Artists / Bands, Culture, Indie / Alternative, Interviews — April 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm

The challenges of a Burmese band: Side Effect


The media has always portrayed Myanmar as an isolated country rife with political turmoil. One would least expect to hear of an indie rock band emerging from this country but that is what Side Effect is – a three piece indie rock band from Myanmar who tells us about the side effects they have experienced due to their unique situation.

Hi guys, can you tell us a little bit about the backstory of the band? How did you guys meet?
Side Effect has three main members. Darko C., the lead singer and lead guitarist and Jozeff K., the Bass/Guitar are brothers. Darko met Tser Htoo when he was in another band, and managed to convince him to join Side Effect in 2005. When Side Effect plays live, they play with Hein Lwin, who is their stage Bass player.

What is it like being in an indie band in Myanmar?
There are a lot of challenges. On the one hand, we face similar difficulties to bands anywhere in the world – we can’t earn enough money from our art and music, we can’t afford gear and instruments and recording studio time, and its tough to step up to mainstream pop acts with corporate dollars backing them… But we’re happy to do our recording DIY even if it doesn’t sound spectacular, and we pool together our resources, and beg, borrow and steal from our friends to make our music. On top of all this, there are special challenges in Myanmar. There is no 24 hour electricity, our music is censored by a government board, and we can’t earn enough in our day jobs to pay for our music habit…

Is there an underground/indie music following or scene there?
Hardly. There is a punk scene and a metal scene and a hip-hop scene, but people define themselves too much on their genre, and if you don’t fit into the strict categories (like us!) then it’s a challenge to find fans. Young people want to rebel against the system, but they hide behind the comfort of labels and cliques. The most popular and famous bands in Myanmar don’t play original music – they play Burmese-language covers of Western rock and roll and Top 40 hits. Most of their fans don’t know that they are ‘copy songs’ and not original tunes…

As Myanmar had been isolated for a period of time, how easy or difficult was it to get access to foreign indie or underground music from Myanmar while growing up?
When we were young, it was really tough to get a hold of foreign and underground music in Yangon. In the late 90s and early 2000s we desperately were trying to get Kurt Cobain and Nirvana tapes to listen to. One time in University I somehow got a hold of a copy of a French music magazine – there was an article about the White Stripes – I didn’t understand a thing, but I knew I had to try to get their music. The Internet connection here is super slow, so its really tough to get new underground and indie music.

Have you seen a change in that now?
Nowadays some of our foreign friends bring us tons of new MP3s. We’ve recently been getting into The National and The Maccabees. Sometimes you can find White Stripes and other popular indie bands CD and DVDs at local music shops these days. The Internet is as slow as ever so its hard to get access to new tunes still.

What are some of your favourite bands and musical influences?
The Ramones, Handsome Furs, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Placebo, Blur.

We understand that you have met with some difficulties in raising funds to record your debut album. Do you have plans to venture overseas to develop your music career?
US and international sanctions towards Myanmar have a devastating impact on everyday people like us. We don’t think Americans mean to hurt indie musicians, but the story of how our crowd-funding campaign on was frozen because of US banking sanctions is good evidence. We played our first ever show abroad in Bali at the ASEAN Summit in Indonesia in November 2011. We had an incredible time, and got to jam with some Indonesian heroes of ours from Superman Is Dead. We really hope to be able to break into the Asian market and play more with our brothers and sisters across the region… We are looking for sponsors and booking agents to help us play in Thailand, Singapore, China, etc.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. We’d really love to hear your album and we wish you all the best.
Our debut LP is going to be out on May 5th, 2012! It will be available on our  for digital release on our Bandcamp and at stores across Myanmar for physical release.
Interview by Cindy Tan.

Cindy Tan is a music enthusiast who enjoys writing, amongst many other things.