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The 10 Malaysian bands you need to know

Your guide to the local acts who are spearheading a musical renaissance

1/10

Citizens of Ice Cream’s stunning, paradoxically titled EP ‘The End’ in 2007 was merely the beginning for the five-piece widely regarded as one of the leading post-rock outfits in the region. The band’s six-track debut was a lesson in weaving intricate, multi-layered instrumental pieces that are high in drama and dexterity, a feat replicated on 2012’s outstanding ‘Days of Bays’.

Starter tracks: ‘Straits of Forgotten States’, ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Leave it to the Ants’

2/10

Specialising in rollicking British retro-rock that made Irish teenagers The Strypes one of last year’s biggest success stories, Bittersweet has been playing up the virtues of Brit-rock to anyone who would listen since the band was formed in 2004. The Ipoh quartet, helmed by chief songwriter and lead guitarist Herri Hamid, ably takes cues from the up-tempo, blues-tinged branch of garage-rock that populated UK airwaves in the ’60s and ’70s.

However, to write them off as mere Brit-rock revivalists would do Bittersweet a major disservice, as they have expertly injected dazzling pop yeh-yeh stylings into two hotly tipped records, 2006’s ‘A Perfect Match’ and 2011’s ‘Empire’s Transition’.

Starter tracks:Capital E’, ‘1234’, ‘Secret

3/10

Malaysian indie-pop’s favourite sons combine slow-burning synth-pop with sleek chillwave flourishes and poignant lyricism that culminate in catchy, effortless pop gems. Since beginning as a bedroom project in 2006, Edzwan, Faiq and Nazri have continued to go from strength to strength, having also toured across Germany, Finland and Estonia alongside Indonesia’s The Trees and the Wild in the second half of 2012. Full-length debut ‘Tourist Car’, released in 2012, was immaculate, fulfilling the initial promise the trio displayed on 2011’s ‘This Wasted Heart’ EP.

Starter tracks: ‘Somewhere’, ‘Shelf Life’, ‘This Wasted Heart

4/10

Enterprise dabbles in groovy Foals-meets-Daft Punk dance-rock that’s big on sci-fi references, robotic vocals, drum splashes and electronic embellishments. Possessing the nifty ability to conjure up enthralling flashes of synth-y ingenuity with ease, the underrated Subang Jaya quintet is the go-to band in town for ebullient, party-ready music that you can sway to all night.

Starter tracks:LHFT’, ‘Dreams’, ‘On a Mission

 (Photo: Iz Mady)
5/10
Photo: Iz Mady

KL’s once-burgeoning indie-folk scene was threatening to be overrun by acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriters before three precocious sisters from Kuantan made a mockery of the archetype.

Soraya, Nazeera and Irena first made an impression at the tail end of 2011, when their captivating blend of delicate vocal harmonies and wistfully twee melodies took the open-mic circuit by storm. The Impatient Sisters have since gone on to open for the likes of Dia Frampton and the Jezabels. With the siblings’ long-rumoured debut album dropping this month, their stock is set to soar even higher.

Starter tracks: ‘Comets and Stars’, ‘Sister, Don’t Cry’, ‘The Ark

 (Photo: Lim Xiou Ann)
6/10
Photo: Lim Xiou Ann

Warren Chan’s group of charming twee-poppers first garnered global attention in late 2006, when Ferns was sensationally proclaimed one of Rolling Stone’s 25 Best Bands on MySpace. The quintet’s maiden album, 2007’s ‘On Botany’, was an instant classic, combining Warren’s soft, soothing voice with warm jangle-pop leanings seldom heard of in a city built on heavy metal and hard rock.

Ferns devotees had to endure four years without an ‘On Botany’ follow-up, but 2011’s ‘Fairweather Friends’ was decidedly worth the wait – the record was another excellent reminder that quiet is indeed the new loud.

Starter tracks:Hey OK’, ‘Miss Stormcloud’, ‘Disaster Strikes Again’

 (Photo: Lucas Lau)
7/10
Photo: Lucas Lau

Boasting one of the country’s most mercurial frontmen, the Fuad Alhabshi-led Kyoto Protocol has certainly come a long way since its early days as an unheralded cover band in 2008. Six years and two highly regarded EPs later, the five-piece is now a fixture on the local music festival circuit, having showcased their rambunctious brand of indie-rock at Urbanscapes, Future Music Festival Asia and Good Vibes in recent times.

Starter tracks:Pussycat’, ‘Jelita’, ‘KL I Love You’

8/10

Ferns wasn’t the only Malaysian representative on that fateful Rolling Stone list – Couple also made a sizeable splash in 2006, garnering widespread internet acclaim. Melding oldschool power-pop aesthetics with feel-good sing-along choruses, the irreverent quartet is responsible for three cult records: 2006’s ‘Top of the Pop’, 2008’s ‘Teenage Disc Fantastic’ and 2009’s ‘Pop Tak Masuk Radio’.

Starter tracks: ‘Now That I Can See’, ‘Tentang Kita’, ‘Lagu Cinta Untukmu’

9/10

PJ’s Free Deserters have been consistently churning out hazy, expansive psychedelic rock and fuzzy, raw noise-pop tunes with aplomb since 2006. Led by Zack Yusof of BFM 89.9’s ‘33rpm’ fame, the virtuoso four-piece boasts an EP (2007’s ‘Last Chance’) and an eponymous mini album from 2010, with latest effort ‘Crowd Control’ being the band’s most accomplished yet.

Starter tracks:Out of Reach’, ‘Storybook’, ‘Disappear’

10/10

The much-publicised departure of its original lead singer in 2009 looked set to be the final nail in They Will Kill Us All’s once-nascent career. It was a noticeable fall from grace for a buzz band that was still riding on a wave created by well-received maiden album ‘Secret Episodes’ a year earlier.

But ‘Vultures’, the five-piece’s eagerly awaited sophomore effort that became one of 2012’s most impressive local releases, swiftly put to bed any lingering doubt about their position as KL’s finest indie-rock proponents. Melding post-punk anthems with impeccable song crafting, They Will Kill Us All 2.0 is an exciting prospect indeed.

Starter tracks:Sirens’, ‘Great Glass City’, ‘Under the Red Sky’

Best live music venues

Perfect Square Space

Perfect Square Space is dedicated to the underground scene. Despite having just opened end last year, this intimate, 170-people capacity venue has quickly made a name for itself as the go-to place to catch new and established underground bands from around the country. Apart from that, the space has also attracted touring regional and international acts; among them are American punk band RVIVR and Bottlesmoker from Indonesia. Perfect Square Space is hidden above a mamak, so if you ever get hungry after a gig, you can always go for a Maggi goreng downstairs.

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TTDI

Playspace

Playspace LIVE is one of the many small independent venues that have opened up in KL in recent years. What sets it apart from other small music venues is their commitment to the sound quality and production value. Playspace LIVE is known for its great sound quality and excellent lighting. Also, Playspace LIVE is admirably very inclusive when it comes to selecting the artists to play there. They’ve been hosting musicians of all genres, from acapella to metal to even classical music.

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Damansara
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Bobo KL

Bobo KL is Jalan Bangkung’s resident piano bar. Have a modern European dinner at the restaurant downstairs, then make your way upstairs for some entertainment and there – your night sorted. Sean Ghazi is the artistic director in charge of the music programming here. Although the venue has a cool jazz club vibe, they insist on not being one but aims to focus more on easy listening music such as oldies and musicals. Some of the bar’s past performers include Elvira Arul, Tony Eusoff, Melissa Indot, Rozz and more.

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Bangsar

ATAS by Bijan FX

When in Kelana Jaya, drop by this new gig space founded by producer and sound engineer Bijan FX. Although the place is in a quiet part of town, it comes alive from Thursday night through to the weekend. ATAS by Bijan FX has quite the busy schedule with regular nights such as their ‘Singer-songwriters Night’, the ‘StubApp Music Series’ and more. Some musicians who have graced the ATAS stage include Dirgahayu, Liyana Fizi, Toko Kilat, SevenCollar T-Shirt, The Venopian Solitude and more.

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Kelana Jaya
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The Bee Publika

If you haven’t noticed already, The Bee is back – and not only with a new look, but with a whole new programming as well. The restaurant, bar and music venue is also brining back its signature Upfront series. Gracing the stage so far this year were Onra, The Temper Trap and Tennyson. Besides international acts, they’ve also introduced new music series for local acts, including the by-girls and for-girls Femme Bam, Saturday nights Sonic Boom, and a bi-monthly poetry open mic night.

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Solaris Dutamas

Merdekarya

Merdekarya is the people’s music venue. No, not just for its cheap drinks but also because anyone can play here. At Merdekarya, anyone can sign up for their open mic slots or open for their featured acts of the night. And if Merdekarya thinks you’re good enough, you’ll be offered your own show here. After three years since they first started, Merdekarya has upgraded by soundproofing the space, adding extra stage lights and improving their sound. The music on offer is usually acoustic, but some nights you might find yourself catching a rock band or a jazz crooner.

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Petaling Jaya
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Live Fact

Located at a corner of a nondescript building across a three-storey car park, and above dim, narrow stairs, is Live Fact – a bare, intimate space for band jams, gigs and many more. It’s self-sustaining – DIY isn’t dead – and so far, in its short span, has hosted local and touring acts; think Arms and Sleepers, MY DISCO and Killeur Calculateur. They also hosted the Malaysian leg of the Asian Meeting Festival which saw a stellar lineup of 16 musicians from Japan and Southeast Asia. There’s a bar, a stage and a studio. The sound, in relation to its size, is not too shabby.

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Taman Desa

Gaslight Café

If you’re all about reliving the '60s in an Allen Ginsberg, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan kind of way, then make Gaslight Café your new hangout spot. While the original Gaslight Café back in New York was located in a basement on MacDougal Street, this one is all the way up in Plaza Damansara, above Neroteca and new rum bar JungleBird. Staying true to the original café’s roots, the performances here are strictly folk, country, jazz, blues, soul and poetry.

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Bukit Damansara
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No Black Tie

Set up more than 10 years ago by pianist Evelyn Hii, NBT has grown into a refuge for burgeoning local talents, whether an expert fingerstyle guitarist or a music student on term break. International talents float in and out, including jazz pianist Kirk Lightsey and Kolkata band Kendraka. Local acts like Yuna and Reza Salleh have used NBT as a launching pad for greater things, while jazz talents Rozz, Dasha Logan and Elvira Arul are regular crooners. Acoustics and sound control are pitch perfected from a control pad so that every sexy trumpet riff swirls around the room. NBT is a music venue first, restaurant second, so customer noise levels are generally low.

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Bukit Bintang

Alexis Bistro Ampang

The Alexis brand may have passed through the ritzy corridors of Bangsar Shopping Centre and The Gardens over the years, but the storied Ampang outlet in Great Eastern Mall is still the place to be for an intimate evening of jazz. Since 2003, Fridays and Saturdays at Alexis Bistro Ampang have been dedicated solely to top-notch jazz performances from a host of local and international musicians, an impressive list that ranges from Barry Cooper and Tompi to Adibah Noor and Michael Veerapen. The classy and stylish setting is fleshed out with soothing sounds of blues, swing, funk and soul.

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KL City Centre
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