Sweetass, known as a local four-piece Indie-rock band (Alang Sekitar, Zaki Ibrahim, Azlan Ariff, James “Sungai” Rivers), is actually more accurately described as “a DIY creative collective”. They openly and happily cite Mohktar Rizal (Engineer, Record Producer), Adham Mutahir (Photographer, MV Director), Arman Shahmiey (MV Director, Videographer), Fry Yusof (Illustrator), Azza Yusof (Photographer, Social Media Manager), Firdaus Malek (Videographer, Sound Tech) and many others as members. They see their foray into the local music scene as only one arm of their approach to engaging Malaysian youth and pushing them forward in the “Music Scene” and “Creative Industries” at large. Additionally, they commonly engage younger local bands and creatives; taking a lead role in promoting shows and organizing video shoots, helping connect bands and labels, coaching and even sponsoring rehearsal sessions. Central to the way that they think it is important to them that every contributor receives their share of the groups’ income.
Brand presence has long been as important as the music itself and as a collective, they take this very seriously, having already produced and contributed an enormous amount of branded content and merchandise alongside their recorded material and live shows. The DIY spirit has been a central part of what they do since day-zero, their entire first record was self-funded, self-promoted, self-released and their touring and live shows generally follow suit.
Their vision is quite simple; in this age of Spotify, YouTube and free channels of distribution, nobody needs to be vying for the attention of “major labels” in order to bring their art to the masses and put Malaysia on the world’s creative map. “In fact,” they say “if you sit around hoping somebody else might do it for you might die waiting or retire in obscurity, having never made your imprint or inspired anyone to take charge of their own creative trajectory”. Additionally, they prioritize inspiring others in Malaysia to follow in their footsteps, encouraging and, as often as possible, trying to show the Malaysian youth that they shouldn’t wait either.
Their 1995 music video was directed by then 20-year-old Arman Shahmiey and was his first project as a Director. “We met this young kid who had almost all the tools and 110% of the passion to make a damn badass music video; so we were absolutely falling over ourselves to give him a platform; safe to say two MV’s later we are absolutely stunned at what he can do and have no doubt he will carry on and do incredible work in his career as a creative. Despite what some old-heads might think, so many of these kids in Malaysia are passionate and creative. They just need someone to give them a chance to get started, and maybe a helping hand with funding projects every now and then.”.
We should all know by now that content is key in marketing to a modern, youthful audience and Sweetass knows the Malaysian youth audience is no different. They have been relentless in this, with daily content uploads, monthly merchandising drops, and quarterly music releases. From this some amount of success and notoriety has found them too; with the first physical (CD) release of their freshman album “Wa Caya Lu” selling out within 24 hours (Record Store Day 2019) and their follow up limited cassette release selling out within 4 hours of its release (Cassette Store Day 2019). This is of course in addition to the hundreds of t-shirts, tote bags, buttons, stickers and other merchandise sold since the band’s inception.
A key component in their approach, and reason for the collectives inclusion of so many members, is documentation. Since day-zero they prioritized having people on board documenting everything (at shows, at practice, at recording, and essentially every step of the way). To the point now where Adham Mutahir and Arman Shahmiey’s presence at shows, studio sessions and on tour is more than a familiar sight to any fan of the group, it’s a guarantee, and they are greeted by the fans similarly to the core members of the band itself.
Lastly, to touch on their aesthetic and creative choices throughout their climb so far; Sweetass, as a band, is unlike so many others in the “scene”. They keep things local. From their lyrics to their riffs, their merchandising to their album covers, and even their humourous and creative social media presence, they exploit every opportunity they can to stir a sense of what it is to be proudly Malaysian; from stirring nostalgia with the iconic “Ngan Yin”, “Scotts Emulsion” and “Kiwi Brand Shoe Polish” parody artworks, to uniting Malaysians with the (now iconic) lyrics “WA CAYA SAMA LU, LU CAYA SAMA WA”. Their hope in doing this isn’t just to build an audience within Malaysia, but also to make sure that, when the time comes to take their music overseas, they take a big fat slice of Malaysia with them to show off to the world.
From the band; “We always wanted to speak to the kids at our shows first and foremost, or to our friends, to make them laugh and smile and think to themselves ‘hey this is fucking cool AND very Malaysian, maybe I can do it like this too’ ”.
“With assistance or not I think its safe to say we are going to keep doing what we are doing, that was why we changed out IG handle to @Sweetassrecords all that time ago because we want to make this something more than a band and we know we can do it ourselves if we have to. Eventually, we want to be releasing music by other up and coming bands, paying artists, videographers and photographers to shoot and create content not just to boost us but to build up Malaysia as a whole. To us, this is all about community building and really it all comes back to that simple phrase…. WA CAYA SAMA LU”.