“There are no human rights in Myanmar!” is blasted into the microphone from the mouths of Myanmar’s youth, all dressed in leather and spiked up hair. This scene is shown in the teaser for ICA’s ‘Punx Not Dead’ screening of the award-winning 2014 documentary <em>Yangon Calling – Punk in Myanmar.</em> The documentary, directed by Berlin filmmakers Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke, shows the lives of the people involved in the underground punk scene in Yangon.
For 50 years, there had been a military dictatorship in Myanmar, and because of this, the youth took on punk as a way to rebel against their oppressive government. A quote from a punk in the teaser trailer explains how they were risking their lives to live this lifestyle. He says that, “to be a Punk in Burma, is not an easy game. It’s an attitude we’re proud of, I think for that we deserve some respect”. For six weeks, Dluzak and Piefke followed the daily lives of the punk youth, secretly filming on small cameras. They visited the punks’ homes, their workplaces (such as tattoo studios and tailors) and even secret illegal concerts to avoid the brutal rule of law imposed by the regime . The punks didn’t just take the fashion or the hair for fun in some kind of retrospective homage to London of the late 1970s and early 1980’s – they took the lifestyle of punk because they needed it. They needed a way to express their anger and spread the word that this abuse and curtailment of rights wasn’t going to cut with them. They used punk for their rebellion and for protesting against their lack of freedom- exactly what it had been designed for .
The interesting part of all this is that these are the current youths of Burma. Yet, as the director Dluzak said, they look as if they came straight out of the original punk scene in the 80’s. They could fit right into 80’s London. This is because Punk didn’t reach them until the 1990’s, when sailors brought the punk tapes into the country. This youth of Yangon are flying the flag for punk not just in their dress and hair code but more in their stand against authority and show of independence .
The film gives a powerful glimpse into their everyday struggle and a real struggle it was. Compared to their western counterparts from 40 years ago who could expect some verbal abuse on the streets and front page headlines of moral outrage these punks faced the reality of incarceration and worse.
With a change in the political system underway in Myanmar then we have to wait and see what the future has in store for this outpost of rebellion.
If you’re interested in watching, the film is showing on the 3 May 2016 at 7pm and costs from £3 to £6. More information can be found on the ICA website.