Punk Rock in Indonesia

Punk's not dead.

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Punk Rock in Indonesia

The punk subculture is largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom. The first distinct music scene appeared in New York City approximately in 1974. Around the same time or soon afterward, a punk scene developed in London, England.

The true spirit of this rebellious movement is to be an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian, autonomous and independent son of a bitch. Being punk means to question everything and to stay true to yourself no matter what. Frankly speaking Western movement had significantly faded nowadays.

But the punk’s not dead. It just immigrated to the East.

Not many people know that over the recent years Indonesia has become home to one of the biggest underground punk scenes in the world. In a country of 263 million people, with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia is caught between tradition and globalization. Close to a half of Indonesia's population is living in poverty. The country has no social welfare system and a lot of kids are living on the streets. Punk community can provide them with sense of friendship, family, self worth and give them a chance to survive.

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In the 1990s, the Indonesian punk scene was at the forefront of bringing down the Suharto regime, who ironically didn’t take the movement seriously and provided organizers with permits for shows. He thought it was just an entertaining distraction for the kids. He had no idea that these outcasts may be planing a riot and are capable of spreading ideas that discredit the authorities. In January 1996 the Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth, and the Beastie Boys performed at the Jakarta Pop Alternative Festival. Green Day played in Jakarta the next month. Releases by major label acts were imported into the country thanks to globalization and for many people it was an introduction to independent DIY punk bands and culture.

In winter 2002 American Muslim convert novelist Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a piece called The Taqwacores, which told the story of a fictitious group of Muslim punk-rockers living in Buffalo, New York. Characters included a Straight edge Sunni, a drunken mohawk-wearing Sufi punk, a burqa-wearing riot grrrl and a Shi'i skinhead. The first copies of the book were self published. Later it it got published by Autonomedia and received wide distribution. In 2010, a movie was made based on the novel, under the same title. When the term ‘Punk Muslim’ first appeared it immediately spawned a worldwide movement that inspired young Muslims to look at themselves differently.

In 2011 the world was shook by the news from Aceh, the only province in Indonesia that operates under sharia law, where a governmental raid arrested 64 young punks at a concert. The kids had not broken any laws so they were “just” shaved bald, forced to get rid of all their piercings and collars with spikes and clean themselves in the river. After that humiliating procedure they were put in trucks and brought to a military center where they had to spend 10 days in rehabilitation program, studying military discipline and Quaran. The story went viral and Indonesian punk became global headline news.

In October 2014 the first democratic elections took place in Indonesia. The new president was the first leader in years who was not a member of Suharto's political or military elite. His name was Joko Widodo. He was a self professed metal-head who proudly wore a Metallica t-shirt and was also fond of Lamb of God and Megadeth. Naturally he was not against the punk-rock movement in which played a noticeable part in helping its country to break free from its corrupt political history. Corporatization of the Indonesian punk scene has been an ongoing process. It didn’t take long for major labels to realize that there was profit to be made from punk in the Indonesian market. For example, one of the most famous old-timer bands Superman Is Dead (SID) signed to Sony/BMG, Naturally, the musicians were labeled “sell outs”, while defended their decision with claims that they could now reach more people with their message.

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Recently, Indonesia has seen a new phenomenon that could redefine its Islamic youth culture. A group of ‘Punk Muslims’ was witnessed chanting the words “Prophet Mohammad forever” while throwing a concert in Bandung in April. The songs are still loud and raw but the lyrics promote religious values. This offers a new twist on the anti-establishment punk music scene. Many of the group’s members used to be street performers, and say they have changed drastically since joining the movement. Musicians are not only interested in promoting positive values through their music, they also like to address social issues that concern the global Islamic community, such as the war in Palestine. After each concert, the audience bow their heads in prayer and listen to the preacher.

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In conclusion, punk doesn’t look to the system for solutions, but creates its own. What might appear to be a hardcore and radical movement can be an effective strategy that may bring people together in righteous fight for the freedom of expression.

22 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Immediately thought about Rattan Cane by Propagandhi ( Dedicated to the “emos” in Iraq and the “punks” in Aceh Indonesia. ). Really cool insight into a scene most have never heard of, hope there are more articles like these
    If these quality articles would appear on a regular basis, I would pay for this! Good job UG!
    I wonder if SJW's would call this cultural appropriation? Probably not, because it's not a white band.
    If it's not you lot moaning about SJW's then it's SKW's moaning about you lot. Just stop moaning. Can't you just appreciate a (pretty cool imo) article for what it is? Smile... You'll feel better.
    ummmm, last time i checked, stringed instruments are illegal (haraam) in islam. so how the fuck does punk rock even exist in that country if they aren't allowed to play stringed instruments (guitar)? 
    This is a good question... I don't know the answer. But i know for sure that Iran has it's own rock scene, and it's an islamic country too.