Escape from Dongbei : A trek for noise in S.E. Asia.
I hate to say it, but life is fairly easy for me up in N.E. China. It feels stupid and shitty to be so comfortable during such tumultuous times. However, that's just the way it has rolled out for me. Working my ass off on a lot of fronts feels really good. I have begun to understand that some things are just going to take a little more time than I'd like, and that's okay. That's life. I get paid decently well, am throwing large chunks of money at debt for the first time in a decade. I have free time to finish a Bachelor's Degree and continue to work on this project. I like my job. Sure, Dongbei can be a bit grating sometimes, but for now, it's home. Having the privilege to travel is another large benefit to taking up this lifestyle. Though we have lined up some gigs in Heilongjiang, there is largely, nothing happening up here on a regular basis. We have an upcoming rager with Changchun noise heads. See the previous blog post for more information, if you're so inclined. That said, I really miss a consistent noisier end of things. I decided to take an extended Spring Festival holiday and head back to some of my favorite places. Check out a few new spots. Do everything I could to drench myself in as much art and music as possible. This is how it went.
First up : food. Night one in Kuala Lumpur. No hassles getting everything started at the airport. Data SIM, money, train into town. Easy, and all done with a smile. It's hot out. I laugh, as I haven't been this warm in a long time. Midnight by now. If you look at a few dozen lists of where to eat in KL, there are a few places that stick on every one, and that's the chicken wings at Wong Ah Wah, on Jalan Alor, a popular street food spot. I love a good Char Kway Teow, but these people, they're not wrong. After fifteen hours of travel, I limp to the end of the food street. Surprisingly, it's half empty. These wings are spectacular. Impossibly crispy. Try to go during non-peak hours. So good to be south again. My body is already happy. Today, all the food.
Now we're talking. Nasi Lemak with Rendang and chicken. Fragrant rice. Peanuts. Sambal. Truly an outstanding thing. On a tip from the ever-helpful Brad M. Seippel, I headed to what he suggested was the best in town, Village Park. Thank You, Brad. Couldn't ask for a better lunch. Afterwards, I met up with an old friend, Matthew Cronin, and his partner Lana Mckinnon. On the outskirts of Jalan Alor, we took a deep breath of Isaan thai food. Bar hopped with Kilkenny on tap. Ended with a second round of Wong Ah Wah. Tumultuous times call for a dive for warmth, and we've cosmically found it here, this week, in Southeast Asia. I hope you can, as well. Take care out there. Be well, and keep pushing on, friends.
I didn't expect to see anything like this in Malaysia. Happy to be wrong. The wonderful Shaze, who is away from the city, contacted me about a gig at Rumah Api, which I had still never been to. Think of all your favorite dirty DIY spaces around the world, and that's it. Perfect. It's been well over a year since last seeing the members of Shh...Diam!, who are very vocal on LGBTQ, women's rights, and issues we should all care about. Much of the venue is covered in such. This night, as I take a quick glance and see America massing by the millions, a small handful launched each other into the air again and again. It felt like home to us. Thank You, Malaysia. This was the warmest, kindest 72 hours I can remember. Today : Jakarta, MDC, screaming with Dave Dictor . Perfect.
M.D.C. Indonesia, day one. Flew in, ate Satay Padang. My friend Jay took me around to ten shops on his bike until we finally found a SIM. Met up with the wonderful Dea Karina, who brought me to "Ponti Fest". Yesterday, the collective's house was raided by police. Tonight, the M.D.C. crew played alongside two dozen other bands including The Elected Officials and The Restarts. Bonkers gig. So many kids. So many bands. Classic Indonesia. Insane heat in the main room. Anca Manimau was there! Spectacular night. Thanks for the killer first day, Indonesia. Tomorrow, a breather.
You can listen to a live recording here, or by clicking below while you read.
So nice to be street level in Indonesia again. First real taste of Jakarta traffic today. Truly bonkers. A short trip turned two hours, but that's the reality here. There are a few apps here like Uber, but for motor-bikes. Exact same concept. It's a ubiquitous set of food, available everywhere here. Chicken Satay with an intensely good peanut sauce. Two types of soup. Chicken + Goat. Tea. Rice. It's great, and I've missed these flavors.
Morning, Bandung. A three hour train ride in yesterday, and I immediately met up with Palmer Keen. He runs the spectacular "Aural Archipelago", documenting lesser known traditional music around Indonesia. Also in tow was James Russell Fritsch, who just began a new label, "100,000". Our meeting point, the Sudirman street market, a Chinese / Indonesian area. I immediately ate two plates of Guangdong style pork. We then headed to a seedy Jaipong club, which I can't even begin to explain to you right now. This is Palmer's porch. The green house, James'. I didn't know this upon separately planning to meet both of them. They've both left the country this morning, and allowed me to stay. Thank You for the hospitality. A few days of wandering, until Jogja band Seahoarse, who I met on my first run here, play a gig! Excited!
Last night, Palmer + Sinta said we'd go to a "seedy Jaipong club". I'm still learning what I witnessed. In 1961, Sukarno prohibited Rock and Roll, Western genres, so Jaipong was born. It's a Sundanese dance performance with traditional instruments, but players + dancers feed off each other. This place... indeed very seedy. There'd be a pop session, then Jaipong would start. Men would go up and dance with the women. However, respect was paramount. It's about sensuality. How close can you get without touching? You'd do a jig up to tip the band. People cheered. Wild atmosphere. A wasted police officer kept sitting by us, telling us he was a cop, grabbing us, and pulling Palmer up to dance. Definitely the wildest place I've been that few foreigners ever trek to. If you're ever in Bandung, go dive in.
Seahoarse. Well over one year ago, I caught their second show as a band, in Yogyakarta. Of course, now, they're tighter, faster, louder. An amazing warehouse spot, "Spasial" that supposedly used to be an old military area. Shops, cafes littered inside. Really something, and I'd assume, a perfect newer addition to Bandung's scene. Five other bands. A showcase for Jakarta based Kolibri Records. Really great to see this type of thing in Indonesia, such a massive space. Feeling pretty raw, with stomach sickness turning into body flu by night. My most anticipated gig is tomorrow, back in Jakarta, so I'm going to responsibly power through, and then rest when I get to the chill vibes of Yogyakarta. I'll be safe. Time to rest. Cheers.
Panca Dwinandhika Zen . He's working in Bandung, where we met, documenting tattoo culture. Not only has he worked in a prison, befriending the in-mates, he aims to capture the disappearing traditional world of the "hand-tap" style art-form. There are under a dozen remaining in the world that know this style, and he believes in keeping it alive. He's done another film about Bali. We talked about his current research, trying to find the Jugun Ianfu, or what were "comfort women" for Japanese colonialists. Near the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste, at 14 to 16 years old, they'd get large tattoos to be spared being chosen for this. They're now around 90, and he's trying to wade the difficult waters of finding them. Very nice to meet you, Panca. Until next time. You can read a bit about Panca's journey, in a VICE Indonesia article by Dea Karina. Click here to do that.
To Jogja! One of my favorite cities on the planet. This is BBDKK. Opening reception for "A Quiet Universe", which was nice. One of their members played a metal rod with bike parts as strings. I don't know the specifics, but I asked him about it and he said it was inspired by the group Senyawa. Good job Rully and Wukir! Chill night. It was Indra's birthday, and I asked him what his favorite spot to eat in Jogja was. He told me, an italian pizza joint. It was still open. Off we went, just in time for last order. We then decided it was a good idea to go get tacos down the street. These were good decisions, really, considering the lack of this type of stuff in N.E. China. We bode farewell to Indra. A few beers with the J's, and left the night as true gluttons. Another Happy Birthday to you, Uncle Indra. Thanks for the nice night. Today : Prambanan round 2.
Prambanan Temple. My second visit here. Really, just as good as the first. This, and the other main one around Jogja, you cannot go wrong with. Everyone seems to have to so much joy to be there. You'll get a boatload of selfie requests, first in a group, then they want to go one by one. I honestly do not mind, as everyone is so giddy about it, and not in a shitty way. You leave smiling. I think if anyone is really down and out in their life, they should just go here. We hit the grounds, and then went back to the city center, shopped Batik, and intense downpours began. Four hours of planning to hit a Sate Klathak joint, with no cars available, and around midnight, we ended up in the outskirts with Gisa, sipping on deep flavors. Indonesia is wonderful. Thanks to everyone who makes it so.
Spectacular show at Ruang Gulma Collective. Amazing space, great people. Ihsanul Fikri : "ARTMOSF, this time, is ecology. I use ecological elements. Sensor sensitive sound painting with pencil. Every scratch is the tone that represents composition of the plant. Fire reaction. I burned palm kernel as an icon for deforestation in Sumatra and Kalimantan, and they burn the forest. Minimal effect, only one, modulating pitch and shift."
Ikbal Lubys is from Malang, but this gig was at Ruang Gulma, in Yogyakarta, where he now lives. That bonkers instrument, handmade. "The guitar was made with really old railway wood. Built in 2013, it has a 4 piece knockdown system, for easier travel. The tuning is special, crossed strings, making two different areas of sound. Like percussion. Active and piezo pickups, but I never use piezo. It's better when played without guitar picks. I can get more than one sound if I turn between tuning system." This was a really great night. Off to KL for one night. This was an intensely wonderful trip, with a lot of layers, old and new. Indonesia, once again, you've left me grinning with a full heart.
Back in Harbin. Visions of Masakan Padang joints swimming in my head. This is Sumatran food. Eat it with your hands. Go in, and most of the time, you either choose, or they'll pile up all the dishes they have, in front of you. You're only charged for what you eat. Dangerous territory when you're hungry. It feels better than I thought it would, to be back in China. Familiar territory. Back to work on all fronts. Refreshed. Started a brutal new semester of school. Still working on the new film. Spinning plates. Plans I deemed set in stone, I'm already thinking of delaying. Strange calm with this decision. Not much else to do than keep rolling, do the best I can on it all, and let it play out how it may.
Lots happening this year. Thanks for following along.