KK’s Chinese Metal Band!

There is NOTHING ordinary about 4AG. They stand alone. 4AG (For Aggressive Gentlemen) is the only full-on Chinese heavy metal band in Kota Kinabalu. Their shit is LOUD, and when they play, it’s like Hell woke up and set their instruments on fire.

So. Just who ARE 4AG?

HAW. Lim Sheng Haw– Guitars and second vocal
ALVIN. Chin Chong Chuang – Lead guitar
KURT. Chin Chong Lim– Drums
ALEX. Kwok Yung Fui – Bass
TIEN. Wah Keng Hyen– Vocals

On the one hand, they’re just ordinary guys:  local Chinese guys from KK who went to Kian Kok Secondary school. They have a variety of jobs: selling cars, mobile phones, fixing photocopier machines, there’s a sound engineer and a graphic artist.   None of them took music lessons from a young age in any serious way, and they started playing their instruments around 16.

So how come they became an incredibly professional band?  That’s not ordinary.

Wait.  They’re a Chinese band, right?  So they must play soft pop music with easy chords, and sing these sad, romantic songs about broken hearts and stuff like that?   Wrong.

Singer Tien said, “It’s very unusual! People think that Chinese bands can only play songs which are lame: simple and zero-skills kind of songs. We don’t want to play that kind of thing. It’s boring. I can put it this way: those soft pop bands play to be popular and famous, they aim for the cash. WE do it for fun, not for cash.”

On a practical basis, 4AG plays functions too. Guitarist Haw said, “It was not really our plan. Then five years ago,  someone asked whether we can play for a function. We just give it a try. We got good feedback.  So, we learned some mainstream  rock, which is more acceptable for functions  – like Bon Jovi, Pop Shuvit, FireHouse, Roxette.”

But when they play for themselves, it’s always metal. “ALWAYS.  We like it a lot!”

“Now, we have been offered lots of things.  Last Chinese New Year, Maxis asked us to play Chinese New Year Eve, and DBKK asked us to play at City Hall.”

Tien said, “We are not that famous in the Chinese community.  But we play Chinese songs which are famous, and we change the arrangement of the songs. We make it heavy. We try and make all the Chinese songs sounds heavy. It’s like:   Two goals  – (this way) we like it, and you like it  (because you recognise the song).”

Now with My Story Christmas edition,  (City Mall main lobby, December 20th 7pm), we’ll  play some Christmas songs, with a bit of our style.  Maybe a ‘Jingle Bells’ rock version,”  said Haw.

They’ve been playing together on and off since school.  “In the beginning, we just admired the other kids, we admired guys that played in bands.  After we pick up our instruments,  it’s like:  This is really cool! We realized that it’s fun. Pure fun.”

Haw learnt guitar when he was about 17, a bit from his father and lessons from friends.  The band’s lead guitarist Alvin had a few lessons on  piano in Primary 1. He took up the guitar at 14, completely self taught.

Singer Tien said, “Actually when we started this, it was like: I’m the drummer, he (Kurt) is the bassist , and Haw is the guitarist.” Pointing at Alex, their current bass player, Tien said, “This guy is a real late bloomer!  He only picked up the guitar five years ago! He never listened  to heavy metal, he never listened to rock.  Never played an instrument before. We totally corrupted him.”

Haw said Alex’s wife and parents are a bit worried. “It’s the very clichéd thing about rock music, because they associate it with bad people.”  But I looked at this baby-faced kid, and thought: Nah!

4AG played at Halo Café a few months ago, in Jonathan Tse’s My Story #3. Halo Café is a small, intimate venue.  “Actually, that day I was a bit nervous,” admitted Tien. “All of us were nervous!” added Haw.  “The audience was so close, and the stage is way low.  Not a raised stage.”  I asked them if they could hear the surprise and appreciation when the band struck up.  “Yeah,  It was great. I guess it’s unusual. You don’t normally see a Chinese band playing Highway Star.”

My husband Mike and I first saw 4AG play at Razz Ma Tazz. “We were there because we had entered the Battle of the Bands, and come second.  4AG entered Battle of the Bands 2009 organized by Agensi Antidadah Kebangsaan (AADK). Tien said, “We got second place, out of  I think 16 or 17 bands.  But I want to clarify this, out of these 17 bands,  we are the only Chinese band. All of them are Kadazans and Malays. We are the only pure Chinese band in there.”

Guitarist Haw agreed.  “We are a minority.  We play to a mixed crowd and mostly it’s non-Chinese audience.  In this heavy metal band area, the Malays are much more supportive of the music than the Chinese.”

“We do have lot of Chinese come out and support us, because they are our friends.  But actually, they don’t like our music,” Tien admitted.

4AG likes doing covers. “We like to do cover songs because people know them. It’s familiar to them, gets them going better.” Haw thinks the band knows more American music than UK music, because American media is everywhere here, like MTV. “The only British bands we know are Beatles, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden.”

The guys in 4AG don’t aim to be musicians full-time. They have jobs and families. But they take their musicianship seriously.

“When we learn a new song, we agree the chord (key),” said Haw. “Everybody goes home and listens to the song, and learn their parts. After that, we come back together and jam. Sometimes we go to Kurt’s place, because he has a really basic set up at his house. But if we need a full practice with mics and everything, we go to a studio. We practice once a week, every Sunday. Sometimes we call each other the day before, and decide: You play the high voice and I’ll play the low one.  Things like that.”

So even if you don’t become a full-time musician, it’s still important to have music in your life?

They all said Yes. Haw said: “Unless they’re paying us crazy amounts of money, then it might be a different case, but for us, this is only for leisure. But music is good to have in life.  You don’t just stay home after work, at least you have something you can do. Play music!”

Drummer Kurt and bassist Alex are parents now.  I asked them how important it was to them whether their children learn music?   Tien translated for Alex. “He said there’s an old saying like: If a child knows music, he doesn’t go evil,  he doesn’t become a bad person.”

Haw translated for Kurt.  “Kurt says  music means there is something else to do, besides work. And of course to build up his (son’s) confidence. Because to perform is also to train yourself to have confidence in yourself. So, that is what he wants his kid to learn: to have confidence, and also to have something else in life apart from a proper job. To have a hobby.”

Haw said Kurt likes the idea of his son learning piano. Kurt wiggled his outstretched fingers and Tien added, “He says it’s like High Class”. Alex said he will introduce music to his kid, but leave it up to him whether he wants to learn or not. A liberal parent!

Haw summarised 4AG’s goals: To keep having fun; to break down barriers – what Chinese bands are perceived to be; and lastly, to perform.

“We’re always looking for a place to perform. If you stay at home, people don’t know who you are. It’s a good feeling to perform for people. It’s a whole different feeling.  We like that.”

Thank you, 4AG. It’s a wrap!

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