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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Heavy Metal Kutu

'Kutu' sounds rather cute, doesn't it? Even though it means 'lice.' This refers to an entire sub-culture of Common Malaysian Street Kids - crawling along the pavements, clinging to the ungrammatical graffiti on the walls of alleys and public toilets, milling around shopping malls or the Central Market area, bumming ciggies off each other and the occasional passer-by.

They're a harmless, lovable lot, really - just a side-effect of rapid industrialisation and urban drift. Like everyone else, the kutu just wants to belong. Some of us are members of Diners Club. Some are members of the Lake Club or the Royal Selangor Golf Club. Some are members of Clark Hatch, the Mile-High Club, or a Platinum Partner of Tony Robbins. Every kutu is a member without a membership card. A member of what? If you have to ask you're obviously NOT a member.

The thing that kutus do best is relax. 'Relak, brudder!' they're always advising each other as they congregate at tea-stalls and cinema lobbies. (An expert on kutu linguistics claims that the more trendy kutus have dropped 'Relak, brudder' in favour of 'Jangan tension.') They love rock concerts at Stadium Merdeka, open-air concerts at Panggung Anniversary in the Lake Gardens, or at Central Market. If they don't like the show they can leave; and if they really don't like it, they can tell the performers to leave ('Hoi, balik lah!') in no uncertain terms. And that's why kutus tend to avoid potentially claustrophobic situations like: (1) a string quartet recital at the British Council; (2) Werner Schröter documentaries at the Goethe Institute; (3) a Malaysian Nature Society powerpoint presentation and talk on the Sleeping Habits of Arboreal Edentates at the Fakulti Sains, Universiti Malaya.

You see, the kutu is quite conservative when it comes to culture: if it ain't Heavy Metal, it's gotta be decadent. And I don't mean they're into perusing Perwaja Steelmill's annual reports. Heavy Metal means AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Slade, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and the Scorpions - especially the Scorpions, a German rock group known only outside of Germany. Now, the Scorpions are a sweaty, glandular crew - same as their fans who, as the living sex hormones of society, represent a vast reservoir of untapped libido - or Potential Creative Energy, if that makes you feel better.

Then the Bad Times began. In September 1986 the Home Ministry slapped a ban on open-air rock concerts (after a minor fracas broke out at a concert in Sungai Nibong): no more letting down the hair, ripping off the shirt, dancing in the aisle, leaping on the stage, hurling chairs at policemen, and wantonly grooving to Ella & The Boys, Search, Left-Handed or the Blues Gang.

A heavy situation all right, with despondent, out-of-work young rock stars singing the blues and turning to country-&-western. How was the kutu going to get his rocks off? Those who could afford motorbikes added to the sudden surge in the Nyamuk Nuisance. Others simply succumbed to hard drugs and swelled the ranks of the Jaga Kereta Syndicate - at least for a while before large numbers of them were hauled up and packed off to rehabilitation camps.

The kutu's kid brother initiated a short-lived outbreak of breakdancing in shopping complexes and kampong school canteens. But even this met with a stern rebuff from the authorities. It was definitely getting harder and harder to relak, brudder. Life, in fact, was becoming like real, sister.

I was pleased to learn recently that quite a few kutus have decided, if you can't beat'em... join the force and become a Mat Bond (a kutu term meaning undercover cop, after a well-known Ian Fleming character named James). Hey, brothers and sisters, there's hope yet! One fine day an ex-kutu will make the scene as Inspector-General of Police - and this country is really going to rock'n'roll.

Nyamuk Nuisance - see The Yamaha Yahoo.
Jaga Kereta Syndicate - see chapter on species of the same name.

1 comment:

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