Dear people, and if your here then know that you are dear.
Its been a awesome year. Thank you to all the fantastic people we’ve met over the last 12 months, who we’ve played shows with, who have helped us in our projects, or who we have communicated with and perhaps have never met in the flesh. It has all been fantastic.
This year we managed to crack out 42 Assembly shows, several DSLB solo shows, a new music video, a couple of new recordings from Liverpool, a bunch of new songs as we work up to the new album, a new tape from this moniker called SquidBoat, and a carbon offset world tour!
So as the Gregorian Calender ends, and the next one is one the cusp of beginning, we wish you all a hale and hearty best wishes for a progressive, life enhanceing, creative and engaging new year.
Working towards a better future is a GOOD project!
See you all on the other side
SquidBoat – a new instrumental, solo project from the skirted stable. Reflections on deep south, blackest nights on a broad and expansive coast that one can almost see Antartica from.
out from Oreti
launch into the vast darkness
the greatest and
deepest southern basin
darkest of nights
from where even though
to see the place
where the horizon meets
beasts from the deep
there are no lights on the skyline
the only light is far
from beyond a billion miles
from the north
the tiniest of vessels
in a most expansive of space
there is no room for the little
even more is consumed
in a process of more
It’s been reported that this summer in Europe has been the hottest on record since records began. We were there at the start of it and it was stinking hot!
The Arctic and Amazon are both burning, and so is Kalimantan and Sumatra. Fires from the South East Asian region create a gargantuan cloud called the Haze, which has landed planes, closed schools, caused acute respiratory illnesses and granted several cities in the region the title of the Most Polluted on the Planet. We were there just weeks before and missed the haze, though the fires had probably been burning at that time.
We travelled towards Beijing by Bullet train and saw evidence of the massive replanting programme, where countless trees over hundreds of kilometers were feet first in the earth. China is one of two major global landmasses that is becoming more visibly green from space. We walked in streets silent of combustion engines, electric vehicles are everywhere and ordinary. We saw blue skies above Beijing.
We calculated our many journeys, the greatest distances often by plane, and felt accountable for our personally insignificant addition to the global carbon calamity. Its a conversation with many opinions. Many say its pointless, many say it’s the apocalypse. Heres how we decide what to do.
Hyperobjects is a phrase coined by Timothy Morton. Its a concept that helps to consider the role of these world-affecting phenomena “…that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium”. We’d would suggest that Humans-Traveling-In-Planes-All-At-Once-And-Over-All-Time is a Hyperobject. Small Me is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but add small me to the entity Humans-Moving-in-Planes monster and the contribution of ‘I’ becomes part of a greater force that then becomes significant to the grand scheme of all things.
Recognizing the negative impacts of flight its confounding that we still can’t deny to wanting a future where humanity remains able to travel widely. Travel as a human endeavor has ultimately enriched and benefited the human condition. Travel and exposure to the ‘other’ is mentally nutritious, a great teacher of tolerance, the recognition of shared-similarity such as the universal love of food, music, touch, color, art, adventure, access to things Wild, and the deep sensory satisfaction of being an active participant IN & OF the world. Travel helps to dismantle that toxic notion of ‘other’.
This argument in NO way attempts at all to negate the massive negatives that have unfolded as global travel expanded – the white supremacist advance of colonization, the massacre of countless human and non-human lives, the decimation of Primary Rain Forests, water ways and other diverse habitats for the exploitation, avarice or greed.
As we have done before [and here], we documented and discussed these plans with an organization called Ekos. “Ekos is a non-profit enterprise that develops carbon projects to grow and protect indigenous forests in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. ekos connects carbon offset buyers with these projects by measuring business and individual carbon footprints, supplying certified indigenous forest carbon offsets, and providing zero carbon certification. ekos carbon projects deliver climate resilience, waterways protection, erosion control, biodiversity protection and community economic development.”
We are pleased that our Orange Time tour has been certified as Carbon Friendly with ekos. We compiled the info about our flights (including radiative forcing) and we estimated the emissions relating to taxi and train travel. In total we offset 20.66 tCO2e with certified carbon credits. These ekos offsets grow and protect indigenous forests in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands and help to deliver climate resilience, waterways protection, erosion control, biodiversity conservation and community economic development.
This seems like a positive contribution, despite the personally tiny scale.
In no way are we suggesting that planting trees is enough. But equally, its not going to harm anything, and if done in significant number will make some impact to the overall carbon budget. It is but one strategy in the tactics of mitigation. The questions remains for now though on that hot topic of the continuity of contemporary civilizations and life – human AND non-human.
People who make stuff, sing, write or have access to any other platforms available have an ability to step into the flood of conversations that aim to inspire inertia. The recent deluge of abuse and digital shouting at Greta Thunburg is a perfect example. To use honed skill-sets and creativity to distract, redirect, refocus and reorientate conversations and narratives is a particular opportunity worth exploring. And if you have any sort of platform, perhaps an imperative. Say nothing and the right-wing, or left-wing, wackjob rhetoric thrives.
Some say Carbon offsetting is a scam. Maybe some aspects of it are, when its managed from a corporate agenda. But a bigger scam is the promoting the belief that doing nothing counts as something, often suggested from some lofty cynical pseudo-authority. Someone much smarter than us once said “By any means necessary”. A creative platform is simply one aspect in the Any Means available to us in the differing tool kit we have to use.
Our recent tour was called Orange Time. It’s also the name of one of our newer songs. The words riff on the idea that there is wisdom in paying attention to the obvious warning sign that surround us, in many different forms. And also the inherent foolishness of the act of avoidance of attentiveness. We are already practiced at observing a multitude of Orange signs, from road cones, traffic lights to the stop/go signs of construction workers. We just have to continue to keep an eye on that Orange ball.
All inside in the orange bright, can you feel the pressure.
Fair enough to feel the fear, we can call this air depression.
It’s a measure of your trust, present with this strangeness.
Struggle strange in troubled times and live with pending danger.
It’s all around and everywhere, a warning writ in orange light.
On all fronts and on all borders, burning into sight.
Hit the road and here we go, one way into orange time.
High-viz bright in white hi-beam, shine on warning signs.
That nearby near here danger looms. Or somewhere near here just from sight.
You think we should race the red? We gonna jump the line?
Uncertain is the only way. Certain has been compromised.
Somethings breathing on our neck, it’s the future of our lives.
Have you got the post-truth blues. Try post-natural selection.
Everything has signs of use, thanks uneven big H human.
Observe, record those bigger views, beauty scored for Mr Darwin.
Now digging wells, exhaustive fumes next to a rising plastic mountain.
Clingfilm wrapped the Holocene in carbon, and forever isotope.
The past has passed us like a dream. It seems the futures been rewrote.
Once green for go, was safe in green, now Orange warns of on the ropes.
Orange as Anthropocene, beyond the noisy Hollywood tropes.
Orange cones on slips and cliffs, there’s danger waiting if you stray.
Orange with a stop/go stick, the folk who stand and show the way.
Orange vests to float and drift, to ride upon a deepest wave.
Orange lines on bugs to make you sick, a lick of poison you might taste.
Orange hands wrapped round the helm with a captain’s worse than rabid drunk.
Orange flush but hint of flame, an orange sky has panics hush.
Orange rain to strip the skin. Orange ropes control the rush.
Orange lights on running red but we don’t seem to worry much
Have you got the post-truth Blues.
Under clouds that spell ‘Confused’.
Everything has signs of use.
Use-by-dates in question to.
Worldly-hurts a bitter prove.
Hold on tight though getting bruised.
In borrowed light of Orange Time
Hi-vis shines to guide you through.
We leave Nakano in the rain but elated with the opportunities we’ve encountered over the 12 weeks of touring Orange Time.
It has been an immense privilege and pleasure to encounter all the folk we met and hung out with,
all the folk we didn’t meet but had interactions with on-line when we were trying to sort additional shows;
all the fantastic and diverse sounds we heard and saw being made,
all the places that opened their doors to allow us to sleep;
all those people who returned and reconnected over the years from seeing its previously;
all the meals we shared and the help with finding food we could devour;
all the conversation and stories shared;
and to all those who came or to or showed for the first time, we love that enthusiasm is everywhere!
38 degrees outside as the air conditioned bullet train flies on concrete bridges over pools of green still water on the way to Wuhan.We have just played one show in Guangzhou and a second in Shenzhen, China. It’s been an intense few days with little space to sit and collate thoughts. Several hours on a high speed train seems like a perfect opportunity.
After landing in Guangzhou we reconnect with Howie who we met last time we were here. Then he played guitar in the great Die Chiwawa Die, now he’s playing in a new intense band called People’s Square. The singer comes from Vladivostok. It seems there is quite a contingent here from across the Russian states working in areas such as engineering. The venue, Brasston, looks upmarket, serving craft beers inside the tidy space. It’s not an official livehouse so manages to slip under the radar of State authorities, for now. The aesthetic of this venue gives the music of People’s Square even greater contrast. Loud, fast grindcore with the singer in a hyperactive frenzy. It’s a lot of fun!
The following day we go to Shenzhen, a city close to the border with Hong Kong. It’s reported that Shenzhen is one of the fastest growing cities on Earth. 40 years ago there was nothing other than rural life and rice paddies. Now it’s a massive, and still expanding metropolis. Our show is at the Brown Sugar Jar, a venue located in the part of the city where shopping complexes full of musical instruments can be found. We play with a local garage punk group called Help. A three-piece comprised of two lads from Russia and Anne, a fantastic bass player with an eye patch from an injured eye. The evening starts a little slow but the bar has a decent crowd by the time the evening is done. We return to Guangzhou for a couple of rest days before heading inland to Wuhan.
One big learning curve has been working out how to get the most out of the tech we carry. Inside China, Facebook and Google are inaccessible. Google translate is a great tool, as well as maps, so learning to navigate without them is a solid process all of its own. WeChat is the powerful social media app in China, and it now contains a decent translation from text and basic but unhelpful and often comic translation from photos. Some apps like Happy Cow continue to work, making seeking out vegetarian and vegan food possible, but if you are traveling with an android phone make sure you install a good maps option to use instead of Google’s.
Staying in touch with world events is also a challenge. It’s also possible to read Chinese-based news articles inside WeChat, and so we read some of the Chinese media agencies reportage of Hong Kong. The slant was of foreign interference influencing the agitation, always called HK as Hong Kong Administrative Zone – making it seem a simple bureaucratic process rather than dealing with a state wanting self determination. We never saw any imagery of the massive protests that we had seen outside of China- it’s possible here have no idea how huge the demonstrations are. In addition we saw no reports of international advocacy or calls of restraint of those in power. In one conversation local opinion was that the rest of the world was ignoring the developing tensions, we were able to convey a different perspective.
What was totally obvious and ever-present in almost all discussions was the monitoring of communication from the State, and the very real repercussions that were swiftly meted out. We heard a story of a person who made a one worded criticism of the president that he added to 3 photos he shared with friends. It was shared digitally, found online and now they are now incarcerated for three years. Another was imprisoned for a decade. He was picked up in Hong Kong in an area away from the protests with 10 lazer pointers in his pocket. People knew tanks were gathering at the Hong Kong border. Friends in both regions have different opinions – one is pro-HK, the other says HK had always been a part of China and thinks it’s OK that it returns. There is worry on both sides, and a sense of pessimism of any notion of a positive outcome.
And we can feel this pervasive self-censorship take hold. There’s an open acknowledgement of the precariousness of being foreign here, stories of immediate deportation, of regular operations of police targeting bars and enforcing urine drug screening – to be caught with a positive test is instant five days in jail and then immediate deportation. These stories are everywhere, and we’re told it’s getting tougher. Historically there would be periods of clamp-downs but then it would loosen up. These current clamp-downs started about three years ago and have not eased.
We watch what we say. We watch what we write. We want to avoid trouble, but importantly we also want to avoid trouble for those that live here after we leave.
Some of the foreigners who live here are planning “it’s time to leave China” strategies, others do not have that option.
Our schedule changes so we have to cancel and rebook trains, make alterations to accommodation and juggle our self-management. Doing things like washing clothes needs to be scheduled to avoid become a toxic pong zone.
We arrive into Wuhan a day prior to our show. Wuhan is an Oven City, literally, it’s that hot. Every pore proves it’s porousness, a city is washed in sweat. There is a breeze which feels cooler, is it wind from the turbulent sky or the butterfly effect from one million hand fans fanning to cool one million people in unison? Wuhan is a beautiful city that seems to be built around a large lake at its heart. Moisture had to settle somewhere.
We make plans to go out into the day but after food exhaustion makes itself known, we pass the heat of the day in deep sleep prior to our show in the evening. As we leave, the weather turns wet. You could say the air smells like metal before the lightening strikes, but honestly it doesn’t. The air smells of many things in Wuhan – sweetness, heat, decay, and fruit. The thunder rolls, the air is close, the percussion of raindrops striking so many differing surfaces is beautiful. Wrapped in makeshift rainwear we flag down a taxi.
The traffic here moves differently, in massive contrast to the looseness of Yogyakarta. In Yogya there seems a fluidity to the mass of movement like scholl’s of fish. Here it’s less obvious, more angular, more assertive. It’s a unique kind of mayhem.
The venue we play is called Wuhan Prision, a below-pavement bar that has existed for 10 years and is known for its punk shows. The venue is dark and heavily stickered, and the people are wonderful and supportive. We play with PLC, a guitar/bass/drums trio who play spontaneous, instrumental and spaciously pulsing tunes. On drums is the guy who sings in the local band Panic Worm who we played with last time we were here.
The next day we rise extra early to get across the city to catch the fast train to Beijing.
Moving across the country towards Beijing on a bullet train, we view the ongoing expansion of China’s massive infrastructure. Hundreds, if not thousands, of tower cranes collect in gangs of a dozen or so over the foundations and rising nests of half-built apartment blocks in mind-bending numbers. Not only is so much of this countries population going to live in the sky, there is massive subterranean construction happening in parallel underground. Gargantuan machines eat away holes in the Earth to create connecting tunnels from Hong Kong to Shenzen to Guangzhou. Will the future of China be inhabited by sky people, people of the lands and people of the tunnels?
Deep into the journey we pass an agricultural region. Startling are mile upon mile of trees, saplings in the tens of thousands, seemingly planted into every available location. The sky is grey from smog and any blue is unable to penetrate. In all the contradictions an outsider might perceive about China one thing is that it certainly appears to have a proactive approach to climate collapse mitigation. We’re told all the public transport in Guangzhou is electric as well as all the scooters and taxis, and about 50% of personal cars are also electric.
In Beijing we stay close to the Yonghegong train line. This is an area of hutongs, maze-like neighborhoods that are intimately linked, alleys one car in width with a little extra room for bikes and pedestrians. The hutongs area are getting a uniform facelift in flat brick with occasional colorful details on the trim. There are many construction sites as the once ramshackle and aging exteriors are all receiving makeovers in preparation for the 2022 Olympic games. It had a aesthetically flattening effect.
We have three shows in the three main rock bars in Beijing: DDC, Temple Bar and School Bar. DDC is the youngest of the three, offers craft beer and has a strong hip aesthetic. This show was on the same day as we arrived from Yogyakarta so was a test of endurance and energy but we played a stonker. After the show we took all our gear to Temple Bar to store in anticipation of the second show. Temple is a thumping pub that caters to both locals and foreigners. We are told that the number of locals showing up has rapidly increased in response to TV show akin to Battle of thr Bands. Going up to see bands is now a hip thing to do. The night eventually ends with a ride home in the coolest chrome Tuktuk-like three wheeled enclosed vehicle, a service run by a bloke called Old Man.
Second show at Temple was as expected – raucous and enthusiastic. A little rest can certainly return a lot of steam to the motor. Played with two other local acts. The final performance was heavy dance music by the active manipulation of seven gameboys.
The final show for Beijing is at School Bar, the longest running venue for punk-styled shows. We finally get to see our friend’s band, a surf punk quartet, play. We are immensely grateful for the sterling job of organising done by these folk. Again three bands, a local punk trio, the surf rock group and us. It’s a hot and boisterous party. We love it when the audience feels right there with us, the division of stage and crowd disappears and it becomes a joyous hoot!
Our costumes have continued to generate interest and conversation. Orange is a important colour of warning and danger, of alerting you of impending hazards and pitfalls. In conversations here in China we’re told that the people who wear the orange, who are seen everywhere with brooms made of branches and grasses, collecting rubbish or other such tasks, who are identified by their hi-viz two-piece orange jacket and pants outfit, are considered by many to be the lowest-of-the-low. It’s very interesting that people have made those connections with our outfit, that it creates a symbolic confusion or challenge with these identifying markers.
All power to the Orange wearers!
The city is alive.
It roars with many voices. It roars with the peristaltic surge of scooters like sparrows swimming like fish in a flock. At peak times the deep belly growl IS the environment. It is a thing!
The city is impossible to digest, easy to feel consumed when traveling with a more timid disposition.The city eats. The background speakers of midnight street-side eateries play gamelan and grindcore. It knibbles at your skin with the sawing tickle of the Indonesian mosquito. Pray the demon Dengue is not near by. Anoint yourself with the ointment of protection of Saint DEET.
The city is haunted. He says he can only sleep after the half four morning prayer as that’s when the ghosts in the night settle. He has two rooms at home. In one, the light has been on since the earth tore 13 years ago, never turned off, never changed, it is as a bulb possessed, a lit messenger. He doesn’t go into that room any more. It is inhabited by ghosts. He could do something about it but seems content to let them be. The bigger concern is the lingering spirit of the baby found dead on the river out the back of his house the day before. Spirits dwell in the curve of the river, attention must be paid for seven days. Animism is alive and thriving alongside Islam.
The city has a temperature. It is dry, unlike its’ humid siblings to the north. The city may be indifferent to us, it is impossible to reciprocate that sentiment.
This is the first 24 hours in Yogyakarta.
It’s been about 10 years since we were last here. And this part of the trip seems too squeezed. There are areas we want to visit but cannot due to time constraints. Our schedule here is four nights: Two concerts and Chrissie presenting a talk on drawing and zines at Kunci, a local independent centre for cultural studies. First we meet with Indra, our now long time friend from our first trip here 13 or 14 years ago. He’s waiting for us at the airport. We flew in from Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur where we slept over night in a pod. Uber seems to be dying in this region, it was the main app-based taxi service in the Peninsula last time we were here. Now it’s Grab. Here in Yogyakarta it’s Go-jak. An O-jak was old style tuk-tuk, often 3 wheels, that people used for cheap transport. Go-Jak is the app-based update.
Where we sleep for the next three nights is in a shared collective house that’s in the process of decanting all items into a new house several doors down. The house is also behind a very fine coffee shop, making brews from many local beans, this is something of a developing phenomenon akin to hip coffee bars back home. On the first night however, our host Indra’s band, Narcolocos, are playing at the bar we will play at in a couple of days. So we head off for an evening of Yogya-style grindcore. It’s a large turn out on a Monday night for the 7-band line up. LeftyFish start the night with a ripping complex style that mixes smooth soul, J-pop, jazz breaks interspersed in the brutal technical frenzy. Particularly good. The rest is wave-on-wave of intensity. We leave at 1am and grab food at a road side stall before collapsing for the night after a ride home on the back of scooters.
The following day friends have organized for Chrissie to give a talk. The venue is Kunci, a local independently organised center for cultural studies that focuses in the curation of zines and independent publications. We’re told that the first local zines were in the late 60s, early 70s and concentrated on queer rights. 15 people hang out and draw with Chrissie. The discussion moves around alot but central topics are the power of drawing as a medium anyone can access share stories, the value of making things with your hands, and documenting hidden or untold stoiries through zines. Chrissie also introduces people to the great work of New York comic artist, Lynda Barry.
Next day we take ourselves out for a walk on the streets of Yogyakarta while we look for the art gallery that is holding the ArtJog exhibition. Funnily enough we have seen an ArtJog exhibition on a previous tour. This exhibition presents bold and challenging works. This time the presentations focus on the concept of “spaces” and particularly the impact of human control. We also notice a continous thread related to gender identity and conversations on religious enticements which coincidentally had featured in a few recent personal conversations. Later we prepare ourselves for our show, return to the venue with all we require, and settle in for another night of seven bands. The music ranges from indy-pop, shoegaze, the Semarang punk of Rendam, who we will get to play with again, and an industrial group equipped with a skillsaw or some other kind of construction/destruction equipment. Alcohol is very expensive here. But cheap alcohol is brewed locally and is shared in the shadows, the quality of alcohol from pleasant to harsh to lethal. Evidence of intoxication is obvious as we have to dodge the splattering of fresh vomit on stage as we set up to play. The evening is a joyous ruckus, it’s intense and immense fun here. A hidden highlight of the show was being invited to get changed in the living space of the owner of the bar. We painted up perched at the end of the dining table and then waited to go on in the venure kitchen.
Next morning we catch a train to Klatan for our second show stopping first at the train station for brilliant breakfast of tempeh, chili, rice and greens. The train trip is only three stops, 40 minutes, but Klatan seems a world away from Yogyakarta; quieter, less frantic, buildings with more color and more greenery everywhere. Klatan is famous for its springs of fresh water, in fact much of the bottled water that is brought for drinking comes from these springs. But in addition to the water siphoned for sale there are also the swimming springs! Our first port of call therefore is to the springs for a swim, a most unexpected moist treat. The band Rendam arrive at the house we are staying at where they instruct us on how to drink the local alcohol. In fact they are touring with a special brew from Semarang as part of their merch. Tonight’s show is held at a local university in an open foyer-like area. There are four bands, a local skinhead/oi band doing 4-Skins covers, another local act playing more ska-inspired original songs, Rendam with their three-piece punk rock and us. What’s particularly nice about this show is that after the performance there is a planned discussion held with the bands and audience. All sitting in a circle, the performers are asked to discuss their process for song writing, their creative process and any other points of interest that anyone may have interest to explore. It all wraps up and we head off for a few hours sleep before returning to the airport.
Thankyou Yogyakjarta for an awesome stay. Extra special ups to Indra, so good to hang out once more. And now to Guangzhou, China.
Sitting in the roof top bar with a jug of Tiger overlooking the Sulu sea we discussed the events of three years prior when local pirates kidnapped two people dining at a local restaurant. We learn later that the woman was released after a large ransom was paid. The man’s fate was not so lucky with a brutal decapitation giving the story a horrific twist.We’re told people have been leaving the eastern coastal city of Sandakan in fear. There are streets of shuttered shop fronts and shops absent of commerce, clientele or shop keepers. At one point it’s described as a ghost town. The city that was once modeled on an era of beautiful Hong Kong architecture is now looking dilapidated and deserted in many parts.Pirates are bad for the economy, but their presence create unexpected positive consequences for the environment: there’s less industrial fishing which helps increase the local aqua biodiversity and there’s is less tourism which means less developments into forested spaces.We also get to meet some folk who despite all the odds have a vision for a rejuvenated city. The Forever Sabah crew are a force of nature in their own right and we wish them continued success in their projects.
This is our first night in this city of Sandakan. With good friends we mark our first visit to the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Sabah is one of three countries that make up the collective state Malaysia. It seems there’s a prevailing political, and maybe social idea that Malaysia is singularly the Malayan peninsula, ignoring both Sabah and Sarawak. Or that peninsula Malaysia delivers itself preferential treatment or penalises the other two territories. We’re told Sabah was withheld ALL state-allocated funds for nine years when it refused to turn pristine primary rainforest into an open cast mine. Also 95% of all profit from oil and gas ends up in peninsula Malaysia with only about 5% returned to Sabah to maintain infrastructure.During those nine years there was major deforestation to simply sustain the country. Now much of that land is planted in Palm Oil trees which proves for interesting and complex conversations.Palm oil has a bad name. It is also one of this country’s major industries. Prior to palm it was acacia and rubber trees. Internationally palm is condemned, among other things, for the destruction of livable environments for orangutan. Local orangutan experts suggest that view is not entirely accurate as Orangutan can live in Palm, and it has it’s own integrated ecology and biodiversity. In addition we discuss how Palm is an alternative to fossil fuel and is possibly a significantly cleaner fuel source than oil. We are also told that the acquisition of palm ranches by corporates seem to have ceased and instead small holding/family crops are being planted to create incomes. Observing the shade produced by these huge trees it’s hard to imagine Palm Oil production as more destructive and harmful to the environment than the bare, parched paddocks back home stripped for the production of cattle. Palm’s not without it’s negative impacts for sure, but it’s apparent it’s a highly complex conversation with many nuances. It’s easy to take a moral position from an international level but if sustainable solutions are not considered, identified and supported in partnership with local communities then is not much more than moral grandstanding.
We land in Kota Kinabalu, the country’s capital, and leave early next morning for Sandakan. It’s 6-7 hours drive east to the coast through beautiful rainforest and past Mt Kinabalu, the highest peak on the island which is full of legends and ghosts attached to old lore, it is a place with seven heavens and one hell. After many hours of forest the road weaves its’ way through mile on mile of Palm oil. The back seat of the 4WD feels like a fairground ride, as the constant jolts and judders rearrange our spines.
The first few days for us are rest days. We spend one checking out Sun bears and Orangutan in local rehabilitation centers. The animals in both these centers have been rescued from poor conditions and captivity. The goal of the center’s is to rehabilitate them back to living in the wild. In fact the back of the orangutan center has no back fence, it opened directly onto the rainforest which means the apes decide when to leave. We also learn about a Human/Elephant Conflict Resolution program being run by a lock NGO that works to find ways to manage Pygmy Elephant, once their habitat has been destroyed, and humans, who have both destroyed said habitat AND then had their habitats invaded by said pygmy elephants.We travel into the mountains, visit temples, eat taro ice creams, get to go behind the scenes at the amazing insect department at the Rainforest Research Center and catch a glimpse of the massive and sometimes gargantuan insect biodiversity that calls this place home. We visit food courts, derelict buildings, watch skilled hands opening of the insect- looking durian and sample it’s sinewy flesh. We also get to visit to a water village. Communities built on stilts and floating platforms above the continuously calm bay. Here people make their livelihood from the sea and trade with the plains people and mountain folk. The result, the melding and merging of distinct cultural practices and traditions at markets and on street corners.
The following day we spend a full 12 hours inside the rain forest enjoying the canopy on walkways and towers to 50 meters above the ground. The forest is full of fruit after an explosive mast year, an extreme flowering which happens between every 5-10 years. We take a night tour when different species come awake seeing flying squirrels, slow loris, giant ants and luminescent beetles.Not bad for quiet days of rest!We return to the west coast were we stop in at a studio where our friend I-Lann is working with local women weavers to create a massive 16 metre mat to be hung in the Singapore art gallery. A truly impressive work which aims to make visible hidden voices and untold stories.From there we go onto Keningau, first we meet another amazing women, Mami Ita, friend of I-Lann’s and our host for the evening. Then we head to Nosebleed Garage, our venue for the next show. It’s about 20 minutes east of Keningau, in a small and beautiful kampong where we are welcomed by many cows occupying the road.Nosebleed Garage is in an abandoned shop on the main street of the village which has been repurposed by local youth as a DIY punk inspired space housing a performance/practice space, a small distro shop and an exhibition space for people to show their creative expressions. We’re told it has the consent of the village elders, who although may not like the grindcore or punk music, appreciate the space as a positive addition to the kampong for it’s young people. We meet the mother of the show organizer who was welcomed and included in all the evening’s events. The bands are enthusiastic in their performances, from a Nirvana cover’s band to an atmospheric and sonic post-punk outfit. The audience is supportive and engaged. We have the best time! Venues like this, self-initiated, organized and managed, are majorly inspiring examples of self organisation, learning as you go and lifting up those around as you go.
Next day we head back to the capital Kota Kinabalu for our 2nd show in Sabah. The afternoon is quiet. Rambutan are attentively scoffed. The venue, MarsKK, which is about to celebrate its 1st year anniversary, is located over two floors. An internal performance space and a rooftop bar. It’s a festive night and an interesting line up with two bands who have come to KK from Brunei. There are no venues for assertive bands in Brunei, the main place to play is often house parties. The music spans from Blink covers to nu-metal like compositions. Was a real pleasure to meet these crews and find out more about this different circumstances in which people live.
A massive thanks to I-lann and Joe for encouragement to come and visit Sabah. Such a beautiful opportunity that we’re so happy that we took it! Not as much rest as required but certainly a nutritious experience, that’s rejuvenating! And who knew Sabah had the best roundabouts in the world!!
When working without a promoter, who might handle all details relating to a show like accommodation, equipment, money or any other detail, we are required to have these conversations each time with individuals directly involved in the organizing. This is a constant shifting navigation, an act of negotiating similar but differing terrains.
This act of renavigating plans has been something of a significant consideration during this trip. The navigation of personal expectations of tour planning are confronted by the reality of the personal lives we interact with in this project. If this was simply a promoted tour it’s highly possible would would miss many of these meaningful, learning and sometimes humbling moments.
Tragedy and challenge are part of the human experience. On this trip illness and loss of life have been regular companions. Two good people that we have worked with previously, have both died this year. These are saddening losses for their individual communities. For us this has created planning challenges but our needs are not paramount at these times.
Hopes and expectations also have their own terrain. Not all negotiation delivers on desires. We spend our last days in the UK quietly as all the hunting for shows for the final weekend came to nought. But often a door closed opens another and we managed to see the most brilliant Bob Drake perform in Brighton. And as written in the previous entry the experience of the random networking of unknown people pitching in to help out was worth the experience.
We leave the ‘western’ world and head east to Thailand to reconnect with an old friend from Tenzenmen records who now lives in Chiang Rei. We explored the option of a show here in the far north but a lack of established venues or cohesive community of oddball music makers was not available. There are rumblings of ideas and plans which sound potentially exciting, so we wish them well for these future projects. During days off we learn about local superstitions, are informed to be wary of biting ants and snakes in the grass, and acclimatise ourselves to moving around in the local heat.
Traveling south to Chiang Mai we take part in a show with two local acts. We find out about the challenges of navigating the running of shows in this area, compounded by a lack of venues, frequent sound problems in gentrifying areas, and police raids. Our night though is without any of these dramas and it seems a good time is had all round. Next to Bangkok. We play in a small venue called Jam, a space that seems receptive to noisy shows and stylings in addition to hosting the more experimental of events. The show we play has been curated for diversity with performances from free improvised harsh noise, the psychedelic solo guitar of Mitsuru Tabata (of Acid Mother’s Temple and Zeni Geva), the loose, sludgy and raucous sounds of Yoga from Hell, us and then the local punk legends Lowfat. A sonically fantastic night.
We move south again to Kuala Lumpur. Again the importance of everyday realities influences and supersedes the priorities of touring and plans adjust and evolve.
The show we do play is cracking! It is held in a studio space on the KL/Selangor boundary. The lineup is ourselves with four grindcore bands, two of them coming from Semarang, Indonesia. Especially wonderful to reconnect with so many people who had seen us play before on previous tours. It was a bit of a first to have so much recollection of memories and brilliant to still see so many ordinarily continuing to be musically active in their own way across the years.
Another navigation of consideration while we travel is the climate. Everywhere we go there are frequent conversations about the changing weather patterns. Central Europe is in the grip of a massive heatwave with the hottest temperatures ever recorded. Chiang Rei should be in its rainy season but it is dry with only one day’s rain in months. Flying to Chiang Rei the dry brown of the rice paddies blanket the ground. The irony of our participation in these events with all these flights is not lost. We hear an interesting fact (unable to verify) that at any given moment 1,000,000 people are in the air moving around the globe. Each time we travel we offset the carbon with Ekos but that doesn’t negate the placing of carbon in the atomosphere in the first place. There are new gargantuan airports being built in China, as well as Chiang Mai, extension’s in Bangkok and elsewhere. The industry doesn’t seem to be slowing. Conversely travel is good for humans, it’s an opportunity to learn, expand understanding, learn tolerance and solidarity for other human behaviors, activities and practices.
We are all navigating this mine field together, but not equally. Many will feel the sharp end of this crisis before others. The urgency is here.
We depart KL with our dear friend Joe Kidd heading to the Malaysian country of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, for a few days planned rest and exploring before playing again.