I Killed The Prom Queen Played Song To Appease Government Officials
The global controversy surrounding the mistreatment of illegal immigrants – and the abhorrent conditions they’re forced to squander in – is an inescapable one. Every day it would seem there’s a new story of corruption, injustice and horror leaking out. Never in a million years, though, would we have expected I Killed The Prom Queen to be at the centre of one. After wrapping up a gig in Malaysia last Saturday – the penultimate stop on their first ever Southeast Asian headline tour – the Adelaide-native metalcore shredders were confronted, arrested, and detained by authorities, much to the surprise of the band.
At first, details were unclear, with officials providing the mother of frontman and guitarist Jona Weinhofen with claims that the band were being held in an airport hotel, while other reports listed them as prisoners in a detention centre. The latter is, unfortunately, how the situation actually unfolded. After two days of starvation and suffering in an overcrowded sump of tiled filth, guitarist Kevin Cameron took to Facebook to clear the air about what exactly what happened.
Dodgy promoters, confusion, and two nights in a third world prison… Probably not what bands think about when it comes to debauchery on tour. Naturally, fans are insanely curious as to how the band managed to get themselves into – and out of – their predicament. Speaking exclusively with BLUNT, Weinhofen dug a little deeper into the story, sharing with us details of how they survived a touring band’s worse nightmare, and advice for other bands thinking about making the trek overseas.
THE WARNING SIGNS
We’re very aware of the processes that generally occur with touring overseas; we tour the US a lot, we’ve toured Russia before – we tour a bunch of overseas countries, and you have to apply for a work permit for most of those places, which is a process that usually begins with the promoter or a record label from that territory acting as a sponsor, and then they begin the paperwork process in getting a work permit for the Visas. So it’s not something new to us, but having said that, there are definitely places where we haven’t needed Visas; for most of mainland Europe, you don’t need any kind of entertainment Visa or work permit. So it wasn’t that strange or out-of-the-ordinary for us to be told, “No, you don’t need work permits for these territories” because there are places we’ve been where you don’t need them. We were pretty diligent with asking and trying to really make 100 percent sure that that was the way it worked over there, and the answer that we kept getting back from the promoter and the booking agent was, “No, you don’t need a work permit here”. He even quoted in an email and some chat messages that he’s toured bands there since 2009, 2008 I think, and they’ve never once needed a permit for any of their bands. And so, we just took that as, “Okay, that’s the way it’s done here, I guess that’s how it is!”
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
When we went and played the show, we literally stepped off stage, and there was immigration police in casual clothes at the side of the stage, waiting for us, showing their badges and saying that we were under arrest for not having work permits. We were like, “What the hell? This is the opposite of what we’ve been told for the past two months leading up to this tour”. Later on, we had found out that immigration had become aware of the performance and actually reached out to the promoter and the booking agency, and said, “Hey, you need to make sure you have permits for these guys, or we’re going to come to the show” and the promoters made up that that didn’t occur at all. They kept it a secret and let us perform anyway, knowing full well that there would most likely be repercussions. That was the bit that upset us the most and took us the most by surprise, that they had been warned. And if they had told us, “Oh, by the way, we kind of lied to you and you actually do need work permits. We were just trying to do the cheap and not get them for you, but immigration hit us up and said they’ll arrest you if you play” we would have just cancelled the show and said, “That’s not worth the risk”, but we weren’t made aware of that information, so we just thought we were doing everything normally.
IS THIS FOR REAL?
There were a few things which raised the alarm bells with me. Obviously, being in a foreign country with people that don’t speak really great English, I couldn’t be 100 percent sure that they were even legitimate officers. Like, only one of them showed us a badge, they were all wearing plain clothes, we got escorted to a regular white van with no kind of signage or lights or anything on it. We got put into this van, and my immediate reaction was, “Okay, I’ve still got my phone, I need to call the consulate, I need to text my parents”. I managed to get through to some kind of Australian Embassy after hours emergency number, and I spoke to a lady there and explained our situation, and she started to make a case file. But she told us that the Australia High Commission in Kuala Lumpur was closed for business all weekend; they only have weekday hours. This was Saturday evening when it all went down, so we basically weren’t going to hear from them until Monday morning. It was definitely scary.
“We were given about a cup of rice to eat, per day, and 10 litres of water to share between all 35 people in our cell for that 24-hour period. So we had about 300ml of water each, which we drank out of a plastic bag.”
THE LIVING CONDITIONS
On Monday morning I was finally able to call my parents from the High Commission lady’s phone. I spoke to my mum, who had already been in touch with the media, and she’d been trying to get in touch with the consulate herself several times. She said that she was told by Australian authorities that we were being detained in an airport, in an office building that had beds and was reasonable accommodation. I don’t know where they got that information from or how that came about, because we were initially held in an office for a couple of hours on that Saturday night, but after that couple of hours when we were handed over to the detention centre officers, that’s when the conditions completely changed. We went from being in an office to having our phones, our personal belongings, our wallets, our phones, everything taken off us. We had to remove our shoes and underwear, so we really only had jeans and a T-shirt on. We were put into a cell that was probably 15 feet squared. There were no beds in the cell, there was just a tiled floor and a small raised section that had hardwood. There was about 30 other inmates already in the cell, all sleeping on the tiled floor, with barely any space for us to even fit in the room. Being in that room… We were sleeping on a tiled floor with toilet water being leaked from the toilet area – which was essentially just a hole in the floor – onto the tiled area where we had to sleep, so the conditions were really, really poor. We were given about a cup of rice to eat, per day, and 10 litres of water to share between all 35 people in our cell for that 24-hour period. So we had about 300ml of water each, which we drank out of a plastic bag. We weren’t allowed to make any phone calls or have any outside contact until Monday morning. It’s given me a whole new appreciation for refugees, and immigrants in general, people who are in those sorts of conditions anywhere in the world.
WHEN YOUR ARRESTING OFFICERS TAKE THE PISS…
During our time in the cell, there would be guards that would walk past and throw up the horns, or just laugh. Probably the most offensive thing that occurred was when we were finally released and we were in the offices upstairs with the people from the embassy, and a couple of guards approached us and said that they had a rehearsal room within the office with band equipment, and they insisted that we perform a song for them. So we had just spent two nights sleeping on cold, piss-soaked tiles, in amongst 35 other prisoners being treated like garbage, and then we got brought upstairs and told that we had to play a song for the people who had just incarcerated us. And we did. The only reason we did, and we didn’t refuse, was because we were essentially still in their care, and we didn’t want to risk anything else bad happening to us.
RIGHTING THE WRONGS
Two nights was really, really bad for us. We spoke to some of the guys in there who had been detained for two or three months, so that was another thing that worried us. Yeah, we’d been told that we could be held for up to 14 days, but there’s these other guys in here saying, “Yeah, we’ve been in here for two months, and we were told we’d be here for 14 days as well”. I don’t know what we would have done if we were in there for any longer than we already were. We got brought up to the office for questioning on Monday morning as part of the investigation, and then when Michelle Anderson from the High Commission turned up, she made them take the handcuffs off us, and we were able to speak privately with her for a moment and kind of explain the situation. They were able to speak to some of the officers there, and I guess very quickly, some of the people high up in the immigration department were made aware of the situation, and that we had been detained when maybe we didn’t need to be – especially in those conditions – and it ended with the Director General of Malaysian Immigration coming down from his office and apologising, saying, “I’m going to make sure you guys are on a flight today, and make sure this all gets squared away, because it’s not your fault”.
“So we had just spent two nights sleeping on cold, piss-soaked tiles, in amongst 35 other prisoners being treated like garbage, and then we got brought upstairs and told that we had to play a song for the people who had just incarcerated us.”
WHOSE FAULT WAS IT?
I’ve been told that the promoter will receive a fine of around $10,000USD, but I don’t know if he’ll have to face any other charges or anything. He was actually responsible for making sure that we got on our original flights back to Australia, because we didn’t actually get deported – the whole case got dropped by the Director General of Immigration, and I guess he put all the blame on the promoters. But because it was dropped against us and we weren’t deported, we were essentially still responsible for our own travel home, but luckily we had a connecting flight that was going via Kuala Lumpur anyway. So the promoter had to make sure that we got on those flights. I didn’t have a flight on the same plane as the other guys, because I was coming in through a separate flight from Indonesia initially, so he had to make sure that I had a flight booked as well. And this is a guy that I’ve actually known for a long time, I’ve known him since 2008. He actually booked a Bleeding Through tour when I was playing with that band, so I’ve known this guy for a while, and that was the reason we chose to go with him for this tour booking. I guess, from their experience as a small booking agency, perhaps they have never applied for Visas because they’ve always toured bands that were small enough to go under the radar. Or, I guess touring international bands gets expensive when you’re paying for flights and accommodation, meals and all of that kind of thing, so the Visa process was another cost that they thought was unnecessary and easy to avoid. I guess our experience proves that, y’know, that kind of behaviour can’t occur forever. There are repercussions for doing things illegally.
I don’t think we need to pursue any legal action. As far as I’m aware, the promoters are being prosecuted by Malaysian immigration anyway, so they’re already facing enough of a nightmare. We had a shitty experience for a few nights, but it’s not the end of the world for us. It’s not going to stop us from touring or anything. It was just one of those things where there was a miscommunication between several different groups of people, and it ended up with us being incarcerated in some pretty horrible conditions for a couple of days.
HOW BANDS CAN AVOID THIS
If you want to avoid situations like what we got into, being incarcerated and facing potential legal action, find a promoter that is willing to do everything legally. We’ve been a band for 15 years now, and we were embarking on the Southeast Asia tour essentially just having our costs covered. We weren’t making any profits going into this tour, so that just goes to show how difficult it can be for bands. We’re a very established band, but even we aren’t being paid to go and play in these places. We just wanted to go there because we knew we had fans there, we had the spare time and we knew the shows would be great. But yeah, for other bands in the same kind of situation, I would say if you can’t do it legally, and you’re not willing to take the risk, then don’t do it.