Stepping into the Bean Brothers when it was empty and watching it slowly come to life as the crowd and performers shuffle in is now a beautiful memory imprint. This large venue of timber and iron, decorated in factory warehouse aesthetics, housed the eclectic, all-encompassing art event, Bistro Suka Duka. Organized by Conceive Asia, the second installment of Bistro Suka Duka kept its consistency in dishing out a diverse collection of artists, – musicians, poets, and artists. It’s not a large festival, but it doesn’t need to be – dishing out a great experience to tantalize all the senses in its intimacy. I got to absorb all the commotion while juggling my role as an MC. It speaks a lot of volume to the quality of the acts when crowd control duties did not disrupt my ability to enjoy the sights and sounds of it all.
First up on the stage was Kasih Azhar, strutting up with her guitar axe which won’t look out of place in a metal band – yet soft-strumming sweet singer-songwriter vibes. Although slightly marred by nerves in the beginning, she powered through with her subtle charisma. Her set began with her very own rendition of Gorillaz’s On Melancholy Hill, making the already mellow feel of the song even more heart-warming – accompanied by the lilting magic of her husky soprano. Her set ended with an original, titled Bluesy – an acerbic, dark song about ‘daddy issues’, all of that woven wonderfully in her signature ‘cute-sy’ style.
Igniting the poetry fire of the event was Muhammad Zhafir. His segment was great, dropping punchline for days from across the range, whether it be saccharine tributes to love, or a self-dissecting commentary on being Malay. Zhafir cites inspiration from rappers like J. Cole and Logic, all of whom clearly visible in his flow, though the subject matter he espouses was uniquely his own.
Staying true to the comprehensive nature of Bistro Suka Duka, the next piece is a theatrical one. Nadin Norzuhdy’s performance brought the audience into a deafening silence, as she utilizes only a mattress and herself to bring forth an intense soliloquy symbolizing a crushing loss. This subtly illicit and violent minimalism was definitely a sight to behold. There was also an installation called Flirting Booth made to complement her acts, functioning as an outlet for those sick of Tinder and want to sharpen their courting game.
During the intermission, I got to absorb another side of Bistro Suka Duka, located on the second floor of the venue. Artworks and installations embellished every corner,with the paintings and visual pieces of Nadhir being the highlight. Combining surrealism with a fantasy tinge, there is something about his pieces that exude warmth while being profound in its unorthodox at the same time. The rest were interesting interactive installations, such as Godplay, where the bored, angry or simply jaded passers-by can grab a needle and pierce it through voodoo dolls of famous people.On the other end are other fixtures intended as emotional and expressive outlets such as Pixel Confession, where you can disclose your dirty secrets by writing it on a giant mat, I dare you, a simple dare game, and O-Mingle where you’ll get a chance to – as the name suggests – mingle with new people.
As all of this was going on upstairs, the lower floor’s hustle and bustle did not dissipate, as people were crowding around the stage for a better view of the performers, whilst a good number of them still sat around the back of the venue, enjoying their food and drinks. This was soon about to change however, as Keith Noel stepped up to the mic with his band. The slightly stretched out soundcheck was more than compensated later though, as they left the audience awestruck with their funky, spacey sounds, as Keith’s soulful vocals blanketed the room. The electronics were slightly reminiscent of a Bon Iver concert, but intersperse that with the heavy but succinct bass solos by the lead, you get a magic that is distinctively theirs.
When Jamal Raslan walked up to perform his poems, he joked about the blatant injustice of having to perform right after Keith Noel, but Jamal did no less than an impressive job. His poem about communication and really getting to know a person, based around the Navi (yes the one from Avatar) greeting “Oel ngati kameie”, or in English, “I see you”. The poem found a comfortable home that night, especially in a space where old friends were reuniting, and new relationships, blossoming. Even his poem about football, where a lot of the references escaped me, felt genuine and tugged a couple of heartstrings, weaving introspection on a longing for identity – something I’m sure a lot of people could relate to as well.
(GIF Credit: Conceive)
As the night grew slightly older by the hour; the atmosphere mellowed down, preparing the stage for the experimental warped electronica of Shelhiel. Tracks like ‘Flower’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ set a laid-back environment, but it wasn’t all lullabies, as hard beats were also dropped, accentuated by the prowess of the lighting designer – closing the night on a almost-psychedelic note.
Bistro Suka Duka was named as such probably to reflect the range of arts they provide, and the type of emotions they want evoke. You go there to chill and mingle, but also to cry and laugh, to have a good time, but also reflect upon the poignancy of sorrow. As I look forward to the next installment of Bistro Suka Duka – it’s worth reflecting that this time, it was mostly positive and lively. Here’s to the future of this intimate, eclectic hub of artistry!