A tea party on speed, a house in the woods made out of cotton candy––queer, pink, sweet, and sticky. Meant to make you feel uncomfortable and call for your attention without having to demand or beg for it. That is the experience of watching the two Malaysian bands that are Senja and TimeMachine perform and flourish over the past few years. Transcending and calm, grounding, and chaotic. Both these bands debuted into the Malaysian music scene around the same time within the first six months of 2018 and have been active with their own progress together, and individually since. On Saturday, February 22, I attended Down To Riot! at Panggung Asia and sat down with the members of Senja and TimeMachine in a cold room among music equipment and paper plate pasta to talk process, progress, and being in the scene wearing dresses.
YASMINE: I’m glad to be sitting with both bands today. Though I must say the fact that you are all women is second to the fact that you’re good at what you do. It’s exciting as a young woman in this age myself to be watching you do your thing and paving the way for young girls to want to do whatever they want. Who are among other women musical artists in the Malaysian scene that are currently still paving the way and breaking those barriers?
CHARLOTTE (TIME MACHINE): Thank you for having us! The first name that comes to mind is Jetcetera, they have a new music video out and they’re actively playing shows.
KASIH (SENJA): In the context of Malaysia, there are a lot of female-centred bands though they aren’t all girls. The Venopian Solitude, Night Skies & Visions, Pastel Lite, Leaism, Crinkle Cut, Billie Blue, and the Nowhere Men. And Lucy in the Loo that played a comeback show. Hana Abd. Aziz paved the way for many girls to want to do what she was doing which was whatever she wanted. It also wasn’t just because she’s a woman, but it’s more of “Wow, Kak Hana can really rock”.
YASMINE: In that light, now more than ever is the time to use whatever platform we have to speak up about mistreatment or taboo topics people don’t want to discuss but are actively happening within human society. Are there any songs you’ve written on those subjects that you feel deeply about?
CHARLOTTE: TimeMachine produces songs on believing in yourself more. Not letting other people’s opinions affect you by valuing your own. Trusting that you have a voice and a say in situations. Speaking of self love seems easy and light but it’s something we as people struggle with and work so hard to achieve
YASMINE: Is there a song specifically at the moment that we should pay attention to?
GLADYS (TIME MACHINE): Witchcraft. It was the first song written for people who weren’t taking us seriously or listen to us just because they see us a bunch of girls.
CHARLOTTE: For messages, we wrote to pick people up we’ve got ‘Irrelevant’, ‘that slow song’. These are the themes that we really want to deliver in our music.
MYRA (SENJA): I just realized how TimeMachine doesn’t have any love songs.
CHARLOTTE: Well, not yet..But I feel that some of our songs can still be interpreted between lovers.
MYRA: I mean it’s different from Senja because with Senja we do have love songs but they aren’t just love songs. We enjoy the process of going really deep into thought at times and exploring the wider existential questions. But we also have playful songs like Everyone is my Fucking Boyfriend which is a song about having complete self-confidence.
CHARLOTTE: When I first heard it, I thought it was a huge middle finger to anyone who’s ever looked at a girl and thought “Oh, she’s a slut. She’ll hang around with anybody”.
KASIH: With Senja, though our songs are mostly about love, they tend to fall into the more taboo aspects of the emotion. We have songs about daddy issues and on the more notorious end, we have a song called Tools of Destruction, and it’s about menstruating.
GLADYS: We also have a period song that was inspired by theirs. Senja’s is called Tools of Destruction, ours is Not Today. We mashed it together and got Days of Destruction.
YASMINE: What are some things you’ve learnt from your earlier days starting out as independent creatives that has helped you grow today?
MYRA: I can answer this one only from my personal perspective through my own experiences. Early on, when I first started out with Senja was also the time I had just started learning to play the guitar. I would always feel conscious about playing in front of other people. Although no one has explicitly come up to me and just said “Hey, you suck!”, but as a girl playing the guitar or doing anything, there will sometimes be this tiny voice that is almost so deeply rooted inside us telling us to work twice as hard and be better. I was scared also because although there are women guitarists, there aren’t many being represented in the scene and people would look at me and just be like, “She’s a girl and she doesn’t know what she’s doing”. It was something so deep-rooted, I didn’t realize I was having these thoughts as they came. But what I’ve learned after many months, maybe one year, of playing with Senja is that you really cannot care or take things too personally within the scene, and in general. So now I’m just having fun, making music with such cool girls, and cannot even care about people making fun of me.
KASIH: With Senja, we grew a lot together. Because we couldn’t figure out who we are as a band which put a lot of pressure on us to give answers to other people as to what we were to for a long time we told people we were this or that. And because Senja is also a collaborative, since it isn’t just the three of us girls. For a long time we found ourselves being more influenced on what the boys had to say and didn’t have the introduction to female seniority until we met TimeMachine, which was why last year around September, we really understood what it meant to be a female musician when I felt that togetherness. Being a woman in the music scene means you’re subjected to comments beyond musicianship once you’re performing. It’s comments like “Why are they so loud?”, “Why is she so gedik?”. Though we’re lucky to be based in and playing most shows where the majority of people are more supportive, we’ve learned to stick together when these unnecessary comments are still being spewed.
YASMINE: So there is still some evident discrimination or gender bias within the independent music scene?
MYRA: When we talk about this unfairness, I would say people are learning now and it happens only a minority of the time but it still happens. There was something that happened to TimeMachine at one of their gigs.
CASSANDRA (TIME MACHINE): There was this metal gig we played for in a scene we weren’t too familiar with. The line up was all very heavy metal bands. We went on stage and the way the MC introduced us was by asking if we were single. They then proceeded to ask all the married people to step aside and single people to step forward since an all-girl band was about to perform. The worst part was how it was coming from a female MC.
CHARLOTTE: We’ve been very lucky to have had worked with and made respectful, supportive friends within the scene like Spooky Wet Dreams and HackTick! We used to watch them perform and now we’re at a place where we share a stage. They’re also the ones going around telling other people about our music when we were still shy about it. But that metal gig we played, it was our first time playing in that scene. The majority of the crowd that day were men in their mid-30’s, but we thought that since they had called us to play that they’d be in it for the music. We decided to trust the people and didn’t want to discriminate something just because we weren’t too familiar with it. We were even told things like how much longer we took to set up solely because we were women and it is apparently ‘in our nature’ to take long when getting ready when in reality, we were on time and ready to play. We were seen as novelties to include and not musicians to take seriously.
KASIH: With the trajectory of how Senja came into the scene, we didn’t expect to receive the kind of traction that we did and at that time I felt us too being seen as a novelty. It got to a point where we started to question if people were calling us because they thought we were good or because we were an all girl band. The three of us began pressuring ourselves so hard to be better as to not be seen as a novelty.
MYRA: It was a lot of pressure because we genuinely played for fun and yet people kept calling us to play. As much as it is a blessing, we were all just at that time learning how to play. We also just knew most of these people that were calling us only liked the idea of us. Adding to that, we had all just started university at that time.
YASMINE: On the pressing pressures of reality that is adulthood, are you being paid reasonably?
CASSANDRA: I do believe that for some gigs we were paid much less than others. There was a gig we played at where we were paid after playing while other bands weren’t and people were still just arriving and paying for their tickets.
CHARLOTTE: It’s still tricky for us, the thing is that we’re still learning what “reasonable” even is for us because we’re super new. Part of us says how we’re babies in the scene but at the same time, we have faith in the quality of our sound and performances so we’re still trying to figure it out. We know now though that we deserve more. We actually learned from Senja. KASIH: When you meet other more experienced women in the industry, you see how they don’t settle and you learn things like how your gender is the second factor when it comes to money and that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask. My talent and time are what you owe me. Just be bold to say, “look, this is how good my band is!”. Quote people with how much you think it’s worth, and do not settle for negotiations.
YASMINE: How has the acceptance been towards headstrong young girls in this industry?
KASIH: As much as we want to point out this and that, the truth is, we’re in a really good place in the indie scene as it’s growing right now.
MYRA: Yes, everyone is so supportive and our peers, the other bands themselves they acknowledge the fact that we play music before the fact that we’re girls. When we meet our peers, we get feedback like “that was a good show” or “the guitars or drums were really good” and that’s the kind of comments that we need to grow.
KASIH: That’s like, the biggest compliment because when it comes down it, getting personal compliments is great but we want to hear about the music. Acceptance is another sense within the indie scene that is fairly different from several other scenes in Malaysia. In the indie scene, we are all around the same age range, working together. Whereas when you see the broader picture: the jazz scene, English R&B scene, people are much older and some think they can take advantage of you. There are people who try to be your ‘Abang angkat’ and people you have to tell to get their dirty hands off of you. It gets hard to trust people, but that’s exactly why Senja and TimeMachine need each other and why SenjaMachine exists.
CHARLOTTE: We have this really good connection within the scene not just among female musical artists but for everyone in general. There was an event when I was slut-shamed because I fell asleep backstage in a short skirt. I woke up with a jacket over me and went to ask around for who had put one over me and it was one of the boys from Pasca Sini. The person who slut-shamed me was a much older man with a wife and kids who were also at the event that day, which made it worse.
KASIH: Actually Senja has also been backed up by other people within the scene who don’t tolerate sexism. We played at a punk show and some guys in the back just couldn’t accept that there were these girls playing a show there. They made sexist, rude remarks towards us. The organizers went on stage to call out their bullshit and tell them they weren’t welcome there.
YASMINE: How naturally did the process of coming together come for Senja and TimeMachine both being all-girl bands that debuted around the same time and are playing shows within the same scene?
KASIH: Not even parent, more like a kidnapper.
INARAH (SENJA): I feel like the first SenjaMachine show we played, during that time, we were facing similar problems that made us really relate to each others’ situations as it was being caused by the same thing that we eventually helped each other through. We only had about two days of rehearsals. By the second day, it wasn’t even rehearsals anymore, we were just talking and realized we’re in the same spot. We really kicked it off from there.
MYRA (SENJA): And then the next day we covered Ignorance by Paramore.
KASIH: The best thing about SenjaMachine is how it’s a learning process for all of us. We’re all new and navigating. Senja and TimeMachine are still two very different bands but when we’re together, it’s very natural for us.
YASMINE: Do you worry for the sustainability of your bands?
MYRA: We do, for Senja, everyone is currently still in university and we’ve still got a lot of figuring out to do. Since our last manager, we decided never to take one ever again so it’s a lot of internal logistics and admin work than actually making music.
CHARLOTTE: Four our band, everyone has just graduated so we’re worrying more about when everyone has proper full-time jobs and learning to commit between that and the band.
KASIH: Where we’re concerned is also that we just want to keep making music, that’s it. But then there is also caring about social media presence and being corporate friendly because musicians have to eat too. I feel like the stress comes from the fact that as much as this is fun and we love doing it if we are putting in money into tolls, gas, rehearsal spaces, and instruments it has to pay off somehow. As much as we love it, we’ve got to respect ourselves enough to make sure we get what we deserve.