The re­turn of In­done­sian emo

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - WORDS MAR­CEL THEE

In­done­sian emo is mak­ing a come­back — it’s just not sure if it ac­tu­ally wants to.

While some of the genre’s most pop­u­lar bands have sur­vived by es­sen­tially cater­ing to the pop main­stream, the orig­i­nal pro­gen­i­tors of lo­cal emo went out with­out much fan­fare. Now, a host of new bands tak­ing the harsher el­e­ments of “real” emo are flood­ing the un­der­ground with equal amounts of sin­cer­ity and self­con­scious­ness. If this mu­sic that they are so pas­sion­ate about has been linked with a main­stream that they feel dis­con­nected with, do they still want to call it “emo”?

A genre that dares not speak its name, emo has al­ways been the hard­core stepchild that no one pro­fessed to like but which many ac­tu­ally did.

Un­like the ma­jor­ity of other mu­si­cal gen­res that be­came trends, even the names as­so­ci­ated with emo’s — short for “emo­tional” — ear­li­est days (which would be the 1980s Amer­i­can hard­core scene, which was go­ing through a process of shed­ding its vi­o­lent ma­cho ten­den­cies) took um­brage at the term.

Bands such as Em­brace and Rites of Spring — now con­sid­ered the first emo acts — em­braced (no pun in­tended) an un­abashedly naked sin­cer­ity to their lyrics and live shows, which were of­ten marked with band mem­bers break­ing down on stage while giv­ing it their all. But none wanted to be marked with the dreaded “emo­tional-core” tag.

By the time the Amer­i­can mid-west bred sec­ond gen­er­a­tion emo bands such as the Prom­ise Ring, Planes Mis­taken for Stars, Je­june and The Get Up Kids came around in the mid 1990s, things were get­ting “pop­pier” — both in the melodic and “pop­u­lar” sense of the word. It was get­ting okay to be emo. As the emo ex­perts in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle ad­mit, how­ever, by this time emo hadn’t yet reached In­done­sian shores.

Then the 2000s came, and emo hit it big ev­ery­where. With the drama punched up through mar­ketable rock-star looks and ra­dio-ready pro­duc­tion, emo-in­fused bands such as Jimmy Eat World, Yel­low­card, My Chem­i­cal Ro­mance, The Used and Thurs­day made their way across the world. In­done­sia was ready. The dy­namic shifts, throaty angst and sen­ti­men­tal ro­man­ti­cism went into cal­cu­lated over­drive and were eas­ier to grasp.

In­done­sian groups of the ilk started crop­ping up — cre­at­ing com­mu­ni­ties, a fash­ion style and lots of com­mer­cial ap­peal. Emo cre­ated a sub­cul­ture of sorts, with mis­un­der­stood teens adopt­ing the term as a cloud of self-pity and an overzeal­ous self-styled iden­tity (mas­cara, tight pants, long hair brushed side­wards). It be­came hard for the first gen­er­a­tion of In­done­sian emo kids to de­clare their love with­out fear of be­ing un­fairly ridiculed.

“I heard the word emo/post-hard­core for the first time back in 1999/2000 when I was get­ting into bands like At The Drive-in and Jimmy Eat World,” ex­plains Yud­hi­s­tira who sings and plays gui­tar in Vague, a band whose mu­sic bor­rows from emo’s ear­lier, more abra­sive ap­proach.

“Shortly af­ter, the more com­mer­cial bands like The Used and Finch re­ceived a lot of ra­dio air­play and were fea­tured heav­ily on MTV and Chan­nel V. And not be­fore long, you could eas­ily find al­bums by th­ese bands at big chain mu­sic store like Aquarius. And sud­denly it’s ev­ery­where. I thought it was cool that kids were in­spired to pick up their in­stru­ments and make their own mu­sic,” he says.

Akhmad Al­fan, who along with his fel­low Malangscen­ester In­dra Menus has cu­rated many lo­cal emo/ post-hard­core com­pi­la­tions, says that emo be­came so big that even kids from smaller cities were in­spired. He cred­its lo­cal bands such as Palem­bang’s Dag­ger­stab, Surabaya’s Never End­ing Story, Malang’s Kids Next Door and Take This Life, and Jakarta’s Killed By But­ter­fly, Alone At Last and Fall as bring­ing the genre to the lo­cal fore­front.

“I think In­done­sians started to wave the emo flag when those bands con­trib­uted songs to the [2004] lo­cal emo com­pi­la­tion An­thems of To­mor­row, which gained the bands recog­ni­tion through lots of MTV air­play, lo­cal gigs and mag­a­zine ex­po­sure,” Akhmad says, adding that smaller cities such as Malang got bit­ten by the emo bug with the help of in­ter­net cafes and im­ported mu­sic mag­a­zines cir­cu­lated among friends.

The peak of lo­cal emo came with the main­stream rise of Pee Wee Gask­ins, Jolly Jumper, Killing Me In­side and Alone At Last, all of whom adopted an even­more com­mer­cially ap­peal­ing ver­sion of emo-in­fused arena pop-rock. Th­ese bands re­main some of the big­gest rock acts in the coun­try to­day pre­cisely of be­cause of how well they adapted to the main­stream.

The other acts, how­ever, went and died with the trend. And now, newer emo-in­fused acts such as Vague, Wreck, Gauth, and Rekah are bring­ing the emo­tion back on stage. But this time, they are pur­posely more-dis­so­nant, more abra­sive and less will­ing to play nice with those who’d like their mu­sic to stand out as yet an­other fash­ion state­ment.

“Emo in In­done­sia has ex­pe­ri­enced its rise and fall,” says Akhmad, who blames main­stream emo for over­whelm­ing fans, who then even­tu­ally be­came sick of it. He the­o­rizes that it was the in­ter­net that, at the be­gin­ning in 2010, gave rise to the new kind of emo now pul­sat­ing through the scene.

Aldy Firstanto, who plays in the first gen­er­a­tion emo band Seems Like Yes­ter­day, agrees, call­ing the coun­try’s first gen­er­a­tion emo bands “more main­stream kind of emo, while the newer bands are tak­ing it back to the roots of emo, with rawer sounds — less dis­torted but more scream­ing.”

The me­dia has taken no­tice too, with an in­creas­ing amount of cov­er­age of th­ese new emo bands.

“The newer bands are more cre­ative in ex­plor­ing what they could sound like — in­ject­ing el­e­ments of spo­ken word or post-rock [an­other de­bat­able genre] into their sound. They are, at the same time, also more in touch with the true his­tory of emo,” says Alvin Ba­har, a jour­nal­ist who has writ­ten about some of th­ese bands for the teen-ori­ented Hai mag­a­zine.

Tomo Hartono from the band Rekah points to the weekly un­der­ground emo gigs around Jakarta as ev­i­dence of this new, harsher rise of true emo. For him, emo thrives be­cause no mat­ter what un­cool fa­cade it may have adopted in the past, in re­mains a true re­flec­tion of hu­man emo­tions — espe­cially in a coun­try with ups and downs such as In­done­sia.

“It’s like this; in a so­ci­ety that re­presses and re­duces any kind of emo­tional ex­pres­sion as some­thing that is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, what could be more rev­o­lu­tion­ary than singing proudly about how you feel? For me, emo opened up new pos­si­bil­i­ties of talk­ing about things which mod­ern so­ci­ety con­sid­ers taboo: men­tal health, ex­is­ten­tial crises, alien­ation, op­pres­sion, what­ever [...] the pos­si­bil­i­ties are wide. All those things are driven by some­thing that is very pri­mal — de­sire and emo­tions. It’s hon­est and

bru­tal.”

Seems Like Yes­ter­day

Son of Sun­dance Rev­o­lu­tion Au­tumn An­thems of To­mor­row

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