Inspired by music joints like Studio Lam in Bangkok and JBS in Tokyo, fono is an attempt to “change a city that lost its ears”, as co-founder Rudolf La Faber (Ruud) put’s it, or “A safe space to collab, experiment and discover” is how his partner, Uzair Sawal (Renry Hollins), would describe it.
Located on the top floor of the Zhongshan Building in the China Town area of KL, this hidden away space serves up a healthy dose of Soul, Rare Groove, Dub, ethnic sounds and leftfield music. Anything from Thai Luk Thung to Malay Disco to Japanese City Pop, anything is fair game, as long as it makes people move.
We speak to founders Rudy and Uzair to get a better understanding where they’re coming from.
What is the difference between Public School and fono?
R: Basically Public School is our DJ collective we started 3 years ago that has grown to around 15 members now. We started it because we didn’t want to conform to requests to play only a certain type of music. Like brands or venues would book you because of your style and request you to play something else, which is really strange. So Public School is something that allows us a complete liberation of sound.
U: However, just being DJs is not enough. At the end of the day we still would be answering to somebody. That is why we set up a fono, it is a place where we can do whatever we want. fono is a venue for things to happen and is separate from Public School. We wanted it to be a place that can represent Malaysia, like when foreigners come at least they can hear some local sounds.
R: Nobody was playing things like Malaysian groove music or ethnic sounds, maybe there were some doing podcasts, but not in a music venue. Like there is a stigma that Malay Disco or P. Ramlee wont work. We wanted more freedom so at first we ended up buying our own gear so we could do our own events. So after a while, we thought that since we already own the equipment, how about getting a permanent venue where we could do whatever we wanted? The idea was just too attractive not to explore.
We also wanted to see if it can be about the music again, not about the “brand”. There is this discontent of how things are in the music industry now, like nobody knows how it got there. Like you’re going to a musical event, but the music has lost its power, it is more about the venue, image or branding. That didn’t seem right, like going to the movies just because it’s cool, but you’re not even watching it.
Can you tell us a bit about the block parties you organise?
U: We listen to a lot of hip-hop and reggae, so we love the idea of block parties and sound systems, where people brought their own gear and just played what music they wanted for everyone to hear.
R: There is something so romantic about block parties, the idea of a community day event where anyone could come. Like in Malaysia, music that is considered to be different than what you hear on the radio is very segmentised. Like for instance you have to go to a club to listen to certain DJs, so you have to be 18 or not be wearing a Tudung etc to get in. So when you are doing a block party on a Sunday afternoon, you are telling people that anyone can come. Whether you bring your kids or whatever religion you are, you’re going to have access to great music.
Apart from the music, is there anything else we should expect?
R: Yes, we are planning to do something in this building. Maybe something that combines retail and food. I love the concept of Bodega’s, and people just kept telling me how that wouldn’t work here, but people are doing it in other countries, so who is to say we can’t? That we can’t do something new and fun that can inspire? That is like someone telling you that you can’t have fun, and that’s just stupid.
Why can’t I walk into a store to buy a Stones Throw tee and also get a nice meal whilst great music is flowing out from the speakers? That is my kind of weekend. We are just taking what we’ve experienced whilst travelling and working abroad and seeing how we can apply our layer of expertise to offer something different. Let’s see how we can make it different.
fono is located inside the Zhongshan Building at 80, Jalan Rotan, Kampung Attap, 50460 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They don’t have a fixed schedule so follow their Instagram @fono.kl to know when they’re open and what events are lined up.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Jules @ Streething