Malaysia and Singapore: the last ports
This is it. Awake on the last morning of this eight week tour. Sleep was hard to hold due to the heat, the mosquito bites and the impending departure. But we are here and this day is this day.
The sounds of a waking Bangsar street start with the continuous swishing of the overhead electric fans disturbing the still and close heat. Each motor sounds slightly different when you focus on them individually. Next is the increasing traffic sounds, so far it’s only bikes and cars. As the traffic jams gather nearby, our street becomes a quick relese valve for the congestion. But it’s not that busy yet. There are unrecognisable bird calls. Bird song of quick staccato, of single middle-ranged notes rising and twittering. There’s a dog next door that is silent for now. It found its’ voice earlier on in the night.
Slowly the light fades away the darkness and the trees outside the window take shape revealing their tropical forms. The mosquitos are silent until right in your ear. The four cats indoors have yet to stir. Where we sleep is surrounded by books, of art of the region and abroad, of politics and punk rock, of art history from Malaya, songs from Sabah, of inquiry and exploration. The education is rich when you find people who do not accept simple answers. Where we can contemplate a region that is so close to our home, but so unknown. These journeys are personally enhancing. We are aware of the privilege we carry, and value the opportunity to locate and erode our coastlines of ignorance. We wake into our last morning.
The way we leave England is extraordinary and absolutely unforeseen. It becomes the perfect distraction/transition to the final leg of the tour. We were given the opportunity to stay in the House for Essex, the Living Architecture building in Wrabness designed inside and out by the amazing english artist Grayson Perry. This option became available as Chrissie’s sister had entered a ballot to stay in the house, unbeknown to us, and we were the succesful recipients. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We are both fans of Perry’s work. He became known to us when we heard the story of a transvestite potter wining the highly regarded Turner Award. It was the first time the award had been given to a potter, a crafts person, rather than a fine-arts practitioner. And it was also the first time the prize had been awarded to a flambouyant cross-dresser.
The House for Essex stands alone in a field at the end of a lane. The only access we have had to Perry’s work to date is via the print medium, never seen in the flesh, or clay, and here we were under his skirting boards. The house in total is the artwork, the entire conceptual work, from the shape and flow of the house, the details of clay tiles and colours, the installed artworks, and the collections of cds and books all are considered as part of the overarching narative of making a secular shrine to the ordinary life of an ordinary, and imagined, woman from Essex. It’s brilliant.
On the last morning we rise at 3am. We need to make our way to Heathrow airport for check-in at 7am. Leaving the house and locking the door behind us, we make our way through the black, fogless dawn towards the city lights. We leave rural countryside, then megacity London, then the hemisphere as we make our way to Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia.
We left in the morning, and arrived in the morning. We effectively lost a night somewhere, and with that we lost a sleep as well. It was about 0 degrees when we left the UK. In KL we arrive to 26 degree, a dramatic difference.
We catch the express train from the airport to KL Sentral terminal. There we reconnect with our good friend Joe Kidd. We will be staying with him till we depart KL.
We catch a cab across town. We strip of our autumnal dress from the UK into something more appropriate to the heat, and start the regular process of rehydrating from equatorial perspiration. The heat is so close. The place smells of the humid environment. What this heat and humidity does to bodies, the soil, the bacteria all goes into the complex smell that becomes the smell of South east Asia. It’s welcoming.
We arrive home to Joe’s and go to eat straight away at one of the local Indian vegetarian cafes just across rhe road from the house. Amazing choices and extremely delicious. The food induces sleep.We grab a good nap to re-energize in preparation for the show tonight.
Waking we reorganise our luggage so we have less to cart across town. A friend of Joe’s arrives and supplies a large bag of homegrown Rambutan, a delicious fruit with a soft and spiney outer casing. The fruit is demolished, and we’re ready to go.
We taxi to the venue called Rumah Api (Rumah means house, Api means fire). The venue was named after it suffered an arson attack from far-right wing boneheads years ago. The venue stood strong and resilient. We played Rumah Api on our last tour here in 2011 as well. It is patently obvious from the outset that our costumes could not be more inappropriate for the conditions, woollen jackets, dark suits, tiny room, high humidity and energetic activity.
The show is already cranking when we arrive, we are performing fourth in a line up of six bands, predominantly hardcore styles. The bands appear to be among friends, some audience sings along to some tunes inbetween the sporadic explosions of dancing that look like a gathering of windmills in attendence of a fight club. It’s all legs kicking and arms being swung wildly in wide circular motions. It’s really reminiscent of the old parade style dancing of the 50’s where an individual will take centre floor to show off a personal adaption of their dance move to the observations of others.
We prepare in the back room and the sweat is already dripping with zero exertion Activity will only make the flow torrential. This idea proves true as we set up on stage. It’s not usually a problem till the make up runs into your eyes. Then the stinging starts. The white paint produces a clouding effect as a film of white paint covers the eye ball.
We don’t play hardcore so those frantic dancemoves are absent during our set but they remain antentive trying to figure out what’s going on. Others have got it and can be spotted grinning away and dancing individually to our joyful awkwardness. It is a drenching event, and fighting back the jetlag, the show feels absolutely satisfying.
We finish then dismantle our set up, and get engaged in multiple conversations with locals who have questions about what they’ve just seen. In our experience this is a practice particular to south east asian audiences. Elsewhere we are usually approached for the most part by individuals. Here it’s almost always by a group who want to talk or take photos.
We leave as the last band is completing it’s set. We make our way across KL to bed. There’s not many hours before we have to rise again to catch the early morning bus to Singapore.
Four hours sleep before the alarm goes off. Our costumes were hung up to dry after being sodden after the show. It’s a gross feeling if they are still damp like pulling on wet knickers. Fortunately they are bone dry. We leave the house and walk the fifteen minutes in the dawn to the bus stop and check in. Thankfully there’s time for roti chennai before departure. Today is Chrissie’s birthday.
The journey takes about five hours. The passport control is swift as we cross into Singaporean teritory around midday. From the terminal we catch a taxi into the Indian quarter where L Cube, the venue, is located. However the advertised name for tonight’s show is the Hellcube. L cube is a local rehersal space that also hosts occasional small shows. We meet Rei on reception. She’s super helpful at helping us settle, directing us to good food, and sorting a space for us to nap while we wait for our organiser and friend, Shaiful, to arrive.
It’s been nine years since we last saw Shaiful, we missed him on our last trip to Singapore. While we’re waiting a bloke called Stevphen from the UK arrives for the show. We met him a few days ago at our last show in the UK and an odd set of circumstances means he also happens to be in Singapore at the same time. He also knows Shaiful, but only via the internet. This will be their first face to face. And then Shaiful’s face walks through the door. We reconnect with a short walk to a nearby food court before returning back to L Cube in preparation for the show.
Shaiful is performing in the first band, and this is their debut show. They also have the best band name – Frog and Potato Warfare. The set is swift, rawkus punk rock but with an major intention to create fun and lift the life of the show from the outset. Band members change instruments, activities are organized as part of the show like a ballon and ball war, where soft projectiles are dispensed and everyone is a target. There is no barrier between the band and the audience. It is a delightful riot.
The next group is Indecixive, a tight, confident Singapore thrash band. Again, we only hear them as we are away getting changed, but their sound is robust and unrelenting, and the aftermath of their performance leaves a sweaty crowd who appeared to have behaved quite energetically.
Our turn. Our last show. The gear is solid, the drums are at the front of the stage, and we let rip. There will be no other opportunity for a night like this. The audience is close, but we egg them on to get closer, entice them onto the stage with us. And it’s great. Warm environmentally and receptively, goony dancing, and a room full of grinning. A conga line forms on stage and dives into the bodies of the front row. It’s a perfect ending. Shaiful comes on stage to wrap things up but first sings, and gets the audience to sing with him, a happy birthday tune to Chrissie, ala Singapore punk rock style. Perfect.
The crowds leave slowly, conversations are had, people linger and follow as we leave L Cube in search of a late night feed and beer, more good byes at traffic lights, and then we find a place to drink in an area where prohibition is not enforced. An alcohol ban is in place in the Indian quarter after the riot that happened about 3 years ago. It seems that rather than admit that there’s an issue that needs addressing, that there’s a dissatisfaction among some members of some populations, the authorities simply enforced this race-based liquor ban. However, the liquor ban doesn’t extend to across the road so it’s an easy regulation to get around. We go and find sleep. Waking the next day, we retrace our steps back to KL for a few days hanging out before flying back to Aotearoa.
For all intents and purposes, the tour has officially ended. It has been a truly remarkable time-out-of-time experience. Spanning eight countries, playing 22 shows, meeting many new people and having the opportunity to talk and learn and discover.
We have an immense gratitude to everyone that has helped us on this trip, in what ever capacity. We hope that appreciation has been conveyed wherever we have gone, and across all languages despite our ability to directly covey our thanks. It is remarkably inspiring to see so much activity, community building, community nurturing and developing, spaces being made for potentials to play, spaces being made for explorations despite whatever impositions authorities impose, connections across great distances being made and ongoing support offered to each others endeavours.
We have witnessed time and time again the belligerent optimism of creative making. We’re thankful for all the precious opportunities to touch and taste and be immersed in these things happening. Keep going.
But for now, for us, It’s all over.