“Keep Calm, and Relocate” captioned a photo posted on Findars’ Facebook page. Faced yet again with having to pack everything up and settle into another home, the Findars crew have kept going, and have kept going strong in championing the little known experimental arts and music culture in Kuala Lumpur. There are already very few that pay attention to local independent music, and there are even less here that can appreciate the sounds coming from the fringes of modern music.
Yet Findars’ existence continues, keeping that necessary off the grid, independent and casual refuge which every scene needs to have for it to be called a scene. Azam Hisham catches Wong Eng Leong, Bannai Roo, Tey Beng Tze, Lim Keh Soon, Wong Min Lik and Mak Wai Hoo after unloading everything into their new home, a fourth floor shoplot on Jalan Panggung in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
How long has Findars been around now?
EL: We started in 2008. First in Central Market, then Wangsa Maju, and now we’re here in Jalan Panggung.
And how’d this 6 year long journey begin?
KS: We all met each other in MIA (Malaysian Institute of Art). Hung out together, even until after graduation. We went into the working world all at the same point…That was boring(working), but we did do some jobs together. After a while, Eng Leong came up with the idea to form the collective. To do stuff that we enjoyed doing. Art. And I was on la. Jalan!
EL: We started as a collective first, Beng Tze, Min Lik, Soon and myself. There wasn’t a space yet then.
What were you guys up to as a collective, before there was the space?
KS: Drawing, painting at Leong’s till mornings.
And how did the space come about?
EL: To create a space was of course something that we all really really wanted and was bound to happen. As soon as we graduated we were already dreaming of one. But of course, we needed the means. So we worked on a couple of commissioned projects
KS: What project?
KS: I’ll ask questions also. During the Beijing Olympics, all these countries were doing exhibitions, promoting their culture and whatnot. KL was one of the spots for this exhibition, so we joined in on that
And that paid well, surely?
EL: It was alright. We got about 10k from that, to be frank. But whatever number it was, it significantly helped us get a space set up.
And how did you manage to get that place in CM?
EL: Phang Khee Teik. He said “Oi got space la. Come la.” And as we got the money.. ‘on’ laa.
KS: He helped hook us up with the Nike project too. He helped us out a lot when we started out, actually.
So where’d the name Findars come from?
EL: I came up with that. It’s a combination of the words “find”, and “ars” which (the latter) means art in Latin, the origin of the word “art”. And the Chinese character of the word, translates into “unlimited cultivation”.
And at that time, when you finally managed to get that long awaited space, what was the idea you guys thought you’d approach running the space with?
EL: Even at the start, we wanted to have an accesible, multi functional space for everyone. We wanted to have it in such a way that all it took for organizers to use the space for free, was some simple understanding between each other, and that’s it.
So it was intended to be a space for the art community?
EL: You could say that. Many came, and many used the space. As long as we could afford rent, we let people use the space for free.
You guys put that small space in Central Market’s Annexe to some real good use. It must’ve been hard to do music gigs there though, yea?
EL: Actually we put on a lot of shows there.
Bannai: There were actually more gigs at Findars Annexe than there were in Wangsa Maju. There were gigs every Saturday in Annexe, usually.
EL: We did over 70 shows in Annexe, both exhibitions and gigs.
KS: A lot of sound art and experimental stuff. We had bands too, like NAO, Ben’s Bitches.
At this time in the Annexe complex, you guys were just one floor above Ricecooker shop and Bau Bau Cafe, weren’t you? There must’ve been a lot of music going on in CM at the time. Was there ever a time you had simultaneous gigs going?
EL: That happened so many times. Best la. Memang best. Exhibition upstairs, music gig in Bau-bau or Ricecooker shop, or even gigs at all three venues on the same day.
KS: There were even gigs in the corridors. It really was happening.
EL: There was always a gathering of people in Annexe at the time. It was quite an era for downtown KL. There isn’t really such a thing going on in downtown places like Central Market anymore, is there?
So what happened to Findars in Annexe, then?
EL: The management there had some other ideas for the shoplot I think. Rental increased in Annexe, eventually. It was empty when we went in to occupy that lot. No one really wanted that place I think. Then, our next door neighbor got kicked out. They were bad paymasters, as to what I heard. And they kicked us out too while at it. (laughs) We had a good rent payment record though.
Beng Tze: We did only have a year’s contract.
EL: Yeah, a year. Like Wangsa Maju.
What’s there now, in place of Findars?
EL: A “gallery” Selling paintings from China.
Oh. Like triple waterfalls and stuff?
EL: Ya. Waterfalls, trees.
KS: That American Pop Art vs Chinese Pop Art exhibition is there. I’m sure everyone’s seen it by now. That’s been there for a while la.
EL: (laughs) that’s a 2 year long exhibition.
Isn’t that place always closed?
EL: They open, but it’s really like a retail shop. Business la.
Beng Tze: They don’t open for just anyone la.
EL: You go there (Central Market) at times nowadays, dont you? Do you notice the works they’ve got?
Yea I notice how bland the stuff hanging there are.
EL: Sure you know how commercial it is now.
So you guys couldn’t have lasted there could you? I don’t think they gave you guys the support to be there, did they?
EL: Memang tak ada chan la. They doubled the rent ma! (speaks in Cantonese with Min Lik)
Min Lik: Yeah we heard it got raised to something over 3000. We were paying 1200 while we were there.
EL: Yea, we heard that there was a new landlord or something that wanted that increase. More than doubling the rent just meant they really didn’t want to renew our contract.
So, then came Findars in Wangsa Maju.
Bannai: Actually no, not immediately. Findars stopped for a bit, and everyone worked for 2 years.
KS: Paint at home la.
EL: Joint projects.
You had partners that left after Findars in Annexe, yes?
EL: Yes, Roy and Chee Wai. They left after Findars in Annexe shut and got themselves good jobs.
But other people got involved by the time you guys moved in into the Wangsa Maju lot.
EL: Yeah, Mak (Wai Hoo), Bannai and Rainf.
Bannai: In CM we were constantly there to lepak. We loved it. When we heard they were opening up a space again, we didn’t hesitate to chip in. No thoughts to it.
EL: I invited Mak, and Rainf .
Was the recording studio something you already wanted to be part of the space?
EL: That was Mak’s idea of course.
Not too many acts got to record there though huh.
EL: Citizens Of Ice Cream, NAO. Vials did their mixing there.
I assume the rent in Wangsa Maju would be about the same as the old rent fee in Annexe.
But you guys had a hotel operating right next door.
Bannai: The problem with Wangsa Maju, was the hotel. We couldn’t go a second past 12 am.
Beng Tze: Yep. Hotel ada, ayam takda.
Where was it easier to pull a gig off then?
EL: Annexe surely. We had gigs going till 3 am in Annexe and it was totally fine. We had regular shut ins too. So shutters shut at 3, but kids would hang around inside till as late as 6.
When it comes to music at your space, Findars is known for being the homeground for experimental musicians in Malaysia. Is that an elaborate decision?
EL: Our focus really does lean towards experimental audio/visual performances. We have gigs too though, because we like a lot of bands.
Bannai: It’s also because of how accessible Findars is. We operate off the grid, there aren’t any forms nor formalities, so visiting artists and musicians find it to be a sort of refuge with Findars. Sound artists from here or abroad, no matter how renowned they are in their respective scenes, wouldn’t really have a gig anywhere else in Malaysia but Findars. There’d be too many performances that would’ve been passed up on just because there isn’t a place that could casually accommodate fringe acts.
EL: We created the space really to just have that platform for artistes like ourselves. A place where you don’t need to fill up forms, or have repeated phone conversations. A place where it’s as easy as one phone call and you have a space to play with for your performance, whatever it may be.
And what was the problem in Wangsa Maju?
KS: Same thing really. It came to the end of the contract.
EL: But with this creditor, he wouldn’t even renew our contract even when we offered to pay more!
Beng Tze: Our track record there wasn’t too swell either.
Ok. Let’s then talk about Findars’ sustainability then. How do you guys survive?
Bannai: We work man. We look for money, and we dump it into Findars.
EL: It’s all from our own pockets. But sometimes, when we get projects to do visuals and stuff, we’d dump the money into running the space also, for rent and stuff.
Beng Tze: Got money, we pour in money. Got energy, we pump that in.
Bannai: Findars is pretty known yea. We get jobs from being known. The little money we get from doing visuals and things like that, the 200-300 ringgit we each earn we’d pump into running the space. When there isn’t enough, we’ll pump in money from our day job salaries.
Haven’t you ever thought to come up with a business model?
Bannai: There’s enough galleries operating like that. We wouldn’t really adopt that ourselves. We know how it is for musicians and artists to not have a space to play in. There’s got to be someone that does this. When no one does, then that isn’t really a scene.
Fared Ayam walks in. A regular face in Findars.
Min Lik: This is our CEO.
You guys finished carrying all the stuff in?
Beng Tze: Ya la. Wasn’t hard ma.
Ayam: It was raining la. Sorry lambat.
EL: So we offered the landlord 6 months rental in advance and he still wouldn’t renew the contract.
Bannai: He just really wanted us out of there.
Azam: Who’s he? The landlord.
Beng Tze: Orang Kaya la. Mesti ma. Takkan la orang miskin.
So now we’re here, in Jalan Panggung. Before we get to talking about Jalan Panggung, let’s talk a little about Jalan Sultan, where the shop owners there are pitted against a mega development. That plight to stand firm in a brash and persistent surrounding, isn’t too different from that of Findars, is it? You guys have been actively protesting the demolition of the shoplots on that street. Do you think the decision to move to this new location on Jalan Panggung that’s just a little off of Jalan Sultan had anything at all to do with all that time you spent busking and demonstrating on Jalan Sultan?
EL: The man organizing the protest is Yeoh, do you know him? The guy behind Lostgens, an art space located just a floor below us (in the new Findars location). Do you know Petaling Street Community Art Project? He’s behind that too. Yeoh was the guy that told us about this vacant lot. That’s quite a direct link between our spending time in Jalan Sultan to us setting up shop here. But more subjectively, sure, there definitely is a struggle here that we’re already engaged in. Our initial idea was to set up a space in Rawang and get community projects going over there. Then Yeoh told us about this place..
Beng Tze: We came and checked it out, and felt the Feng Shui right.
EL: And we’ve also definitely always been keen on contributing to the voice of this locality, painting on walls around the area, organizing community art projects. Just creating and continuing that persona, that human characteristic and vibe you don’t want to see dead in downtown KL, you know?
And what is the situation now with the tenants in Jalan Sultan?
EL: They’ve used the Land Act to evict the tenants refusing to sign on with the deal. There’s about 36 to 38 small medium businesses there. They offered money or they’d evict you.
Beng Tze: They’d pay something not really fair.
EL: Lok An (Hotel) received some 200 000 we heard.
Beng Tze: Either you take that, or we bring on the Land Act.
You’ve just moved all the stuff from Wangsa Maju in today. What are the coming plans? What’s changed?
EL: We’d like to do a residency program here. International exchange stuff. There isn’t the recording studio anymore, but we will continue with the shows, definitely.
Bannai: There’s a noise limitation though, so for the time being, until we’ve warmed up with the neighbours enough, we’ll only be having acoustic or sound art shows. Can’t have the bass and the drums booming just yet.
And surely the experimental music gigs that Findars is known for continues. Where else would they be if not Findars, eh?
Ayam: In Goh Lee Kwang’s house.
From 2008 to now, what do you think is the impact you guys have created that keeps Findars motivated to keep on keeping on?
EL: Well, we love it. We just want to keep creating things you wouldn’t otherwise find in Kuala Lumpur. Things that we ourselves want KL to have going on, you know?
And from the response of the public, is there actually enough appreciation for you guys to keep on running Findars?
Ayam: Myself, as someone who is an audience of Findars’ initiative and not part of the organizing body, I feel what’s admirable about Findars is that they kept at it. It can only be because of an unshakeable earnestness in wanting to create these things you wouldn’t otherwise see in KL that they stuck with it from a point when only so few people came for the stuff they put on to now where there are more and more people at the shows in Findars. And there’s been more and more people aware of Findars’ existence too, especially since the Wangsa Maju days with the gigs and shows taking place there. I really am a fan, and not just a friend and I would feel a great loss if Findars ceased to exist.
Would you have some practical information to sort of, say, spoonfeed those that are eager to realize their own ventures with?
EL: I don’t really know, you know. It isn’t like it’s a business, with the formal processes and what not. In fact, when we came to look at the shop lot, the agent told us not to apply for licenses to avoid people coming to ask for duit kopi!
Bannai: In comparison to an organizer who does big scale shows, he would be someone who’d have steps to share. As for us, an independent initiative operating off the grid, there’s so much less formalities to it. You want to do an event? Contact the person, if they’re ‘on’, we are ‘on’ also lah. If the person wants to do an event, if we’re ‘on’, then the event’s on! Jalan saja. A big event has 2 things important to them, profits and publicity. Those aren’t really why we do it. Putting on a show is exciting and we love it. The whole process of putting a show, right until the curtains draw or the artist boards to leave, means a lot to us. And we know that these are to be the best times of our lives, and that’s exactly why we do it.
OK. What would you say then is the most important thing in keeping Findars going?
EL: Hati! (heart) Ada idea, ada bajet, jalan! (with an idea and a little budget, you’re all good to go)
EL: Man, I worked in Low Yat selling laptops for a year before we got to start Findars. I really admire Rumah Api, Beatnik and the likes. They realized their ideals, and they’ve managed to keep doing it.
Ayam: It really isn’t only about being business savvy. Those that survive are usually the ones with ideas, honesty in doing what they do, and with a team that’s likeminded and equally as earnest in doing what they do.
Findars Gallery has now moved to a new location, and head over here for updates on gigs and other events hosted there.
Interviewed by Azam Hisham
Photo by Findars Gallery