Freedom through music

We explore once unknown aspects of the Malaysian underground music subculture.

OUR The way people listen to music has changed drastically since the media dominated the industry. You can see how people gravitate towards pop songs, contemporary music, and modern, more innovative genres like K-pop that can be heard on almost every form of social media, including music streaming apps.

Despite all this, the Malaysian underground music culture is a little-known phenomenon that few people have heard of. A well-established dedicated underground culture in Malaysia is known as the Malaysian independent (indie) or urban music scene and it flourished in the late 1990s.

It is not difficult to define what exactly is meant by the term “underground music” these days. Underground musicians require a lot of creative freedom and don’t rely too much on the mainstream media.

In Malaysia, mainstream music refers to artists who are signed to major record labels and produce commercially popular music, while underground media is subculture oriented.

Underground music includes styles and sub-genres rarely seen in popular music, whether pop, techno, rock, metal or jazz.

The Malaysian underground scene is dominated by guitar bands with a preference for rock music, but there are other bands with various musical influences such as hip hop, electronica and dance that can be heard on stage.

Most of the musicians in this local scene are self-organized bands or DIY oriented collectives that emphasize co-creation, sharing and enjoyment of music.

Technology has changed a lot over the past two decades. In today’s digital world, there are many specialized websites and other online platforms. This is where underground artists can now market their albums, gigs, venues and businesses by distributing them online, primarily on social media.


Back in the mid-1980s, Anglo-American music and magazines like NME made their way to Malaysia and spawned a new generation of heavy metal and punk bands across the country.

Underground subcultures spread positive, egalitarian social messages that provided young Malaysians with an alternative.

By the late 1990s, Kuala Lumpur’s now historic Central Market had become a hub for a number of young, multiethnic Malaysian artists and musicians who were fed up with the increasingly conservative outlook of the Malay countryside.

These early bands enjoyed musical freedom in Malaysia, where long-haired, ripped-jean-clad “mat-rockers” (Malay hard rock fans and musicians) such as Search and Wings (Malaysian hard rock band) achieved great popularity. in Malaysia in the 1980s.

They collected tickets to Kuala Lumpur’s many stadiums with their mixture of melodic European hard rock and Malay-language songs, attracting fans from all walks of life.

However, the situation changed between 2001 and 2006. Increasingly vocal religious authorities called fans of the genre “satanic black metal enthusiasts”, the musicians were accused of “free adultery and desecration of the Koran”, and their music was turned off.

In other words, the Malay media exaggerated what was going on at music events, confiscating albums and canceling concerts due to hysteria.

Over time, the genre began to make a comeback on the scene, albeit in a much more subdued form than before. It was then that well-known rock bands such as Hujan and Meet Uncle Hussain appeared on the scene, once again introducing the genre to the modern audience of fans.

Audience Acceptance

Even with the advent of new technologies and the acceptability of materials for performing music, underground music and concerts continue to flourish. And what makes it special is that it was accepted by most people and changed for the better.

Anik Ammar Ehwan, guitarist for the band Hayley Komet, noted that underground artists strive to convey their thoughts and emotions, and the same goes for the public.

“Before, people only went to shows in their favorite genre. [of music]but now the shows themselves are composed of different genres and it all merges together, ”he said.

“Here the concept of artistic equality is balanced and neutralized by the concept of harmony.”

Anik believes that this healthy grassroots support for underground events and culture will continue and that the future is bright if this freedom of expression continues to flourish.