Malaysian “fractional math rock” band dismantles the human condition
Most bands wouldn’t compare easily to sugar substitutes, but The Filters aren’t most bands. The Malaysian quartet say they play “fractional math rock”, and when NME asks them why, they explain that they started a garage rock band but “it became clear very quickly that we wanted to dive into something a little more complex”. Enter the unknown genre of math rock.
“We as a band, not knowing much about math rock, aspired to [play it]. We’re like math rock lite: the artificial sweetener or aspartame of math rock,” singer and guitarist Ian Francis Khoo quips self-deprecatingly.
“So we thought fractions are the simplest form of math. We wanted to make math rock a little more accessible to the average listener, and we’d like to think we’re failing spectacularly.
Indeed, the filters fail brilliantly. After re-releasing their signature song “John Pine” last June, the band left in tears, becoming only the second act from Malaysia to perform a set for the international live music series Audiotree. They saw off 2021 by releasing the physical version of their debut album “Exhale” and earning a nomination for Best New Artist from Asia at the 2022 BandLab NME Awards.
And on May 27, they finally gave ‘Exhale’ a digital release. The eclectic record wraps elements of math rock, synth pop, jazz, indie and garage rock in eminently catchy polyrhythms and some of the darkest lyrical material of the Malaysian underground music scene. “We aimed to write a record that thematically explores the human experience,” the band explains, “only to find that it’s not a very pleasant stay.”
“We are like math rock lite: the artificial sweetener or the aspartame of math rock”
The Filters unfold the big concepts they explore on ‘Exhaler’: “Themes of hedonism, excess, loss, struggling with self-identity, accepting one’s identity and its place in existence, outrage”. On ‘Cervidae’, Khoo sings about the difficulty of being true to oneself in a social hierarchy through dark and metaphorical imagery. “Not dead but not who you are / You’re different from a deer in the dark / So scared of what’s gonna tear you apart,he hums amid a storm of delayed guitar riffs, before coming to a sensible conclusion: “You fear the outcome of pain.”
The rest of “Exhale” is peppered with equally fatalistic observations. On ‘Planet Platonic’, the world-weary band says “I lost my way” before a tonal mood shift in complex jazz forms; on ‘Leave Me Alone’, the plaintive”You’ll come back / You won’t love me anymore / You’ll change your mindleads into an emotive solo that just might be the album’s musical highlight. There is a deep sense that the members of The Filters are bidding a bitter farewell to the worst experiences they have had.
The group has been reflecting on these themes for a few years now. It’s been nine years since they first wrote the surf-rock-meets-disco-polyrhythms track ‘John Pine’. Next, The Filters were Khoo, drummer Aiman Shakirin and bassist Reuben Ravi; Guitarist Iain Chan will officially join the band in 2017 after helping the trio produce a cover of Hujan’s “Pagi Yang Gelap”.
In 2013, Khoo, Aiman, and Ravi were three friends who played together in their high school marching band. Reminded of this fact, the group burst out laughing. “It’s so weird to be told that, because you don’t think about it,” Khoo said, “So when you say it out loud, it’s like ‘Fuck, that was so long ago. long time !’
“We aimed to write a record that thematically explores the human experience only to find that it’s not a very pleasant stay”
“We have a lot of material stored away, and that’s why we can’t wait to start recording again. We’ve been playing a lot of new stuff at the shows, releasing new stuff that will probably be on the next album.
Building a song bank doesn’t mean The Filters is just dusting off and polishing old demos. They diligently apply a “quality control process” to the material, with Khoo often being the one making the adjustments.
“I think what’s going on in reworking a lot of these old tracks is just cutting out things that we find uninteresting,” he explains. “Also, contextualizing all the new stuff that we’ve gathered and developed as a band to breathe new life into those old songs. And it’s still evolving because we’re playing these songs live and adding new things to them all the time.
“It is a work in progress.”
And almost 10 years after the beginning of their existence as a group, The Filters take a new turn. “While we were doing ‘Exhale’, we were also learning how to make a record. We had a lot to learn,” Khoo says. management company who also work with some of the biggest names in Malaysian indie: Lunadira and Reddi Rocket, Shelhiel and LUST, to name a few.Leaving distribution and some marketing work in the hands of TongTong Asia, who The Filters signed to in March, will allow them to focus on their new music without worrying about “everything else”, as Khoo puts it.
The Filters are on a roll again after a tragedy in late 2021 threatened to kill their momentum. On Christmas Eve, Shakirin was knocked off his motorbike and injured in his legs and hands. Ravi recalls trying to reassure the drummer that the band would be waiting to play gigs with him, only to be reassured by the casual “Sekejap je” response: “It’ll be fine in no time.”
03/12/21 – Tree of life
Our last show of the year. Little did we know of the tragedy that was about to unfold. On Christmas Eve, our drummer @majeed_o9 was knocked off his bike and injured his legs and hands. He is now working on his recovery. pic.twitter.com/KEFfowWmFG
– The filters (band) (@_TheFilters) January 25, 2022
“There were concerts planned and I was disappointed that I couldn’t play with these guys,” adds Shakirin, explaining, “I felt like it was my fault, so I started practice alone at home to get used to playing with just one hand. I practiced, then I worked. Practice, then work.
On February 29, his hard work paid off. Shakirin made a triumphant return to the live stage at Atas by Bijan FX Concert Hall in Kelana Jaya, performing the band’s entire set with one hand.
Saturday night was a special night for us. We promised to work hard to come back. Here is the video proof of @majeed_o9 give everything with one active hand. Safe to say, we are more than proud. We love you, man. And we’re here for your journey. More soon. pic.twitter.com/dhR7fqztmB
– The filters (band) (@_TheFilters) February 1, 2022
And last Friday, The Filters returned to The Bee Publika, the Kuala Lumpur venue where they played their very first gig in 2014, for an ‘Exhaler’ launch concert. They have good news for Filters fans in more remote locations. “There was talk of a little tour,” Khoo said slightly evasively, before returning to his usual confident tone of voice, “but nothing is set in stone! But yeah, we were thinking maybe four places, just to go back since the last time we played outside of KL was in 2019 at Ipoh.
“Do we have any other plans to support ‘Exhale’? Other than that, no. We are trying to move on as quickly as possible. »
The “exhalator” of filters is out now