Fascism, evangelism and homophobia all in Bunkface's 'Akhir Zaman'

Local pop punk band Bunkface — Picture by Taufiq Nadzri
Local pop punk band Bunkface — Picture by Taufiq Nadzri

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MARCH 1 — "Discrimination has brought me down/Caused my reputation to quiet down," goes the opening lines in Malay of local pop punk band Bunkface's first cross-over hit in 2007.

As some have noted after listening to the band’s cringe-worthy latest song Akhir Zaman, Bunkface has themselves now resorted to discrimination, in order to burnish its own reputation.

On its own, the song is a tired rehash of the pop punk formula, so much so that the band had to rely on puerile, hateful lyrics that they perhaps knew will shift attention to the band.

One line in the song “LGBT boleh pergi mampus” — translated as “LGBT can go to hell” or more literally “LGBT can go die” — sounded like it was inserted as an afterthought by primary songwriter Shamsul Annuar Mohd Baharom, also known as Sam.

It was almost as if it was shoehorned in exactly to attract the controversy that it is doing right now. It does not fit the rest of the song. The sentiment was never expressed before that line was uttered, and never again. Even the meter of the line sounded wrong.

Sam may have even thought it innocuous, even witty (it is not).

Instead, what Sam and the band have single-handedly done is weaponise thousands of its followers with a slur that directs hate towards one of the many persecuted minorities in this country, who are already facing online and physical violence, even death.

The song, with its faux-rebel tone that would certainly appeal to impressionable young listeners, will be sung along to by many, and as they do they would be calling for the deaths of the LGBT.

Already, anti-LGBT comments can be seen on Bunkface's lyrics video of the song. When condemnation blew up against Bunkface, fans of the band were joined online by a gang of hateful youths who used the one line as its retort to any criticism against the song.

Years of growing up have inevitably caused the sound of Bunkface to mellow down, as it is normal with a lot of bands.

While Situasi was rebellious and tongue-in-cheek, by 2019 the band was literally releasing an album called Pop with pop yeh yeh singer Jeffrydin and rapper Caprice.

In its bid to not only capture past glory but entice new fans, the band seems to now pander to the Malay crowd, but not its previous urban and modern fans... it has its sights on the conservative, reactionary crowd grasping for an identity in a globalised world.

So Akhir Zaman takes the route of a specific kind of new-age Islamic evangelism which resorts to emotional manipulation, guilt-tripping, and shaming those who do not conform to the more hardline interpretation of religious rituals. It is a practice akin to “negging”; a concept the Malays called “dakwah sentap.”

This is present in lines of Akhir Zaman lyrics that complaint about the perceived state of modern Muslims here, such as “all that is haram (forbidden) wants to be halal (permissible)” and “you can explain it here but not in the afterlife.”

Even the title itself refers to the rhetoric among Muslim hardliners that adherents closer to the end times will grow further from the religion, something that Bunkface tried to allude to in the song.

But if there needs to be more proof that the lyrics is a mess, just look at the refrain in the song: "You with your religion, me with my religion" which refers to verse 109:6 of the Quran.

A common interpretation of the chapter suggests that it is an invocation for Muslims to remember that they and non-Muslims can both go their own ways. In a way, it can be seen as a plea for religious tolerance: for Muslims to practise their worship, and others with their own.

However, in the mouths of Bunkface, the verse has become a deterrent of sorts against non-Muslims — that the latter should not force their beliefs down the throats of Muslims.

Not only is this naive, but it is also insidious considering the authority and powers that Islamic bodies hold in the country, but also how the status of Islam as religion of the federation is almost skewed by religious bigots.

Amid all this hackneyed evangelism and preaching that Bunkface is attempting, the elements of ethno-fascism in the song may go unnoticed.

There is one line: “We were once great, now we are rusted/all kinds of 'bangsat' has now landed” using a swear word in Malay to describe a despicable person.

Is it another innocuous line? Or is it a dog-whistle to describe the “undesirables” that, in Sam's mind, has made his country not so great anymore?

This can be interpreted as looking down on these Other communities: from the non-Malays who have been labelled "pendatang" (immigrants) despite already living here for many generations, to migrant workers who are treated like dirt despite sacrificing literal blood, sweat and tears for this country's development.

Seeing all these platitudes of fascism, evangelism, and homophobia mixed with vague faux-rebel calls against corruption (without directing it to anyone) and asking “where is the voice of the people” (without actually giving the disenfranchised any voice) should tell you how half-baked this song is.

This song could not have come at a worse time, when Malaysia is facing a political upheaval ostensibly caused by Malay politics — that would adversely affect the livelihoods of many, and has the potential of reversing all the reforms and exacerbating the living conditions of the minorities in this country.

In an interview with Malay daily Sinar Harian, Sam was quoted saying: "We hear the voices of our fans and Malaysians, and it is our role to speak for them. This is our way to talk about the right issue, for the sake of religion, the people and our country Malaysia.”

It may speak for the people, but only for the privileged status quo, and adding to the irony, this is delivered by a half-white man.

Whatever Bunkface comes up with next, it will forever be remembered as that band who incited Malay youths to sing that the LGBT should die.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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