Burmese Indie Rock to Hit European Stages

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 24 November 2012

RANGOON—A Burmese indie band will soon be setting Germany ablaze as the first ever alternative rock band from the Southeast Asian nation to tour in Europe.

After finding sponsorship under a cultural exchange program from the Goethe Institute, Side Effect’s European tour is partly being organized by the directors of “Yangon Calling”—a 2012 documentary about Burmese subculture, especially the punk scene.

Darko C, the vocalist and guitarist of the band, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that they will leave for Germany on Dec. 3 for their two-week tour of Hamburg, Berlin and Gera.

“It’s really great,” said the 31-year-old. “Now is the time the world is focusing on Burma and we have a chance to show the world what Burmese indie music is. What a coincidence!”

The band are scheduled to perform with a Berlin rock n’ roll-cum-punk group called Priscilla Sucks. But this is not the first international gig after their appearance at the Hello Asean music festival in Bali last year.

“We are quite excited as Germany is a world away from us—musically, culturally and everything,” said Darko C. “What we mostly know about Germany is its rock band ‘Scorpions’”

“At the same time, I’m not sure if the audience in Germany knows Burma, not to mention our music. So we can’t even imagine to what extent we will be accepted there.”

Side Effect released their debut album ‘The Rainy Night Dreams’ earlier this year. But long before it hit Rangoon music stores, they had already made headlines in the international media when IndieGoGo—the US-based fundraising website they used to raise cash to cover recording expenses and buy a drum set—shut their account over fears that it contravened international sanctions imposed on Burma.

But Darko C thinks the extra exposure helped them win sponsorship from the Goethe Institute in the end. The musician explained that Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke, the directors of Yangon Calling, interviewed the band for their documentary in 2011 and spent some time getting to know its members.

“They said they liked our music and wanted to invite us to Germany but they lacked money for our transportation,” he said. “As one of my Burmese friends suggested, I sent all the links of our news stories to the institute when we applied for their sponsorship under the cultural exchange program, to let them know who we are. So I think it worked.”

The talismanic front man said they are currently rehearsing for their tour and plan to perform ten songs at each gig. “When we are in Germany, the filmmakers will take care of us—providing accommodation and arranging our tour,” he said.

Tser Htoo, the band’s drumless drummer, said he expects new experiences from the adventure. “A new place, a new audience who might have no idea about our music. It’s quite exciting,” he said.

Darko C said the band will treat the tour as a chance to let the world know what modern Burmese music is all about. Only three of the four members have been able to get funding for the trip.

“Some foreigners look down on us as Burmese mainstream music industry is teeming with songs which just mimic hits by musicians from other countries,” he said. “Now we have to show them that Burma has independent music.”

Asked if he has any message for Burmese people as he prepares for his international tour, Darko C replied, “We will never disgrace our country with our music.”