Their first album was almost scuppered by US sanctions and they lack the money to pay for all their instruments, but Burmese rockers Side Effect have played the gig of their dreams in the US, helped by fans from around the world.
Facing everything from censored lyrics to tight restrictions on live gigs under the former junta regime in Myanmar, the band became the first Burmese musicians to play the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, since their isolated country opened up following decades of military rule.
“There’s so much love in the air. I think because of the music, you know — all the people are here because they love music,” lead singer and guitarist Darko C said just before playing to a packed Austin bar late on Thursday.
The indie rock band sings in English and Burmese, and Darko is joined by Eaid Dhi on guitar, Hein Lwin on bass and Tser Htoo on drums.
After building a modest, but energetic, international fanbase helped by social media and their popularity on the Yangon expat scene, the four-piece band launched a crowdfunding drive on the PledgeMusic Web site.
“Money is the major problem because we don’t have any money,” said Darko, who runs a small tailor shop to make a living and cites the late Kurt Cobain of grunge rock legend Nirvana as his musical hero.
The rockers have raised US$8,200 online — 67 percent of their target — and earned another US$2,000 from a Yangon fundraising concert, although they were still short of the total needed for the ambitious trip and have borrowed the extra money.
Their fundraising achievement is a huge success after a major disappointment two years ago saw their efforts to produce their debut album thwarted.
At the time, they had raised nearly US$3,000 through US-based fundraising Web site IndieGoGo, but when it came to paying out the funds, the site feared that transferring the money from the US to the band in Myanmar would breach the sanctions Washington had against the country at the time, so the transaction was canceled.
Myanmar has since shrugged off most of its international embargoes, a reward for a slew of reforms under a new quasi-civilian regime that replaced outright military rule in 2011.
Side Effect’s SXSW gig, showcasing its music among some of the most dynamic new bands around, was attended by a small group of Burmese expats who had helped in the drive to get them to Austin.
They are “really good and they have originality and they have their sound. I am almost crying,” said Eindray Aye, who runs a community Web site for the several hundred people from Myanmar living in the Texan city.
Side Effect said that the visit to Austin was worth the effort because of the exposure it gave them to other bands and ideas.
The musicians were given a place to stay and looked after by a local woman who contacted them through Twitter and offered to help.
Her family has even given drummer Tser Htoo his first drum kit, after 20 years of practicing at home on piles of books.
“It’s amazing. At the time I saw it, my heart was shaking,” he said.