I meets The Peacists in Salween, a downtown cafe nestled in the salubrious Urban Asia Centre. I’m expecting a full band, but two people show up – Aung and Nyan, the singer/vocalist and bassist of the band. Friendly and affable, the two chat easily with me and Min, our translator, treating the interview with enthusiasm and a light touch, often lapsing into smiles and laughter as they recount the story of their origin and hopes for the future.
The Peacists started as so many bands did, jamming casually in high school, until their mutual interest made them decide to take it seriously and start recording. Although they began as a trio, one of their members, guitarist Nay Lynn Htet, left to go abroad. Now, they borrow a guitarist from indie-adjacent band The Reasonabilists, allowing them to perform live despite their diminished capacity.
This cheerful inter-band collaboration is a sign of the close-knit community that defines the indie rock scene in Yangon – a loose collection of about ten bands, all of whom, The Peacists assure me, are good friends. The scene isn’t big enough for tensions, schisms and drama, and overall, everyone just kind of gets along.
It’s a relief, as a lot of the Yangon indie music is so positive in its message that it would have been rather depressing to learn that the scene was driven apart by infighting, drama and random acts of mutilation. As the members of The Peacists explain, their lyrical concerns are free love, peace, and anti-war sentiment, and an upbeat positivity underpins their lyrics, aesthetic and musical stylings.
Influenced by Britpop, Coldplay and Burmese rock and pop 80s songs, the band see themselves as very different from the standard musical fare, a sense of being apart from the crowd that has stayed with them since their ostracized college days. Recently, The Peacists played a charity event for victims of the flood off the Mon River – they were the only indie band there, a sensation they have gotten used to over the years.
I ask the Peacists how they feel about the current Yangon scene, dominated by EDM, hip-hop, trap and rock. The two are affable and honest, steering away from controversy. “We knew this wave of EDM music was going to happen. We don’t have any strong feelings against it. But to be clear, we don’t like it” they reply with a smile. Fair enough.
Their new album, Journey to the Stars, is emblematic of their positive outlook, and of their fierce emphasis on independence and self sufficiency. The Peacists are keen to emphasize the etymology of the term “indie”. “It’s not a style of music. It’s a concept. Freedom of thoughts, of songs, and lyrics, no string controlling you. That’s what indie is really about.” It’s the most worked up I see them get over the interview, and it’s clear that this freedom of expression and independence has real value to them – not surprising considered the history of censorship and oppression that these utopian, anti war sentiments have endured under the junta.
That being said, the Peacist’s music conforms to what you might expect from a traditional indie band – pushing bass, jangly reverb-soaked guitars, and catchy choruses, albeit sung in Burmese. This sound is epitomized A Lin Say, done in collaboration with General Tiger Gun, a slice of shimmery indie with synth brass and a breathy vocal melody that evokes classic indie aesthetics, warm but with a tinge of the wistful. The new Peacists album, Journey to the Stars will be there most ambitious project yet, and the first album starring their new lineup.
The Peacists also have a talented designer onboard, Madnest, an underground fashion brand that is responsible for the look of their album, artwork and overall aesthetic – further evidence of cheerful collaboration and a swelling underground scene.
As Myanmar music diversified and promulgates new genres, the indie scene has remained solid and productive, quietly producing good music under the traditional auspices and aesthetics of indie rock. Fans of indie could do much worse.
The Peacists are: Aung Chan Min – Vocals and Guitar, Paing Lynn Aung – Lead Guitar, Nyan Yel Wynn – Bass Guitar, Paing Thet Hein – Keyboards and Htut Myat – Live Drums. You can hear the Peacists on Facebook or on Spotify and Soundcloud.
Hear out one of their musics below.