An Interview with Malaysian Punk rockers No Good.
For a band called No Good, they’re far from being, well, no good. Truth is, you probably won’t understand what they’re singing about. Songs in their inaugural EP, Demo Kawe, are all sung in Kelantanese dialect. A very bold decision indeed.
Featuring members from bands that predominantly focus on complex musical structures and odd time signatures such as Killer Calculateur and Dirgahayu, No Good instead opted for an alternative approach: simple feel good punk music. Their recent Spike Jonze inspired music video for their 3rd single ‘Che Using’ is a homage to 80s Malaysian movies and an encapsulation of everything the band is about.
Regardless of whether you understand what they're saying or not, there’s no doubt that they’re one of the freshest rock acts out of Southeast Asia right now. It’s a breath of fresh air to see Kelantan making the news for reasons other than their strict Sharia law. On one fateful evening, I had a short chat with the band.
You guys are actually good for a band named No Good.
Smek: Lol thanks.
Are you guys still creatively active during this pandemic?
Mat Yie: Everything stopped after MCO was implemented. So it’s been 2 months plus. Smek was itching to show new songs. I’ve been writing songs but mainly for my other band. But was not that productive though.
Smek: We've just started band practice yesterday after our last show in KL which was in Feb. creatively i guess just in writing riffs for myself, but we're not the type of band that does "virtually jam" sessions this quarantine season if you get my drift.
Ah yup, I get the idea. Just wondering, how strict is the Movement Control Order there?
Ali Johan: Currently, it has been relaxed a bit. Most people have started working. But it's been quite strict lah for the past two or three weeks.
Smek: Alijo pls answer. He's the most legit cos he's reporting news.
Ali Johan: Hahahaha.
Smek: I think statistically there are more people kena saman compared to Covid patients in Malaysia, so for local standards, pretty strict.
Pretty similar case here although our numbers are relatively quite high but I’m sure you guys know how good we are at ‘samaning’ people. So right now they’re slowly allowing casual activities?
Ali Johan: Gatherings and social events are still not okay. But restaurants have slowly opened for dine ins. Still no gigs, cinema, Raya celebrations only with immediate families.
Smek: We were supposed to play a show in April and we're kinda looking forward to it but the best blessing is that we got to do our finale before the MCO was announced.
Smek: I read about the robodogs. That's crazy on a small scale.
Ali Johan: Wei that robodog is fucking crack man. But power lah Singapore. I would want a robodog to be my runner.
A robodog in Bishan-Ang Mio Kio Park, Singapore.
Clear tom yum or red tom yum?
Mat Yie: Red.
Smek: Red. Damn we were just talking about Thai cooking last night during jamming.
Mat Yie: Just read about the robodog. That’s some crazy shit man. A glimpse of the not so distant future.
Ali Johan: Alamak clear tom yum for me lads.
Have you guys thought of a collab/tour with badbadnotgood?
Smek: Hahaha that'd be crazy. Definitely down with that. Even though I never thought of it.
Mat Yie: Damn I remember catching badbadnotgood at Mahorasop Festival. Such a good band.
Your recent MV for Che Using is pretty sick. The influences are quite apparent. But which movie would best describe No Good as a whole?
Mat Yie: Starsky and Hutch. For me at least.
Smek: Maybe Death Proof but set in east coast Malaysia.
Mat Yie: That’s a good one!
Smek: Quentin x Dain Said (he's a local filmmaker). I would only recommend Bunohan though.
Do you think the future of art will still be inspired by past movements? There seems to be a surge in retro homage in recent times.
Smek: It will always be inspired i guess because people like to play a lot on nostalgia, on both ends. But not really across the board. The Che Using MV referred heavily towards Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" MV, and at that time it was already paying homage to 70's cops TV series.
Ali Johan: Past movements are inescapable - you know the whole “you can't have the future without the past” type of thing. Homage is romantic. Art is easy to romanticise. It’s a good feeling. And also, because something happened in the past, it somehow becomes a template. A safety net. So it depends on your will to create - to make art with a safety net or to go into unknown territory. To me both ways are gratifying in its own way. As long as I’m happy.
You guys have written songs in English, Malay and now Kelantanese. Which one felt the easiest?
Smek: I wouldn't say it's the easiest, but for me writing in Kelantanese is more expressive as it's my mother tongue. It's kind of a new thing for me as well, so I'm having fun with it while perfecting the craft.
Do you guys think this project will achieve the same success if your songs were to be in English/Malay instead?
Ali Johan: Can’t really tell actually.
Mat Yie: In terms of impact, I think yes. If it was written in Malay or English, it won't affect those who speak Kelantanese as much.
Ali Johan: Oh yeah
Smek: From the start I wanted to sing in Kelantanese, so I haven't thought of that yet. But the best part is people can relate not just because of the music, but identity. And these people are not even Kelantanese. One guy was from Singapore. So people might not get what we sing about, but they vibe with it. Imma leave it at that.
Mat Yie: As a Kelantanese speaker myself, if I'm just a regular listener, the lyrics really speak to me. By ‘regular listener’, I mean if I'm not in this band and listening to No Good.
I believe you guys are aware of the viral music video from Kelantan, “Dok Mano”, a cover of Akon’s Right Now. How vital was Dok Mano in your decision to sing your songs in Kelantanese?
Smek: Hahaha honestly I just googled it up. What kind of crack is this hahaha.
Mat Yie: Hahahhah
Shit, so I guess it's not too popular in Malaysia then.
Mat Yie: My first time watching.
Smek: Sorry, I haven't seen that video but thanks for pointing me to it. It’s a gem.
Mat Yie: Still watching it.
Ali Johan: Hahahahaha crack.
All right let’s wrap it up. Any notable Southeast Asian acts right now?
Thanks for the chat guys. Stay safe.
Ali Johan: Cheers.
Mat Yie: Thanks for having us.
Smek: Likewise. Kick those robodogs if they make too much noise.