Burmese Indie Rock Goes Global

By Hpyo Wai Tha 29 August 2012

RANGOON— While multinational companies wait patiently for the opportunity to do business in Burma, young revolutionary music from this once Orwellian state has already gone international.

This year two new native indie rock albums have been made available via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. Now anyone around the globe can experience the underground music of this former pariah nation teetering on the verge of change.

“I just want to let the world know that we have this kind of music here and musically we have not been left behind,” said Darko C, the lead vocalist for alternative rock band Side Effect, in his Rangoon apartment.

The group released their debut album Rainy Night Dreams two months ago domestically after playing their first international gig at the Hello Asean music festival in Bali, Indonesia, last year. This made the foursome the first ever Burmese indie rock band to perform outside the country.

Not long after the local release, they posted their album on the internet to reach a wider audience.

“If your music goes international through online music stores, you just can’t predict how large an audience you will reach. It’s quite exciting for us because it is available, let’s say, universally,” added 31-year-old Darko C.

“I feel I have become international,” laughed Kya Pauk, of alternative rock band Blood Sugar Politik. Their first album One Second Sentence is available via iTunes and, contrary to any other made-in-Burma albums available online, ten of the 11 songs are in English.

“We just want to find out what we can achieve and have our music on the international market,” he said.

The tattoo-riddled singer believes the online availability of Burmese indie albums offers a window for anyone from Australia to Zimbabwe to learn about contemporary music in the secretive Southeast Asian country.

“There are no more barriers,” he explained. “The world’s got our music. What I think is most important, is if they want our music, it needs to be within their reach. That’s why we go on iTunes. Whether people buy it or not is another matter.”

Despite not being the very first international digital releases from the once-closed country, the pair is among only a fistful of Burmese albums that have already made their way onto online music stores.

And Darko C said posting an album online is the best alternative for those who do not have a record label for financial support.

As indie rock is not yet mainstream music in Burma, finding someone who wants to invest money remains difficult. To distribute an album, even locally, is prohibitively expensive for most wannabe rockers without extremely deep pockets.

“So if you have music but no money, just make a digital release,” suggests Darko C.

But there remains another minor obstacle. Anyone who wants to sell music through an online store needs to register a credit card via their service provider. Until now Burma has had no credit card system for international financial transactions.

“But it’s not much of a problem,” said Kya Pauk. “If you have friends abroad, just ask them to do it for you. I did the same.”

Both musicians said their creativity and ability is strong enough to develop an international following as their music is truly authentic. Plus they have never felt small despite being from a country that lags behind its neighbors in practically everything.

“From a sound engineering point of view, the technology we used in our recording may be out of date but people are only interested in your music. They don’t care about the recording system you used,” said Kya Pauk, pointing out that some of his favorite American bands became famous with low budget albums recorded in their kitchen or living room.

“The most important thing is your music must be good. We believe in what we have done,” he added.

“If our music sounds a little bit Burmese, it’s OK as we are Burmese. It could be something new to foreigners’ ears. But I can assure you, our music is not something disgraceful to our country,” said Darko C.

The Side Effect frontman is determined that if British or American bands can create world famous music, a Burmese band can do the same as they share the same level of dedication.

“To go international, you don’t need to be Kurt Cobain,” he added. “All you need is your own style.”