Having had the likes of The Rapture, Gossip, Arts Vs. Science, 2manydjs, and more to the Green Room name, Heineken recently added New York’s new wave-informed surf rockers The Drums and indielectro DJ-producer Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (TEED) to their oeuvre. While the 2 acts are well-known enough to attract a crowd elsewhere, Malaysia’s market for music that doesn’t necessarily trigger fist-pumping and popping was still very much unproven. With that, this year’s edition of Heineken Green Room, again housed at KL Live, and its success reinforced what we’d always knew about the brand – their understanding of youth culture beyond the expected raves.
Collaborating with local artists and designers of differing fields and industries, the KL Live space was given a pop art makeup in the form of an exhibition called A Social Design. As curated by Green Room’s go-to visual artist themancalleduncle, The Off-Day (Irman Hilmi), Stephen Lau, James Ly, and Ajim Juxta were commissioned to create 8’x8’ canvases that reflected their musical influences. The results were a confluence of pop culture references; in recurrences and patterns among subcultures (‘Reciprocal Phantasmagoria’ by James Ly), in alternative music history (‘Malaysian Rock History’ by The Off-Day’), in music’s agelessness (‘Back On a Sunday Afternoon in 1968’ by Stephen Lau), and finally in the abstraction of music, musicians, and listeners (‘Juxtaposed’ by Ajim Juxta).
There’s more to branding your product than to have people snap a picture in front of the brand’s name, Heineken’s got that figured out as these canvases also served as a backdrop for camera-equipped guests. Veterans of the KL nightlife scene, Twilight Actiongirl (TAG), also received their own mini-exhibition called The 10 Years of TAG Chamber. The small space dedicated to them had a decade worth of merchandises (from t-shirts to buttons) and flyers that spanned from the collective’s more punk rock-ish days (black and white posters that facsimiled gig flyers) to the more gaudy ones come their Zouk days. There was also a birthday board… which JUICE was stopped from signing due to unclear reasons – Bunga, this was where we lifted our fist and shook it in the air swearing vengeance.
Not joking aside, Heineken Green Room was officially kickstarted by TAG as they took up the stage at past 9pm. Traditionally opening acts would suffer the ignominy of having to perform to a barren room, but this being their 10th year in KL, old school TAGgers (some all the way from JB) were already in attendance. Playing a setlist that traversed the indie soundscape throughout the double zeros decade, the dancefloor was an odd menagerie of clubbers – proto-hipsters and college age kids didn’t have a problem dancing to the same music. Who says kids these days don’t know what good music is and older dudes too past their prime to understand what’s hip now? But that has always been what TAG is, the bridge that closes the gap between 2 generations. It helped that the projection behind them had a video and photo reel of TAG nights throughout the years that showed party goers from all 3 eras of Twilight Actiongirl; Bar Amber, Loft, and Barsonic. Nostalgic as it was, it reminded some of us that we should probably be building a family by now… for a total of 5 seconds, at least.
As Bunga took centre stage and declared that he was about to play a song that meant a lot to him, experienced TAGgers knew The Killers’ ‘Mr. Brightside’ was about to blare out from the speakers. True enough, the room hit fever pitch as soon as Brandon Flowers’ vocals were audible. It almost seemed like the end of an era as Bunga, ChaseyLain, Ribut, and XU thanked the crowd before bidding them adieu, but then we realised we’d probably get drunk off Barsonic’s Long Island Teas the Friday after. Twenty Years of TAG come Heineken Green Room 2023, maybe?
Electropop maestro and young upstart Darren Ashley continued the night with a 20-something minute set that showcased his mastery of synths, vocal effects, and drum pads. It was a little on the short side, which would give the impression of Darren as a non-presence, yet the distractingly red-haired KL star displayed enough technical wizardry coupled with notable vocal range to those who paid attention.
Even before they got up on stage, headliner The Drums looked seemingly at home among the crowd with similarly dressed KLites. These guys were exactly as what they claimed to be during our interview with them the night before; regular people who really enjoy music. Put them on stage though, as they were that night, their regular Joe persona was immediately stripped and what we had in lieu of that were proper indie rockstars. Had Irman Hilmi’s alternative rock history posters been real, we’d imagine this was what it would be like to have The Smiths on stage in KL circa the mid ‘80s.
The Drums deftly played their entry level-fan favourite ‘Money’ in the middle of their set and ended with ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, a song that dedicated fans were excited about. All without losing any of the potency of the recorded version of those tracks, as they had revealed in interviews, they made sure how they sound on record is exactly how they are live.
As the band left, Green Room regressed to a dance arena again as TEED got up the stage and played a DJ set that mixed disco, deep house, and electronica of the indie persuasion – just like his own music. TEED’s set was reflective of the overall feeling we had of the event, a pop combo of niche and mass subcultures. His song selection could very well play at an indie night as much as it could at an EDM fest.
Perfectly segueing to his KL kindred spirits, The Deer Society (Asquared and Robotron 5000) continued where he left off with a disco and deep house dominated setlist that got what was left of the crowd still prone to sweating off all that Heineken they consumed through their pores. As Sandy Rivera’s ‘Changes’ (feat. Haze) finished off the night,JUICE decided that this was definitely a party to remember come year end.
Heineken Green Room balanced the new zeitgeist of today’s youth culture better, bridging the gap between gig goers and clubbers by knowing what sort of live act would overlap with the dance crowd while others just stubbornly stick to one or the other. And this wasn’t an exclusive gig with only a particular subsect of well-dressed urbanites involved either, Heineken managed to attract modern KL in a microcosm of pop culture-savvy music event.