The Malaysian capital swings to new beats thanks to a collection of cafés, diners and clubs that cement its reputation as one of the region’s best cities for live music.
by Marco Ferrarese.
I have heard quite a few travelers complain that “KL doesn’t really rock.” This claim rings partially true: in fact, for those who want more than swanky dance clubs and wine bars where attire does count, a first foray into Kuala Lumpur’s nightlife can turn into a sour experience. On the other hand, knowing where to look, this apparently dull mega-city hides a number of interesting surprises music-wise.
Straight in the midst of the tourist concoction of Petaling Street, KL’s newest kid on the artsy block is Findars Café (8-4th Floor Jalan Panggong; facebook.com/findars; 6-12 p.m.; drinks for two RM20). Cleverly run by an artist collective who produces artwork in-residence, this cozy café come art and performance space lies right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Chinatown district. A principal magnet for the city’s alternative artsy and dreamers crowd, Findars is a great dig to relax with a cup of hand-dripped home brew while vinyl records crackle in the background. Try the superb imported beans from Vietnam and Guatemala and check out the cult movie screenings and live bands that rock throughout the week.
No Black Tie (17, Jalan Mesui off Jalan Nagasari; noblacktie.com.my; drinks for two from RM40) has been KL’s stylish jazz club mainstay for the past decade, and doubles as a chic Japanese restaurant. Local and international groups sling an eclectic choice of jazz, folk, rock, and blues as the city’s business and social elite drinks the night away.
If you’d rather take your ties and high heels off, head to KL’s quirky food’n’roll bistro The Bee (36B, Level G2, Publika, Jln Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur// thebee.com.my// drinks for two RM40). This chic burger joint come live music stage has a groovy sound system. Post-rock, electronica, indie and rock bands perform here on a regular basis, including foreign touring bands. The Bee’s eclectic calendar is spruced up by popular weekly events such as the Lot 36 Jam Sessions and the popular BBQ Sundays, both great occasions to enjoy engrossing in live performances while munching on king-size burgers or Mexican entrees.
If you’re more after drinks and good vibes rather than barbeques and loud music, Merdekarya (Jalan 5/57 Bukit Gasing, Petaling Jaya // www.merdekarya.com // drinks for two from RM20) in Petaling Jaya is the prime resource for almost-perfect bluesy wails. Run by Malaysian musician and novelist Brian Gomez, this no-frills open mic blues bar has lovingly nurtured the budding local acoustic music scene for about two years. It’s the perfect place to mingle with KL’s creative elite enjoying the reverberated melodies of talented local slow rock artists who take to the main stage almost every night.
Unplugged and acoustic music might not be everybody’s cup of tea so for an electric rock fix, on Thursday nights veer to the nearby Laundry Bar (The Curve, 6 Jalan PJU 7/3, Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya // www.laundrybar.net // drinks for two from RM40) for live bands, cocktails and a sleek purplish interior that makes for a cool film noir ambience. Rockers beware: the place turns into a full scale dance club with Retro DJ sets on Fridays, and club hits on Saturdays.
If you are brave enough, end your Kuala Lumpur music crawl taking the proverbial “walk on the wild side”: pump fists in the air at the Black Box (Publika Solaris Dutamas, Level G2-01, Block A5 Kencana Tower 1, Jalan Dutamas // drinks for two RM25), the closest Kuala Lumpur gets to a real rock music joint, but without the scruff around the edges. Tucked away in a corner of a sparkling shopping gallery Publika, this black-tinged room boosts one of the best PA systems and stages in the city, and runs the gamut from indie rock to heavy metal. A mainstay for subcultural types, it’s the place to catch passing international touring bands as you rub elbows with KL’s underground fringe.
KL Venue (@Fahrenheit 88, 179 Jalan Bukit Bintang // www.facebook.com/KL-Venue-393223030802594), is another subcultural den hidden behind the inner wall partition of glitzy shopping mall Fahreneit 88. Go to the second floor’s food court and follow all the way to the restrooms to find this treasure trove of grunge, hardcore punk and metal rebellion. If you thought Malaysians didn’t rock, you’ll change your mind after a visit here. For more mayhem and Mohawks, alternative punk house Rumah Api (178 Jalan Merdeka, Ampang) stages the fastest and loudest local and international sounds on offer in Kuala Lumpur. Be advised though that it’s quite different from the Black Box – here you will find plenty of good old scruffs.