Concerts featuring big-name international artists are hard to come by here in Malaysia.
Maybe it is because of the possibility of protests, loads of red tape, or an overall lack of interest in performing in a place that has a rather conservative reputation. Malaysia isn’t exactly known for being a fun and wild party place.
I was excited to have a chance to see indie-rock sensation MGMT, a band with a few songs such as “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” that I absolutely adore. Their music is above all else ‘fun’ and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
A friend and I jumped in a cab and arrived at the concert. We were met by the crowds standing outside smoking and drinking. It looked like all of 1Malaysia was enjoying some fermented flora.
Personally, I like beer. I like drinking socially and responsibly. I like above all else having a beer in hand while watching a concert.
We asked the woman at the ticket counter if they were serving drinks inside. She said “yes” to which I replied “woo hoo”!. The line up was extremely long. We waited for about twenty minutes to have them pat us down, check our ID to make sure I was above eighteen, and given a wrist band. However, when I went up to the bar, my options were either coke or water. I realized I should have asked the ticket person whether they would be serving ‘alcoholic drinks’. In a panic, I phoned a fellow columnist who was coming. I probably sounded desperate, but I asked her to pick up some beers.
Like an angel from alcoholic heaven, she said yes.
We waited outside with the large crowd. It was nice to see all the races getting along through binge drinking. They were not listening to the advice from “Kids”: “Control yourself, take only what you need from it” If they weren’t allowed to do it casually inside, they were willing to do it rapidly outside.
Once our beers arrived, we began chugging. I felt like I was in high school again. Other people asked us where we got our drinks, could they have some, where is the nearest convenience store, etc. I heard one Malaysian guy griping about Malaysia. I even saw some tourists looking like their dog had just been killed.
People were looking at us with those beers the same way dogs watch a table of steaks.
Once we were finished, we re-entered the concert. The concert hall was full of little stands put on by Marlboro. Girls in tight white pants and golden tops wandered around asking if patrons wanted to try their little game on an iPad. I played the game where I had to pick from an array of pictures choosing the five pictures depicting people who are ‘stylish’. Could a game be any more superficial? Anyway, I won, and they gave me a cool looking lighter. Marlboro had twelve fancy stands all over the concert hall selling cigarettes — which of course are okay for everyone to enjoy.
The concert began. The crowd was having a great time. I could smell a mixture of marijuana, sweat, and Marlboro cigarettes.
Since I know Malaysians love racializing everything, I would say the crowd was predominantly Malay. To see it I had to look past a lot of Jimi Hendrix style headbands, thick rimmed glasses, and T-shirts that said things like “I am in KL bitch,” or depicted some cool indie-rock band that nobody except the wearer has heard of.
A friend of a friend showed up with a bag of vodka strapped to his belly with a straw coming out of the top of his shirt. Nice move.
When the song “Time to Pretend” came on, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed with joy and hypocrisy.
We were all were singing along to this song depicting what it would be like to ‘become famous’. Two girls garbed in hijabs bounced in front of me. They sang along to the lyrics:
“I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars. You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars”
They were smiling.
A guy these two girls were with turned to me and said, “I can’t believe they aren’t serving alcohol here.” We high-fived.
Still, why the ID check at a dry event? Is the word ‘fuck’ why they checked ID? Kids can download any song they want these days, so I can’t imagine anyone being stupid enough to think this would prevent them from hearing harsh words.
Besides, the crowd was having fun! Chances are 99% of them aren’t going to fornicate with celebrities or do hard drugs — two ideas that they have already been presented with in their lives and realize both are unrealistic and dangerous.
Even though the song’s lyrics depict the wild and crazy side of making it in the entertainment business, a real life lesson is told towards the end:
“I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms. I’ll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world. I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home”
I guess young people could actually learn lessons from listening to fun music?
Just to clarify on the nights’ events: Grown-ups are smuggling in bellybags of Vodka, young people are binge drinking outside and walking in the venue drunk, and cancer causing tobacco is being pushed on everyone like it is as healthy as carrot.
Neither drinking nor smoking are things that should be encouraged. They are, however, inevitable options and will always be around. Young people need to be made aware of the harms, and when they are old enough they should be able to choose to consume such products. Not everyone in Malaysia is a teetotaller and it is time certain authorities recognize this reality. I have been to two concerts in Malaysia and for both they checked my Identification and neither served more than water and coke.
1Malaysia was outside of the concert binge-drinking because honouring adults’ interests in social drinking was not an option — although anyone can walk into 7-11 and get a beer?
As I left, a couple Malay guys got out of a taxi, finished their beers and chucked them down on the ground.
A lot is happening behind closed doors, or even out in the shadows in front of a concert hall. Once people recognize something is going to happen, they can prepare for it, they can monitor it and they can promote doing it responsibly.
I believe it is time to stop pretending, but in the words of MGMT: “We were fated to pretend”.
Colin Boyd Shafer lectures in social science, writes a column for the Malaysian Insider, and is the man behind Colinizing Photography on facebook. He also likes beer.