Punk’s Not Dead

22 August 2016

Francis Wolf – one of the pioneers of Malaysia’s punk scene – on his rise and the empowering lessons of punk culture.

Contrary to popular belief, punks don’t all have mohawks. Francis Wolf – also known as Wolf – says, “When people think of punk, they immediately think, ‘does that mean you have a mohawk?’"

To Francis, punks are indoctrinated with a quality so much more significant than that their hair – self-empowerment. At its core, punk culture is a lifestyle that adopts anti-establishment ideologies. “To be anti-establishment, you have to be empowered. You have to say, ‘I want to make that change’,” Francis says. “You can’t make change by throwing a brick at a cop or causing a lot of chaos. But you can make change by doing something positive.”

In 1991 – the genesis of Malaysia’s counter-culture – punk was a tool for free expression, especially of the musical kind. Francis’ renowned punk group Spunky Funggy was born amidst a fledgling scene that was at that time, still in its “aping” stage. “I always believe a scene has different growths,” Francis explains. “The first growth is aping, it’s imitating. Then slowly, people start writing their own music and then bands form.”

The punk scene in Malaysia, after two and a half decades of growth and reflection, has had time to flourish into what it is today – a thriving community that has grown into its own. “Punks are no longer just musicians; punks are activists,” Francis says. Beyond the hair and the three-chord songs is a sense of brotherhood that welcomes people who “simply feel different”. “You can be a farmer and still be a punk,” he adds.

While Spunky Funggy hasn’t performed live in over a year (“It’s not dead yet!”), Francis doesn’t stop working. Three months ago, he put out The Surrogate Friend, his second solo effort and an ambient folk album produced and funded entirely by his homegrown record label, Doyerown Records. The funding for the record was channeled by his time busking and performing at shows, and the result is a candid account of some of his deepest, funniest and most sporadic thoughts.

If you get your hands on a physical copy, note that upcoming punk-fueled Malaysian artists, some who include Sharon Chin, Husna Nabila and Doreen Chew, helped to design the album sleeve artwork. “I gave them a few songs [to listen to] and they drew what they heard,” Francis says. To promote the record, he’ll be off to tour Indonesia in August.

When he can catch a breath, Francis writes books and bobs. His debut effort, Social Carbon Copy, is a raw, soul-baring, sometimes hilarious tale of Spunky Funggy being denied entry into Australia, subsequently leading to an eventful tour in Thailand. The book was followed up by Kelunding, a visual documentation of street prose on Klang Valley walls, mostly in colloquial English or Malay. It’s a book like no other by a Malaysian – an amusing, moving compilation of uninhibited expression by grassroots Malaysians who aren’t always listened to. 

On the side, Francis also runs a board game shop in Petaling Jaya, what he claims to be the oldest miniature gaming shop in Malaysia. This year, or with what’s left of it, his to-do-list comprises of writing a graphic novel, filming a documentary and penning a third book to his name. If all goes well, 2016 will soon wrap up as just another year for an ordinary Malaysian doing extraordinary things.

A Surrogate Friend is available on iTunes and Spotify. To purchase a physical copy, contact Francis at wolfisin@yahoo.com.

 

By Surekha Ragavan

 

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