The Undying Rock Scene in Malaysia

Zahid Yon [2nd from left] with DISAGREE band mates at Rock The World 2016.

Pictured above (L-R): Aziz, Zahid, David and Hamka.

MNA interviews CEO of Rock The World

The rock scene has always been an underground affair for Malaysian fans. Over the years, festival goers have also been a selective few who grew up with the ever growing punk culture, which has been typically attractive among the youth of the country. Although the underground scene and its idealism have always remained an alternative choice, it has positively sustained a loyal fan base and saw an increasing interest from the youth as a surrogate to the cool and popular culture of mainstream tunes; sidelined as the antagonist to accepted cultures.

Fat Boys, the concert organiser of Rock The World, has done more than just producing another music event. They have prominently proved [as if they need be] their dedication as the founder of Rock The World through their undying passion for the local rock scene 16 years in the running. MNA catches with Mohamed Zahid Yon, CEO of Fat Boys on his take on the music industry, the rock scene and the challenges rock artists face to stand out and promote their work. Zahid is also part of the founding member of a Malaysian progressive rock band Disagree.

Q: We understand that organising Rock The World at this time of the year could be a risky undertaking for Fat Boys. How did it succeed again in its 16th year?

We’ve always wanted to feature as many current talents as possible. With two performing stages to set programmes to, we’ve been really grateful that TuneTalk has once again supported our efforts in promoting the local scene. The challenge has always been trying to get corporate sponsors for a localised event such as Rock The World. We’ve been fortunate to also include Raku [official music streaming]; CrapTV [official online channel]; ROTTW [official magazine]; and also HitzFM.

Zahid performing with band mates Disagree at Rock The World 2016
Zahid performing with band mates Disagree at Rock The World 2016

Q: Are your line-ups from Malaysia?

Yes. Many years ago we started to brand it as a local hero’s kind of festival and didn’t want any international acts headlining it. The fact that we wanted to celebrate pure local music starting from the very grassroots acts goes back a long way. For those who have performed with us over the years, we are glad that their acts have also launched and gained international acceptance since.

Q: What has really grown in the Malaysian music industry in the last decade?

The one thing that has obviously changed for the better is the closing gap between underground and commercialised music. Underground acts are starting to get noticed and that’s been such a great thing to see over the years. We began to see this shift just about 5-6 years ago when indie music was gaining popularity in this region. We are definitely seeing a shift of interest for rock music. It’s indeed an exciting time to be an underground band.

Q: Why do you think this is happening?

There’s a huge difference in how music is marketed and distributed these days compare to 10 years ago. In the past, in order to make it, bands would have to go through live gigs day in and day out and selling of merchandise just to get their music heard. While this is still a struggle for underground acts, social media has become more accessible to fans and listeners hence more connectivity to bands even at startup level. That’s a good thing and it’s something we at Fat Boys would like to grow with the acts. Live music is also riding on the digital wagon as well.

Q: The biggest challenge for artists these days is to get their music heard nationally and internationally. How do you see Malaysian artists promote their music and broaden their audience?

Local acts have really come away in their efforts in promoting their music. The challenge is in running a marketing campaign without the help from the government, labels or sponsors. It is a tough scene but the support from local fans has always been a powerful driving force for their long-standing presence in the region. Indonesia’s openness in accepting talents has always been the main supporter for many acts from Malaysia. Major labels have never wanted to risk signing local indie bands and that alone has been one of the many factors that continues to drive them these days. Bands such as Massacre of Conspiracy and Daarchlea have performed in many places outside of Malaysia others could only dream of and they have purely made it on their own.

Q: What’s one of the greatest experience organising Rock The World?

It has always been the rock and underground music from the very beginning. If memory serves me right, Rock The World’s first ever concert line-up included Butterfingers, Jason Lo and Spunky Funggy. This year, the scene is gradually picking up again and saw the comeback of Butterfingers. For those who’d grown up with these bands, history will never repeat itself as the experience can never be duplicated. It’s not a trend that comes or goes but the memory that stays.

When A.C.A.B performed at the concert this year and we saw the droves of people moving from the marquee towards the main stage, and it’s just great and fulfiling to see because these bands are not only dedicated to their music today, they have been so since day one in 1994.

About Fat Boys Sdn Bhd

Fat Boys started 16 years ago with the idea of a concert that would feature Malaysian rock bands. In its first years, the reaction of such an event was overwhelming and the entity expanded to include organising international acts such as Placebo, Justin Bieber, Elton John & Band, Avril Lavigne, Jessie J and Christina Perri, Andrea Bocelli and Zee Avi, just to name a few. Their pioneering efforts stood out as no one else was celebrating local music in those days. Obviously times have changed and competition is rampant even amongst national promoters; a sign of a healthy industry for performing artists. To date, they have hosted the 30th anniversary of Maju Holding; TM Banner Concert; Music Canteen Tour; Radio Fest 2007; Bill Gates Hologram at WCIT 2008; and more.

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