Malaysian Music: What to Expect in 2020

Including quotes from industry leader Jennifer Thompson

As the end of 2019 approaches, Malaysians, especially the young, filled local music venues with more than their attendance, but also passion, admiration, hopes and dreams. Lo-fi indie fans enjoyed the presence of international act Boy Pablo’s second visit to the country, while others went on a trip down memory lane when alternative rock outfit Kyoto Protocol celebrated 10 years of rock ‘n’ roll magic.

One of the biggest events of the year has to be the impossible-made-possible reunion of Malaysia’s most adored grunge band Butterfingers, in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Transcendence album. Manly tears were shed that night as soon as the first recognisable riffs from ‘The Chemistry (Between Us)’ were strummed in front of diehard fans, who have waited so long to hear the iconic intro alongside other hits from the album like ‘Moksha’, ‘Epitome’ and ‘Faculties of the Mind’.

Looking back, the 2010s was a great decade for Malaysian music. With better internet and access, local musicians were more confident in producing music of all kinds of genres and subgenres, giving the Malaysian listeners a wider selection of sounds – like a wholesome breakfast buffet spread of sorts. Industry leader, Jennifer Thompson, implied that the 2010s were more like a ‘developmental phase’ for our musicians.

“With the arrival of successful independents like Hujan, Bunkface and Yuna in the mid 2000s, and then that sector of the industry falling behind after the rise in popularity of reality shows (and the solo talent therein), the 2010s were more like a developmental phase for bands/artists in the independent music scene in terms of understanding how to stay alive without the help of mainstream channels. That environment, the nothing-to-lose feeling and the will to survive has allowed the indie circuit to be more diversified, more independent and more creative in the way they do things and those that have succeeded to stay the course are seeing the returns,” she said.

Because of that development phase, we got to see pop yeah yeah music stage a return complete with floral shirts, vintage shades and pomade thanks to Kugiran Masdo. The resurrection of The Lipstik didn’t just led to the formation of the Masdo that we know now; it also brought the indie scene back from the dead after a few years of empty gig halls, low CD sales and band breakups. We also get to see hip hop reach new heights lately, especially with Joe Flizzow’s 16Baris initiative and the unstoppable K-Clique fever that’s been plaguing the streets with hits like ‘Lain Line Lane’ and ‘Mimpi’.

In 2020, Malaysia’s hip hop hype train is not expected to slow down for anything or anyone. While K-Clique keeps the locomotive chugging for the survival of the genre on the mainstream front, a huge number of rappers are already trying to continue fighting the good fight left by legends like Altimet, who announced his retirement a couple of years ago and Malique, who has been making moves but yet to truly return to the big stage. Rappers like Zamaera and Lilasianthiccie went international with their hit single ‘GET MUNNI’, Sonaone formed a formidable alliance with Singaporean rapper Alif for a few songs while groups like Lawalah and The Bat Cave continue to impress. With faster internet and better accessibility, it is highly likely that we get to see more amateur rappers building their reps in the 20s.

Despite what people say about the fate of guitar music, the connection between Malaysians and guitar music is still quite strong. The mainstream side may have shifted to more pop and trap, but the indie scene welcomed a new generation of bands that will most likely make a lot of noise in the coming decade. Iqbal M, who just played their first Urbanscapes performance, will be an influential torchbearer in the scene approaching the 20s that will come complete with Iqbal’s erratic antics and inspirational messages onstage. Newer Bahasa-speaking bands like Hacktick!, Budak Nakal Hujung Simpang and Margasatwa look ever ready to expand their fanbase across more national borders online, just like their English-speaking compatriots Midnight Fusic, lost.spaces and LUST. Contrary to popular layman belief, our indie bands are definitely prepared for worldwide success; perhaps they just need a little push.

Our neighbours – Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore – have all exported their music talents to the world. Indonesia alone has a few success stories under its belt, like Rich Brian’s overnight success after releasing his single ‘Dat $tick’ that was picked up by American rappers, including legends like Ghostface Killah. Another notable mention is Payung Teduh, who collaborated with Disney to produce a heartwarming track for the second installment of Wreck It Ralph (which was a major hit for the kids). Yes, Indonesia’s extra large music market is the main factor for this success, but if we alter their formula to suit our local market, we dare say that we can match such glory.

Best part is, our local talents are no longer just musicians waiting on their record labels to help them spread their art. They’ve become their own managers, marketeers and designers, all in the name of passion. Yes, the DIY spirit has been around since the 70s, but with 5G technology coming along, these artists will be able to reach a wider audience, hence, building their fanbase will be a lot easier. More social media presence will lead to more gigs and merchandise opportunities. Provided that they produce good, listenable music, of course. Jennifer Thompson also agrees with this.

“In 2020 I think the indie scene will continue upwards with more independent bands/artists taking their future in their own hands. Using the knowledge and the tools that are readily available to them, I hope this sector of our music industry will continue to flourish and hit a peak somewhere towards the middle of the next decade,” said Thompson.

The days of having to go through one era at a time are over. Now, we’re able to enjoy new music from all genres and all eras, put side by side on an appetising platter of good vibrations just for you. Competition will be tight, but that fire will only mould them into better artists and better individuals as a whole. 

2020, here we come!