The Peachskins: the Malaysian indie band that roped Najib Razak into promoting their music

Their cheeky guerilla marketing might turn heads – but The Peachskins are genuinely hoping to ask listeners the question posed by their new EP: ‘Are You Okay?’

In the wee hours of the morning on April 8, Malaysians were urged, in all caps, by a Twitter account to look at the tagged photos on the Instagram page of Najib Razak. “You will not be disappointed,” the tweet promised.

Those who did were greeted by a six-image graphic promoting a “radical” new EP by a band called The Peachskins titled ‘Are You Okay?’. The former premier’s team was alerted and swiftly got the images removed (twice – the band did some reuploading, but stopped before it turned into “a harassment case”). But it was too late – a former Prime Minister of Malaysia had unwittingly become a key player in an indie music marketing campaign, and a viral moment had been born.

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Has there been a more audacious guerilla marketing campaign in Malaysian music history? The Peachskins can explain, kind of: they had a list of public figures they could rope into their scheme, and Najib wasn’t actually on top of their list, they reveal to NME.

“If I can be candid, the first person on the list was Ebit Lew,” frontman Rafique Ramleh says, referring to the popular preacher (who is currently facing multiple charges of sexual assault).

It came down to the fact that of all the celebs on that list, Najib’s tagged photos were the only ones not “protected”. The Peachskins’ hijacking had no malicious intent, Ramleh is quick to note – not that that really mattered. It worked: Malaysians finally sat up and noticed the band, who had largely attracted a North American audience since their inception in 2017. “We really wanted Malaysian listeners to connect with us,” Ramleh explains. “Looking at the stats right now, it is changing by a big number, and we’re really happy with that!”

Prior to ‘Are You Okay?’ which dropped on the cheeky date of 4/20, The Peachskins had only released one project, 2017’s ‘Time Travel Couldn’t Save Us’ EP. “We started right at the beginning when modern indie artists were coming up at the same time,” Ramleh says. “Lunadira was starting out, a lot of other bands were starting out. Even hip-hop was kinda booming at the time. But because everyone was starting out at the same time, we kinda drowned in [that] sea.”

The band had yet to cultivate its own musical identity back then, looking to The 1975 and Two Door Cinema Club as their biggest inspirations at the time. “We thought that’s what we wanted to do,” Ramleh says thoughtfully. “We had to take some time to look back at what we actually enjoy listening to – heck, I like listening to Slipknot! And I’m into hard techno sometimes. Faheem [Amir, drummer] loves Gorillaz and Pantera.”

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“What was important for us was finding a good process for creating music as well, throwing ideas back and forth, figuring out how we’re going to market the music,” producer and DJ Shahid Rogers adds, concluding, “That’s what’s helped us cut through all the noise of, well, music in Malaysia.”

The years of The Peachskins wondering if anyone would ever listen left their mark on ‘Are You Okay?’. “I think [the song we] connect to most on the EP is ‘Trial Sized Terror’,” Ramleh says. “It’s an anxiousness that comes from a space where – we’re working adults right now. At some point, I realised that hey, if I wanna do this music thing, I have two years or three years to make it or break it.

“But if I don’t try, at least, to make it, I’m never gonna know. I’m never gonna forgive myself. So it’s this image or nightmare of seeing myself at 43 and knowing I didn’t even try.”

“That’s how the music is designed, too: We’re trying to speak the words they don’t necessarily confront themselves”

This quarter-life crisis thinking informs all of ‘Are You Okay?’, a concept EP of slinky, Portugal. The Man-esque indie synth pop that addresses the weighty questions that keep those past the glory days of their early twenties up at night: Do I like my job? Am I dating someone who is right for me? Will I be financially stable at 30?

The Peachskins hope ‘Are You Okay?’ will take listeners on a “journey of self-discovery with no set destination”. The band have deftly fleshed out this theme in the sonic framing of the project – it begins with the band welcoming the listener onboard “Endeavour Airlines flight OH665 from Kuala Lumpur to an undecided location” – and in their next stroke of marketing genius.

Earlier in April, the band hosted a survey on their website polling Malaysians about their states of mind. Over 600 people from across the Klang Valley answered The Peachskins’ call to, in line with the flight concept, “check in their emotional baggage”.

Rogers then crunched the data, turning out bite-sized bits of information the band turned into flyers and posted in various locations in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounds. “Are you ok PJ? 38% of you are feeling burnt out,” read one flyer, fluttering in the wind on a sunny day.

In fact, feeling burnt out was a consistent trend across the survey’s respondents, Rogers says. “Funnily enough, the places where we come from, Subang and Ampang, mostly reported feeling high,” he reveals, a smile twitching on his lips. “That was surprising but at the same time not surprising!” Asked for his interpretation, he suggests: “Most people are burnt out and some of those people get high to escape the feeling, maybe.”

“It feels like two ends of the extreme,” Amir chimes in. “Like people work really, really hard, but they’re working hard to relax.”

“Think of ‘Are You Okay’ as a tasting platter… Then the album is the really big porterhouse steak”

At the end of the day, the Peachskins wrote ‘Are You Okay?’ for a more straightforward reason than the high-concept marketing they’ve built around it. “We just wanted [listeners] to ask themselves if they’re feeling OK,” Ramleh explains. “Even for us as a band, we’ve been through a lot in the last two and a half years.

“That’s how the music is designed, too. We’re trying to speak the words they don’t necessarily confront themselves, because we have these feelings but don’t really have conversations about [them]. When was the last time somebody asked you about these things?”

Now that ‘Are You Okay?’ is out, The Peachskins are readying the first music video from the EP, which they have exclusively informed NME will be for the song ‘Platform Heels’. The band posted and deleted a teaser on their YouTube channel, a clip featuring cuts of models strutting down a runway. “It’s kind of a mood board for the music video, but that’s all we can say for now,” Ramleh laughs.

He also revealed that the band are currently recording their debut full-length album, titled ‘Camp Lunar Hill’, which they expect to release pretty soon. “Think months, not years,” Amir says.“We’re too excited for it!”

“Think of ‘Are You Okay?’ as a tasting platter,” Ramleh suggests. “An amuse-bouche. An appetiser. An entrée! Then the album is the really big porterhouse steak.”

The Peachskins’ ‘Are You Okay?’ is out now

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