What do Singaporeans think of Indonesian music?

Music in the crosshairs of government and industry

The hardcore punk band Paper Tiger from Jakarta performing on May 6th, 2016 at Indonesia's largest fashion festival, the Jakcloth Festival. © Hikmawan Saefullah (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

The Indonesian parliament recently tried to further regulate music in the country with a bill. Despite the successful protest of a coalition of musicians, the problems underlying the design remain.

This year brought the Commission X of the Indonesian Parliament (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, DPR) a bill on music (RUU Permusican). According to the company, this proposal served to support the Indonesian music industry. However, hundreds of musicians soon rejected the design. They pretended to be National coalition against the music bill KNTL RUUP (Koalisi Nasional Tolak RUU Permusikan) together and spoke out against what they found problematic. The draft contains ambiguous passages, restricts the freedom of expression and the creative process of the musicians, only serves the interests of the state and the main industries and is potentially repressive against musicians who are critical of the state, according to the criticism.

The poster of the national coalition against the music bill KNTL RUUP. The image was proposed by the coalition as an avatar for anyone who supports the opposition to the music bill. © KNTL RUUP (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

After the waves of protests against the music bill, the legislative body of the DPR accepted the criticism and decided on June 17, 2019 to withdraw it from National Legislative Program (Prolegna) to delete. However, the problems underlying the design remain.

First, there are legislators in parliament who are trying to regulate music in Indonesia without understanding how music works. Second, the industrialization of music is increasingly creating a sense of disillusion among many musicians and producers. Thirdly, an increasingly religious-conservative and authoritarian mindset on the part of the state authorities continues to threaten the creative processes of musicians.

The consequences of music industrialization in Indonesia

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, and is therefore the target of leading music companies with its great market potential. During the 1990s, underground music such as rap, punk and heavy metal flourished on the archipelago and attracted large numbers of the young urban population to this genre of music.

Inspired by the 'Do-It-Yourself' philosophy, young people in Indonesia also got involved in self-organized music productions, sales and performances, as well as with the circulation of independent magazines to support underground music. From then on, the genre became known as independent, or simply 'indie music'.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, underground and indie music, respectively, peaked and led to major record labels such as BMG Indonesia and Sony Music Indonesia Recruiting indie musicians and bands. Indie music appeared on television and radio stations, popular magazines, and at music festivals.

Tobacco companies cast amateur musicians

After coming into contact with mainstream media, some indie rock bands, such as Superman Is Dead (Bali), Rocket rockers (Bandung, West Java) and Burgerkill (Bandung, West Java) Record contracts with larger record labels offered. Since then, indie music and musicians have become better known as the labels gave them access to a larger audience.

Tobacco companies also expanded their market by promoting their cigarettes in the indie music scene across the country. These promotions often ran through the financial support of indie music productions and concerts. The Indonesian tobacco company PT Djarum held annual auditions to select talented amateur musicians and bands to perform in their 'renowned' LA Lights Indie Fest- would play concerts. The selected musicians or bands were given the chance to sing their song for one LA Lights Indie Fest-Compilation album to record.

PT Djarum also provided significant financial support for Southeast Asia's largest Metal-Concert Hammersonic ready. Local, national and international metal artists work with Hammersonic and it attracts tens of thousands of metalheads from all parts of the archipelago and abroad.

While some musicians in Bandung and Jakarta find that the collaboration with the corporations benefited their music scene through the spectacular music events, others are convinced of the opposite. The latter are of the opinion that this practice served the interests of the corporations and the already famous musicians who are closely associated with the sponsors and organizers. New musicians and bands with fewer followers have little chance of appearing at the company-financed spectacles.

The band Powerpunk from Bandung performing at the Kekesed Fest on March 31, 2019, an underground rock show against the sponsorship of musicians by companies © Hikmawan Saefullah (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Funding creates financial dependency

Another problem with corporate funding is the resulting financial dependency within the music scene. It takes a considerable amount of money to rent expensive venues, sound systems, and stage equipment, and to secure government permits. The tobacco companies were the ones who could provide the money.

Endah Widiastuti is the singer and guitarist of the pop-folk band Endah n Resa from Jakarta and one of the members of KNTL RUUP. He criticized the music bill because he saw the independence of musicians * in danger of producing and distributing their works themselves. For example, the draft stipulated that music distribution must take place through formal distributors (Article 10) and that musicians needed a legal business license (Article 12). In common practice, indie musicians distribute their music through informal distribution channels. According to Endah, the proposals in the draft contradict this reality. As a result, only large corporations would benefit, as they have the greatest resources and access to authorized distributors. Independent musicians and record companies would be alienated from the music industry.

According to Endah, the draft law failed to address the underlying problems. For example the dominance of corporations in the national music industry and the common practice that large companies and state institutions reap the lion's share of the profits. The draft also provided for a certification process for musicians based on a competence test (Articles 31-35). This would also have marginalized less important actors, as they might not have been able to comply with the standards prescribed by the state (see Article 31, Paragraph 2).

Religious Conservatism and Hypernationalism

Religious orthodoxy offers a 'solution' to the problems discussed and the stagnation within the music industry: to turn away from music altogether. Over the past few years there have been a significant number of Indonesian pop and underground rock musicians leaving the music industry. Your decision to quit is influenced by Salafist orthodoxy, which considers music to be forbidden (haram) looks at.

The author (left) and Achie, the former singer of the hardcore band Gugat from Bandung, recorded on June 27th, 2016. Achie believes that the co-opting of the underground scene by capitalism is responsible for the fact that young indie musicians are increasingly turning to conservative Islam. @ Hikmawan Saefullah (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

According to the Salafist interpretation, music is forbidden because it prevents Muslims from their religious duty and leads them astray. Former pop and underground rock musicians who followed this rendition said they were happier after they stopped playing and listening to music.

Musical spread of political Islam

While some musicians have turned to Salafist teachings and left the music industry, some others still believe in music - but only to instrumentalize it for the Islamic proclamation. Among them are those musicians who deal with the Islamic underground movement: Punk Muslim, One Finger Underground Movement, Punkajian and Underground tawheed. They follow Islamic conservatism. They reject progressive and liberal interpretations of Islam and speak out against democratic ideas and against social groups that they see as "deviant". These include Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shiites, gays, lesbians and transgender people. These musicians were actively involved in various Islamic mobilization groups, including the Defense of Islamic Action (Aksi Bela Islam), the largest Islamic mass demonstration in the country, on December 2, 2016 (see also the article "When religious affiliation determines the self" by Ingo Wandelt on suedostasien.net.)

The representatives of the new religious current of the underground music scene are convinced that Western philosophies of secularism, pluralism and liberalism have corrupted the morality of Muslims. In this reading, these three ways of thinking are part of the "struggle of values" (ghazwul fikri) of the West. Visible in pop culture like music and movies, they would corrupt and control the minds of young Muslims. Their fear of western intellectual and cultural influence is also reflected in the issuing of official legal advice (fatwa) down. These are given by the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, MUI), which classifies secularism, pluralism and liberalism as "un-Islamic".

The grindcore band Tengkorak from Jakarta at a concert in 2016. Tengkorak is one of the bands of the One Finger Underground Movement, which is committed to spreading Islam in the underground scene. @ Hikmawan Saefullah (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

According to the sociologist Ariel Heryanto, this conservative way of thinking corresponds to “hypernationalist” ideas that have become entrenched during Indonesia's post-colonial history. This variant of nationalism "smacks of fascism ... loves or values ​​symbols, emblems, rituals and uniforms". It is a product of a post-colonial way of thinking: to oppose everything that is foreign or not at home, according to Heryanto.

Politicization of music in the past and present

For example, in the late 1950s, President Sukarno called on Indonesian youth to embrace Western neo-colonial and neo-imperalist (nekolim) To oppose cultural imperalism, by which American rock'n'roll music was meant. In the 1970s, President Suharto's government criminalized men with long hair who resembled (Western) hippies. In the 1980s, the government criminalized anyone who had tattoos. Some people with tattoos were secretly kidnapped and shot. Then, in the 1990s and 2000s, state authorities and religious institutions criminalized punks and blamed them for spreading "immoral" behavior. Street punks have often been arrested and indoctrinated by police and religious authorities to 'return' to Indonesia's religious and nationalist culture. Some performed the so-called Hijra, the personal 'escape' or 'journey' that believers undertake in order to rediscover or more of the Islamic lifestyle.

The controversial music bill also reflects these mainstream conservative and hypernationalist mindsets. Many sub-points in the proposal were restrictive and repressive. For the purposes of the law, the state could have indicted musicians for blasphemy and abuse of religious and state authority, and for including "negative Western influence" in their music (Articles 5 and 50). The proposed law also tried to make music and musicians a matter of form through state bureaucratization. This also included the obligation of musicians to disseminate their works via the state authorized body and to present them there (Articles 10, 12, 15 and 48), as well as to set the standard for musicians by means of a compulsory competence test (Articles 31 to 33 ). The draft required the propagation of 'Indonesianness' by stipulating the use of the Indonesian language on album covers (Article 13) and the playing of traditional music in places of leisure and entertainment (Article 42).

Although the law was initially successfully prevented from being passed, the problems outlined will persist for the time being.

Translation from English by: Katharina Valjak.