Avant-garde in Kuala Lumpur

After the Malaysian sound and visual artist Goh Lee Kwang was a fellow at Solitude in the fields of Music/Sound in 2004/2005, he spent a few more residencies in Europe and Asia before settling back in Kuala Lumpur to organize events. Within a rather small scene, he founded Switch ON in 2009, a platform for electronic and experimental arts, organizing workshops, live events, exhibitions, and even an artist-in-residence program. It has now become one of the most important event series for experimental music and arts in Malaysia.

Clara Herrmann: How did Switch ON start?

Goh Lee Kwang: Switch ON is a project I started in 2009. It was by chance that I was offered a venue to organize a monthly event at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Art Center (KLPac). Switch ON started as a platform for electronic and experimental arts, which I have been working on for a long time. Besides the venue sponsor, Switch ON is without any other funding support. Basically it’s a D.I.Y. project, supported by friends, with most events offering free admission to the public. We were at KLPac for three years and then became a regular event for the next two years. After that, Switch ON mainly organized the events at the artist-run space Findars. To this day, Switch ON has organized more than 50 events, including the Switch ON Mini Festival five times, featuring artists from most parts of the world. Most of the events are music and video performance based, but we also organize workshops, artist sharing sessions, lectures, and an artist-in-residence program.

CH: What is the (electronic) music scene in Kuala Lumpur like? Why was Switch On needed as a platform?

GLK: I don’t know if there is a scene for electronic music here, maybe the club scene. From the independent music, jazz, and contemporary music side, electronic music plays a very small role. Switch ON is the only platform in Malaysia for electronic and experimental music. With a lot of artists/musicians traveling through Kuala Lumpur, it is a good opportunity for us to have them here to present their work in person. It also opens up the possibility of collaboration between the local artists/musicians and the overseas artists/musicians.

CH: Who is working with you at/on Switch On? Can you tell us some more about the artist?

Switch ON is a one-man organization (here we are registered as a commercial company). Many artists and musicians from overseas have been here: Yan Jun from China, Dickson Dee from Hong Kong, Marc Behrens from Germany, Toshimaru Nakamura from Japan, C-drik Fermont from Belgium. And almost all musicians and artists from Malaysia were included in the Switch ON events. Switch ON mostly works without any support or funding. Sometimes it is possible to apply for support from the Goethe Institute Kuala Lumpur and the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, but the artists/musicians mostly have to pay for their own travel, foods, and accommodation during their stay.

Toshimaru Nakamura (JP) + Darren Moore (SG, AUS) + Brian O’Reilly (SG, US) on sound & Wong Eng Leong (MY) on v
HKPT (MY) on sound & Fairuz Sulaiman on video projection. Switch ON Mini Fest 2015, photo by Bannai Roo.
Jason Kahn (CH, US) + Anla Courtis (AR) Switch ON Mini Fest 2015, photo by Bannai Roo.

CH: Where do you see your project in relation to the traditional art scene and society of Malaysia?

GLK: Due to the experimental nature of Switch ON, it is hard to say anything about the connection or the relationship of Switch ON to the local art scene and society of Malaysia. It is still an organization run by a small number of people, presenting some small events for small audiences.

CH: What does music and art mean to you?

GLK: For me, music and art is something creative and imaginative; it should be something that opens up possibilities.

CH: What are the future plans and events of Switch ON?

GLK: We are going to organize many projects: From August to December 2015, we are planning at least one event per month. In January 2016 we might have an exhibition, and Switch ON Mini Fest 2016 will possibly happen in April 2016.