Side Effect is the first band from Myanmar to play the infamous South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. Singer and guitarist Darko C talks cassette tapes, teen fans and chowing down on Tex-Mex
Interview and photography by Greg Holland
How did you guys get started as a band?
We formed in 2004 when I was at university studying English. We formed with other guys from the school, Tser Htoo and my brother Joseph, but Joseph left. Hein Lwin and Eaiddhi joined about a year ago. We have been a four-piece since then.
Who were your influences? Was it difficult to get hold of music when you were growing up?
My earlier influences were mostly Nirvana, Placebo, Soundgarden, The Pixies, stuff like that. But my new influences are Bloc Party, The Strokes, Arcade Fire and The Black Keys. When I was younger I would look for cassette tapes in downtown [Yangon]. There were lots of music stores then and I would save my pocket money and not buy any food, just save it to buy tapes. I would go downtown every week and search for the cassette I wanted. I would order it, they would duplicate it and it could be collected one or two weeks later. It was very hard to find good music; it wasn’t very easy to buy a Nirvana album on tape.
How have things changed for Myanmar bands in the past year or so?
Nobody wanted to invite us to play in their country, but now people are becoming interested in Myanmar and Burmese music. Nothing has really changed when it comes to playing though. In the past you would need permission from the authorities to set up a gig and it wasn’t so hard, but sometimes they could just say “no”. Now there are more forms to fill out and more permissions to get and it’s often more difficult. When we had our fundraiser gig for Texas we didn’t get the permission in time; it could have been a problem if they wanted to make it one. We weren’t scared, but in the past we have been because if the police came we could be in trouble. So, nothing has really changed. More people are trying to put on gigs, but you still need the same shitty permissions from the authorities. It doesn’t make any sense.
What was the highlight of SXSW?
Meeting lots of people. I talked to people as much as I could. They were all there because they love music and they were all huge music fans. I made some great contacts, too, and to meet people from other bands was very special for me.
What differences did you notice between audiences in Austin and those in Myanmar?
The important difference is that in Austin, the people go to see bands they have never heard of. They want to find new bands that are good. But here, people just want to see the most famous bands. We have been playing for ten years but people are still reluctant to come to our shows because they don’t know us very well. Another big difference was the ages of the audiences. There were teenaged kids standing next to couples in their sixties at SXSW. A lot of people there will love music forever. But here, when people get to 30, 35, 40, they stop going to concerts because they think it’s immature. It’s sad.
What has happened since returning from SXSW?
It’s a little early to say. We’ve had some great articles from SXSW. But to my surprise, we’re now going to play a shopping centre (laughs). They will pay us though, so that’s a turning point I guess.
What was your favourite food you tried while in the US?
Barbecue! We went to a place called Salt Lick and I really enjoyed it. Also, home cooked Texan and Mexican food is really good.
So, what’s next?
I would love to play Reading Festival in the UK and Austin City Limits. I really like the city of Austin.
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“At the mercy of the winds” – Artisans fear their skills won’t survive the onslaught of time and increasing modernity in Myanmar
“A shot in the dark” – A ceasefire agreement between ethnic rebels and the government has paved the way for tourists to enter the isolated Karen state