“A festival with a Malaysian identity, where you can imagine yourself listening to your favourite band, while eating a bowl of cendol”. Those were the exact words of the founder of TAPAUfest, Faris – describing an arts festival of great diversity and vibrancy. TAPAUfest 2016 – held at Zebra Square, Kuala Lumpur – proved itself to be exactly that when I spent my New Year’s Eve there.
Right as I walked towards the registration counter, there were food stalls flanking the entrance (one of them, appropriately enough, was selling cendol), which in turn opened up to a row of booths selling band merchandise and artwork. Those sections of the festival were laid in between a room where workshops and film screenings were held on one side, as the bigger hall beside it was filled to the brim with music by bands and other artistes, sound-checking and rehearsing.
This eclectic mix of the arts in one venue is personified in different ways at TAPAUfest, now in its second anniversary. When asked what the philosophy behind the festival is, Faris explained that it was about pushing local, independent and unsung talent to the forefront and bringing all of them together in one place, regardless of whether they were filmmakers, painters, musicians or anyone of that ilk. Really, there is no downplaying the range.
House of Vans, a sponsor of the event, helped organise workshops and talks. The talks included sharing sessions by people like Pa’din Musa discussing skateboarding through the generations, to Adly Syairi, a master of band photo shoots, except the band members are made by him out of Legos.
Later on during the day, four short films were shown almost at the same time as there were games being held out on the plot of grass located smack in the middle of Zebra Square. There were mats strewn across the grass to give that picnic vibe too, where people could (and did) sit and eat while they soak in whatever was going around them.
I wanted to experience it all as I alternated between the workshops, screenings and the stalls. It was exhausting in the best way possible since so many things were going on at the same time. However, nothing else captures the wide spectrum of talent more than the music.
When I walked in the stage area, there were only a smattering amount of people, but the crowd started pouring in as the first act was setting up their gear. Johny Comes Lately lit the stage on metaphorical fire with their own brand of ska, reggae, punk and pop rock. Really it was a brilliant band to start off the list of other amazing artists, since they packed so much energy with their crowd interactions, their vibrant brass and woodwind section (with the saxophonist stealing the limelight ever so effortlessly).
But moving on from joyful vibes, the crowd and the music only grew wilder with the likes of Tres Empre storming the stage with their metal and hardcore sounds. I say “storm” because it figuratively felt like it, especially when the lead vocalist stage-dived into the crowd and started surfing amidst the mass of people.
As much as genre-bending goes, where the discussion of what genre a particular band or song belongs to becomes obsolete, The Venopian Solitude takes the cake. With synthesizers, an electric mandolin, a key-tar, xylophones, electric guitar, and a vocoder making up the litany of musical instruments, you know they were promising an entirely different experience. A beautiful moment during this performance was when the crowd started singing along to Tenangkan Bontot Anda – one of their more prominent tracks.
Beyond that, it was great set after great set. Maddthelin brought in a force to be reckoned with, in the female and male vocalist dynamic accentuating the melodic part of their screamo-hardcore-rock. There were also artistes whose music weren’t made for moshing too, but were laid-back, spacey, dreamy masterpieces that were either about heartbreaks (Alextbh & Emir Hermono) or were just plain magical poetry (Juno and Hanna).
There were also the likes of Dirgahayu, with their enigmatic brand of post-rock, Laila’s Lounge with their brand of indie rock, and Aman Ra with his verbal acrobatics, rapping in Malay and bringing the house down. Everyone could find something they link in this musical buffet.
“Festivals shouldn’t just be about the concerts and the bands. Nothing should take the backseat. Everything about the festival needs to be important. The food, the art, the stalls. That’s what I try to do with TAPAUfest, so that people can “tapau” back a whole lot of experience and not just the music.”
Faris, founder of TAPAUfest, talked about the festival enthusiastically with me in between the shows.
All in all, as a festival-goer, I had a great time, and I believe Faris and everyone else who helped TAPAUfest happen, achieved what they had set out to do and could only go upwards from here. Not to forget, during one of the breaks, whilst the bands were setting up, and the workshop was going on, a game was organized right in the middle of the venue where the grass field is.
It was simply a pleasant sight to see people having the time of their lives, whilst around them, art was coming into its many forms. All of this happening on New Year’s Eve too, which I thought was a profound symbolism for all the promise the Malaysian art industry holds for the future, with some of that wonderful slice found in this very festival.
I am definitely coming back next year.
To see more of TAPAUfest 2016, head on to their website and keep updated until the next TAPAUfest!