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Welcome to the sudden rise of punk in Southeast Asia where punk is used to fight autocratic regimes as opposed to selling cool sunglasses.

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Photography by Alexander Dluza
Photography by Alexander Dluza. Myanmar/ Burma/ Punks

While it may be a sorry sight to most hardcore punk idealists that their brand of music is now used to sell sunglasses and fuzzy trinkets as opposed to fighting the entrenched power interests that led to its initial rise in the 1970’s, one part of the world that is still holding true to the genre of what legitimate punk music ought to be is drum roll please, that of Southeast Asia. Surprised? Don’t be, stuff like that comes hand in hand when groups of people are repressed.

Courtesy of the disarray feeding the wrath of disillusioned youth in Banda Aceh, Indonesia came the report last December:

Jakarta Globe: For months Illiza (Banda Aceh’s deputy mayor) has been organizing police raids to clear out so-called punks in cafes and city parks – an effort that culminated in December when Taufik and 63 other punk music fans were arrested at a concert and detained for more than a week of moral “re-education.” They were never charged with a crime.

“This [punk lifestyle] is a new social disease affecting Banda Aceh,” Illiza told the Jakarta Globe following the arrests. “If it is allowed to continue, the government will have to spend more money to handle them.”

And for a time everyone paid heed, with punk musicians and fans being rounded up by authorities, their hair forcibly shaven off and staying for a government sponsored hacienda where they as the above link connotes were ‘morally re educated.’

Yet it seems the desire to express oneself at the risk of being carted off to jail or the firing squads (yes life in totalitarian regimes is a real bitch, except maybe if you are a tourist) got hairy recently with the recent rise of punk music in Burma, the latest scene of punk idealism.

Reacting to the trauma of their times, one band Rebel Riot, has decided to pull rank and despite the threats of being clamped down revealed the following to Germany’s Der Spiegel:

“If we just accept what’s going on here, nothing will change,” says Kyaw Kyaw, as he plugs an electric guitar into an amplifier. “I’m doing everything I can to shake people up.” That’s why he founded Rebel Riot in 2007. It happened during the period when the military junta cracked down on the so-called “Saffron Revolution” launched by Buddhist monks. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested then, and soldiers were ordered to shoot upon their own people. People in Burma are still deeply shocked by these events. None of the punks believe that the new government is serious about its newfound political openness. “Only a revolution can change the system,” Kyaw Kyaw says.

Rebel Riot holds regular practice sessions in out-of-the-way buildings along the railroad tracks. To keep noise from escaping and giving them away, they line the walls with Styrofoam. Kyaw Kyaw’s singing is backed by a drummer, guitarist and bass guitarist. “We are poor, hungry and have no chance,” Kyaw Kyaw sings into the microphone. “Human rights don’t apply to us. We are victims, victims, victims.”

Which raises the question, if these guys have no choice, how different is the situation in Western states when so many of our youth are being denied economic opportunities and being subjected to a castration of their liberties in favor of becoming auto tools for the likes of reality TV and whatever tabloid headlines compel them to be? Is it really way cooler to wear hot shades and get laid by hot girls than to fight for ones rights the way they are in other parts of the world?

“The government keeps the people in poverty,” says a 30-year-old who goes by the name of Scum, spitting on the ground. “It’s a daily struggle just to get by.” Protests are rarely possible, he says. Scum is one of the leaders of Rangoon’s punk scene. He is sitting on a tattered sofa, the only piece of furniture in his narrow one-room apartment. Dirty dishes are piled up on the floor. In the corner, there’s a box with English-language books. Scum studied literature, but now he makes a paltry income selling tickets for an illegal lottery. He refuses to have a legal job because he says it “would only be supporting the government.”

And yet there has been a recent shift to a civil government which many distrust, convinced that many offices are being held by the elite of the former junta. With rife secret police and a media controlled by the elite (how different is is really in the West?) the question is how will these disenfranchised youth choose to live in a society that they have increasingly come to reject whilst so many of us here in the West perhaps romantically tempted to make a stand eventually capitulate, never mind the occasional Occupy Protest that may or may not lead to change the same way punk music in Southeast Asia may or may not lead to any change but at least it lets the youth find each other and express their vehement displeasure with the status quo.

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