Sesi Kaki Lima: Unconventional block party bringing in off-the-radar DJs

Sesi Kaki Lima, hosted by local DJ collective Public School, is a bi-monthly ‘session’ attracting art and music lovers. — Pictures by Shafwan Zaidon
Sesi Kaki Lima, hosted by local DJ collective Public School, is a bi-monthly ‘session’ attracting art and music lovers. — Pictures by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 24 — If you are on the lookout for the most interesting new experience in untapped music, the aged surroundings of Kampung Attap wouldn’t naturally come to mind. 

The neighbourhood is, at best, known for its weathered pre-Independence buildings and shophouses. 

But within this historical snapshot, a stone’s throw from the slick developing skyline of Kuala Lumpur, is a distinct hangout for “live” music.

Sesi Kaki Lima, hosted by local DJ collective Public School, is a bi-monthly “session” attracting art and music lovers with easygoing sets that inspire some to get up and throw a shape on these worn-out streets.

That is in large thanks to fascinating sounds from the region revived and made current.

The likes of Thailand’s traditional psychedelic country Molam, folk dangdut from Indonesia, mixes of afropunk, Latin, Chinese, Tamil, and even Bollywood records thrown in for good measure.

“It’s a passion project,” said Public School’s Naj Frusciante, explaining the group’s dynamic. 

Most of the non-profit’s 15 members, comprising 10 music collectors and five contributing writers for an upcoming zine, are in daytime marketing and advertising jobs.

The core of Public School is made up of Frusciante, founders Rudy La Faber, Uzair Sawal as well as Rizki Maulana and Suffian Rahman, constantly searching for rare grooves and selected imprints from around the world.

They collect anything analogue that is in danger of being lost to landfill ― vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs ― and are in touch with fellow DJ collectives in Bangkok and Jakarta.

They share a restored admiration for sounds more popular in these parts in decades gone by, most prominently the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

“We want like to share that there is so much more in music than what is mainstream. People tend to forget the romanticism of music because everything is very accessible,” Frusciante said.

“It takes a lot of effort to make music. We find music that is often forgotten. We want people to be exposed to this.”

The sessions are held on a Sunday, determined by the group, from 2pm until sundown, outside the refurbished Zhongshan Building in Jalan Rotan. 

People browse at the items on sale at the  mini arts bazaar.
People browse at the items on sale at the mini arts bazaar.

There are also food and drinks on offer, a book stall and a mini arts bazaar with local contributions.

The building, formerly occupied by a frozen foods distributor, was turned into an arts hub led by OUR ArtProjects last year.

Inside is Public School’s new base fono, a creative space that stores sound equipment and also used to host and record “live” shows. 

They moved out from their former home at Pasar Besar TTDI last September. 

A view of Public School’s new base fono — a creative space that stores sound equipment and also used to host and record ‘live’ shows.
A view of Public School’s new base fono — a creative space that stores sound equipment and also used to host and record ‘live’ shows.

Its latest session, the fifth overall and first since moving to Jalan Rotan, brought a crowd of around 250, made up of locals in the area, passers-by and backpackers getting down to melodies nowadays considered leftfield. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager, working adult in your 40s. We have all types of people coming here,” Frusciante added.

“We even have families ― parents who want to show their kids something aside from going to different types of malls.”

The Sesi is also evolving to serve as a platform for travelling artistes in the region.

DJ Dangdut Banget spins during a Sesi Kaki Lima event at the Zhongshan Building in Kampung Attap.
DJ Dangdut Banget spins during a Sesi Kaki Lima event at the Zhongshan Building in Kampung Attap.

It will pull in DJs who appear in their network from neighbouring countries. 

The most recent showcase welcomed one Thailand-based act and three from South Korea.

“They’re happy to be part of the programme, even though there’s no money in it. They do it for the love. 

“They don’t expect sold out shows. They’re happy just to be present at these small intimate crowds,” said Frusciante.

“Because of the internet we are able to connect with anyone.”

Their common ground is not just turning up and scratching wax on needle, but being able to present a collection of records that tap into the same rare tastes.

Getting your hands on these dusty gems is no easy task.

“We meet people who have been collecting records for decades.

“They’re usually happy enough to exchange records but it can get a bit pricey now. They want to share the music with us.”

There is a certain charm, enclosed by the buildings that have stood for generations, in being able to indulge in records played from the side of the pavement without necessarily having to do much.

It is easy to engage and, as Rudy, a former club DJ, highlights, no one is surprised by the music being played, despite the relatively unusual set-up in how it is being brought back to life.

For updates on Public School and Sesi Kaki Lima, follow @fono.kl on Instagram.

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