I’m from Kapar, a small little town in Klang. I go back often. It’s my soul home. Whenever something happens, you want to go back to something familiar.
There’s no particular place I like going to there – it’s Kapar itself. The minute you enter, it’s already home. It’s like asking you which part of your house is the best part. It’s the whole house. I embrace the whole thing.
My parents sent me to a government boarding school. The non-bumiputras were only about two percent. Because of that, you’re not given a chance to rebel or to break the rules, which is why you break the rules when you finish.
I got into punk rock at eighteen. Punk rock is a way of life. If Buddhism, socialism and anarchism had a threesome and they had a baby, that’s what it would be.
When I first got to KL, I was selling calculators from door to door. Doing music on the side. Actually, I always thought I was doing music as the main thing and doing everything else on the side.
I would go down to Central Market on the weekends and there would be guys selling zines. The DIY publishing scene was big in the nineties. This was our The Sun, our Wall Street Journal. It was how we found the bands.
We didn’t really care about getting reviewed in The Star or The Sun or New Straits Times. It was more validating getting reviewed by this guy who’s got this zine. We organised our shows on a low budget.
Punk rock is a way of life. If Buddhism, socialism and anarchism had a threesome and they had a baby, that’s what it would be.
When all the bands are working-class bands, the girls come from working-class backgrounds. And as classist as this might sound, usually women from working-class backgrounds do not have the time. We’d go to a punk show and there’d be 300 guys and two girls. Nowadays it’s a nice balance. There are more girls in the scene, I don’t think it’s such a boys’ club any more.
Some of the early places to do shows were at either Metallica Lounge or Piccadilly. On some weekends, where the tea dance used to be there’d be a punk show, a metal show.
I formed Spunky Funggy in ’91. I play guitar and vocals. We later found out that Spunky Funggy could mean ‘active fungus’, which is quite a good concept actually. Discharge, the Sex Pistols – they sound like a punk band. I think ‘Spunky Funggy’ didn’t sound like anything in particular, so we had a chance to do our music the way we wanted to. So we can have some ska in there, we can have some love songs if we want.
We wrote songs about immigrants and how they’re not being treated right. But it wasn’t as hardline as some of my peers, who went for a more in-your-face approach. It’s easy to be a wrecking ball or a sledgehammer; it’s more difficult to be subtle about things. Subversive is the way to go.
At the biggest point of the band, we were in almost every daily paper. But in terms of the underground scene, that was our low point. There was a strong underground scene who viewed that kind of success as selling out. It was painful, because we germinated from that scene and until today, I don’t want to leave it.
I don’t believe in preaching to the converted. So if it meant playing some bigger shows, yeah, we’ll play some bigger shows.
I don’t believe in preaching to the converted. You want that kid out there, who’s deciding what to do with his life and is a bit confused, to listen to your music. If you play in the same place where the same punks are going to, you’re not getting to that guy. So if it meant playing some bigger shows, yeah, we’ll play some bigger shows.
We tried to go to Australia. I thought it would be a surprise for the band, but the surprise was on me. When I finally got the dates, my bassist left the band. Then there was a series of incidents and setbacks. Leading up to the tour, I sold everything to get enough money to go. We were telling the guys in Australia that we didn’t have a bassist. They were so nice: “We’ve got your CD – we’ll play bass for you in this town, and then when you go to the next town my other friend will play the bass.”
I was young. I went to Australia with a mohawk, ripped jeans, leather jacket, punk t-shirt and guitar, with patches and stuff. So the minute you walk through immigration, you’re gonna get flagged. And we got turned away.
I was so embarrassed with the people in the scene. I didn’t want to see them, because I was telling them, “I’m going to Australia, man! The first band to go to Australia!” So I hid. And they cut my electricity, because I didn’t pay my bill. I was behind on my rent. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.
When you hit depression, you don’t want to do anything. You’re bitter with everyone, you’re angry with the world. And you don’t want to do your music. But a year later we toured Thailand, which for me was very important. To come out and stand up again and do another tour.
When you’re touring with no money, the punk way, it’s very difficult to keep your head up. So after that period I decided to pursue something else for a while. A friend offered to sell his games shop, and I bought it – lock, stock and one box of Magic. The shop’s ten years old now.
I released a book. It was written by this young fella called Francis Wolf who felt like he could take on the world. Twelve years later I opened the file and read this guy telling me a story which I know so well, but from a point of view of a younger me. The introduction and conclusion is my voice now. But the meat of the book is this guy twelve years ago. I wanted his voice to shine through.
It was very painful to write, because it means revisiting the scene of the crime. I found myself staring at nothing for the longest time. But now I’ve been bitten by the writing bug. Writing is therapy. That’s how it should be – not money.
Apart from Dungeons & Dragons I have no imagination to speak of. So it’s easier to write about something that has gravity, and I like gravity. It grounds you.
I want this book to be read by a lot of punks. In a few weeks, it will be in Malay. It’s called Edisi Bukan Bahasa Inggeris, because the translation would not be accepted as proper Malay. It’s street Malay, which I think is perfect for a street kind of book.
Guerilla gardening is a great way to be badass.
2013 and 1992 are worlds apart. 1992 was innocent, angry, full of energy and zest. 2013 is more established, more nicely done up: a manicured lawn.
It’s very trendy now to be political, to be against the government, to say something profoundly badass. But I think if you look around further, there are other ways. Guerilla gardening, street art, fighting for immigrant rights… these are great ways to be badass.
We started Food Not Bombs. It’s a peaceful protest to show people that we have homeless here who are in need of food. We recycle vegetarian food and serve it to the poor. It’s open for everybody.
There’s the rise of the collectives now. We have the Buku Jalanan movement – basically, open libraries. They set up in parks. Just go and read the books, and donate some books. It’s easy to be a keyboard warrior, but be angry and do something about it – don’t just be angry. Be proactive.
I still have a mohawk. It looks really cool at twenty-seven, but the minute people know you’re forty and you have a mohawk, they wonder.
Francis Wolf is a musician, writer and game shop owner. His book Social Carbon Copy, an account of Spunky Funggy’s Australia and Thailand tours, was recently published on his imprint, Doyerown Books.
Interview by Nine. Photo by Ling Low.