Punk spunk in Singapore

October 15, 2004
Singapore Democrats

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Associated Press
http://www.star-ecentral.com/news/story.asp file=/2004/10/14/music/9086113&sec=music

Slouched over his electric guitar, decked out in a leather jacket and tartan kilt, Yogaraj Panniselvan was all set to let fly when it suddenly occurred to him that there could be plainclothes cops in the sweaty, screaming audience.

Singapore’s pioneering underground punk band Opposition Party with main man Francis Frightful. Says Frightful: ‘People understand us more now. Back then they couldn’t decide whether we were criminals or lunatics with our spikes and chains.’

Then, having cast a wary eye over the crowd, he threw caution aside and launched into a primal scream. Anti-war! Anti-war! the lanky 20-year-old howled as Molotove, his four-piece punk outfit, kicked into an expletive-peppered deluge of power chords and crashing cymbals. Hate and deception is present everywhere. Its utter murder but your government doesnt care!

Even in famously disciplinarian, squeaky-clean Singapore, underground punk rock is belting out its anti-establishment message.

In Singapore, where nearly all manner of public expression is regulated and broadcasting and cinema are subject to censorship, the underground punk music scene is growing, Panniselvan and others tell The Associated Press.

Punks span the countrys ethnic range, from majority Chinese to minority Indians like Panniselvan. In English and Malay, they deliver an angst-y, shock-the-world brand of social-consciousness, some inspired by God, others by the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.

Singapore has long argued that social controls are needed to hold its multi-ethnic society together and make it attractive to foreign investors. This has given rise to such a fuddy-duddy reputation that when American rap-rock group Linkin Park performed here in June it likened the experience to being at grandmas for dinner.

Recently, though, some of the restrictions on chewing gum and mens hair length, for instance have been relaxed, and Singapore has openly acknowledged that its younger people need more leeway if they are to stay here and be creative.

Now it wants to be a regional centre for the arts and media. Two years ago, Singapore sanctioned its first local punk rock festival at its arts centre (Baybeats at the Esplanade), a relatively mild affair compared with the likes of Molotove, and authorities have said they will allow homegrown musicians to flourish.

When I first became a fan of punk music, there were only a handful of kids interested in it. Now there are thousands! exulted Francis Leong, aka Francis Frightful, the lead vocalist of Opposition Party (www. oppositionparty.net), one of Singapores pioneer punk bands.

He thinks punks these days are more accepted. People understand us more now. Back then they couldnt decide whether we were criminals or lunatics with our spikes and chains, he said.

Unable to get air time or publicity in the mainstream media, Singaporean punk rock advertises itself by word of mouth, e-mail, text-messaging and photocopied flyers. The concert by Molotove and a few other bands on a recent Sunday afternoon took place in a small nightclub on the fringe of a shopping district, where music lovers paid S$7 (RM15.40) a head to savour the sound, slam into each other and throw punches toward the ground.

Singapore punk rockers may soon be a more common sight as the country eases up on its social controls.

At punk rock concerts, some bands growl calls for anarchy, others decry racism, and some scream about the joy of receiving Jesus Christ. Jerome Simon of Christian punk band Sky in Euphoria takes to the stage with a guttural howl and sings: Jehovah! Jehovah! He is your answer!

Its hard to know whether punk rocks ability to get through a concert without official intervention represents a genuine loosening of government controls, or simply has gone unnoticed on the sidelines of life in the city-state of four million. The politics of Singapores parliamentary democracy are carefully managed, and social engineering still enters into everything from matchmaking to slimming down overweight schoolchildren. The government bans Playboy magazine and only recently lifted a two-decade prohibition on Cosmopolitan magazine.

Still, Francis Frightful acknowledges, limited lightening up is better than nothing.

Its like youre having a party in the house with your parents at home, he said. Better than before, when you were in the house and you couldnt do anything at all.