The setting looked promising from the first moment: A black drumset, some amps and microphones stood sandwiched between two high street lanes under a massive concrete flyover. Behind the instruments, a painted wall advertised “Super Coffeemix” in bright red, adding an aggressive vibe as if set up with this concert in mind.
Close to the street leading to downtown, a red diesel generator the size of a small car promised power to come. One of the organizers told me that they paid K30,000 to fuel energy costs of the electric guitars, microphones, electric pianos and the stage lights.
It all seemed right on key with the atmosphere of November 12’s free seven band punk show, with an audience of around 200 people at peak time. At around 5pm trash/punk band System opened the event. The punk crowd did not hesitate a second before launching into pogo dancing and eventual moshing. Many of them dressed in black leather jackets, legs squeezed into leggings imprinted with little skulls. From the black Doc Martens shoes on their feet to the colorful mohawk haircuts on their heads, an air of counter-culture rebellion was as plain as the artful tattoos on their naked torsos. Never Reverse and The Rebel Riot followed with more punk rock, before Kaiza Tin Moong introduced a more laid-back vibe (read: somewhere between punk and folk) that electrified the place with heavy rock n’ roll guitar riffs. “This must be the soundtrack of the next Tarantino movie”, I yelled at a guy next to me. He seemed to like the idea.
As the humidity mixed with beer, sweat and diesel fumes, the raw energy of Yangon’s authentic underground music scene grew even more palpable. This event was perfectly uncut: from the do-it-yourself quality of over-amped loudspeakers, to the Myanmar beer bottles dragged along from the closest “city express”, to the explicit “F*ck off wankers!” patches on their ubiquitous leather jackets. “If there is one place where punk is still alive, then it must be Yangon”, I harassed the guy next to me again.
After female hip-hop group YAK took over the stage, the boundaries between crowd and band dissolved. As night fell over the underpass,the event morphed into a huge party, with most people “on-stage” to sing-a-long to the YAK-songs. After Band No U-Turn concluded a successful U-Turn back to raw and noisy punk, it was time for Yangon-based band Kultureshock to play parts of their first self-released album – finished just a couple of days before the Hledan concert.
While the drummer demonically battered his instrument and the singer yelled into the crowd, the listeners could decide if they preferred to shower in water fountains spilled out of bottles or beer fountains out of filthy mouths. Some guys even laid proof that one doesn’t necessarily need a stage for the pleasures of stage diving. One thing is for sure: the Clash, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols would have been proud had they seen what heights – and depths – Yangon’s underground punk scene has reached.