 1990s. Video clips, DVD’s, CD’s as well as live shows of Anglo-American pop stars (Britney Spears, Westlife), Hindustani and Tamil film icons (Akshay Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan) as well as Hong Kong, Taiwanese (Andy Lau, Coco Lee), and Japanese or J-pop singers (Ayumi Hanasaki, Hikaro Utada) mesmerize Malay, Indian, and Chinese youths. Local singers imitate these foreign stars by singing, acting, and dressing like them at local concerts.

Aware that transnational culture can have a negative effect on Malaysian youths and responding to pressure from Islamic lobbyists who condemn specific types of entertainment as haram (forbidden), the Malaysian government monitors and censors live performances and recordings of transnational and local stars through the use of various laws[2]. The authorities exercise the right to ban shows which they think would “promote negative aspects of Western culture”. Songs with words that “stimulate one to violence” and/or “music that is too westernized” such as heavy metal are banned by the national Radio Television Malaysia (Tan 1990).

Malaysian mainstream popular music promoted by transnational companies and broadcasted by national radio and television comprises international hits and domestic repertoire based on standardized global easy-listening pop known as the Malay balada (ballad). In order to be commercially viable and to escape censorship, the overall sound of mainstream pop is unobtrusive without significant intense dynamic levels. Texts are about romantic love. Local elements do not overwhelm the basic Anglo-American pop idiom. As I have analyzed in an earlier paper, the music, lyrics, and visual imagery of video clips are not controversial or offensive and are based on global stereotypes that draw their contents from nostalgia and exotica (Tan 2000). Although private radio stations such as HitzFM and WOWFM feature some better known local heavy metal bands (Prana, Lyme) and hip-hop acts (Poetic Ammo, Too Phat), local music is still the exception and ‘heavier’ music by unknown groups is still sidelined by these private radio stations (Positive Tone, Jan/Feb 2001).

However, as in other parts of the world, transnational recording companies and national governments cannot totally manipulate or control public taste. A lively underground (bawah tanah) scene[3] which is independent of mainstream institutions has emerged in Malaysia in the 1990s. Underground refers to music making associated with musicians who are not signed up with major recording companies. These musicians practice the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) spirit in the production and sales of ‘demo’ tapes/CD’s, and the organization of gigs. They introduce new musical forms and activities at the local level (although their music need not necessarily be political or empowering).

This paper shows that access to new digital recording and playback technology, computers, synthesizers, and the internet together with the use of older forms of communication such as cassettes, magazines, flyers, and live gigs, have enabled underground unsigned musicians to evade government censorship and the dictates of major labels. By examining the music and the processes of production/distribution employed by musicians of three different underground genres, specifically heavy metal (which forms the core of the underground scene), electronic music (associated with dance clubs) and alternative music of a non-governmental alliance (concerned about the environment and the survival of the orang asli or aboriginal people), I intend to show that underground musicians are able to exercise their right to cultural expression and artistic freedom by using available technology and creating their own alternative music media.

As Stuart Hall writes, popular music is a contested terrain and is one of the sites where the “struggle for and against a culture of the powerful is engaged” (Hall 1981: 239). Access to technology at an affordable price allows local enthusiasts to introduce alternative music activities as well as to bypass the transnational corporations and national institutions to get access to new music and reach global audiences (Malm 1992: 237-238).

(i) Metal Wars

In the 1990s, a Malay heavy metal underground scene which was anti-commercial mainstream pop emerged in Malaysia[4]. Heavy metal musicians dismissed the rock singers of the 1980s (such as Wings, Search, Ellie and the Boys {wt} – it should be ella, Amy and Awie) as conformists performing rock kapak (Malay slang for low class rock) — they had contracts with transnational companies and sang commercial rock ballads. The critics dedicated themselves to punk (Carburater Dung, The Pilgrims), thrash metal (as FTG or Freedom That’s Gone, Koffin Kanser, Samurai) and other subgenres of heavy metal such as black/ death metal (As Sahar, Koma, Sil Khannaz, Silent Death, Rotten Corpse), and alternative (Butterfingers, Subculture) which were harder, louder, and faster than the earlier rock and were characterized by distorted guitar riffs and aggressive drum beats. Vocal timbre ranged from the rough-pitched singing of thrash metal bands to the graty unpitched vocals of black/death metal musicians.

Under the banner of non-commercialism, these groups performed gigs at clubs, pubs, discos and open spaces in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Kuantan, Penang, and Alor Star. The unsigned bands emphasized the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) spirit, organized gigs which brought different bands together (without emphasizing profits) with no support from mainstream institutions. Teenage fans of diverse social backgrounds rented buses and travelled to different towns to participate at gigs during the weekends.

Heavy metal fans could be identified as they had long hair, and sported jeans and black T-shirts with the names of metal bands and blood-dripping gothic fonts printed. Other paraphernalia included bracelets with skulls and necklaces with spikes and tattoos on their bodies. Punk fans had coloured spiky hairstyles and painted faces. Black metal musicians often painted their faces white with black rings around eyes.

The gigs were high energy and intense as the music was loud and fast and different bands took turns to perform. Heavy metal musicians sang cover songs by foreign bands such as Rotting Christ, Hypocrisy, and Venom as well as their own songs in English and Malay. Musicians and fans headbanged, keeping the beat by moving the head and long hair up-and–down and in a circular motion. Participants also moshed or collided intentionally with each other in the mosh pit. Headbangers and moshers were often raised on the interlocked hands of other fans so that they could be seen.

Underground bands relied on their own forms of media for publicity and communication. They produced their own magazines (fanzines) which were often photocopied and passed around informally. They informed fans about gigs by word-of-mouth and through their fanzines and flyers which they stuck on lamp-posts, trees or walls of shopping complexes. Unknown groups produced their own small budget ‘demo’ cassette tapes (costing RM 5) or CD’s (costing RM 25) for sale to fans at their gigs[5].

The internet was an important medium which contributed to the development of the metal scene in Malaysia[6]. Individual bands set up internet sites with biographies of band members, album releases, history of music, concert experiences, pictures, and guest books which were submitted to search engines. Webrings such as The Malaysian Underground Alternative Web Ring (www.geocities.com/sunsetstrip/club/5595/ring.html)[7] which had over 160 band and artiste sites facilitated communication, sales and promotions among underground groups. Webrings also helped bands to look for new musicians when needed. The international webring http://www.webring.org had links to different foreign bands and labels. Mailing lists such as http://www.egroups.com provided avenues for independent Malaysian bands to communicate with foreign bands. Members could also reach wider audiences and join the battle of the bands by uploading their tracks on MP3.com or Soundbuzz.com which is based in Singapore and has become the region’s leading legal MP3 download site. Through the internet, fans could also buy metal merchandize such as T-shirts, CD’s, and magazines) and keep up with the latest trends overseas.

As in other countries, heavy metal has been accorded bad press in Malaysia and has been identified with violence and aggression. Attempts have been made to regulate heavy metal particularly black/death metal because of its alleged influence on the values and behaviour of Malay youths[8]. In July 2001, Malay black metal fans in Kedah, Penang, and Selangor were accused of practising satanic rituals such as drinking goat’s blood, tearing up and stepping on the Koran as well as wearing T-shirts and sporting tattoos with satanic imagery[9]. About 100 Muslim youths (14-15 year olds) particularly in the northern state of Kedah (described as the center of black metal cults by officials) were caught at shopping complexes and sent to the police station for body checks, urine tests, and questioning. Malay students in selected schools in the three states were strip-searched for tattoos and other black metal accessories. Shops selling black metal paraphernalia and music were raided (Star, 25 July 2001).

It is important to note that the crackdown on black metal occurred at a time when the country was experiencing economic downturn and political turmoil. Anwar Ibrahim, the Deputy Prime Minister had been stripped of all posts and arrested. Keadilan, an opposition party led by Wan Azizah (Anwar’s wife) had been set up. Demonstrations calling for reformasi (reformation) were held in the streets of Kuala Lumpur resulting in the arrests of hundreds of youths, students and members of opposition parties. Academics and opposition leaders say that the anti-black metal operations were part of the crackdown on political opposition and discontent with Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad’s administration. Some heavy metal fans took the opportunity to protest against the State at reformasi rallies.

Public performances of black metal were banned and black metal music censored from national radio and television. In fact, the authorities took the opportunity to condemn all types of metal. This occurred despite the adamant outcry by followers that black metal wasn’t about devil worshipping or anti-Islam and that references to Satan by some bands were an ‘artistic gimmick’ while metal accessories were ‘fashionable’.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to ban all heavy metal completely. After a few months of ‘laying low’ a few metal gigs have re-emerged. The Underground festival at the Shah Alam Indoor Stadium on 27 January 2002 attracted a few thousand rockers. Billed as the Big Show 2002, the festival showcased energetic bands such as Koffin Kanser, Blind Tribe, Samurai and Beneath the Remains.

After all, heavy metal is a reaction to various forms of authority and to sermonizing and control in music and social life be it from school teachers, parents, religious or political leaders. Dancing and listening to loud music are forms of catharsis where teenagers can engage in emotions denied in daily life.

(ii) Electronica Plugs In

Tied closely to the dance club scene, electronica is making an impact especially in Kuala Lumpur and other big towns like Penang and Ipoh. The club scene had a brush with the authorities for a few months starting in March 2000. There were rumours that the club scene would end as police raided clubs every weekend throughout the country checking for drugs such as ecstasy in drinks and arrested young people out for a good time.

Nevertheless, the scene has survived and Kuala Lumpur is fast becoming an international venue for clubbing. The world’s best DJ’s such as Roger Sanchez, David Morales, Judge Julen, Positiva, John Acquiviva, and many others have played at clubs such as Movement, Backroom, Clubhouse, Emporium, and Mines. Kuala Lumpur’s own DJ’s such as Gabriel, Jungle Jerry, Desire et al and Rabbit have also been building up their own sounds and fans. Feng Tao (literally meaning ‘head sensations’) based on Hong Kong canto-club music with a Euro-dance-techno-pop feel is becoming popular among the Chinese–educated and is being promoted in clubs such as the Warp Dance Club in Kuala Lumpur.

During the past few years, there has been a swell of aspiring electronica groups such as Herb Vendors, Spacebar, Strangedays, Urban XS, and Discomafia whose music is performed at dance clubs. Coming from different ethnic but urban backgrounds, members of these groups produced electronic music in their home studios (sometimes in their bedrooms). The section below shows that electronica groups managed to get their music heard by uploading tracks on the internet, producing DIY albums, and performing at underground gigs and dance clubs despite being unsigned. Compared to other underground acts, electronica musicians relied most heavily on computer and digital technology such as computer-generated sound tracks, samplers, mixers, synthesizers, midi sequencers, and drum machines to produce repetitive dance music devoted to the beat.

Spacebar is an instrumental drum ‘n’ bass and trip-hop outfit comprising of DJs and percussionists. Spacebar is led by Irman Hilmi who is also the creative director of a web development company. Influenced by Depeche Mode and Rupert Parkes, Spacebar’s music comprised pre-programmed breakbeats on a computer or lap-top with samples cut-and-pasted across MIDI sequencers (DIY album: Underworld Chronicles, 1999). The group used its website (www.cryogen.com/spacebar) to advertise its gigs, appearances on WOW FM, and its DIY CD’s which were produced in limited numbers (50 to 100 copies). Tracks such as Flames and The Treatment can be downloaded directly from the website and orders made directly to Irman (irman@spacebarcollective.com). Spacebar songs came out number 1 on Soundbuzz’s unsigned band chart for a few weeks in January 2001.

The Herb Vendors (comprising Brian C and Samlaleo Singh) are also inspired by drum ‘n’ bass breakbeats. As the title of their first album suggested, Homegrown Vibes was totally recorded and packaged in their home studio DIY. Their second album, Mother Earth, was also self-produced but was distributed by the independent Indie Works. Mother Earth consisted of ambient trip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass pieces with touches of ethnic elements. Mantra (from Mother Earth) incorporated vocal, tabla, and sitar loops, other cool effects as well as the ‘jungle single hit drum kit’. Borneo (anti-logging remix) featured sape, gong and tribal singing samples and effects superimposed over a drum ‘n’ bass beat (herbvendors.gq.nu). As reported in the website, Mantra was featured in the British Future Music Magazine (86, September 1999) and offered free with six other tracks in a CD enclosed in the issue. The track Komunikasi was number 1 in the Soundbuzz unsigned band chart of Dec. 2000 (Positive Tone Jan/Feb 2001).

Comprising Wong Chee Meng (guitars, synthesizers), Aref Omar (lyrics, bass, synthesizers), and Chew Phye Boon (guitars, programming), Strangedays is a studio band which creates “memorable, melancholic, electronic-based pop songs for music fans” (members.tripod.com/nostrangedays). Strangedays’ albums were also completely self-produced. The debut album Random (1999) featured “catchy and sophisticated vocal melodies, strong bass lines, ambient guitar parts and danceable beats”. MP3’s of tracks (such as A New Beginning, Open Spaces, Slow Descent, Disenchanted and Something…the Wake) are available on the website. In the second album, From Infinity to Oblivion (2000), the band brought listeners on a journey that spanned “the vast emotional landscape of dysfunctional relationships and social alienation, a feat accomplished with the sort of style and savvy similarly found in the music of garbage or Depeche Mode”. According to a review in the Michigan Daily (7-17-2000) posted on the website, the song “A New Beginning successfully melds warped guitar signals, synthesizer passages and deliciously catchy vocal melodies” when the singer proclaims that “one day we shall see ourselves for who we really are” (members.tripod.com/nostrangedays).

As shown in the three examples above, unsigned electronica musicians produce and market their music the DIY way. Using computers, synthesizers, samples, MIDI sequencers and other electronic equipment, they are able to create and record their music from their homes. The musicians are in total control of every step and process of recording and are able to make their own artistic decisions and choices. The internet is also a viable distributor of these musicians. Promotional songs can be downloaded from the individual websites, MP3.com and Soundbuzz.com[10]. CD’s can be bought directly through the websites of the bands. The net is also a source of information on the latest MP3s, equipment and software for electronic music (cybermusicasia.com). Musicians can download original loops, chord progressions and parts to tunes from specific sites (aiff.tripod.com).

As a testament of local electronica, the movers of the scene have recently produced a compilation CD of their works called Sembunyi, Hidden Sounds of Malaysia under the independent label Pyretta Records (2001). The CD has pieces by Strangedays, Urban XS, Joyless, Dead Star, Herb Vendors, Nightlife Camera, and CTRL/ALT/DEL.

(iii) Akar Umbi – Guardians of the Forest

Akar Umbi (meaning Tap Root) is a musical collaboration initiated by Antares and Rafique Rashid, two musicians who moved to Kuala Kubu Baru (KKB) to seek sanctuary from city life in the Klang Valley in 1992. These two musicians encountered the rich culture of the Temuan[11], one of the 18 indigenous orang asli (aboriginal tribes) in Peninsular Malaysia whose oral traditions are in danger of disappearing due to resettlement and modernization. They decided to document the stories and music of the Temuan by producing a music CD, a video documentary[12] and a book. Antares initiated ‘Magick River’, a “rainbow alliance of individuals with diverse talents to promote ecospiritual activities and community arts projects that involve the Temuan” (www.xlibris.de/magickriver/akarumbi.htm). Since the Selangor state government decided to build a 400 feet high dam across the Selangor river which will flood 600 hectares of rainforest , relocate two Temuan villages and destroy the Temuan sacred sites, ‘Magick River’ has become the centre of a national campaign to halt the project.

As part of the documentation project, Antares started a band called Akar Umbi which presented live renditions of the songs of Mak Minah Anggong, a Temuan ceremonial singer who lived in Kampung Orang Asli Pertak, a forest reserve a few miles outside KKB. Mak Minah Anggong was the lead singer of the group while Mak Awa, Mak Nai, and Mak Indah performed their traditional sacred songs on buloh limbong (pairs of bamboo instruments struck on a long block of wood). The Temuan women who sang in the Temuan language, were accompanied by other Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Eurasian musicians performing on guitars, keyboards, and percussion. According to Antares, the music “broke through traditional cultural barriers”[13]. Not only were the musicians multi-ethnic, the music that was created was “a funky musical fusion, a fusion of ethnic and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary, jungle and city”(personal communication, Antares, 23 Feb. 2002). In Hutan Manao (Akar Umbi ‘demo’, nd), for instance, Mak Minah sang in the Temuan language using the traditional style of singing with a narrow vocal tension. She was accompanied by the alternating rhythms of the buluh limbong, consisting of a longer lower-sounding tube known as ‘father’ and a shorter higher- pitched tube known as ‘mother’ which were both struck on a long block of wood. The two tubes were pitched approximately a minor third apart. Although the keyboard and electric guitars played western chords, they emphasized the minor 3rd interval and the rhythms of the bamboo stampers, thereby keeping harmony to a minimum[14].

Akar Umbi performed Hutan Manao live at the benefit concert for Bosnia at the Shah Alam Stadium on 16 September, 1994 and a series of other songs at the Second Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival (August 28 & 29, 1999). Since the Shah Alam concert which had an audience of 42,000 and was broadcast live on national television, Mak Minah has become a “cultural representative” for the marginalized orang asli community. Her songs portrayed the love indigenous peoples felt for the forest, river and mountains that surrounded them (www.xlibris.de/magickriver/minah.htm). Indirectly, Mak Minah’s songs advocated the cultural autonomy of the orang asli at a time when two Temuan villages were to be relocated and Temuan sacred sites and ancestral heartland flooded to make way for the Selangor Dam.[15]

Sungai Makao (River Makao) was a lyrical song with Minah Anggong on vocals; Rafique on acoustic guitar, and Antares on Balinese flute. Mak Minah sang about the Makao River which flowed through Pertak Village where she was born. The Temuan say that the Makao River has its source in Gunung Raja, the sared mountain, and regard it as the symbol of abundance and good health. Mak Minah incorporated into the lyrics a reproof against the destructive logging activities at the Temuan reserve.

Favourable responses to Mak Minah’s “soulful voice” and the Akar Umbi’s exciting brand of fusion inspired Antares and Rafique Rashid to make a CD of their songs. The two musicians also believed that “the Akar Umbi album was one sure way of helping the Temuan in particular and orang asli in general to feel a sense of pride in seeing one of their own become a singing celebrity… The overwhelming response of the crowd at the Shah Alam Stadium to Mak Minah’s singing has shown the Temuan that other people do value their traditions and believe there is much to learn from their culture” (personal communication, Antares, 23 Feb. 2002).

However, two days before she was scheduled to begin recording at a private studio, Mak Minah unexpectedly died on 21 September, 1999. Nevertheless, to pay a special tribute to Mak Minah and to share her passionate love for the rainforest with others, Antares and Rafique are assembling a CD of 10 tracks using whatever material that has been recorded at rehearsals and performances. The CD is entitled Songs of the Dragon as the dragon refers to Mak Minah’s clan lineage whose totem is the Naga (the spirit guardians of rivers). The tracks include traditional Temuan songs with contemporary musical arrangements as well as healing ritual songs (sawai) with buluh limbong accompaniment.

Songs of the Dragon is being produced the DIY way as majors would never even consider such an album. Some of the tracks such as Burung Meniyun were recorded by Rafique in his home studio, using a four track cassette, MIDI sequencers and a programmable drum machine. Other tracks featuring traditional bamboo ritual music (Raja Perahu) were recorded on a portable digital audio tape (DAT) during rehearsals at Antares’ house at KKB with a relaxed ambience. I am told that additional tracks featuring the voice of Awa Anak Lahai (sister of Mak Minah) will be recorded at a private studio.

Antares has been raising funds from friends and private funding agencies to pay for studio time, musicians and other aspects of album production. Distribution will be done mainly through the website and through friends in the music world. One can already download clips of 3 songs in MP3 format (Burung Meniyun, Hutan Manao, Sungai Makao) as well as get information about the Temuan, Akar Umbi, protests against the Selangor Dam Project from the ‘Magick River’ website.

Antares is determined to get the DIY CD out as it is a “promise” he made “to keep Mak Minah’s memory alive through her beautiful songs, and perhaps encourage the younger generation of orang asli to cherish and value their traditional songs”. By presenting the songs in a modern setting, he hopes to inspire younger Temuan to learn these songs and play them at weddings and other festivities. He continues to say that “in the event that the album does well commercially, there is still the hope of allocating a portion of the profits to setting up some sort of Mak Minah memorial fund to help young orang asli with athletic or music potential.” Antares is convinced that helping individuals achieve something in the field of culture and sports is the most effective way of raising the orang asli’s self–esteem. This is in contrast to the officers of the state Jabatan Orang Asli (Department for Orang Asli) who seem “obsessed with assimilating orang asli into modern Malay society by destroying their natural habitat and their spiritual links to the land,” Antares laments.


The motivations and activities of the three underground/independent music scenes described above are different. Heavy metal musicians oppose commercial mainstream pop. Through loud music, headbanging, and moshing, they respond to and rebel against certain forms of authority which deny them the right to express themselves. Electronica musicians want to create their own dance and ambient music for the clubbing scene. Akar Umbi’s mission is to promote and document orang asli culture which is being threatened by modernization and relocation as a result of dam construction. Nevertheless, they share common experiences –- they are unsigned by major labels; they face different degrees of harassment by government authorities; they are in some sort of opposition to mainstream dominant culture; they fight for the right to autonomy where musical creativity and production is concerned; they wish to create music that is free from the dictates of major labels and the government.

Underground or independent musicians continually bypass control by major labels and the government through the use of new electronic technology such as computers and suitable software, sequencers, samplers, drum machines, digital audio tape (DAT), and the recordable compact disc as well as earlier forms of communication such as cassettes, magazines, flyers, and live gigs. The combination of synthesizers, computers and relevant software has facilitated the growth of home studios where amateurs can create their own multi-track recordings. In particular, underground musicians have appropriated the internet to promote artistic freedom.

Unsigned musicians realize that they cannot find instant fame but they can find niche audiences worldwide by uploading their tracks onto sites such as MP3.com, emusic.com or Soundbuzz.com as well as their own websites without having to “make it big” or to follow the demands of a major recording company. Besides providing free downloads, Soundbuzz identifies the best five unsigned bands in the region every month and provides a platform for unsigned acts to get a wider international audience.

Many underground groups also distribute their albums through the net. Potential buyers are able to download some tracks from the individual websites as samples. Although most performers say they still sell more CD’s after gigs rather than through the Net, others like Amir Yusoff, a well-known unsigned alternative singer, is most positive about net distribution. His own albums Altered Native and Some of This is Real are available by mail order through his website www.ragtime.com.my. “He claims he would only have to sell one album to make the same amount of money that 15 albums would bring in if he was signed and distributed by a major label”. The Net also offers an avenue of overseas promotion for Malaysian artistes. “Through the Net, Amir averages 50 new fans a month who stumble upon the site, download the music out of curiosity and send off from locations as eclectic as Italy, India, and France to purchase his CDs”(MAS Inflight Magazine, Feb 2001).

Finally, the Net allows for speedy communication through web rings, web mailing lists as well as information about the latest musical products in other parts of the world. Musicians can build up their own contacts overseas without having to go through established national and private institutions. Local internet magazines (which do not require government publication licenses) provide information and reviews about underground gigs, albums, and musicians.

{wt} – heavy reading eh? even though some references in this paper are a little dated (not suprisingly) because this paper was first presented in 2002, it still remains relevant in terms of how “alternative” forms of music such as (black) metal is viewed. i find that depressing because there seems to have been no change is people’s perceptions. other (shorter) but just as interesting reads can be found here on boingboing.net and here on brandmalaysia.com


Hall, Stuart (1981). “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Popular’”. In Samuel, R. (1981), People’s History and Socialist Theory, pp. 227-40, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Negus, K. (1992). Producing Pop: Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry, London: Edward Arnold.

Shuker, R. (1994). Understanding Popular Music, London and New York: Routledge.

Tan Sooi Beng (1990). “The Performing Arts in Malaysia: State and Society”, Asian Music, XXI (1), Fall/Winter.

_____ (2000). “Musical Exotica and Nostalgia: ‘Localizing’ Malaysian Music Video in the 1990s”. Unpublished paper presented at the International Workshop on “Local Agency and Local Identity in Television: Comparative Perspectives on Media Content and Reception in Asia”, Cititel, Penang, May 13-14.

_____(2002). “Negotiating Identities: Reconstructing the ‘Local’ in Malaysia through World Beat”, Perfect Beat, 5 (4), January.

Wallis, R. and Malm, K. (1992). Media Policy and Music Activity, London and New York: Routledge.

Walser, R. (1992). Running with the Devil. Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music, Hanover, New Hampshire: Wesleyan University Press.

[1] This paper was presented at the International Conference on Media Practice and Performance Across Cultures, University of Wisconsin-Madison, March 14-17, 2002. I would like to thank the Media, Performance, and Identity Research Circle of the University for financial assistance to attend the conference.

[2] See Tan (1990) for an in depth discussion of laws (such as the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Police Act) which give authorities greater control over local and foreign performing arts and popular music respectively.

[3] Underground musicians and fans who share particular aesthetics form alliances which they refer to as ‘scenes’. In Malaysia, the heavy metal, dance and hip-hop scenes emerged in the 1990s.

[4] Although the metal scene is mainly Malay, Chinese and Indian youths who are anti-mainstream pop have also created their own rock and metal bands as well.

[5] Major labels usually sell their cassettes at RM 16 and CD’s at RM 40 each.

[6] As part of its efforts to create an industrial nation by 2020 (Vision 2020), the government is pushing for a computer literate society and has started computer labs in primary and secondary schools. It was estimated that there were 1 million users of the internet in Malaysia at the end of 1999 (ROTTW, 38, Dec. 1999). This included those who had accounts and those who used internet cafes in urban and rural areas.

[7] This site and many other heavy metal sites have been closed since the crackdown on black metal (see below).

[8] This is not new. Open-air rock concerts were banned in 1986 as the rockers were accused of ‘acting wildly’ and ‘not reflecting the code of ethics’ of the people (Tan: 1990). In 1999, punk music was excoriated for encouraging youths to dye and spike their hair and to spit at each other gigs.

[9] According to religious leaders, tattoos are not allowed in Islam.

[10] Although internet based media such as MP3.com is jammed with music of people of the world’s fledgling musicians sometimes just using a single keyboard to compose, there is also a lot of original content due to the lack of restrictions on who gets their stuff heard.

[11] The Temuan live in the states of Selangor, Pahang and Negri Sembilan. They speak the Temuan language and Malay. Many still depend on jungle products such as durian, petai, bamboo, and rotan for survival. The Temuan have great reverence for the mountains, rivers, and forest. They believe that rivers are guarded by dragons which will cause chaos if their homes are destroyed.

[12] The video, Guardians of the Forest, documents how the indigenous peoples of Malaysia are struggling to retain their ancient ways of life in a rapidly developing nation. The video focuses on the Temuan who are about to be displaced by the Selangor dam project.

[13] Information on Akar Umbi is mainly from personal communication with Antares and from his informative website http://www.xlibris.de/magickriver/akarumbi.htm).

[14] Analyses and examples of songs are based on a ‘demo’ CD of five tracks provided by Antares.

[15] Mak Minah opposed the building of the dam strongly. The Temuan believe that they were placed on earth to be guardians of the rainforest. Despite protests, work on the dam began in February 2000. Logging and rock blasting have begun but Temuan families living in Pertak and Gerachi have not been properly resettled.

  1. Hello! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

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