3 Underrated Indie Bands & Rapper In Malaysia You Should Check Out In 2019

by Katricia Lum

Music has always had a special place in Malaysia since the early years. During the 1950s birthed the rise of stars such as P. Ramlee and Saloma whose influences of Latin America dancing, Hawaiian melodies & Indian films were clear as day. Then came along the psychedelic-infused rock sounds of the 60’s which brought along a Malaysian mad

e genre known as “pop yeh-yeh” (taken from a line from The Beatles’ She Loves You (Yeah Yeah)) that introduced the country to M.Osman (His hit song Suzanna is a must listen!), The Hooks and Adnan Othman. In the 1970s to 1980s, that’s when the demand for local music scene really exploded and more non-Malay bands like Alleycats, Discovery & Carefree lead the modern music scene.

During this period, slow rock & the blues became a more prominent genre inspiring the likes of M.Nasir who started producing for bands like Search and The Wings, bands who are still known amongst our current generation.

Later on, as the 90s were almost upon Malaysians, Sheila Majid swooped in with her pure 80s electronic, city pop hit “Sinaran” fully cementing our country in the music world.

And who can forget the emergence of Malaysia’s biggest pop star to date? Siti Nurhaliza whose fame seems everlasting and is still releasing new music to date.

In the 2000s, we saw bands like Bunkface, Hujan & Butterfingers storm the scene, reversing the reigning crown of the pop genre in our music scene back to its more rock & roll sound of the past.

But in the 2010s, pop was revived again with Yuna who blew everyone away with just a sweet, melodic voice and acoustic guitar.

Before this, music was only found through scavenging through vinyl records or CDs at your local music store or by tuning into the radio, getting to know which artist was topping the charts so now thanks to the internet, we’re more accustomed to discovering new music than ever, especially at a local level.

Unfortunately, most of us won’t know where to even start so here at Woke, we made it easy for you by compiling a list of 4 Indie Bands (and a rapper!) from Malaysia that you must check out right now and since we’re such kind-hearted souls, we’ve done mini-interviews with them so while you enjoy their tunes, you can get to know the creative minds behind these works as well.

1. LUST (Indie alternative/Postpunk)

Taken by @artherockshow

In 2013, three veteran musicians decided to band together as a means to play the type of music they wanted due to feeling restricted in the musical groups they were in at that time. The band comprising of Faris Khairi, Azfar Bakar and Anaqi Jamalluddin, each brings a myriad of influences ranging from electronic, punk, pop, and new wave and that’s just the tip of the genre iceberg.

First, came their debut EP ‘chingichanga’, the very definition of beauty within chaos, an eclectic mismatch of guitars, drums & bass but somehow or the other merging together in the most melodious way possible. Then 3 years later, with a full LP ‘Tekesima’ shifting to a more indie pop-orientated sound, garnering more fans and attention. Playing at this year’s Good Vibes and in neighbouring countries such as Singapore and South Korea, Lust have definitely made their mark in Malaysia’s music scene.

Woke caught up with Faris & Azfar after one of their nightly band practices to ask them a few questions regarding the band, tour life and music in general.

Woke: How would you describe your music in three words?

Azfar: Unconventional, earworms, and…

Faris: … Adventurous.

Woke: Who are your musical influences?

Azfar: Animal Collective, The Strokes, The Walkmen, Arcade Fire, Butterfingers (MY), The Dirty Projectors, Beach House

Faris: Killeur Calculateur (MY), Fugazi

Woke: How do you avoid wearing these influences on Lust’s sleeves?

Afzar: I think we avoid that happening by having varied influences that are all from completely different genres so when it gets filtered through Lust, it becomes something different.

Faris: It’s like putting all these influences into a blender and getting some sort of paste that’s (hopefully) new and fresh (Fun fact: Faris also works part time as a chef hence the culinary metaphor).

Woke: This year saw Lust playing a lot of shows locally and internationally, how does a local show and international show differ from one another?

Faris: For me when playing locally, the majority of the crowd already knows your band or are fans so there’s an understanding of how your sound is, how the shows usually go with the added bonus of them being able to sing-along because they already know all the words to the songs. Whereas internationally, you don’t expect the crowd to know who you are and it’s all about presenting yourself.

Azfar: It’s almost like selling yourself and figuring out how to capture the audience’s attention within the first 5 minutes. With local shows, there’s no added element of “Okay, how are we gonna put on a really, really memorable show?” because countries like Singapore, South Korea have so many other options when it comes to shows & musical artists so it’s all about trying to stand out the most.

Woke: The first EP, chingichanga had more of a psychedelic influence while your recent release Tekesima went toward a more pop approach so why that change of direction?

Afzar: When it came to chingichanga, because it was our first ever EP, we were so excited because we finally had a place to let out all these ideas and approaches that we had kept inside of us for so long. Naturally, we let that all loose and just wanted to push that album out for the world to listen to. For Tekesima, we took the time to sit down & really figured out what the LUST ‘sound’ is.

Faris: I like to think of an artist’s progression in terms albums. So for me, chingichanga was one phase and Tekesima was a new phase. Even before Tekesima, we had two songs ready (Like the Back of a Spoon and Desire) so the rest of the album was written to complement those two songs. In the future, our following albums might take on an entirely different sound and honestly I would love that for LUST.

Behind the scene of Lust’s first phase (album) chingichanga,
Photo taken by Adib Harith

Woke: So, how did you think the older fans took LUST’S change of sound?

Azfar:  I think the fans took it really well and the reception to Tekesima was better than expected. There wasn’t any talk about “Oh, LUST has changed their sound so much” so that was a good indication we were going on a different path but still on the same track. Most importantly, it felt natural to us and also thankfully natural for our fans too.

A new phase, Tekesima
Photo taken by
@artherockshow

Woke: Having your own individual musical projects on the side (Azfar with ORANG, Faris as Golden Mammoth’s guitarist), how does that in the creation of LUST’s sound?

Azfar: It helps us in creating fresher sounds because I have an outlet outside of LUST to experiment and play. Each project does tend to bleed into one another hence LUST having some elements of Orang which results in a more varied sound.

Faris: With Golden Mammoth, it’s about being more precise and tight while having a free-jam groovy improv during rehearsals and shows so I try to sometimes apply that element into LUST. My point is, it’s completely different worlds being in these bands so I like borrowing their different styles and merging them together.

Azfar: It’s somewhat like cross-pollination, you take a bit of what you learnt from Golden Mammoth and take a bit from what you learnt from LUST and this results in a whole new style.

Woke: Seeing as you guys have day jobs, how do you balance your work and music life?

Azfar: Although I’m not the best multi-tasker and still struggle sometimes to balance it all, there’s a certain kind of freedom I have creatively, not depending on LUST as my sole source of income. There’s no constant questioning of “Oh will this album sell?” or “Oh will this single be enough to put food on the table?” Obviously it’d be awesome if LUST could pay all the bills but since currently it’s not, it’s just a great creative outlet without any pressure.

Faris: I really wish LUST could be a full-time thing for us so we could be playing shows & recording new materials all the time while still earning an income every month. But not sure how it would change the dimensions of how we work and play music but it’ll certainly be interesting to see.

Azfar: Me too, I’m curious to know how big LUST could get and how much output we could release if all band members were committed 100% to it.

Woke: Any advice/tips for someone wanting to enter the music scene?

Azfar: Don’t.

Everyone laughs.

Azfar: It’s gonna sound super cliché but personally, I feel like if you don’t have the passion, you should just stop right now. Nowadays, I see a lot of new bands coming out and it’s because they see the current viral bands either through Youtube or social media and they think “Oh, I can do that too!” or “That looks easy” but their success is really due to luck & the current algorithms. For that reason, you gotta love the shit out of what you’re doing and most importantly, don’t expect anything back. At all.

Faris: If you want to become a musician or be in a band playing shows, really do it for the love for it and for the love of writing songs, especially. I get a lot of new bands coming up to me and asking me “Hey, how do you get your music out there?” or “Who’s your manager?” or “What’s your secret?” Almost expecting like a shortcut or a secret formula to it. But to be honest, our approach was just us being organic as we could. We had the songs, we had the album and we just released it and things just came to us without us doing the most.

Azfar: But as I said earlier, there’s also an added element of luck which I think the success of most bands hinges on it. If you’re lucky enough to have the right sound at the right time and play it to the right crowd, all the stars will align and you can definitely do it but if the stars don’t, that’s when you do it again and again but still not putting fame or success at the forefront.

Faris: Yeah, just do it and if you don’t enjoy it, just stop and find something else you can do without having to force yourself just for the sake of it.

Woke: What do you think is missing/needed more in the local music scene?

Azfar: I think what’s needed is more platforms and outlets for people to write or read about music. The golden era of music happened back when Malaysia still had magazines like JUICE, Junk and Klue and when TimeOut still frequently featured music as they were instrumental in getting local music out there, you know? Now it’s the influencer era which means everything is driven by numbers, likes and views which translates to the value of music only hinging on all that instead of the actual quality of the music. So yeah, we need more tastemakers and editorials to champion music instead of people who will just shoutout something for a couple of ringgits.

Faris: Honestly, I don’t think I can top that answer…

Check out TEKESIMA on Spotify and send the LUST boys some love or see where their upcoming shows are at on Instagram!

2. Islands (Dreampop/Shoegaze)

From top left to right: Izelan, Omar
From bottom left to right: Aiman, Jefri
Photo taken by: @transhallow

Hailing from Subang Jaya, Izelan Shahier started Islands as a one-man project in 2014. Relying on just an iPad, guitar, keyboard and a whole lot of ideas, Izelan crafted all his songs in his bedroom with no studio equipment.

You can find his earlier work on Soundcloud, the land of DIY artists & rappers alike and with its lo-fi production coupled with the dreaminess of each track, only hardened with a reverb effect, Islands is not like anything else being currently released in the local scene. Now, with the addition of three new band members: Aiman Farhan on guitar & vocals, Omar Muzaffar on synthesizer, guitar, keyboard & bass (Phew, someone give this man a medal) and Jefri Shah on drums, Islands has become a fully-fledged band and are currently recording their first LP (yes, in a studio this time).

We sat down with them and asked a few questions which the band (sans Jefri) happily answered.

Woke: For readers who have no clue about Islands, describe your music in three words.

Omar: There’s no three words to describe it, but just have sex to it.

Aiman: A vacuum cleaner (Describing perfectly the reverb effect so prominent in the shoegaze/dreampop genre)

Omar: A tunnel song (ala the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower where the characters drive through a tunnel on the highway with David Bowie’s Heroes playing).

Izelan: Henry Vacuum Cleaner. I wanna say generic indie film music too but yeah Henry Vacuum Cleaner is good enough.

The TRUE face of Shoegaze??

Woke: Who are your musical influences?

Omar: When it comes to bass, I listen to a lot of Motown because their bass players use a lot of walking bass lines and you can hear that influence in one of our upcoming songs, “Flower” which we just recorded last week.

Woke: What is a walking bass line?

Omar: A walking bass line is where you play all other notes but still keep it within the same key. A different melody but still the same chords & the same bass notes.

Omar: As for guitar, I turn to The Police whose guitarist are big on effects, the complete opposite of my playing style which is more focused on finger playing and I try to marry those two for Islands.

Aiman: Weirdly enough, my influences come from 60’s music like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, nothing related to shoegaze at all.

Izelan: Usually, I listen to a lot of Beach Fossils, DIIV, Airiel, Wild Nothing, The Bilinda Butchers, No Vacation, Slowdive, Blonde Redhead, Ride, Cocteau Twins, Current Joys/Surf Curse, and some other post 1990’s & early 2000’s grunge bands and also some experimental electronic ambient synth stuff to get inspirations and ideas but for the past month I’ve been listening to a lot of Sleater-Kinney lately, an all-girl grunge punk band from Washington DC. 

Woke: How do you avoid wearing these influences on your sleeve?

Izelan: Nowadays, most artists are just a copy and it’s hard to not sound like the ones in previous eras but my advice is to just experiment and mix all these musical influences together while still putting yourself, your personal playing style into the music you create.

Woke: When making songs in your bedroom, how long was the process of having an idea to recording an actual song?

Izelan: It depends really. Sometimes it can take me a day or a week or months or years, but it depends on my current mood and mental state. It always changes. Honestly, I’m not that great of a guitar player even though I’ve been to lessons when I was younger but I didn’t focus much in class so right now, I’m still learning day by day but basically what I mean is, just play however you want, there shouldn’t be limitations. Be happy with it, be happy with your own style. 

Photo taken by @transhallow

Woke: What about recording songs in a studio environment?

Izelan: It’s pretty much the same except the sounds are clearer & smoother rather than when I was just recording my stuff in GarageBand on my family’s shared iPad but overall, it’s an interesting process for me, as a musician because I didn’t have the proper equipment back then so it was all DIY and just seeing how the sound goes. While recording at the studio now with Faliq & Eff (of local electro pop group Pastel Lite) with the rest of Islands has been eye-opening, on & off session in the studio.

Woke: Shoegaze is not a typical genre that local bands would pursue, so why that particular genre?

Izelan:  I mean why not? Shoegaze is like this very introverted kid at a party standing in the corner alone while the other genres such as Pop, Indie, Rap/R&B are all in the middle of the spotlight, partying together so I just want people (especially Malaysians) to know that “Hey Losers! We, Islands, a Shoegaze/Dream Pop band, making this genre that you’ve probably never heard about but really should!” but yeah people should just explore more different genres rather than just sticking to just one and know the difference between all of them but hey who am I to tell you to do things anyways so yeah, we exist (the “Hey Losers” part was a Sub Pop reference btw in case of any you readers were insulted).

Omar: Honestly, we chose shoegaze because it’s such a fun genre to play live because of that wall of sound that perfectly encapsulates a room better in a live setting. Hence, why we described Island’s music as a vacuum cleaner.

Aiman: In my opinion, we don’t even play shoegaze.

The whole band laughs

Aiman: Genres are just labels at the end of the day and it doesn’t matter what someone calls our music as, it all depends whether the music is good or not.

Woke: Any advice/tips for someone wanting to enter the music scene?

Izelan: Just be yourself and don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t rush but at the same time don’t sleep on your craft for too long, be reasonable, be smart, be humble, be honest and always be prepared for any challenges in the upcoming future. Do know that there’s gonna be people that don’t like your work and there’s also gonna be people who love your work so keep on working on your stuff and focus on the positivity.

Omar: To add to it, if you wanna enter the music scene, just go to gigs. That’s the best way to make connections, it’s basically a gateway drug to meeting more bands. Laughs. Even social media helps, just following one or two bands, you’ll surely discover a dozen more. And I highly recommend following Az Samad and Jennifer Thompson on Instagram. Az Samad is amazing to get tips about becoming a better & more disciplined musician, not just on the guitar (which is his specialty) and Jenny Thompson, who’s always promoting the happenings of the music scene, whether it’s a small indie gig or a big sold out concert and reposting singles of new bands.

Aiman: Honestly, just go for it whether you make it or not.

Woke: What do you think is missing/needed more in the local music scene?

Omar: Bands should be more proactive in releasing new singles on streaming websites especially Spotify since nowadays everyone uses Spotify to listen to music so bands should get on that instead of making it available just on Soundcloud or just playing it live.

Omar: Another thing is, I feel like the scene is so segregated in terms of bands never playing with different genres. If you go to any local gigs, it’s always the same lineup consisting of bands within the same genre. I think we should really make it a norm to merge the variety of Malaysian music-listening crowds in a gig at all times.

Izelan: We need more people producing honest & original material and who really take the time to craft their own work. Lately, there’s been a lot of great bands/artists but I feel like they’re not being honest with themselves on what they actually want to do.

Omar: And also, the people wanna hear you, not just covers. Sure, the crowd goes crazy whenever a band plays The Strokes’ “Last Nite” or “Someday” but what the people really go to gigs for is to hear what your “Last Nite” or “Someday” sound like?

Stream Island’s recently released singles: Comet and Teenage Breakdown on Spotify now or check out their older stuff on Soundcloud. Check out upcoming shows or say hi to the boys on Instagram or Twitter.

3. Gard (Trap/Softboy rap)

Gard in the studio

In the music world, we’re seeing rap gain more recognition each day, whether on the charts or even just being blasted at parties (the real deciding factor if a genre has made it or not). It’s a no-brainer then that Malaysians are dipping their toes into the rap pool, coming up with rhymes & bars that embraces the distinguished sounds of hip hop from either the past (gangsta rap or the notorious which is better battle between East Coast or West Coast rap) or the current mumble trap rap sound of today. 

From the pool emerges Gard, a rapper making waves in the underground rap scene and also the indie scene, further proving his flexibility to appeal to different types of crowds (a rarity in this music scene that seems to have artists stuck in their own little bubble genre).

Rapping only in Bahasa Malaysia, Gard is unpretentious as he is vulnerable with his feelings and his main objective isn’t to wow the crowd with intricate wordplay or rhyming schemes but instead he grabs you right at the heart with simple yet super relatable lyrics that feels like something one of your friends might utter during a heartbroken night out when you all had a little too much to drink.

With his recently released EP: CPR (Club Perenang Rohani), a collaboration with local producer Wuzgut, Gard deviates from his previous heavy trap sound and goes for a more chill softboy approach instead. Self-describing this EP as “lagu-lagu untuk jiwa-jiwa 3 am”, translated as “music for 3am souls”, it perfectly illustrates the album as a whole. 

Album art for CPR (Club Perenang Rohani)

More than happy to answer, Gard answered all our questions about his influences, the change of his newest EP and his start as a rapper.

Woke: How would you describe your sound in 3 words?

Gard: Emotional, sincere & trust.

Woke: Who are your musical influences?

Gard: Eli Sostre, NAV, Kanye West.

Woke: How did you start your journey as a rapper?

Gard: It first started with MYO Faisal, who taught me how to start making songs via FL Studio (a recording software) and then, Jin Hackman (Former legendary rapper, founder of Raising The Bar MY & now managing rap artists under Def Jam Asia), the very first person who believed in my music. He gave me so many opportunities to get my voice out there, first, performing at RTB Belut Project which was held at an underground bar called Under Nine (now closed) and many more. 

Woke: Most of your releases sees you collaborating with other artists. You have ‘API’ with fellow local rapper Kidd Santhe and of course, the recently released EP ‘CPR (Club Perenang Rohani)’ with local producer Wuzgut, so why collaborations over your own solo projects?

Gard: For me, each of these artists that I’ve collaborated with has brought in their own speciality & flair which enables me to expand my own creativity as combined together, we get to produce something totally different but still keeping intune with our personal style & artistic approach.

Woke: What has been your most memorable performance/ collaboration/ song?

Gard: It has to be ‘CPR’. Working with Wuzgut & Offgrid (another fellow rapper, featured on ‘Sorry If Rindu’) was really comfortable because we three shared the same definition of what music means to us. The whole process of making ‘CPR’ was smooth & fun because of that very reason. We had the same vision of making the EP flow like a movie but in audio form. And we were as honest as possible in the production of the melodies & beats and the writings of the lyrics, making it relatable to the current Malaysian youths. So yeah, shoutouts to Wuzgut, Offgrid and the whole team of the making of ‘CPR’!

Gard with CPR’s producer, Wuzgut

Woke: Diverging from the trap heavy sound of your album ‘API’ with Kidd Santhe into a more laidback & popish sound for ‘CPR’, heard especially on tracks like ‘Senja’ and ‘Wonderland’, why that change of style?

Gard: With ‘CPR’, I wanted people to feel closer to my music and for the next generation to still listen to it without getting sick or tired. Basically, I didn’t want my music to sound dated when I become old next time. To me, music is something so beautiful and has the power to change the world. I just want to give my love through audio format straight to my listeners’ heart.

Woke: Any advice/tips for someone wanting to enter the music scene?

Gard: Don’t be lazy and give yourself time to learn & understand music before jumping in the scene. Most importantly, keep on believing in what you do because with just music, we change our own and others’ lives and yes, stay humble. 

Woke: What do you think is missing/needed more in the local music scene?

Gard: In my opinion, organizers shouldn’t overlook some artists just because they don’t have sufficient numbers of plays & streams. I get that nowadays it’s all about the numbers but they are so many great artists out there who don’t get enough attention just because they don’t appeal to the mainstream enough. Organizers should really put in the work in researching upcoming artists and invest in them so we can encourage a bigger arts scene in Malaysia because if we don’t, it’s just going to forever continue being an expensive & intimidating niche. 

Feeling lonely and need something to cry to at 3 am? Stream CPR (Club Perenang Rohani) or trap out with his past release with Kidd Santhe (who needs KYO, am I right?), both available on Spotify while keeping up with him on Instagram

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