The second coming of Indonesian rock
For good or ill, international hipsters are driving an awakening of some classic Indonesian rock.
As with so many revivalist movements in popular music, it started with what music writer Simon Reynolds called “the hipster international,” a new worldwide neo-colonial class whose fundamental mode of operation is the reprocessing of culture. These people, through the process of curation-as-creation refine the raw materials generated by rooted cultures and create new cultural expressions. The modus operandi of the hipster international is scouring musical artifacts from Third World countries, cast an Orientalist gaze at what they consider “cool” according to the Western standards, repackaging the music and, through a savvy public relations campaign, selling the music as a trendy product. The target audience is music fans in the West, but with social media, it is also easy for the hipster international to target consumers in the developing world who are unaware about their musical past. Fans of popular music in Indonesia are well aware of rock legends like Koes Plus, Dara Puspita, AKA or Harry Roesli. However, these acts are remembered as purveyors of weepy love songs that have long become standard fare for mainstream Indonesian pop. These artists are in fact indistinguishable from middle-of-theroad performers such as Deddy Dores or Favourite’s Group, who once ruled the airwaves with their pop ballads. Nothing illustrates the process and its impact better than the reissue project of
Those Shocking, Shaking Days – Indonesian Hard, Psychedelic, Progressive Rock and Funk: 1970-1978. Curated by celebrity DJ and full-time record collector Eothen “Egon” Alapatt and released in 2012, Those Shocking, Shaking
Days was singlehandedly responsible for turning old Indonesian rock songs from the usual suspects like Koes Plus, AKA and Ahmad Albar, as well as more obscure outfits like The Brims, Rasela and Terenchem, into cool cultural products. Through a deep archival research, the curators of the compilation–which included Egon, Chandra Drews (an Indonesian expatriate in The Netherlands) and Canadian producer Jason “Moss” Connoy– also gave new context to the songs. Music in the compilation was seen as the fruit of the artists’ rebellion against the stifling reign of the New Order regime, effectively infusing punk antiauthoritarianism into old Indonesian songs. Writing in the liner notes, Egon said that the compositions were “dictatorial-toppling shit,” that could send shivers down the spines of despots the world over.
Those Shocking, Shaking Days, released on Egon’s label Now-Again, was a runaway success and its cultural impact cannot be overstated. Hardcore legend Henry Rollins, formerly of the seminal Los Angeles band Black Flag, said that the compilation “might be one of the bestest [sic] examples of sonic supremacy,” while the self-proclaimed record nerd and Hollywood actor Elijah Wood endorsed the album in one of his tweets in 2012, calling it “incredible.” Crate digging was never the same again. Members of the local hipster crowd who until recently listened exclusively to Western music began to look for first pressings of vinyl records of music included in the compilation, which consequently drove up prices for old Indonesian records. A mint copy of Koes Bersaudara’s To the So-Called The Guilties or the much-soughtafter vinyl of Ariesta Birawa Group’s Vol. 1 are now only available with six-figure price tags. What came after was what many considered as a “vinyl boom,” the kind that the country had never seen since the format was rendered obsolete in the late 1970s. High demand for “cool” Indonesian music from the recent past had created an industry where dealers, record labels and curators began to dig deeper into the country’s musical past to find undiscovered gems and release them both for the domestic and international market. Soon after Those Shocking, Shaking Days, the Toronto-based label Strawberry Rain reissued the legendary trilogy from indie rock progenitor Benny Soebardja–Gut Rock, Night Train and Benny Soebardja & Lizard–to rave reviews. Prior to the project, Strawberry Rain also did a bang up job in remastering hard-rocking tunes from the Surabaya-based band AKA and released them for the international market in a double-LP compilation aptly titled
Hard Beat. Before going on hiatus in 2013, Strawberry Rain reissued Mencari Tuhan (Searching for God), a Javanese musicinflected folk album first released by the Yogyakarta-based collective, Kelompok Kampungan in 1979. So many have tried to capitalize on the boom of Indonesian music from the past, to the point where small record labels, like the Portuguese Nosmoke or the American Sham Palace, chose to reissue music from either the least interesting decade or the most untrendy genres. In 2012, Sham Palace released a compilation titled Indonesia Pop Nostalgia: Pan-Indonesian Pop, Folk, Instrumentals & Children’s Songs, 1970s-1980s, to a lukewarm response from collectors, especially as it leaned toward the whimsical and kitschy side of 1980s pop. Also released to a mediocre response was Nosmoke’s
Java-Java Indonesia Screaming Fuzz, which focused on some of the most abrasive rock sound from the 1960s. Starting in 2014, homegrown labels began to join the fray, reissuing old materials, mostly independent music from the late 1990s and the early 2000s, simply for the reason that master recordings from the era were easier to salvage. Remastering the works did not require an infusion of much cash–something that is in short supply for independent record labels such as Majemuk Records, Elevation Records, Sonic Funeral and Demajors. However, in recent months, some of these labels however have gone deep in digging the archives. Majemuk reissued Alam Raya, the progressive rock magnum opus from the Jakarta-based Abbhama, an album that was first released in 1978. Earlier in March, La Munai Records released on wax Philosophy Gang, the much sought-after album from avant-garde composer Harry Roesli Gang, which, after its release in 1973, captivated music fans in the West with its mix of psychedelic, soul and jazz with exotic traditional Indonesian sounds. Banned by the New Order for politicallycharged lyrics and controversial artwork, the album has been on the wish list of all self-respecting music fans for years. La Munai pressed 1,000 copies of vinyl for this reissue project, half of which will be available for the international market. All these reissues have put Indonesia on the map. The country now has become a destination for record dealers and collectors, who hope that they can strike gold with their next releases. Zambia, Iran, Turkey and Brazil have long been a source of intriguing music, one that marries modern elements of pop and rock with centuries-old local traditions. At least now, foreigners will no longer come to Indonesia looking only for Balinese gamelan music.