The subculture trail: One, two, three four… the story of our local punk n’ roll forefathers
ONE of the local releases in CD format that I’ve been looking high and low for the last couple of years was Love N’ Hate, the debut album of local punk rock forefathers, Subculture.
Having it released by now defunct Valentine Sound Production back in 1994, the only copy of the album that I have is in cassette format, so to get a CD copy of the album will definitely be great addition to my collection.
So when I was told by Interglobal Music that they’ll be releasing a double-disc the best of compilation of the band, God knows how ecstatic I was.
Compiling 30 songs from the band’s three studio albums, Love N’ Hate (1994), Time KnockRetrofungus (1997) and (2002), the set serves as a good piece of documentation of one of the bands that helped to pave the way for countless of today’s fringe acts.
If only it came with a proper booklet that documents the history of the band, the hardship it went through and other essential information related to the band, it would have been a perfect release.
Now what’s this fuss about this band called Subculture, you ask?
Well, just in case you missed out on the heydays of local independent/fringe music scene, they were the third local punk band to release an album after The Pilgrims’ Perfume Garden and Carburetor Dung’s Songs For Friends. And this was two years before OAG took local independent/fringe music into mainstream consciousness with their self-titled debut 10 years ago!
Below The Radar had a long chat with founder/guitarist/vocalist Azreen to find out more the band.
THE BEGINNING OF A SUBCULTURE
THE roots of the band can be traced back to Stormfish, one of the first punk bands to emerge in KL during the time when metal and trash music was dominating the local underground music scene.
The band – Fendi (bass/vocals), Azreen (guitar/vocals), Joe Kidd (guitar) and Joe Mechanic (drums) – went through various line-up changes before changing its name to Carburetor Dung in 1992.
Came together with the name change was the change in its musical direction. From punk rock music, the band’s musical style has swayed into the more melodic punk rock with bands like Bad Religion as references. A move that was not really welcomed by Azreeen.
“I was, and is still big on bands like The Ramones and Die Toten Hosen. The change did caused some sort of a creative indifference between me and the band.
“Not that I didn’t want to adopt the band’s new musical approach but for me when you are in this line of music, the most important thing is to be honest with the music you are playing,” Azreen said.
Wanting to pursue his musical interest, Azreen left the band to form Subculture with his cousin, guitarist, Azwan.
Coincidentally, it was Joe Kidd who suggested the name Subculture to Azreen.
“He gave me few names but I chose Subculture because it represents what we are,” he said.
During the early stages, the band was only him and Azwan plus friends who would help out during jamming sessions. Bassist Izmir and drummer Sani came to fold only in late 1992.
A CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
In January 1993, the band was offered by Eddie Hamid-run Sonic Asylum Records to contribute a song for the soon-to-be legendary A Circle of Friends compilation.
“Each band was paid RM 200 by Sonic Asylum. Yeah, it was dirt cheap but then we didn’t really care because who at the first place would pay for us to record our music? “Yes, he conned all the acts featured on it but credit to him because having the balls to record us and put local independent/fringe acts into mainstream consciousness,” Azreen said.
Apart from putting local independent/music into mainstream consciousness, the set was reportedly sold more than 100,000 copies!
Things were even better for the band as out of the rest of the acts featured on the compilation, their song, Fever, was picked up national radio.
August that year, the band made its live debut at The Revenge Of The Rats gig that was held at Garfunkel Pub, Life Centre where they performed alongside other pioneering acts like The Splatters, The Pilgrims, Chronic Mass and Lovely Ugly Carnival.
“We got paid RM 50 then. It was crazy because we played 15 or 20 songs non-stop. Everyone was like what the hell!” Azreen laughed.
The band then went on to record a four-song demo called Colours. It was never properly sold but was distributed among friends. Two of the songs that were featured on it, Fever and Daddy Get Sick would later become the group’s staple tunes.
They were then invited to perform at Blast Off, the first huge ‘alternative’ music showcase featuring bands from Malaysia and Singapore that was held at the S&M Arcade in Kotaraya Complex.
Their memorable performance there caught the attention of the concert organiser; SZS Production who would then offered them the opportunity to record an album.
“The offer was actually for The Splatters. However since the band were going through a difficult period in the personnel department and because they don’t have enough songs, the band was kind enough to pass the opportunity to us,” Azreen recalled.
A week after their meeting with SZS the band was quickly sent to record the album that would become Love & Hate at Sound Studio in Cheras.
Released in 1994, the 10-track punk ‘n’ roll featured crowd favourites like Fever, Daddy Get Sick and Blue Skirt Baby was a huge hit not only among the local fringe/independent music enthusiasts but also the masses. Subculture was huge.
“The first 5,000 copies of the album were sold in two weeks; the second print of 10,000 copies sold out within a month; the next 15,000 copies sold out in less than a month. I have no idea how many times they actually printed the album,” Azreen said.
Get to think of it, the same success was actually the same thing that plotted their downfall.
Convinced by the success of Love N’ Hate, SZS decided to invest around RM 60,000 to RM 100,000 to record the next album – a staggering amount of money to be invested for a punk rock band.
“After the success of Love N’ Hate, SZS became greedy. They wanted to push the band into the mainstream. The thing is, we were on the verge of mainstream breakthrough.
What happened was, the label wanted us to record the album with sessionists. Fed up by the situation, Sani, our drummer, decided that he had enough and left the band.
“Things got even worse after his departure. The SZS people said they just wanted me alone and the rest of the band will be made of sessionist.
“I don’t want it that way. I started up with these guys no matter how lousy the band is as long as you can come up with a song, that is art already.
“Some more we are a punk rock band, be fore we please people we please ourselves first,” Azreen explained.
When it was released in 1997, Time Knock didn’t do as well as its predecessor mostly because the band’s fan base felt that the production was too clean for punk rock music and the edge in the band’s music has somehow mellowed down.
Things got even worse when the band’s relationship with SZS Production deteriorated even further. By 1998 nothing much was heard of Subculture.
However, in 2002, the band resurfaced with a new label, Pony Canyon Music as well as a new album, Retrofungus.
Musically, the album had the band revisited the rawness of Love N’ Hate but sadly because of the musical climate at that time and somehow lack of promotions, the album went unnoticed.
ON THE TRAIL OF A COMEBACK
Well, that’s how the story goes so far.
Now with the best of compilation out in the market and a possible new album coming our way, Subculture is looking forward to pick where they left with Love N’ Hate.
“We are waiting for the right time. If things go as planned, Subculture is definitely coming back… stronger,” Azreen concluded.
* The band recently released their first single in four years, Ticket To The Moon. You can listen to it at http://www.xfm.com.my
* This article was originally published in The Malay Mail on April 12, 2006