14 Sept – Amid the dilapidated shophouses of former tin-mining town of Ampang, one building stands out – its walls painted deep black and bold red, filled with graffiti, while the signboard hanging above is covered in black paint.
On the red and black wall is a drawing of two boys shaking hands. One sports a spiky hairdo, spikes on a black jacket and gloves; the other more conventionally dressed in a hoody.
Pulling open the shophouse’s metal shutters reveals a black brick wall with six “no’s” painted on it in bold white letters – No racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no drugs, no alcohol, and no violence.
Walk through the wooden door to the left, and one would find a small stage and space for an audience of 300. Since all of the musical instruments have been confiscated by the police last month, the stage lies empty.
To the left and to the right of this room are walls filled with graffiti – an explosion of colours that is muted by the counterculture atmosphere of this dimly lit room.
This is the place run by a group of punks as a performance space. Welcome to ‘Rumah Api’.
On Aug 28, the eve of the Bersih 4 rally, police surrounded this shophouse, and arrested and detained more than a hundred revellers for more than 60 hours. It was only then that this place known only to those in the scene, was thrown into the limelight.
A community space
Since 2006, Rumah Api has been an important venue for the local punk and underground rock scene. But to the co-operators of Rumah Api, Man Beranak and Ashed, it is more like a community space for the punks.
“Rumah Api is not just a place for music, it is a place to promote punk ideology and attitude.
“Here, our interests go beyond music,” Man said softly, as he spoke to Malaysiakini during an interview in a smoke-filled living room upstairs.
The idea behind Rumah Api is to promote punk culture to mainstream society in hopes of changing society’s negative views towards the subculture.
The 35-year old Man (photo) is a veteran in the community, and looks after the place on a full-time basis. He lives upstairs from Rumah Api together with his wife.
“We want to show to society that although we may look like rebels, we are not the bad guys.”
The area where Rumah Api is located is predominantly ethnic Chinese while the adjacent area is predominantly Malay. In between, the youths with their tall spiky hair and leather jackets stand out as their patronise the local eateries.
“At first they would feel uncomfortable or even frightened by these ‘aliens’. But we approach them and sometimes they have a problem, so we would offer to help them.
“Over time, they realise that although we may look like bad people, especially with that dreadful-looking green or yellow hair, but they know we are actually a bunch of good boys.”
The punk movement started out as a subculture in the 1970’s music scene, using their flamboyant and eccentric styles as a way to oppose the values of mainstream society.
For Ashed, 26, it was less the fashion but the attitude which led him to Rumah Api’s doors. He wishes, above all, that people would understand punks better.
He said punks are not a group living in its own world, but instead are concerned about the downtrodden and hopes that through community service, it can help these oppressed people.
Soup kitchen, free market and more
‘Food Not Bombs’ is one of Rumah Api’s community service initiative.
Every weekend, Ashed and other punk youths would bring a shopping cart to the Ampang market to collect food items that the traders were unable to sell or are about to throw away, to be cooked and distributed to the homeless and the poor.
But even this straightforward noble cause was wrongly portrayed with a local TV channel broadcasting a reporting claiming “skinheads eat garbage”, he said.
“At first when we sifted through the garbage bins at the Ampang market, the locals asked us what we were doing and whether we’re looking for food because we couldn’t afford to pay for it.
“We told them that we want to cook the food for the poor and the homeless. So the traders said, ‘This is excellent. Next time don’t look through the garbage anymore. Come to our stalls and we will give you the ingredients’,” Man said.
Since then, this group of youths would show up at the market and go stall-to-stall just before they close to collect the unwanted food, and never fail to return with a full load in their trolley.