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Gayang Kulintangan Revolt Interview

Mark Hensch chats with Malaysia's Gayang Kulitangan Revolt---perhaps the most primal death/grind band ever to exist! Hear what they think about censorship, Southeast Asian politics, and the fusing of Malay tribal instruments with brutal death metal.

HHH: First off, could you explain to our Western readers what the significance is of the name "Gayang Kulintangan Revolt?"

Henry: A gayang is a type of sword used by warriors engaging in war & head-hunting; it is native to the Island of Borneo [Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei & Kalimantan].

The kulintangan or the native xylophones are sets of small, brass-kettle sized gongs & are found in the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia & Peninsular Malaysia. The kulintangan ranges in different sizes, sounds & numbers throughout the region. It is called Gulintang or kulintang in Brunei & the Philippines, kulintangan for Sabah & Sarawak, & bonang or gambang in Indonesia & the Peninsular Malaysia.

However, gulintang also means an orchestra of native instruments & similar to the Indonesian gamelan orchestra. Here in Sabah, the kulintangan is usually used to accompany gong music. Gong music is usually heard during joyous & sorrowful occasions, as well as during rituals & the performing of ancient rites.

Before headhunting was abolished here in Sabah, the kulintangan was used to accompany war dances when necessary. Regarding these now extinct pagan & animistic rituals/rites [due to the British Colonization & the arrival of Christianity], they are quite similar to those of the Native American Indians & the Native tribes of South Americas. Gayang signifies 'fury' while kulintangan signifies 'sound'. Both represent the culture & Might of Borneo. You do know the meaning of 'revolt'... Best you figure out yourself the significance of GAYANG KULINTANGAN REVOLT.

HHH: What about all the Malaysian instruments on Misangod Rondom, your debut CD release. What can you tell us about these instruments and how you came to include them into your sound?

Henry: The instruments used on Misangod Rondom, consists of brass gongs & the kulintangan. Besides that, we have the tobuii or taburik; dusun/kadazan war horns constructed from bamboo, blown by warriors on arriving back in their country [in those days any village consisting of a long house & several individuals houses, is called a country], to signal their return & announce their victory in obtaining the enemies' head(s). The dusun/kadazan or the Sundayaks are the largest ethnic group/race found in Sabah [North Borneo]. I am a dusun. The traditional instruments are vital, as it plays the most important role in the execution of gayang's music, as it gives the shape of the music & the resulting of ethnic Asiatic bornean grooves. The traditional instruments, is first & foremost, while the drums & guitars, comes in second & third. Basically, whatever BORNEAN or ASIAN comes FIRST. It's worth a try, asian'izing western music & not the other way around. {Probably in the future, they'd be no more guitars or drums!} Misangod Rondom is just the beginning & is not yet at a level of pure satisfaction. We are going to re-record & re-do the songs very soon & also, produce new songs. We want traditional music to evolve & not just be heard during cultural shows for tourists & let it remain that way. Death Metal is the perfect medium.

HHH: Much has been said about the state of Malaysian heavy metal. The government over there has decreed that black metal (and thus, in a roundabout way, other subgenres of metal as well) as illegal. How has this changed the way Gayan Kulintangan Revolt works?

Henry: This issue has not in the least changed the way gayang works. First of all, gayang has not really associated itself with the Malaysian underground music scene, specifically the Metal scene; as 'they' have their own "traditions?" to follow. Secondly, our songs are not about burning the Catholic church or the Moslem mosque, hating & criticizing somebody else's god or beliefs, sex & drugs, & never about politics. Our lyrics are mainly based on bornean/indonesian/malaysian folklore, rituals & aged old practices, the lifestyle & culture of the ancient primitive world [in this case, particularly the dusuns of north Borneo]. Through these, in hoping, gayang could give a glimpse of the past & relive the ancient world in a slightly different way but not revive it! {Surely not!} Through gayang's music, beauty has no boundaries & can get vicious. We also borrow other ethnic traditional musical styles & forms from our neighbour, Indonesia. The songs are sung in English, various Dusun/Kadazan dialects & the Malay language. Going back to the 'issue' in Malaysia, NO it hasn't affected us at all although we did encounter difficulties in selling Misangod Rondom & getting people knowing about our music.

The whole black metal issue [from our points of view], as an example, begun with a few delinquents breaking the law & getting caught red handed by the cops. The next thing is, reporters storm the 'crime scene' & publishes the very next day, "Rape of Underage Girl by Black Metal Cult", since those 'delinquents' were emblazoned with black t-shirts & had "Venom" on them! Turns out, those "reporters" had some personal vendetta towards rock & heavy metal music! But that is not so important & 'rape' is not acceptable & a crime. By the way, someone was telling us that we came out during the wrong time...

Kevin: We were never affected by this issue, in fact we didn't care what was going on that time, we only want to make music. I still remember the time the issue started, right at the moment when we produced Misangod Rondom. In a way, that was a bad time for us to release Misangod Rondom but we didn't care what people think, as far as I know the issue was only related to Muslims and the Islamic laws in Malaysia (actually there's more on this, google it if you want to know). Like what Henry mentioned, our lyrics aren't even about religion so basically it's none of our business. It didn't stop us from doing what we wanted to do, which was to release Misangod Rondom that time, but it did limit what we can do, our gigging opportunity was ruined, the album sales was very bad, pretty much what the other Malaysian underground bands were facing that moment, especially metal bands.

HHH: Why do you think that conservatism and religion are so popular in the Southeast Asia region? Places like Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia feature some of the largest Muslim populations on Earth, and they are among the strictest of nations as well. What exactly caused this trend in your opinion?

Henry: Conservatism to a certain degree or stage is necessary; e.g. The Preservation of Culture & Traditional Knowledge of Ethnic Tribes. Here in Sabah, the percentage of native dusun/kadazan speakers are reducing at an alarming rate. This is due to various factors, particularly foreign influence. One of them worth mentioning is the influence of western culture on youths in Sabah [through media & etc...]. However, it is not wrong to state that the west have assisted tremendously on the development of Asian countries [which we like to express our gratitude]. Who is to be blamed then? Where is conservatism? I think it is necessary now to keep, guard & observe important traditions in order to maintain the survival of a particular people and its institutionalized cultural expressions.

Malaysia may be a strict Moslem country BUT peace prevails amongst the various races. {Come to Sabah/Sarawak if you don't believe} Extreme conservatism, I think leads to fanaticism. Singapore is not a Moslem country.

HHH: Your myspace has some pretty intense live show photos on there. How on Earth does a band like yours replicate such an amazing sound with only two members in a live setting? And with all the aforementioned stigma surrounding heavy metal in Malaysia, how often does a band like yours even get to play live?

Kevin: Very seldom, having an inconsistent line-up makes it even harder for us to play live. In order to present the music on Misangod Rondom, we would need 8 players for the Gong set and 3 players for the Kulintangan set, plus 2 guitarists, a vocalist and a drummer, so a full band would be like 15 person altogether. See, the problem here is we are lacking players for the traditional instruments set, we had a very hard time searching for people that can handle the traditional instruments part, none would care to join us, seriously. Nowadays, the majority of the local people here are not interested in their OWN culture's traditional music, many of them would be the typical western culture "worshipper", as to what Henry had mentioned, and it's very sad to know that this is actually the truth.

Nonetheless, we have managed to play 2 shows, so far. Our first show, themed Bara Pawaka (2004), was held in Razz Ma Tazz, a local club here in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. We were one of the opening bands for Malaysian Death Metal veterans, Sil Khannaz and during that time we had a better line-up consisting 6 band members, we had a drummer, 2 Kulintangan players, 2 guitarists and a vocalist. Almost a year later, the band was left with only Henry, myself and our vocalist, Kiki. Due to personal reasons, the 2 Kulintangan players left the band. We performed our second show on 1st May 2005, Latem Blustering, held in the City Hall, Kota Kinabalu. This time, we compiled a CD containing the songs that were due to be peformed, each song had only the drum & traditional parts with the guitar and vocal tracks removed. This CD became a sort of minus one tape allowing the 3 of us to sing and play our guitars and sound like a band on stage.

Again, the black metal issue going on in our country really slowed down everything here in Kota Kinabalu, a number of metal bands have become inactive (as far as I can see), and there were no metal gigs/shows ever since. I believe the scene in Peninsular Malaysia has recovered a lot compared to us here. Over there, gigs and shows are present nowadays but still there's no certain what's going to happen in the future, of course everyone would hope for the better.

Henry: As for now, gayang is left with the two of us. This still does not pose a problem for us as we still have a long way to go. I'm 25 & Kev is 24. However, we at times have to kick ourselves in the arse to get things done.

HHH: What bands influenced both of you growing up? Obviously you have quite the love for pummeling, brutal death metal....

Henry: I listen to all types of music in my growing up years. {Too many to be mentioned!} If "Metalhead" was a definition in the dictionaries, I'm far from it then. Bjork, Javanese & Balinese Gamelan music, DusunDyak War & Funeral music, Napalm Death, Carcass, Cannibal Corpse, Malevolent Creation, Suffocation, Uli Jon Roth & Rimsky Korsakov, are the few main influences in the making of gayang's music.

Kevin: Yes, brutal death metal would be my favourite, including most of the subgenres of metal music. I listen to other types of music as well, but not ALL types, I'm not a universal listener. Stuff like Meshuggah, Terrorizer, Frank Gambale and Allan Holdsworth are major inspirations for us in GKR.

HHH: It never ceases to amaze me just how clear, concise, and crisp the sounds on Misangod Rondom are. How did you manage to capture the furious, primal rage of your band so well in a studio-setting?

Kevin: There was never a studio-setting in the first place, everything was recorded at our own premises, with our own equipment. In other words, Misangod Rondom was a self-funded album, a DIY album. I'm glad that you enjoyed how the album sounded because it wasn't made with the best tools and equipment around, and we thought that it could have sounded much better if it's done in a proper recording studio. Not forgetting to mention that Henry and I were not familiar with music recording, both of us never went to any sound engineering school, everything we know was self-taught.

Other than the drums, each and every instruments were played and recorded ourselves. For the drum's part, I first recorded my own drumset and converted them into samples, (these are individual samples for cymbals, snare, hi-hats, bass drum, etc...) then I loaded them into a drum sequencer software to compose the drum tracks. Initially we wanted a real drummer for Misangod Rondom but financial-wise, we could not afford to go into a studio to record this album, that's why we chose to use a drum machine and record everything else ourselves. I agree that utilizing a drum machine is not the best way but we do not have much choice and time left at that moment, we have a plan to follow and a due date to meet, time was running short.

HHH: How does being an Asian metal band change the way you look for your record labels? Is it hard for a band like yours to get heard by more mainstream metalheads? I've got to say that your music is simply incredible and I can't believe more people don't know about you guys.

Kevin: People we met claim that our music is weird or out of place, and they find it hard to get into it. As far as I know GKR is not widely accepted, even amongst metal music listeners. We are actually far from being known even in our own country, mainly because the majority of people here don't really care about the local bands that exists here, I guess you should be able to figure out why. The ongoing black metal issue has really shrouded our skies black, thus making it even harder for other people to know us. Then again, we don't really care if people don't buy our album, or if they don't like us, GKR is not about getting rich and famous. We only wanted to make music, that's all.

I am very grateful that you liked our music, but it just so happens that not everyone has the same tastes!

Henry: [To Mark] Thank you for appreciating... Kotuhuadan om kounsikaan au ogigiina tobpinai Mark, do kopisonong ko gia o' sisinding toomod do "Kohimbaan Gayang Kulintangan"... pilogot-logoton, kio! Cheers dude!

HHH: Describe for me the ideal tour a band like yours would want to be on.

Henry: Rainforest Music Festival held every year in Sarawak. {That's one}

Kevin: We've never thought of a tour before but since you asked... Europe would be cool, South America too, and the United States as well.

HHH: Last question! If you could say anything to all the potential fans of Gayang Kalintangan Revolt out there, what would you say? This is your chance to be heard!

Kevin: Nothing much, just come check us out. We have uploaded songs (in mp3 format) at our MySpace page so everyone's invited to have a listen. Comments/criticism are most welcomed! Also come visit our webpage for latest news and stuff.

In fact, we are also looking for labels/distro to release Misangod Rondom. Currently the distribution is being done by ourselves and due to several reasons (work, for instance) we do not have the time to keep up with all that. So if anyone's interested please let us know, we'd be pleased to discuss about it.


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