Matthew Chia had a surreal moment in Milwaukee, a moment he previously thought he would only experience through someone else’s perspective on his computer screen.
On Sept. 20, 2018, on-the-rise Boston hardcore band Vein performed at a packed Shorewood Legion Hall, marking the potential last big gig to take place in the legendary local venue now that the building is for sale. In true hardcore fashion, fans stumbled from the pit—bruised, bleeding, but smiling. Plenty of spin-kicks were thrown, and the opportunities to grab the mic and scream a favorite line were endless. Chia, a 24-year-old Malaysian transplant who is currently studying abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wasted no time in fighting to the front to capitalize on grabbing the mic from vocalist Anthony DiDio’s hands and helping out with the chorus to “Doomtech.” A bold act for someone attending their first show in the United States.
For Chia, seeing an up-and-coming hardcore band like Vein perform in a smaller venue like the Shorewood Legion Hall was incredible. Chia was born on Penang, a small island in Malaysia. Back home, he was a part of the Malaysian DIY music scene—one that favored the hardcore and metalcore genres. Thanks to the Youtube channel hate5six—a video series known for documenting the best of hardcore and the high octane sets that these bands have to offer—Chia and his friends were exposed to bands that they would fall in love with but would only ever have the chance to see perform vicariously through Youtube videos.
“We rarely get a lot of bands who come to Malaysia, although it’s getting better,” Chia says.
Chia has now been in the States for about six months. He moved to Milwaukee from Malaysia to pursue his dreams of obtaining an American education, following in the footsteps of his father, who graduated from the University of Ohio with a business degree. One of the biggest hurdles of becoming familiar in a foreign land for someone who is interested in becoming a part of the local music scene is discovering that punk house or local venue that consistently puts on welcoming shows. Chia was initially concerned about the local scene when he noticed that a lot of bigger tours skip over Milwaukee in favor of Chicago or Minneapolis.
“I was skeptical at first, but then that Vein show happened,” Chia says.
After his spotlight moment at the Vein show, other show-goers gave him resounding praise and pats on the back, making Chia feel welcome in a place very far from his home.
“The American music scene is much more developed [than Malaysia’s scene] in a sense,” Chia says. “I didn’t really feel like an outsider. I felt welcome. Even though I’m not from Milwaukee, the people immediately accepted me.”
Since that show, Chia has attended two shows at The Rave, one show at The Back Room @ Colectivo, and another at a house venue near UWM, giving him an idea of the various types of venues that Milwaukee has to offer. At Colectivo, he had the chance to see Citizen—a band that had only ever been to Malaysia once during a layover on its way to Australia.
“A lot of my friends back home were jealous that I saw Citizen,” Chia says.
The show at the house venue was Chia’s first experience with DIY house shows. According to Chia, house shows are few and far between back in Malaysia.
“The space was so small and everyone was moshing and jumping and having a good time,” he says. “That was really intimate, because we don’t really have that essence back in Malaysia. Even if you have BBQs in residential areas, you can’t even really blast your music because you’’ll get the cops called on you.”
Chia also notes that the connection between himself and others attending the show felt more natural and inviting than what he’s used to experiencing.
“Even though we were in this small compact space, I felt a sense of belonging and I felt really safe,” Chia says. “Sometimes in Malaysia, people are weirded out about being in a really tight space.”
Chia’s experience with the four Milwaukee venues he has attended shows at so far has given him some insight into how he wants to help the music scene back home after he graduates.
“I think that’s what Malaysia needs—better venues to make it more accessible for people who want to play shows,” Chia says. “That’s one of my goals when I get back—to set up a proper venue for musicians. When there are more venues it encourages more people to go to shows and check out local bands.”
Chia hopes to attend many more Milwaukee shows in 2019, as well as start a band and tour America while he has the chance. He’s been in the States for less than a year, but thanks to Milwaukee’s welcoming music scene, he’s fitting right in.
“When you get an education abroad, you get a different perspective on life, and when I go back to Malaysia, I’ll see things differently,” Chia says.
And thanks to Chia’s budding relationship with Milwaukee’s music scene, he’ll also have a new perspective on how local music can build a community.