The Malaysian capital swings to new beats thanks to a collection of cafés, diners and clubs that have helped to cement its reputation as one of the region’s best cities for live music. Follow rock’n’roll hound dog Marco Ferrarese on a night out, and discover all the mainstays and latest trendy hangouts of KL’s budding arts and music scene.
By Marco Ferrarese – Pothography by Darshen Chelliah
C’mon let’s admit it: with the surge of low cost flight connections, getting from Bali or Jakarta to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is a cheap breeze. KL, as it’s fondly known among locals, is a mixture of modern and sleek high-rises and fascinating Mogul-inspired colonial architecture. Its glitzy megamalls, friendly and trendy multi-ethnic population, and mouth-watering pan-Asian cuisine make it a well-worthwhile stop in any Southeast Asian exploration.
However, I have heard quite a few travellers complain that “KL doesn’t really rock”. This claim rings partially true: in fact, for easy going first-timers who want their after dark entertainment to be more than swanky dance clubs and posh wine bars where attire does count, a first foray into KL’s nightlife can turn into a sour experience. On the other hand, if you know where to look, this apparently dull city hides a number of interesting surprises for those who love to tap their toes to some of the best blues, jazz, alternative rock, and even heavy metal and punk, in the region.
For starters, and straight in the midst of the tourist concoction of Petaling Street, KL’s newest kid on the artsy block is certainly Findars Café. As the name suggests, it’s the place to go to ‘find art’ and start your music crawl from 6pm. Cleverly run by an artists’ collective who produces artwork in-residence, it evolved as an independent music venue in the northern city suburb of Wangsa Maju. It just recently upgraded to a cosy café cum art and performance space in the heart of KL’s Chinatown. A principal magnet for the city’s alternative, artsy crowd and dreamers, Findars is a great place to relax while browsing your laptop with a cup of hand-dripped home brew in hand, while vinyl records crackle in the background. Try the superb imported beans from Vietnam and Guatemala. Cult movie screenings and live bands rock throughout the week.
No Black Tie, has been KL’s stylish jazz club mainstay for the past decade, and doubles as a chic Japanese restaurant. Here, local and international acts sling an eclectic choice of jazz, folk, rock and blues, bestowing the perfect soundtrack on this favourite watering hole of KL’s business and social elite.Click to view slideshow.
if you know where to look, KL hides a number of interesting surprises for those who love to tap their toes.
If you prefer to take your ties and high heels off, head to KL’s quirky ‘food and roll’ restaurant The Bee. This chic burger joint slash live music venue has the perfect stage and sound system; post-rock, electronica, indie and rock bands perform here on a regular basis. Even several Western touring bands made it one of their Southeast Asian tour stops. The Bee’s eclectic weekly calendar is also spruced up with popular appointments, such as the Lot 36 Jam Sessions and the popular BBQ Sundays, both great occasions to enjoy engrossing live performances while you munch on king-size burgers or Mexican entrees fresh off the grill.
If you’re more after drinks and good vibes rather than barbeque and loud music, Merdekarya is the place you want to be. It’s Petaling Jaya’s prime resource for near-perfect bluesy wails. Run by Malaysian musician and novelist Brian Gomez, this no-frills, open mic blues bar has lovingly nurtured the budding local acoustic music scene for a little over a year. It’s the perfect place to mingle and have a drink with KL’s creative elite, chat about music and arts, and enjoy the guitar-slinging abilities of the many talented local slow-rock artists who take to the main stage almost every night.
Unplugged and acoustic music might not be everybody’s cup of tea. For your electric rock fix, on Thursday nights veer to nearby Laundry Bar for live bands, cocktails and a sleek purplish interior that makes for a cool film noir ambience. Rockers beware: the place turns into a full scale dance club with retro DJ sets on Fridays, and club hits on Saturdays.
If you are brave enough, end your KL music jaunt taking the proverbial “walk on the wild side”: pump fists in the air at the Black Box, the closest Kuala Lumpur gets to a real rock music joint, but without the scruff around the edges. Tucked away in a corner of sparkling shopping gallery Publika, this black-tinged room boosts one of the best PA systems and stages in the city, and runs the gamut from indie rock to heavy metal. A mainstay for subcultural types, it’s the place to catch passing international touring bands as you rub elbows with KL’s underground fringe.
Alternate Headquarters, is another subcultural den hidden behind the inner wall partition of glitzy shopping mall Fahreneit 88. Go to the second floor’s food court and follow the way to the restrooms to find this treasure trove of grunge, hardcore punk and metal rebellion. If you thought Malaysians didn’t rock, you’ll change your mind after visiting this place. For more mayhem and Mohawks, alternative punk house Rumah Api stages the fastest and loudest local and international sounds on offer in Kuala Lumpur. Be advised: differently from the Black Box, here you will find plenty of good old scruff.