Rangoon Hardcore

by Ko Gyi



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A Burmese music fan at 'Myanmar Woodstock Festival Round 5: Alex vs. The Underground'. Myaw Sin Kyun, Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon, 5 September 2010.

Rangoon Hardcore is a body of work looking at the passionate group of youths who make up Rangoon’s underground guitar music scenes. Taken over the course of a year, the photographs show a side of Burma rarely seen in the West  – a Burma of passionate creativity, rebelious style and subversive culture. Despite the obvious difficulties involved in developing any type of sub-culture in one of the most culturally traditional, socially restrictive and economically disadvantaged countries in the world, these punks, metals-heads and hardcore-fans are carving out a vibrant scene of their own. But will their scene flourish under the Burma we are now hearing about – a supposedly reformist Burma embracing a new found liberalism – or will a diminishing level of oppression and restriction also diminish the frustration which drives them and, ultimately, the passion?

Editor’s Note – Antonio Marques

Music breaks barriers, creates identities, fuels and is fuelled by ideologies. Independently of nations or creeds, music prevails and lets the message go through. But creating music requires that special something, a set of conditions that gives it that raw power – if those conditions are not there, music becomes something a little less than music. In Burma, the second largest country in Southeast Asia, a long history of “repression of thought” allied with a traditionally conservative society have brewed the perfect conditions for the innately human rebellion to pour forth in this most universal of ways – music.

The most soundly aggressive music cultures, from punk to hardcore metal, born in garages and basements, far from the mainstream eyes, were always used to express anti-establishment ideologies, whether political, religious or cultural. Burma, like so many other places, has and gives a reason (or many) for this music to exist. Ko Gyi has expertly captured instants that go far beyond music. In his images you have the feeling and expression of any sub-culture, people using music as a way (their only way?) to talk to anyone who cares to listen and pass on their message. Beyond the hair and tattoos, the images make you see the raging sounds of distortion in guitar chords, the screams, the outcast lyrics… and the smiles of those facing life in their own way, in a place where ways of life were very much imposed rather than chosen.

 

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About Ko Gyi
Ko Gyi is the name taken by photographer and writer Matt Grace during his time living and working in Burma. Matt studied photojournalism at the London College of Communication before relocating to Rangoon where he spent two years working primarily with local NGOs covering the country's myriad health issues. His spare time was spent documenting different facets of Burmese youth-culture, particularly Rangoon's underground music scenes. Matt is currently managing director of Documentary Arts Asia, a non-profit organisation based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which promotes visual literacy and supports documentary photographers and filmmakers in Asia. More at Witness Burma and Documentary Arts Asia

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