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Thursday, January 3, 2019

2019 Trade-Offs

So in trying to write this post, I went back to read my past three start-of-the-year blogposts (2016 - Looking Back Looking Forward; 2017 - Achievements, Failures and Rethinking; 2018 - Floating With No Direction), and what I've found is that I've been doing a variation of looking back at the things I've failed to do in the past, trying to explain to myself why I failed, setting myself some goals for the year that was to come and planning on how I was going to not fail this time based on what I've learned from the reflecting I just did. Always failed anyway.

I don't think the reflection bit is at fault. I'm always glad I do those, and I kinda wish I did it more often, since it gives me a sense of clarity that is evasive when I don't write. It's the follow-through that I always have a hard time with. Making sure that I fall into a habit of consistently doing things that will help me in achieving the things I want to achieve in the long-run has always been one of my biggest weaknesses. I am more prone to doing things that feel nice in the moment, as is the propensity for most humans, I assume. So instead of writing those things I said I wanted to write, I take a nap. Instead of studying script-writing, I swipe through instastories. Instead of spending the time to memorize guitar scales, I take a second nap. I have always been my own biggest burden.

I recently watched a John Green video entitled How To Make Goals, Not Resolutions and in that video John explains that in order to do the things we set out to do, we have to be ready to make certain trade-offs. The example John cites is if he wants to spend more time with his family, then he needs to spend less time doing other things (such as make videos, write books, record podcasts, etc.). And those trade-offs aren't the easiest of things to make for him, since doing those other things brings a lot of people happiness and/or enjoyment of some sort, and he'd like to not disappoint those people. Not to mention that those other things help put food on the table for him and his family, so there's another dimension to it. The whole video is worth a watch and I like it a lot.

He also speaks about the importance of making those trade-offs consciously. And I guess what I've been trying to do with these start-of-the-year posts is an effort towards making those conscious trade-offs. But looking back, I guess my writing of those trade-offs have always been one-sided. I've always said what I wanted to do more of, but I tend to not think about what I want to do less of in order to make sure those trade-offs make sense. I seem to say "write more!" without bearing in mind "sleep less!" I tend to want to have my cake and eat it too.

Having this in mind, I play the scenario of the perpetually-sleepy me coming back home from work and mustering up the will-power to sit in front of the laptop some more just to put some words on the page, and I kinda don't see that happening. Me at home is the person who wants nothing else to do than watch some Netflix (I just started watching Ozark, Jason Bateman me likey) and fall onto the bed, scroll through some tweets before sleeping. I don't see myself changing to my workout clothes and going to the apartment gym to kayuh the bicycle for twenty minutes when I know that an episode of whatever-it-is is just waiting to be watched there on the couch.

Deep in the recesses of my heart, I know what I want to do this year. They are as follows:

1. Write three short plays, give them to three directors to put up on the same stage (probably Revolution Stage, Bandar Utama). Ever since I started watching plays more regularly in 2017, I've been intrigued by the idea of writing something for the stage. Teater Modular by Ridhwan Saidi in particular is a big inspiration in this regard. The challenge is pretty straight forward (I think): most plays that I've watched tend to happen in one setting. I'm not denying that multiple settings do happen too, but I think limiting myself in the setting department will allow me to challenge myself to write something specifically for the stage. And I think that limit will have me answer the "where?" question only once, so I can get to filling in the other blanks sooner. I have a handful of director friends now that I've gone through last year's directing workshop, so I look forward to collaborating with them again.

2. Write, shoot and submit a short film for Short and Sweet: Short Films category. I just found out that Short and Sweet also has a Short Films category last year when I was acting in the theatre category, and I immediately thought I would want to make something to submit there. But of course I have to write and produce it first, which will prove to be a huge challenge, since I even find writing on this blog challenging enough.

3. Act in more things. This one is kinda out of my control. What I've found is that the life of an actor isn't much in terms of autonomy. Even though I love doing it, I still have to depend on other people to choose me to do it in order to do it, which is more than a little disheartening, but as they say: that's showbiz baby. All I can do is put myself in positions where people might see me and my capabilities better, and hope that they see me fit to play in their productions.

But what do I trade-off in order to do these things? That's the real question.

Cheers.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Remembering 2018 (Part 2)


To read Part 1, click here.

July

The first week of July was the first week of me working as a Branding Executive at IDTG Asia. I joined a small team of 4 people who managed the social media pages of a handful of brands, and was in charge of writing the copy for whatever content they had to publish. I also wrote press releases, came up with pitches and helped out with IRL events the clients needed help with. Most days I was at a desk, staring at my laptop, trying to come up with words to post as Facebook and Instagram captions. Sometimes I’d get to go out of the office to help setup booths for people to try out a client’s products, while taking pictures and Instastories of what was going on.

I felt incompetent at this job as well. Almost as much as I felt when I first started teaching. I didn’t feel like I was writing at all satisfactorily, and I felt like I was letting everybody down. The people who were working there were nice people, and they were patient with me. So much more patient than I was with myself. Additionally, through this job I learned that I didn’t really like social media all that much. I liked writing, but writing for other people’s products didn’t really give me the sense of satisfaction that I was looking for in my life, the sense of satisfaction that I had every intention of looking for when I decided to resign as a teacher. Maybe it was because it was the kind of writing that I was undertaking that didn’t jive well with me, or maybe it was plain incompetence on my part. I started dreading going to work pretty early on in the process, because I felt like I had to go through yet another day of what a failure I was.

Towards the end of the second week of working there, I received a call from the director of Theatrethreesixty, an English theatre company who was well established within the local theatre scene. Chris asked me if I wanted to act for him in a play that would be staged a month later. The first thought that ran through my head was “I have to resign from my job,” followed by “say yes, Anwar,” and I said yes to Chris. 

I took some time to mull over whether or not I wanted to resign from IDTG, because I didn’t want to make a reckless decision. I knew that rehearsals would take up a lot of time, and memorising my lines couldn’t be done at rehearsals. I knew that I had to put time aside outside of rehearsals (probably three or four hours a day) just for memorising my lines, and I couldn’t do that at work, since my workdays were pretty packed with writing copy. And I  knew I needed a sufficient amount of sleep, or else my mental health would completely go out of the window. So I had a decision to make.

It was during a client’s event that Friday that I became sure of my decision. I was doing copywriting work at a Gloria Jean’s at Dataran Maybank, waiting for the client’s event to wrap up, when a friend of my brother’s ran into me and sat down to chat with me. I wasn’t too familiar with the dude, but I was feeling talkative, since I had a lot going through my mind regarding whether or not I wanted to resign. I don’t know how, but while talking his ear off about it, I stumbled upon a sentence that went something along the lines of “kalau aku nak buat kerja yang aku tak suka untuk dapat duit, baik aku continue jadi cikgu ja.” That sentence kinda hit me like a tonne of bricks, and I became sure about wanting to resign after that. 

The following week was my last week at IDTG Asia. I worked there for three weeks and a half in total, and my boss Shane was great, but I had to say goodbye in order to pursue what I resigned teaching to pursue, which was acting. I took the IDTG job to put food on the table, but I wanted to act to feed my soul (try not to cringe challenge 2018). 

We started rehearsing Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku (written by Khairunazwan Rodzy and Khairi Anwar) in the second half of July. I played the character Agus Darman, an iron-fisted headmaster who would stop at nothing to ensure that his high high academic standards are met by all the students at his school. I got to reunite with Roro on this project, as she was acting in it as well, alongside Andy Poon, Amirul Syakir, Tria Aziz (replacing Nana, who faced vocal problems halfway through rehearsals) and Acad (replacing Anwar Pisang, who had unavoidable day-job duties halfway through rehearsals).

When rehearsals started, I became glad that I didn’t have a day-job anymore, since it meant that I could commit more time and energy to delving into my character and making sure that I memorised my lines. I needed every minute of it (and probably even more). We rehearsed at Lot’ng for a little bit, then moved to a space in Mont Kiara to make space for another play that was going to be using Lot’ng for two weeks.

Pasca Sini played at ROTTW’s Soundstage, their annual battle of the bands thing, and this year it was held at Publika’s Black Box. We played one recorded song and an unrecorded one, and I think I underrehearsed that new song, so I didn’t play as well as I wanted to in that show. We didn’t get through to the final, which is fine. It was a cool experience for us nonetheless, to be a part of an ROTTW show was a big deal for us and we are grateful for the opportunity.

This month also saw the end of the weekly First Time Director Workshop’s classes. From here on out, we only had one more task to get done, which was stage a full-length (hour-long) play as a director. I started looking for a script and found one that I liked on the internet called Tape by Stephen Belber, and proceeded to worry about whether or not I’d be able to obtain permission to stage it from the playwright, since he was all the way in the US. I also worried if it was going to cost a lot, since script royalties are a thing (and rightfully so). 

Besides that, I signed up for another weekly Revolution Stage workshop, called the First Time Playwright Workshop, under the tutelage of Cikgu Siti Jasmina. I signed up because it’s always been one of my dreams to be a scriptwriter, so I thought this weekly class would help me towards achieving that dream. It started in the second half of July, and was more formal than the directing workshop we had attended with Abang Wan. With Abang Wan, we sat in a circle on the floor, munching nuts and chocolate while Abang Wan or other were talking. With Cikgu Siti, we sat on chairs with tables and had notebooks and homework and all that, which was different, but cool nonetheless.

August

I started August by going to a preview of a play that was going on at Lot’ng called “House Of Usher” and after that play ended, I was stopped outside the black box by Axyr, who was one of the ensemble cast members of the play. He asked me if I wanted to act in a Short & Sweet play that he was directing, and I immediately said yes with no further questions your honour, since I had always wanted to be a part of S&S ever since I learned about it in 2013 in Penang (I just never knew how to join), so that was a pleasant surprise. 

Rehearsals started at the end of the month, and I found out that the ten-minute play was called Cin(t)a Buta, written by Lenny Wan, and I joined fellow cast members Vithal Narula, Asher Au and later Nicole Kiew in shaping the play for the short play competition that would be held in October at KLPAC.

Cikgu Disiplin Sekolah Aku was staged from the 16th to the 26th of August (with a three day break in-between). It was a great experience, playing Agus in this play. I’ve made friends with the cast and Chris, the director. The stage managers Farisha and Wyman were also very good at their jobs throughout the rehearsal and staging process, I felt really taken care of. They were also very patient with my lame attempts at jokes, so for that I am grateful. I thank the whole CDSA team for allowing me to be a part of the journey of telling the story.

At the end of the month, I acted in a short film written and directed by Diffan Norman. I don’t think I can disclose much about the project just yet, since it’s not out yet, so I’ll just wait until it’s been published to talk in further detail about it. I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Diffan for having me on set and being so great in the process. I felt that I was in such competent hands and around such distinguished company, I am honoured to have been a part of it.

Pasca Sini organised and played in a gig at Live Fact, Kota Damansara. There weren’t as many people in the audience as we would have liked, but it was the first time I played with a new guitar (a white Cort KX5), which I bought because I felt like I needed a guitar that had humbuckers (instead of the single coil on the Squier Tele I’d been using) to play the new Pasca Sini song that were being cooked up for the new album (or even the old songs, for that matter). Senang sikit nak main lagu drop C.

September

In the first week of September, I was involved in my first MingThing video, where I sat at a table with Ming Han and Harvinth and we just talked about our struggles with racism in Malaysia. I particularly talked about how I felt like I was still had racist tendencies because of the way that I was raised and taught to see the world, but that I was working towards noticing these tendencies of mine better and calling myself out whenever I did or said or even thought of anything that was prejudicial or racist. They made the video as part of a larger Youtube campaign called Creators For Change. Click here if you want to see the finished video.

I went to watch a Californian band called Movements play at ATAS by BijanFX, and it was loads of fun. I had been listening to their debut album Feel Something for about a month at that point, and was able to singalong to most of the songs they played. By the end of the show, I was absolutely drenched in sweat and went back home a happy emo boi.

On the 18th, I started my job as a video producer at Thelaki. About two months before this, I had sent my resumé to FlyFM after seeing a poster of theirs on Twitter that was looking for online content creators. A couple of weeks after not hearing from FlyFM, I got a call from Alif, who said he had found my resumé in the FlyFM pile and wondered if I would be interested in the project that he was heading at Media Prima Radio Network instead (I would later find out this was Thelaki). 

I continued to stay in touch with Alif and met up with him a couple of times in the following weeks. He told me about what they wanted to do, which was start up a new online media brand that made content for a specific section of society, and that they were interested in hiring me to be a part of the team. I agreed to taking on the job because it was what I had been doing for a while now (video making), so I felt like I could do it. Plus, this time I got to work in a team, which was something that I had always wanted to do. Plus, I was being paid. 

I reported for duty at Sri Pentas and was able to shoot my first video with them towards the end of the month (click here to watch that video). I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that a theatre friend of mine, Maryam was interning there in the same building. It was nice to immediately have a friend to go out to lunch and make lame jokes with. I continued to bother her at random times of the day until she ended her internship in December. I continue to work at Thelaki to this day. A big thank you to Alif, Zura and Adam for taking me in, and thank you to Maryam for tolerating me.

October

By the start of October, I had already settled on a script that I was going to stage for my final task for the First Time Workshop, which was The Optic Trilogy. This was after attempting to gain permission to three other scripts for this purpose. I decided against using Tape by Stephen Belber because I had no idea how to reach Mr Belber, and apparently neither did Google. I tried asking permission to stage Jit Murad’s Visits after buying a book of his collected play scripts, but after receiving no reply in two weeks, I started looking for a different script. I then tried my luck asking Adiwijaya Iskandar if I could stage his script Mixtape For Maz, but he said that it was already in the works to be staged at around the same time as I wanted to stage it, so he couldn’t give me permission to stage it. I then borrowed a couple of books of collected scripts by a Singaporean playwright called Alfian Sa’at, and really liked The Optic Trilogy. I sent him an email, and to my relief, he allowed me to stage it.

I casted Amelia Chen and Alfred Loh to play the two roles in the play, and we had two reading sessions before Amelia pulled out because she wasn’t too comfortable with playing the role. I respect her decision, and I thanked her for telling me up front as straight forwardly as she did. Alfred suggested I approach Amanda Ang for the role, as he had been working with her consistently in the past couple of years, so I reached out to her and I was thankful that she said yes. I also met my very first Stage Manager as a director, and her name was Fifa. She didn’t have a lot of experience in theatre, but was willing to work hard and do her best, so I was happy to have her on. We would resume rehearsals in November.

On the 10th, I performed improv comedy in front of an audience for the first time in my life.  I was invited by Mozek to do it at The Joke Factory as part of their weekly show Making Shit up, and even though I had my doubts, I said yes. I watched Who’s Line Is It Anyway all the time when I was a kid, but I never thought that one day I’d be able to do something very similar on stage, alongside Harith Iskander no less. I started having the desire to do improv comedy when I started listening to the podcasts Improv4humans and Comedy Bang! Bang! back in 2014, and I was able to perform improvised drama a few times in 2017 as a part of TheatreMob thanks to Umar. I was finally able to do improv comedy in 2018, and I’ve continued to be accepted on The Joke Factory stage every other Wednesday since, so I am very thankful to Mozek for inviting me to do it in the first place, Harith Iskander for continuing to put me up on stage, and all the real comedians for saying yes to my on-stage shenanigans. 

I also acted in my second short film of the year in a short that was written and directed by Ashraff Mokhtar. This one is also not out yet, so I hesitate to talk about it in too much length, but I do want to thank Ashraff for having me and Taka in the short film. Any opportunity for me to be in front of the camera playing characters is one that I take with a lot of gratitude, so thank you Ashraff.

We staged Cin(t)a Buta at KL Performing Arts Centre on the 24th to the 27th. It was my first time performing there, and it’s been one of my ambitions to act there, so it was a big deal to me. We even made it to the gala night, which was the finals where the top ten of nineteen plays got to perform one last night before the winners were announced. Even though we didn’t win anything, it was a valuable experience to have, and I’d like to thank Axyr, Vit, Asher and Nicole again for having me in the play.

November

November was primarily a month of rehearsing for The Optic Trilogy. Amanda was kind enough to let us use her living room as a rehearsal space, and she always had fruits to serve us during the rehearsals. The rehearsal process itself was a relatively pleasant one for me. Watching Amanda and Alfred work on their magic night after night was a delight, and added to it was a script that I really liked, so every time we rehearsed I got to watch a nice show. Fifa was a great help too, and I could rely on her for most things.

I was also given an opportunity to be a DJ for FlyFM for two weeks in this month. I was to fill in for Hafiz who was going on leave, and I was to do the morning show alongside Guibo and Ili. I remember wanting to be a radio DJ since I was a teenager who was listening to JJ and Rudy on HitzFM back in the day, so I was excited for it. I ended up making a video of this experience, so click here if you’d like to watch that one.

Besides that, I also got invited to deliver two talks, one in UniKL MIIT all by myself, and the other in IIUM with my wife. The UniKL one was real nice because I felt like it was so chill, and they laughed at some of my jokes, so that was cool. I was answering questions from the audience, which is my favourite thing to do at talks, so I felt like I was being helpful (felt ja la). The IIUM one was part of their Humanity Night, and we prepared for it and had slides and everything. I think we ended up having fun on stage, so that was cool.

Pasca Sini also performed at Gaslight Cafe, Bukit Damansara as part of their Goodnight Gaslight series, which was a string of shows to usher the closing of Gaslight Cafe, a very cafe that has been very receptive and supportive of the local performing arts scene, whether it be poetry or music. We played with Jetcetera, and to a crowd that was sitting down, which felt a little weird, but people seemed to be able to bob their heads to our music, so at least there’s that.

December

The Optic Trilogy was staged at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre from the 7th to the 9th of December. I was satisfied with the show, as the audience seemed really receptive towards it. They laughed when jokes were made, and some eyes watered when it came to the more sombre parts. Alfred and Amanda did a great job, and Fifa was just wonderfully helpful in all the ways in which one could be helpful. She recruited Zikri to operate the lights, Ron to jaga the audio, and Alziq and Kechik to be the stage hands. I am very thankful to the whole team for everything they’ve done to successfully put up The Optic Trilogy on the stage and in front of audiences. On the last day, I wrote letters to Alfred, Amanda and Fifa, telling them how grateful I am to have had them be part of the journey. I have now directed a whole hour-long play, and those three people made that process such a joy.

At Ripple (formerly known as Media Prima Radio Network) there are monthly meetings that all the employees of the company has to attend called town-halls, and in the December town-hall, Thelaki (plus Esther, the music producer) got a special recognition award from the CEO, Seelan Paul for our work in making a rap battle video for a client (Jabatan Zakat Selangor). That felt nice, because I wrote the video, the lyrics to the song and performed half of it. The whole team deserved it though, as Mirza was the one who shot, directed and edited the video, Helmie put his vocals on it, Ijal acted in it, Mok lent his voice in it, Esther provided the beat and Alif green-lit the whole thing. Thank you to everyone in Thelaki for being awesome. If you’d like to see the video, click here.

***
So that was my 2018 wrap up. On a more personal note, I’d like to thank my wife for being patient with me during this topsy-turvy year. I have departed from stable ground into unsure territory, and she could not be more supportive. She’s the real MVP for that, and I will continue to support her in her pursuits towards world domination as well.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to all the directors that have now graduated from Revolution Stage’s First Time Director Workshop: Kak Dzeelfa, Adit, Lea, Za, Siti, Qiu, and Bung Remi. Thank you for being a wonderful bunch of people, and I hope the friendships we have formed continue for years to come. I know that I’ll certainly make an effort to go check out all of your future artistic endeavours.

Here’s to 2019.

Cheers.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Remembering 2018 (Part 1)


So 2018 has been an interesting year indeed. Not only did I manage to neglect my blog the most I have ever neglected it since its inception, I got to do so many things that I would never have expected myself to be able to do within just a year. So here I shall reflect on most of those things. I'll probably forget some things, and embellish on some others, but that is to be expected of your old boi Anwar.

January 2018 Goals Revisited

So I went back to the first blogpost of 2018 on this blog and I definitely feel like I was in such a different headspace back then than I am now. This is to be expected, of course, since one wouldn't expect to stay the same person after twelve months, but it's interesting to see what I was concerned about back then and compare them with where I am right now, and how these to moments connect to each other in interesting, fun ways.

The first thing I wanted to (fail to) do was write and record my final two book reviews on my personal Youtube channel, and wouldn't you know it, I actually didn't fail to do that. Sure, it took me a month to get it done, but I got it done, and it was fine. I think the last one where I talked about Anarkis is one of my favourite reviews to rewatch, simply because I got to act in it a leel bit more than any other book review video I made. Still doesn't change the fact that I dislike the book. I still think it's not a good book.

I also said I wanted to write a fictional zine. I finished 2017 by writing a non-fictional zine called 0307 which contained five stories from my adolescent years (one story for each year from 2003-2007, hence the title), and I guess I thought I would continue to write stories into 2018, but my gosh was I wrong. I totally failed at writing anything in terms of creative fiction this year, and that is a doo-doo on my part.

The last thing in that early-year list was that I wanted to learn more about script-writing. I did end up signing myself up for a theatre script-writing class around July (I think), but acting and directing commitments made me have to pull out of that class after three months, because I simply wasn't focusing on that class at all, not to mention my terrible attendance record of the class. I skipped more classes than I went to, so that was definitely a sign that said "yo, you should definitely do something about this", and I ended up just menarik diri from that one. Maybe I'll rejoin a version of it in the near future, but we'll see how it goes.

I also reread the last time I did this year in review thing, and I went from month to month, and I think I like that format for now, so I'm going to do that. It's a good thing that I was a lot better at putting things I was supposed to be doing in the calendar in my phone than I ever was, so that makes it easier to go back to all the stuff.

January

The first notable thing I did in January was sign up for and start attending Revolution Stage's First Time Director Workshop, a six-month training programme that aimed to teach amateur directors how to direct theatre. Classes were held every Saturday morning, and I even wrote down five entries in this blog talking specifically about what I learned in each of the first five classes I attended. It was a new and strange undertaking for me, but I so desperately wanted to get my foot in the door of local theatre, and I saw this class as a way of doing that. Two hundred ringgit a month was an investment I was more than willing to make in order to immerse myself more fully into theatre.

I remember the first few classes, being a stranger to pretty much all of the other students in attendance and keeping relatively quiet a lot of the time, being afraid to speak out of turn or of revealing the corny human being that I actually was deep down. I didn't exactly know what I was getting myself into, but this decision to sign up for this workshop is definitely one of my favourite decisions this year.

I was still a teacher in January, and in the middle of the month I found myself involved in bringing the school touch rugby team to a tournament nearby. To my surprise, they lasted until the last day, albeit only getting to the finals of the Bowl category (the third best category after Cup and Plate) and ultimately losing. My role was not much more than the teacher who drove the kids to the tournament, looked after their belongings when they were roaming the school they were not a part of, and occasionally telling the kids to put on their shoes because their game's coming up. I am not a good coach at all, I have found, and I have zero patience and zero drive to get these kids to play better rugby. I was just there to make sure that none of their flip flops got stolen, and in that I was successful (I think).

Also, Pasca Sini played two shows in January: the first was opening for Gurryshang at their EP Launch at IntunNation TTDI, and the second one was a show at Impero Studios, Empire Damansara. We also shot a music video for the song The Best Sides around this time. That was fun, as we got to sneak our equipment up to the rooftop of Boy (my brother)'s apartment building and record some footage before being told to leave by the guards of the building. The video's up on Youtube now, and there's also a brief shot of the aforementioned guard in the video at minute 1:59, if anyone cares to watch.

February

I don't know if I've ever said this on the blog, and I can't be bothered to go back and check, but I was the Setiausaha Agung PIBG of my school for a whole year since early 2017. And February 2018 was when I was to step down from that post and hand it over to a more able person (a monkey smashing a typewriter would be a step up from me as secretary, if we're being honest).

I absolutely despised my time as a Setiausaha Agung PIBG. I honestly believed that I was the worst person to have the role from the one hundred plus teachers who were teaching the school at the time, and probably the worst person in Selangor. I did not like secretarial work in the slightest, and having to go attend monthly PIBG meetings was unpleasant at best.

I was terrible at paying attention, and paid more attention to the kuih-muih and teh tarik at the back of the room than I did to what the PIBG actually discussed. All of the people in the PIBG were wonderful people doing Good Work for the children and the school, while I was the slacker there who was looking at his phone 99% of the time. Not only did I not know how to prepare a competent meeting minute, I couldn't write letters, nor keep track of important documents. Iw as terrible at keeping in touch with the YDP, NYDP, Headmaster and Treasurer, and I think I did more harm than good at the end of the day. I was terrible, and had a terrible time doing it.

I was absolutely relieved to relieve myself of those duties when the Mesyuarat Agung PIBG 2018 came and went. I don't remember who the baton got passed to, and frankly I don't really care. I'm sure anyone who got that role was automatically a million times better at it than me, by virtue of not being me.

I also found myself starting to attend meetings at Bahagian Pembangunan Kurikulum in Putrajaya in this month. I was part of a team of education practitioners that were responsible for helping make LINUS a better programme. I have zero idea why I was part of that team, since I was and continue to be an incompetent education practitioner, but the people there were cool enough and they let me eat their snacks and invited me to breakfast and all that, which was cool.

I think I started listening to "R U Talkin' REM Re: Me?" during one of my trips to these meetings. The podcast was a continuation of Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott's last music-related podcast "U Talkin' U2 To Me?", and I'd already loved the U2 one, so I knew that I was in for a great time in the REM one too.


Pasca Sini also shot and published another music video in February, this time for the song Untuk Mereka Yang Tidak Berpeluwang. We had been playing weekend touch rugby at Taman Rimba TTDI, and on one of these outings, we brought our instruments and camera equipment along to shoot the video there, so you can see people playing rugby in the background of that video pretty consistently.

March

March was when I started the bookmeets. So earlier this year (in January, I think?) I started talking about organising a bi-weekly book club sort of thing, where a handful of interested people could gather in real life and talk about books they've agreed to read within those two weeks. Each of those gatherings would be called a bookmeet. Attendance to each bookmeet was not compulsory, so members could pick to attend the sessions they were interested in, and not go to the ones they weren't. Each bookmeet's book would be suggested by a different member of the book club, so everyone got a turn to talk about the book they really wanted to talk about.

I wanted it to be small scale so that it would be more manageable. I limited the number of members in the book club to 15 people, and all of them had to live close to Shah Alam, since the main place we were going to meet was Shah Alam's Section 13 library called Perpustakaan Raja Tun Uda. I put out a call on social media for a person who would want to help me organise this thing, and a person by the name of Alia popped up, and she was great. She helped a tonne with making sure that things kept moving and bookmeets were happening.

Our first bookmeet was in March at the aforementioned library, and I moderated the session, choosing to discuss John Green's latest book "Turtles All The Way Down". If I remember correctly, six or seven people came, and we rented a study room in the library to hold that bookmeet. All in all, we ended up doing seven out of a planned ten bookmeets throughout the year, and it's not that bad, I guess. The project kinda just fizzled out after June, and I don't think anyone was really super disappointed by it not continuing. It was an attempt by me to get together a group of people who might be interested in the same thing (books) and allow for a safe space for these people to be excited about the same thing together at the same time. I don't regret that I attempted it, but I do wish it kinda went a little better.

But how could it have been better, Anwar? Thank you for asking. It could have been better if the book club members ended up being friends with each other. I kinda feel like for most of the group, we gathered for an hour and a half and then just went our separate ways until the next one came up. I don't know. I kinda also wished that it didn't just kinda fizzle out, y'know? That people were still excited about the next one, and continuing the project. But it wasn't an exciting enough project for that to happen, and I get that, and I take responsibility for that, since it wasn't really a main focus of mine. I filled my time with looking for theatre and music things to do, the book club became more of a back-burner project for me, and thus it couldn't have been as successful as I wanted it to be, because I didn't put in enough attention into it for it to be that.

But maybe also it was just not a good undertaking to begin with, maybe? People are busy, and schedules change all the time, and people have lives to attend to and service, and who really has the time to go meet up with a bunch of strangers once ever two weeks to talk about a book you half-read, kan? Lagi baik they spend their time with their loved ones, friends or with other books. Or maybe it's not anybody's fault. Maybe the idea was alright, but the timing was off. Maybe it was destined to fizzle out, since all the people involved were not in the most stable stages of their lives. Maybe the only thing that this bunch of people (myself included) shared in common was their interest in books, and not much else, so there would always have been a barrier to the group being friends with each other? I don't know.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to thank Alia for all her help during the short-lived Shah Alam Book Club's life. If it weren't for her, zero things would have happened at all. She went to more bookmeets than I did, so committed was she to the project, so I owe her a big thank you.

Another thing that happened in March was I met The Ming Thing for the first time. I went to their office asking for a job, since I knew that I would be out of a job come April. I knew it was a long-shot, since I did not have too much skill to offer, and they're like super successful and all that, but I felt that I needed to at least ask for it. It would have been better to receive a "no" after asking than to not have asked at all. If nothing else, I got to meet two of my favourite local video-makers in the flesh, and that would make me plenty happy already.

I went to their office and talked to them for about an hour. They're super nice people who are busy all of the friggin' time, so them clearing an hour to talk to me meant a huge deal to me. They heard me out and let me down the nicest way possible, and I left the meeting just being glad that I got to talk to some real cool guys doing real cool things.

Besides that, Neck Deep came down to The Bee, Publika and I got to go watch them. I am relatively new to being a listener of Neck Deep, and I'd only ever listened to their 2017 album The Peace And The Panic, and I only listened to it because I knew they were coming to Malaysia and my brother Boy got us tickets and I wanted to have a good time, so I ended up knowing only about half of their set that night, but it was a fun time nevertheless.

Pasca Sini played at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa for an event called MATi 2.0, and we shot some footage there to use in the music video for the song I'm Not Good At Being Alone Anymore, which is up on Youtube right now (man, we put out three music videos in three months. Not too shabby at all). It was a nice show, where we had to bring our own backline (drums and amps). I think people ended up enjoying it, but I can't say for certain, since I collected no feedback forms afterwards. Thanks to Umar for having us for the event!

We also played our EP launch show in this month on the 24th at the Impero Studios rooftop to celebrate the release of the physical copy of our double EP "Hardly Do I Find Myself Speechless, But You Have Rendered Me So / Everything Looks Cooler In Japanese". It was a super nice show, with more than 60 people in the crowd, and we served overcooked barbecued chicken and drinks. It was a fun time. It felt really nice to have our friends there singing along to a lot of the songs and having fun together. It helped with our self-esteem as a band, since some people seemed to actually care about the band and the songs enough to take the time to learn the songs, come to our show, and sing and dance along with us, so that was super cool. It kinda said to us: not only do we like the songs, other people do too; and that felt validating. A super big thank you to everyone (and I mean everyone) who came to have a good time with us. You all made that night possible.

It was also my last month as a teacher. There was nothing particularly memorable about it. I remember being asked by so many teachers about my resignation, whether or not I could even do it (some people even doubted the legality of my resignation), why I would do such a thing, about my future plans, et cetera. That was a bit of a chore, but ultimately it helped me become more and more sure about my decision to leave the profession. When I was justifying my resignation to all these people, I was also re-justifying it for myself, and it was nice to hear to certainty from my voice when I talked about wanting to resign. It felt reassuring.

On the last day of school, the KL Shakespeare Company came to do a performance at my school. I went to watch during the periods that I didn't have classes to go watch, and it was great. They did a modified version of Macbeth using puppets, dance and song to get the students to participate in the story-telling process. It kind of felt like a sign, that what I was doing (transitioning from education to entertainment) was the right thing to do, even though it's most probably just a happy coincidence on the part of the universe.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the good people of SK Raja Muda for being patient with me as a teacher there. They must have seen my incompetence and decided to tolerate me anyway, which was very kind on their part. They were friendly and accommodating. They still invite me to hang out at the school and outside of it every now and again. I was not allowed to leave the sesi petang Whatsapp group because it was a friend group, not a work group. It just so happened that 99% of the people in the group were working as teachers, that's all. I'd like to thank Puan Jamaiah in particular, for being very nice to me and humouring me whenever I drop silly joke attempts. She listened to my concerns and I felt very much that she wanted me to succeed. It's always nice to have someone like that in your corner.

The last week of March was my first show as a theatre director. It was a monologue called Matte Love, a story told in six fifteen-minute monologues, and I was assigned to direct two wonderful actors (Alang and Own) to play one role interchangeably, depending on the show days that they were available to perform on. Working with them was when I saw just how good one had to be to be a professional actor, and the bar was really high. These two actors were amazing, and I felt like we collaborated to put up the show together. They learned the lines very quickly and put on stage such wonderful performances that I have become fans of theirs. It was good that my last days of being a teacher were filled with rehearsals. I wasn't able to dwell in any mushy feelings about missing school or whatever because I had work to do, a show to put up. I ultimately had a great time directing that show. Thank you Alang and Own for that.

April

I started April with an acting role for the play Mayat, written by Hatta Azad Khan and directed by Akid Jabran. The cast consisted of the students of the First Time Director's Workshop, and it was in this play that we really started to bond with each other, I think. We had to rehearse together for hours in the night, and afterwards we would just lepak at the mamak, sharing stories about each other with each other. It was a short play (less than 40 minutes) and we had a short time to rehearse for it (about a week and a half). We got through it, and we got to learn from a really good theatre director, Akid Jabran by acting for him. He was a chill dude who stayed chill throughout the rehearsal process. He was punctual, and didn't drag rehearsals for very long. I admired his chillness and self-confidence. It seemed infectious, and I seemed to get some just by being near him. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Akid.

I also went on a trip to Banjarmasin, Kalimantan on the first weekend of April with my wife and my in-laws for a distant relative's wedding. It was the first time I had ever gone to that side of Indonesia, and we got to see what a wedding over there looked like (a lot of Jasmine flowers were involved). We also went on a river cruise there, where we got to see a lot of people who lived on the riverside waking up and taking their morning showers by the river. It felt weird, watching people go through their morning while we were touristing right by, but they must be used to it by now. A big thank you to my in-laws for letting us go on that trip.

The second half of the month was taken up by delivering talks at three higher learning institutes (one in Melaka and two in Penang) and rehearsals for my second task in the Director's Workshop, which was to be staged in early May. In this task, each student director had to choose a 15-minute script by themselves, look for their own actors, and have the show ready to put in front of audiences by the first week of May. I chose the script Malam Pertama by Ridhwan Saidi. I sent a direct message to him on Instagram asking for his permission to use the script and he was gracious enough to allow me to put up the show for a small small fee.

I chose that script because it was one of the first short plays that I remember liking, having seen it only a year before. I chose my friends Airah, Iman and Qayyum to act in it, and they were wonderful enough to agree to doing it and commit to the rehearsal schedule that I had set. We had fun rehearsing and I got to hangout with my friends in the process, so that was great. They were also very patient in the bump-in and the staging process, so to them I am very grateful.

I was also casted as an actor for another student director's play that would be staged on the same night for the same show (it would end up being called Teater Kompilasi, since there were four shows being staged in one night, one after the other). I was the male role for the play Kopi Tiga Suku, adapted to the stage by Dzeelfa Zainal from a short film script written by Nadia Khan. I got to act alongside Roro, a very talented actress, who was the lead of the play, and the experience rehearsing for this play was also a fun one. I got to bond with Kak Dzeelfa and Roro, and we remain friends to this day.

May

The first week of May was the run of shows for Teater Kompilasi (which the student directors modified to Teater Komplikasi because of the things we had to endure to put that show up). It was energy draining and it was great fun. My wife got to watch me act in Kopi Tiga Suku and was very critical of my performance, which was good because it allowed me to want to be a better performer. She also became a fan of Roro while watching her perform with me, so that was good. Thank you to Kak Dzeelfa for casting me as an actor for this one, and thank you Roro for being wonderful.

And of course, 9 May 2018 was voting day. I wrote all about it in a previous post, which I'll link to here. I guess I'll just reiterate that I am grateful that I was a part of this historic moment in a small small way, and I hope the Malaysian people continue to take power into their own hands and make the people in power more accountable for their actions.

I also delivered a few more talks this month, at Global Movement Of Moderates (RIP), UiTM Skudai, UiTM Shah Alam and UiTM Segamat. The GMM one in particular was interesting because I was there to teach people how to make videos, so it was like an IRL tutorial session of how to shoot and edit videos. I also got to talk to Syafiq Yusof, since he was there to deliver a talk with his father, Yusof Haslam. Syafiq seemed like an introvert who was keen on observing, but we didn't really talk too deeply about anything in the ten minutes we were able to chat. Thank you Raja Azraff for inviting me to that event.

I had two plays to rehearse for in this month: as an actor in We Speak Of Love, written and directed by Remi Eldhani (one of the directing students) and as a guitarist in After Earl, written and directed by Jude James. My acting partner in We Speak Of Love was the aforementioned Airah, and she's always a delight to work with. Remi is an enigma with strong visual sensibilities, so to be a part of the set he made for that play was great.

After Earl was the first time I'd worked with a theatre company outside of Revolution Stage, which was Kudos Production. It was an English theatre company, and they were staging the show at The Gardens Theatre in Midvalley Megamall. All I had to do was sit near the front of the stage and play my guitar when instructed, and that I did. I ate a lot of Family Mart sandwiches during this time, since it was also Ramadhan and rehearsals started right after maghrib, and those sandwiches were the quickest thing to get and consume mess-free.

Pasca Sini played a show at IntunNation again for Jack-It, and it was a lot of fun. A small crowd, but we got them to stand up and move to the music, so that was cool.

June

The first week of June was the staging of We Speak Of Love. Not a lot of people came, and some people who did come weren't too happy with the show in the end, and we absorbed all of that feedback and moved right on along. All in all, I was just happy to be performing with friends, and hanging out was cool. Thank you Airah for being patient, Remi for letting me act, and Roy & Wawa for being great.

My wife departed for her band's European tour around this time, and I continued to be the guitarist for After Earl. Hari Raya Aidilfitri came and went and I spent it in Kedah with my family, for the most part.

I invited a few friends over to my house for a bookmeet/open house type thing, just because I wanted to, and we hung out, talked about the book The Power by Naomi Alderman which was suggested by Hajar, and after that we played Settlers Of Catan which was brought by Mozek, who also brought super nice cookies (he never makes meh cookies, all of them are always fire-emojis-for-days). That was a fun day. Thank you to Mozek for helping out that day, and thank you to all the five people that came.

Later that night I went to the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards at Hilton KL on the invitation of Remi Eldhani. I got to get all dressed up with a blazer and tie and all that, eat hotel food and meet a whole bunch of arts practitioners. I sat two rows behind Sharifah Amani and her crew, and they were stoked af for their friends who were nominated and won awards throughout the night, particularly Kandang, which had Ashraf Modee Zain, who ended up taking away the Best Performer Award for his role in that play.

I learned that I was still largely ignorant about 90% of what Malaysian Performing Arts had to offer. I only knew about two or three shows that were talked about that night, and it made me realise that I had so much more to learn if I wanted to call myself an arts practitioner in Malaysia. Thank you to Remi for bringing me along to attend the Award show.

Also, throughout May and June I had been sending out my resumé to companies that might be interested in hiring a writer, copywriter or a social media person. I had been going to a handful of interviews here and there within these two months. Towards the end of June, I was interviewed by a small branding and marketing company based in Kelana Jaya called IDTG Asia, and they were interested in having me on as a social media copywriter. I went for a meeting with the CEO, Shane, and she was a pleasant person to talk to and seemed like a cool person to work with. It felt like I was out of a regular job for a while now and I wanted to get back on that daytime-job-having horse, so I was keen on joining the company, as they were keen on having me on board.

The final weekend of June was the run of shows for After Earl. I got to perform at the theatre at The Gardens, which was the nicest stage I had ever gotten the privilege of performing on, and I played the guitar for all the five shows. I had to buy myself fingerless gloves because of how cold it was inside the theatre space. It was a cool experience, being the musician for a stage performance. I've always looked longingly towards the musicians of any stage performance, and to be one in this production was great. Thank you Kudos Productions for having me.

***

I shall continue writing about the months July through December in part 2 of Remembering 2018, which should be up in a few days. Until then, take care.

Cheers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

My 9 May Experience

So it's been an interesting few weeks, with Pakatan Harapan winning, Najib resigning, the 1MDB papers being released, and Anwar Ibrahim being released from prison. Overall, there is this sense of optimism in the New Malaysian air. Everyone seems to be swept away by this feeling of euphoria, from achieving something most thought was impossible. It's a good time to be Malaysian, that's for sure.

All of this would not have happened if people didn't go out to vote the way they did on the 9th of May 2018. I had the privilege of helping people vote by being a Petugas Pilihan Raya (Election Officer), in the capacity of Pemandu Arah Pusat Mengundi (PAPM), or Voting Centre Guide (?). What the PAPM are tasked with is to facilitate people in their manoeuvring of the place where they were to vote. My Voting Centre was a school (the school where I was last a teacher), and in that school were four Streams or Saluran. Which Saluran you were supposed to be a part of depended on when you were born, with the oldest voters being in Saluran 1, and the youngest in Saluran 4. The PAPM are the people who helped voters get to their designated Saluran, and help those less able to walk on their own to provide wheelchairs if needed and be the facilitators of their movements throughout the voting process.

In this post, I'll write about my experience being a part of this historic moment as a PAPM.

Honestly, I didn't choose to be an Election Officer. My school picked me, for whatever reason they did, and I went along with it. I went to the first briefing in November of 2017, I think it was. It was held at the city hall, and almost all the Election Officers of the area were in attendance. We listened to the Powerpoint presentation the Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya people had to give us, and we were informed of what our responsibilities were. We were also given a file with the slides as well as a book with all the relevant material pertaining to being an Election Officer.


They were helpful things to have, and if I'd bothered to read through the material, I'm sure I would be a lot more knowledgeable about the electoral process than I am. Alas, I was me, and at the time I wasn't too stoked about the process. I was pessimistic, and thought it wasn't going to change much. Thank goodness I was wrong.

We didn't get any updates about the elections until they were announced sometime in April. By this time, I had already resigned as a teacher, so I went to school to get clarification as to my status as an Election Officer. Was I still one? If I were, what was I supposed to do?

The nice people at the school told me that I was still an Election Officer, and that any citizen could be one, regardless of job status. I was to report to the Ketua Pusat Mengundi, the Head of the Voting Centre, who was a teacher. I also had to hand in a passport sized photo to the school clerk to make this thing:


The above thing is called a Pas Pusat Mengundi (Voting Centre Pass), and only people with these passes were allowed to be in the Voting Centres, besides the voters themselves, of course. Anyone who wasn't voting there or did not have a pass were not allowed to be in the Voting Centre. This made sense because if people who had no business being there were there, it might cast doubt on the voting process, as those who had no business being there might be up to something, something that might tamper with the election results.

A day before the elections, we were summoned to the Voting Centre to set up the place. We went to the district's vote-counting centre and retrieved the things we needed to set up our individual Voting Centres. 


As you can see, there were a lot of people there. My Voting Centre brought 15 people to check and carry the stuff back to our Voting Centres, and there were quite a few Voting Centres around the area. What we had to do was to make sure everything that was supposed to be there was there, and if they weren't, to claim it from the SPR Officers who were there to facilitate. Once everything was accounted for, then the Ketua Saluran would have to report to the SPR Officers and get the blank voting ballots and indelible ink.

Since I was a PAPM and was only there to carry a wheelchair, some umbrellas, some posters, some banners and other things, I didn't have much to do there. I was mostly just waiting around, watching people do their thing, and try to help when I could.


Each Election Officer got a t-shirt to wear on the day (ours were all sized XL and bigger), and some even got caps to wear. These were not obligatory apparel for the Officers, but it did help us look the part. I'd like to imagine that people who saw me there wearing the shirt on election day had no doubt about what I was doing standing there at the Voting Centre, telling people where to go.

After that whole process, we carried the stuff back to our Voting Centre and set up the stations. I helped with setting up the registration table as well as putting up the banners that informed people of what the stations were. Others set up the actual voting rooms and made sure that directions were available for people to follow to their designated Saluran.

On the voting day itself, we gathered at the Voting Centre at 6.30am, had breakfast and set up the places even more. We put fans where it was most helpful, set up the laptops for registration purposes, put up tapes to make sure the passage from the registration table to the voting rooms were clear, made sure everything was as ready as it could be to receive voters.

At 8.00am we opened the gate for voters. voters showed up as early as 7.15am. They really wanted to get in early and have it done to enjoy the rest of the day. It was a good move on their part, in my opinion, since people started coming in big numbers as the day went by. The peak time people were lining up was at about 9.30am-10.00am. The lines were really long and people had to wait in line for up to three hours just to vote. 

As a PAPM, I did my best to manage to traffic. I pointed people in the right direction, and listened to people when they expressed that the lines were too long.  Saluran 2 was particularly long. It was a Saluran for ageing people. Not particularly old like 80, but definitely on their way. I felt sorry for them having to stand around for such long amounts of time, so I made sure that they would only line up in the shaded parts of the school. I also carried benches from the school canteen and arranged them along the line so that the voters could sit down while waiting in line if they wanted to. I did the same for Saluran 1 as well. Their line wasn't as long as Saluran 2, but they definitely had to wait a lot longer than I would want an 80-year-old to wait. People in wheelchairs started coming in as well, so I was tasked to help them move through the voting rooms.

I didn't sit down for hours doing all this. The traffic slowed down a little bit as mid-day came. I went to have lunch and got to sit down for a little while while others took my place in giving people directions, pointing out which Saluran was where and helping people move around.

I resumed my duties until the end of the day, and by 4.00pm my feet were screaming into my brain to retire. Fortunately for me, the final hour of the voting day did not see so many voters coming in anymore. I could sit for longer periods of time. 

When 5.00pm finally came, we packed up, carried all the benches back to the canteen, cut off all the tape, took down the banners and posters, and called it a day. I went back home and napped.

While I was working as a PAPM, I could feel the energy in the air, an energy of change. People were out to prove a point, the point being that the people had had enough and wanted to take what little power they had into their own hands to turn this country around. A couple of times I was holding back my tears just thinking about if the Federal Government actually did change, and the changes that would come with it. 

No more culture of fear, no more getting away with theft of public funds, no more sucking up to those in power only to benefit yourself, more accountability, more transparency, more freedom of expression. These were/are my ideals, and even though I wasn't very sure that it would be a reality, I liked the thought of it so much that it moved me.

I stayed up until 4.00am that night. They still wouldn't announce it, but the Astro Awani screen did say PH=113, and that was enough for me. With that I went to bed. I woke up to a New Malaysia, and it has been an amazing ride so far. Here's to a better Malaysia for all of us.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Thoughts On Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

So yesterday, the Arctic Monkeys released their latest album called Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. People who have been reading this blog since the very beginning would know that I am a huge Arctic Monkeys fan. So much so that I even named the blog after their first album. In this post, I shall share my thoughts about their latest studio release after listening to it on loop for the past 30 hours.

We first received word about the album when the Monkeys released promotional material concerning the album about a month and a half before the album dropped. When I found out that it was going to be named Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, I got excited. I liked the fact that it was a name of a place, which hinted that the album might well be a concept album (and I like me some concept albums). I thought that it would be a collection of songs telling stories about the goings on in this mysterious hotel, and they pretty much delivered on that count, just not in the way that I had expected them to, as I’ll discuss later in this post.

But before that, I’d also like to recount that a few recordings from a closed live-show pre-album-launch got on Youtube and I checked them out to see what I might be able to expect from the album. I only listened to them once, and the vibe I got was that it was a movement towards slower tunes, closer to the ones presented on Turner’s side-project The Last Shadow Puppets’ latest studio release. I was also reminded of Cornerstone, for some reason, and that excited me since Cornerstone was one of my very favourite Monkeys songs. 

After my first listen in my car on the way back to Selangor from Johor, I thought to myself, “This will be the most difficult Arctic Monkeys album to listen to yet.” I didn’t get it. I thought Turner had traded in his ability to write catchy melodies with more drab and matter-of-fact tones. No particular lines jumped up at me either. Nothing quite as memorable as “He’s struggling the notion that it’s life, not film,” or “I’m sure that you’re still breaking hearts with the efficiency that only youth can harness.” The sounds weren’t urgent, drums were as minimal as can be, guitars as sparse as it has ever been on any Arctic Monkeys record, with only the bass doing some interesting things every now and again. I sighed and pressed the bridge of my nose by the end of the album.

They had certainly delivered in one trademark Arctic Monkeys department, which was making sure that no two albums sounded the same. This was certainly one of the main appeals to the band, in my opinion, and part of why I like the band so much. I always liked that they always wanted to grow and do different things with every full-length release. But after the first listen to Tranquility Base, I was now asking, “Had they changed to something I now disliked?”

As with most albums I listen to, I cannot trust my first listens of albums all that much. There have been plenty of albums in the past that I grew to love over time (Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC took me three-months to properly “get” and now it’s one of my very favourite albums of all time). So I persisted. I knew there was something I didn’t “get” yet about the album. And I sought to find out what that was.

I was surprised to learn that I started enjoying some of the songs in Tranquility as soon as I played it the second time. I found myself nodding my head to Star Treatment and swinging my hips to Four Out Of Five during my bathroom break at the Machap RnR. This was encouraging. I still didn’t quite get anything about the album at all, but I was more and more acclimatising to the sounds presented on the album and found them to be enjoyable, if on the slower side of my preferences.

When I got back home, I listened to an interview Alex did with BBC Radio 1 about the album and what they were trying to do on it. The interviewer, Annie Mac asked interesting questions and I gained a better insight into what the album was about. For example, I found out that the Hotel was on the moon (whaaa??) and how social media tied into the album.

On my next listen, I did what I only do with albums from artists I care about: I listened to the whole album while having the lyrics in front of me. It proved to be a great move for me in improving my enjoyment of the album by many folds. I now see that the whole album is set on the moon, with markers such as “So when you gaze at planet Earth from outer space, does it wipe that stupid look off of your face?” in American Sports, and “Cute new places keep popping up around Clavius,” in Four Out Of Five, with Clavius being one of the largest craters on the moon. Indeed, the title of the album itself should have alerted me to this fact, since Tranquility Base is the site on the moon where Armstrong landed back in 1969. I was just ignorant to this fact before looking at the Genius page.

Besides being on the moon, another aspect that I admire about the album now is its critique of our infatuation with technology and social media and how Alex talks about how it affects people’s lives on the moon. “Still got pictures of friends on the wall, I suppose we aren’t really friends anymore. Maybe I shouldn’t ever have called that thing friendly at all,” Alex muses on The Ultracheese. He even seems angry in She Looks Like Fun where he says “There ain’t no limit to the length of the dickheads we can be.” 

In the interview I talked about earlier, Alex said that he somehow felt that writing Tranquility Base felt like writing the first album, only he couldn’t quite put his finger on how they were similar. If I had to hazard a guess, I would submit that in both albums he was singing through the eyes of a persona who is in a singular, specific place. In Whatever You Say I Am, the persona is talking about his thoughts and the goings-on around Sheffield, whereas in Tranquility Base, the persona is speaking about this imaginary world on the moon with a taqueria on the roof. This is different from the other albums, where there wasn’t quite the specificity of location consistent throughout the individual albums. 

I’ll end by concluding that Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is Arctic Monkeys’ most ambitious album to date. It is a concept album in the sense that the whole album is set in a specific place and tells stories relevant to the place. It’s not quite as cinematic as Kendrick’s GKMC, nor does it (in my opinion) pull off the no-guitars rule as well as Mountain Goats’ Goths. It’s not the easiest of listens, and it doesn’t have a standout “hit single” in the discography, so I think this will be their least popular album so far.


But I’m still proud of the boys for being brave in their musical choices. They’ve never failed to reinvent themselves with each album, and they’ve continued to do that with this one. Even though I had every reason to expect them to change up their sound, I never thought it would be as drastic and radical. I like that they can still surprise long time listeners such as myself. I am going to continue listening to this album for a while, and while it may not be in my top 4 Arctic Monkeys’ favourite albums, I still cherish it and continue to be a fan.