If you ask me, I think it's a combination of a lot of things. People always say that a country's progress is always reflected by its arts scene. And I'm sure it's no mere coincidence that this whole indie revolution is happening just as the Malaysian political landscape is experiencing its own seismic shift in its make-up. In fact, one would have to be very naive to not want to draw parallels between the two.
For my money, this whole shift is a direct result of us everyday people having more options when it comes to access to information, thanks to increased easy access to the world wide web. Politics-wise we people have far more places to go to when it comes to getting our news. The mainstream newspapers/television/radio no longer have a monopoly on the opinions of us everyday people.
By that same analogy, us everyday music loving kids no longer have to depend on mainstream radio/television to tell us who to listen to or to like. There's Myspace, iMeem, Last FM and all sorts of social networking sites and file sharing sites where us kids can simply discover all sorts of music.
However, easy access alone is no cause for a revolution. Discontent is. For far too long we've been bombarded by average, unremarkable music, pushed down our throats through the radio & TV by the record companies in Malaysia. Full of A&R people who have totally lost touch with what the kids want from Malaysian acts, they stubbornly refuse to mix in with the grass roots and instead try to clone whatever Indonesian acts that make it big over here. People talk about how A&R people should have their finger on the pulse of the music scene. I doubt they even have that finger, let alone know where that pulse is.
We keep on hearing complaints by music industry people of how harmful this 'Indonesian invasion' is, but it's a problem they create themselves. Isn't it obvious by how successful the Indonesian bands are here that the public wants something fresh and different? Isn't it very obvious that Dewa, Sheila On 7, Padi, Peter Pan, Samsons and Nidji are obviously very different and obviously fresher-sounding than Search, Wings, Jinbara, Amuk, Spider, New Boys and the like? But why keep on pushing more rock kangkang and rock leleh Malaysian bands down our throats when it's so obvious that the public wants something else?
And no, don't tell me that there are no Malaysian bands that have that 'fresh' sound. Even before this whole indie music revolution we already have OAG, The Times and to a lesser extent Exists doing their own thing singing in Malay. Butterfingers also came up with a Malay album that's as un-rock kangkang and un-leleh as they come. With the exception of OAG and Exists, radio support for our own 'new school' bands are almost non-existent. So, it's not just the labels but also the radio that has to take their fair share of the blame.
What about the local awards like the AIM? Why is it that year after year, the nominees and winners never seem to involve this whole 'new school' Malaysian bands? The answer is simple, to enter your album to be considered for nomination in the AIM, one has to be a member of RIM first, and that my friends involve membership fees that are quite prohibitive (around RM3ooo, if I'm not mistaken) if you're an unsigned, struggling indie band. So in reality what the AIM does reflect is that portion of the Malaysian music industry that can afford to pay the RIM membership fees, which probably explains why the more 'urban' (i.e. more affluent) acts are the ones who usually get nominated and win. Which will also explain why non-urban acts like my band Couple will probably never ever get an AIM nomination. Hehehe.
And then there's the TV series Kami, and the meteoric rise of Meet Uncle Hussein and most importantly, Hujan. This small TV series and these 2 small bands basically destroyed all the safeguards and barriers previously put up by the major label cartel and the mainstream media in Malaysia. What basically happened was that a lot of denials and pride had to be swallowed, as these 3 phenomenons, no matter how 'budaya barat' they are (as the elders and the mainstream will always say whenever they don't understand something), are just too important and too big to be ignored. Ignore them and risk losing out on a lot of potential profits. Being the capitalists they are, of course the industry will embrace them.
All of the above factors might be small, but at the end of the day they do add up. Hence the discontent. Not just among the musicians/bands, but also among the listening public. There's only so much crap you can take before you finally say enough is enough, right? And if you ask me, that's exactly what's happened here in Malaysia. The last general election results powerfully demonstrated that a lot of us Malaysians have said exactly that, enough is enough.
And this whole indie music revolution currently happening in Malaysia is also that, kids finally saying enough is enough. Kids slowly making their voices heard loud and clear. They're saying this is what we want. These are the bands we like. You media people might want to push such and such bands as the next big things, but we know better what we want and what we like. The days of the media trying to push their friends' bands as 'geniuses' or next big things will very soon be over, if not over already. The kids now have far more options to choose from. And choose they will. Ah, how beautiful that is, democracy!