Perfect Sound Forever


The Indonesian Scene
Book excerpt by Kevin Dunn
(August 2016)

ED NOTE: This article is an excerpt from Global Punk- Resistance and Rebellion in Everyday Life, available through Bloomsbury Books.

In 2008, there was a tragedy in Bandung at a local metal/punk show. Reportedly, the 600-person venue was packed to almost double capacity for the album release of the local band Beside. At the end of the show, aggressive security forces attacked from both outside and inside the venue, leading to a crush of bodies that left 11 people dead. In the aftermath, Indonesian authorities used the incident to clamp down hard on the underground music scene. Not only were punks increasingly cast in a negative light, but organizers now had apply for police permission to hold shows. After the 2008 tragedy, booking venues has gotten noticeably harder. Not only is police permission expensive and sometimes difficult to obtain, but it is sometimes hard to find willing venues. In Jakarta, one of the more popular venues reportedly charges around $400 to rent out the venue, which is extremely expensive for punks there. I was told that since there is an attempt to keep ticket prices cheap (around $1 or $2 each), bands often have to pay to play, or at the very least not expect any of the door.

House parties and garage shows are often out of the question since the police show up quickly and shut them down. This has put a crunch on DIY organizing. Not surprisingly, the authorities are more willing to give permits to larger commercial venues and corporate sponsors. This is just one of the ways by which corporate interests, especially cigarette companies, have infiltrated the Indonesian underground. A number of cigarette companies, such as LA Lights, now sponsor "underground and independent" music festivals and even CD compilations. Many punks eschew these blatant corporate appropriations of independent DIY culture, but others have been willing to play along. Some of them have tried to have it both ways- like Ucay, the former lead singer of Rocket Rockers who once wore an anti-cigarette t-shirt while performing on stage at a cigarette-sponsored concert (interview, June 18, 2013).

The commodification and corporatization of the Indonesian punk scene has been an ongoing process. It didn't take long for major labels to realize that there was a profit to be made from punk in the Indonesian market. In the 1990s, some punk bands signed to major labels, just as they had done in the US and UK, and were then doing this again during the post-Nirvana signing frenzy. Bands like Superman Is Dead signed to Sony/BMG, as did Bandung's Rocket Rockers. Not surprisingly, such band were often labeled "sell outs," while they defended their decision with claims that they could now reach more people with their message. Superman Is Dead began to wear their "sell-out" status as a badge of honor, claiming they were "outsiders" everywhere. Rocket Rockers released one album with Sony/BMG and then founded their own independent record label, Reach and Rich Records. Opinions of them varied amongst the Indonesian punks I spoke to, with some calling them hypocrites and sell-outs and others regarding them as punk equivalents of Robin Hood. One punk I met who books DIY shows in Banda Aceh, Teuku Fariza, dismissed this logic head-on: "SID and Rocket Rockers are definitely sell-outs. If their main concern is getting a big crowd, please get the fuck out of punk. How did Minor Threat or Fugazi become well-known while keeping DIY? DIY just has proven it(self) for almost over 30 years. Krass Kepala and Kontra Sosial [Indonesian DIY punk bands} have even toured Europe with (a) DIY ethic" (personal correspondence June 20, 2013).

The issue of touring--and communicating with other punks across Indonesia-- is actually quite complicated. Earlier, I discussed the difficulty of traveling around Jakarta because of its size. But it is more of a challenge to travel across Indonesia, a country made up of thousands of islands. Two of the biggest islands are Sumatra and Java. As Esa of Zuda Krust pointed out, "If you visit Sumatra, you can spend a week just to go (through) the whole (area of) Sumatra because in cities, you can spend one or two days. Maybe in Jakarta, it's not really hard to go to other cities, but, compared to other islands, it's really difficult to go" (interview May 26-27, 2013). Traveling between islands requires taking a ferry or plane, both of which can be very expensive for your everyday punk band. So the people I hung out with in Banda Aceh hadn't seen that many punk bands that were not from their island of Sumatra, though tapes and CDs were circulating rather easily. Indonesian punk scenes are more geographically isolated than their American or European counterparts.

Also see the websites for Rocket Rockers and Superman is Dead

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