STREET CULTURE AROUND THE WORLD has this devil-may-care, catch- me-if-you-can attitude of rebelliousness and youthful energy. Kuching has its own vibrant scene, fusing twentieth century urban Americana with bold Sarawakian flavour.
Nightfall ushers in boom-baps and breaks as Cat City rocks to the sound of James Brown and 808s. Run by John Chris and Nazrin Zakaria of Elevated Entity/Soul Higher Crew, Kuching Youth Jam (KYJ) is currently in its 24th edition, a monthly community gathering of street dancers who battle it out each month in heated competition. These events have a somewhat nomadic nature, migrating from the streets behind Civic Centre to the Waterfront Amphitheatre, with little regard for profit. These dancers hone their craft on the sidewalk and prove themselves over and over again, and KYJ is their arena.
Next to carpenter street behind Drunk Monkey Bar, the now Instagram famous murals stand proud in daylight or moon shine. Bold primary colours and fearless strokes from the spray cans of artists such as “Tha Black Cat” coat the walls, flowing seamlessly into urban calligraphy from the likes of Letterhythm, punctuated by raw character designs from Twentyfifth. These walls are a hidden battleground, the paintings ever changing as they paint, repaint, and repaint again, unspoken rules guiding their unwavering hands as the walls evolve with each iteration.
Under blazing sunshine the skaters of Kuching ride under the names of Spoil Devils, RRK 420, Tha Institute, to name a few. The old guard pick up their boards again and again, people like Hanafiah and Masja led the way with technical prowess and a can-do attitude, whilst the young bloods grow strong. Skaters like Afiq Asyraf Ali of Hensem Co. carve their way through Old Courthouse and Carpenter Street, whilst promoting positivity through their lifestyle. Skaters such as Syed Rusydie contribute to the arts as well through his efforts in Haus.
They say all roads lead to Rome and in this city, here streets march to the different rhythms of the same beat. The once rebellious young have grown up, and doggedly cling on to their respective urban cultures because it means something to them. These “gangster” looking rough-and- tumble individuals want to give back to the community, to the youth of today as a sign of love for their craft, united by mutual rivalry.
These arts have a unique “warrior” mentality, built into the art. They battle each other, give birth to rival groups and pit their skills and creativity within the confines of the form be it with dance, paint or skateboards. The streets of Kuching hold these secrets close to her heart, yet they are open to all who want to hear them. She whispers tales of bravery and awe through the lips of the men and women who lived them, told over a bottle of tuak or at a good supper, always in good company.
So listen closely to the sound of the streets, you may come away with shared secrets to keep.
Derek Kho is a writer, dancer and performer who has adopted a style of intense, visual and vivid storytelling to bring life to his work. As a Kuchingite who’s been away and is rediscovering his home town, he aims to bring engaging and intelligent works that explores cultures both contemporary and traditional.