The Shock&Awe! team is something of a phenomenon. In the past year, they have worked tirelessly to churn out 3 issues* of a beautifully designed and smartly written (it is also offset-printed, no less!) zine that has taken the DIY-punk world in Malaysia by storm. Effectively gaining fans by the day and also trodding on a few toes along the way, that storm is slowly turning into a tornado. Which is spreading to us here in Singapore and then further afield: in Australia, France, Indonesia, and the Philippines where they are distributed and also in the States where they have recently been thought worthy of a review by the almighty Maximumrocknroll -- you know you've made it in the punk rock world when you make it into the pages of that rag!** Being the clever opportunists that we are, it was only natural that we ride the wave ("jump on the bandwagon", so to speak) before it dies down, by speaking to the 3 main cogs in the machine that is Shock&Awe Media on their inaugural interview. There is no hierarchy except a self-serving one in a world of lazy punks; sometimes we all need a push and a shove in the right direction. Remember, you read it here first!
First things first, how did the idea for Shock&Awe! come about?
Yuen: Well the idea has always been in a way floating around before. Alak and I had planned to make a zine way back in 2004 – more a perzine than anything else – but it never happened. However, when I was back from Sarawak for my sabbatical, I wanted to do something, and since I suck at playing musical instruments, I decided that a zine was the way for me to contribute to the scene.
Alak: Yes, earlier in 2004 we did have some rough ideas that never did happen. When we reunited recently last year, we had a serious discussion about making it happen, as we were getting bored and had some serious shit to complain about.
And how did Ci Chaan come into the picture? How many people do you have on your "team" or is the number more organic?
Ci Chaan: Because I'm good-looking?
Yuen: It's like the open-source operating system Linux: we provide the template and we look for interested collaborators – organic might be the word to describe it. So there are no actual numbers – people can come and leave as they like, which is relatively low commitment and therefore low pressure, but of course we do have core members who help to oversee the whole operation. Ci Chaan has stunning looks and excellent PR skills, so his addition to the team was very strategic and indispensable for our expansion. ;)
Alak: Well, doing the zine with only the 2 of us would result in another boring self-absorbed personal zine, which would only portray a one-sided view. So the bugger came along as the third opinion.
As we all know, zine culture is pretty much dying on a global scale, and is considered dead in this part of the world. So why a zine? Why not just a website?
Ci Chaan: You know, the vinyl industry is dying too but bands are still unrelentingly releasing records on that format. There is an essentiality that you can't explain.
Yuen: We all know that punks are always nostalgic towards the traditional format: vinyl and tapes for example. So here we are expressing our own nostalgia for the paper and ink format. It is interesting to observe how many magazines have gone online to remain "relevant". However we still relish the full sensory experience of reading a magazine: the crispness of the paper, the smell of the ink, the pleasant feeling of reading from paper and the non-ephemeral feeling of print. Try reading on your iPad at the beach.
Alak: I have always been fond of that fresh smell of print and being able to read something that I can hold in my hand. I'm pretty sure that are still some people who do think alike.
Ci Chaan: Plus, people wouldn't give a fuck if Maximumrocknroll was just a website, don't you think?
Kudos on the great job. I'm sure there are a lot of people who appreciate the effort put into the printing, design, and layout (and of course, the thought-provoking articles!). What do you hope to achieve with Shock&Awe!?
Alak: A better one than the last issue.
Ci Chaan: Freebies?
Yuen: It is so not punk to have “objectives”! What are you asking, Cher?! Well seriously, we do hope to stir shit up so more people would want to do zines again while also raising the bar on the quality of output. The “official” objective is to showcase the Southeast Asian scene to the world, yadda yadda. But then again, we might just shut this operation down after 12 issues – we are not lambs for the illusion of longevity or any sort of permanency – and move on to other projects. True story.
Ci Chaan: The magazine is a physical manifestation of the voice where you can put in your respective opinions and get heard. Subjectively speaking I don't intend to impress anyone, plus knowing the fact that I don't possess a degree or whatever shit in journalism; I just wanna write.
On the subject of stirring shit up, you HAVE been. How have responses from punks in SE Asia and the world been so far? Tell us the gossip.
Alak: You have to get the next issue I guess as we're trying to compile some shit-stirring.
Yuen: Well, we wish that people would write longer (remember e-mail, people?) than those Facebook one-liners. We have had three proper (read: not of those one-liner quality like previously mentioned) responses and it shows that people are actually reading and taking us seriously. Other comments are either just “Good”, “Keep up the good work”, or the pun-ny “Awe-some”. Oh yeah, and there is a review on MRR which I have yet to read. It was a good review, I was told. I have also recently discovered that Shock&Awe! is used by Malaysian kids to trade with overseas zines, so I guess that is some sort of non-verbal approval.
Alak: Yes, Facebook conversations are somehow killing the real conversation on issues, especially with the invention of the "like" button. People seem to be lazier to give opinions and seem to be giving less of a damn about things.
Ci Chaan: So far, I did manage to score a few hate mails and I'm very proud of it. You know, it's not easy to wake people up to say that I'm wrong. All of this seems to open up a healthy (I hope) discussion which I think is a very good sign. But it’s not healthy to use a fake email yo.
What would you say about the punk community where you live in Malaysia? What kind of changes has it seen over the years? How strong and important is it?
Yuen: Well everybody thinks their era as the salad days. We ourselves see 2010 as our very own Year Zero. I've heard some stories that the 90's was pretty exciting with the number of mushrooming collectives at the time. But WE, today's surviving people, have Pustaka Semesta INFOSHOP! Take that old tymahs!
Alak: With the cheap AirAsia flight tickets, gigs are becoming more often than not nowadays – local bands are flying out of the country while we're also seeing lots of foreign bands coming in. Even bands that we've never heard of! Also, it's really good to see venues opening up in small towns. Kids are getting more empowered to do things themselves.
Ci Chaan: Changes? Both. How important? May vary. Lots of shows, yes. Lots of people coming, no.
Alak: Actually there has been a lot of divergence within the scene itself. More sub-genres are blooming and kids are scattered all over. And one of our hopes with doing Shock&Awe! is that we might bring everyone together.
Ci Chaan: Maybe I should stop being sentimental. If we want to talk “scene”, the scene itself consists of people, so naturally it depends on the direction that provides. If they want the entire “scene” to happen for real, they should work on how they want it to be. So the punk community in Malaysia is all what you see now. It’s how the people themselves who generate the “scene” want it to be (despite how good or bad it is). It’s never important, you gotta believe me.
Now that we are talking about "scenes", how would you juxtapose the one in Singapore to the one in Malaysia? What kind of differences do you see?
Yuen: Do you recognize the differences in political border construct, Cher? (Interviewer's note: Yes, I do, but it is interesting nevertheless to hear what your views are about any perceived differences.) Haha. Well, for myself, I can't say that I have seen enough of the Singaporean scene to comment. The difference is that we have more "real" punks compared to the Singaporean scene – as much as not having a job is being a “real” punk is concerned because I guess some of us in Malaysia can still afford (won’t die starving) being that, running punk-related initiatives full-time. But even then, individuals here still have jobs on and off. In terms of political awareness, same-same but different – some get it, some don’t. Our numbers may be larger, but percentage-wise, it might be similar.
Ci Chaan: What do you have in mind? Are we talking about physical appearance? If we're talking about that, the Malaysian scene kids would obviously win.
Alak: Pretty much the same I guess, except for how most of the Malaysian Malays in the scene view punk and religion. In the Malaysian constitution, Malays have to be Muslims and it is stated in their ID. So most of the Malay kids have certain conflicts within themselves about being non-conformist towards religion and such.
Yuen: Alak has a good point there, I wish I’d thought of that. Yeah, religion seems to be a bigger issue among the punks here – sort of a thorn in the flesh – which has been that way since the 90’s. And with that it shapes different opinions on sexism, homosexuality, abortion, pre-marital sex, alcohol consumption, and so on and so forth. We are more diverse in that way I guess.
Ci Chaan: I see no differences at all. Same shit, different assholes.
As we all can see, SE Asia is currently on the map at the moment as the destination du jour for Western DIY-punk bands, with as many as 3 touring bands a month sometimes. This may go back to Yuen's article about “punk rock hospitality” in Shock&Awe! #3 – but how do you think this benefits/affects the scene in general? Not to mention the whole business of too many touring bands and not enough organizers? How do you think we can navigate this?
Yuen: This is a double-barreled question. People may be spoilt for choice now than ever before as touring bands are becoming a common thing. The benefit is of course the possible collaborations, networks and exchange of ideas that could result in the bigger picture of human mobility globally – but deep down, who can go where and who is more prone to receive whose hospitality? To speculate, this might be a subtler neo-imperialist phenomenon (oooohh...). I have no answer to the second part of your question, but I do think that if the kids want to do it, you can throw whatever to them and they will manage.
Alak: All I see is that we really do need to establish more venues and continue our diverse activities to ensure that things don’t get stagnant and boring at the end of the day.
Ci Chaan: Well, as a passport-less punk rocker, this is quite beneficial to me. I can catch DIY-punk bands live without the hassle of crossing borders and having to get my passport (ahem!) stamped. Plus, it is always fun to meet new people especially punks from other parts of the world and have conversations with them. But unfortunately, not all punks think like you. For some of these touring bands, touring another part of the world (read: Third World Country/ies) makes them forget that they’re DIY-punk bands. DIY touring bands should mentally prepare themselves for whatever that is necessary before they come here, unless they’re hosted by Universal Music. Don’t expect that these little organizers can and will provide the Hilton for you.
How do you see Shock&Awe! evolving in the near (and possibly, far) future? We know that Yuen is returning to Sarawak soon, how do you think that will affect the zine, especially since it is obvious that most of the work is distributed (out of necessity, I'm sure) amongst the core members?
Ci Chaan: Sigh. That will not affect us at all. No. We could talk to each other still. We could set teleconferences for meetings and for anything else, Gmail is always there for us. I don’t see any reason for us to be worried all of a sudden – Yuen won’t be around forever! What we need is commitment and anything else is just excuses. Ok, I’m kidding.
Yuen: Of course it will affect the zine in some way but I guess we have to adopt the mobile-worker model for the management of the rest of the issues (who knows we can afford to give a Blackberry each to our people in the future? I’m just joking, for those of you who take all the things you hear seriously). Only Alak and I live in the same house together, and we have been doing most of the work online anyway – from the submission of the articles and artwork, editing, promotion, etc – with the rest of our team. Plus we have more people helping us with Shock&Awe! now so it just lies on the acu(wo)men of task delegation.
Alak: It will affect the working process a lot. To be honest, I am kind of worried about being apart from Yuen and doing things online. It works better to discuss things over beer or coffee. All I know is that once Yuen goes back to Sarawak, it will be much more of a hassle for me to coordinate things alone and I do hope Ci Chaan will always be available to lend a hand. We can hope for other people to help, but at the end of the day it basically all goes back to ourselves to run things.
Ci Chaan: I just hope that Alak won’t call me often.
Perhaps this is a spillover from our dominant culture, but what is your opinion on most punks lacking the initiative to do things themselves, instead only waiting for a leader's (i.e. authoritative) direction before doing so? How do you think we can all start empowering ourselves to start doing stuff on our own, without merely consuming the fruits of others' labour? Or is that an utopian ideal?
Yuen: This was mentioned in Rupert’s article in issue #1. I think in every scene at any time, you have only a handful of people who are dedicating their 100% for any initiative. It finally dawned on me that it’s funny that most of the people who work on DIY-punk projects expect other punks to do something too, that punks expect so much from other punks – be it to appear at a mass rally, to participate in collectives, etc. I guess on a personal level, what each person can do is to share, inform, and hopefully inspire. It struck me recently that what we take for granted in the DIY circle, like producing our own CDs for example, is not even a fathomable idea for non-punk independent musicians. What I realized from that point on is that there will always be ever-relevant things like workshops on how to print CD sleeves yourself, so people will feel empowered to produce things and to work on projects. With this I would love to thank Mr. Talib Revulsion publicly for helping us so much especially for the printing of issue #3.
Alak: It is so not punk to not get self-empowered and not do things themselves. Haha.
Ci Chaan: I have no opinion on this but you know, laziness is still a disease.
What can we expect in the next few issues? Are you going to piss more people off? Inspire more people?
Yuen: Pissing people off is a side effect as it was never intended. People can expect better output and constant innovation from the zine. We are still experimenting with a lot of things, taking cues here and there, from the layouting to the textual content, which is apparent from the lack of a certain style or identity in the present. So, new surprises for every new issue. We are now working on a few new things for the upcoming issue, but it’s still a secret as of now. We hope to inspire, if that is a punk thing to say.
Alak: I just hope every new issue gets better and better overall (writing, issue-wise, design etc). We’ve always talked about how to escape that stereotype of always being the same so we try to make things as different and as attractive as possible. We hope to live by our name in getting people to feel Shocked and Awe’d!
Ci Chaan: I think I should piss more people off. Somehow it seems like the only way to pull the trigger and inspire more people to write. You see, without a ridiculous statement people won't bother to waste their precious time and write back (fueled with anger, sometimes) to contradict that statement. Even if it isn’t assured that the feedback would be helpful, it would still certainly excite me.
We have come to the end of the interview. Thanks guys! Any last words?
Ci Chaan: It’s a secret. Sorry Cher, but I can’t tell you what my last words are going to be.
Yuen: “Support” is a weak word used to oblige friends to buy your zine, so no “Keep on supporting us” or “Thanks for the support” (at least for this interview, ngeh). We welcome collaborations from mobile independent workers everywhere. It’s the age of the Internet, so no need for geographical proximity. We hope that this project would be a good platform for collaborations within the Southeast Asia scene. Do contact us: drop us a word at email@example.com if you have something to share.
Alak: Up the Punks and more Power to the people! Cheers!
Ci Chaan: Discharge.
*Their fourth issue is currently in the works. So keep your eyes peeled!
**To quote Yuen somewhere in this interview, "I’m just joking, for those of you who take all the things you hear seriously."
Shock&Awe also has an online arm, which is a focus on regional DIY hardcore-punk media production in electronic form. You can check it out here: http://shockawemedia.wordpress.com.
For queries, ideas for collaborations, contributions, or just to say hi, Shock&Awe can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.