Sunday, March 26, 2006

More Jakarta Sound

Last Friday, we went out to a kind of battle of the bands in South Jakarta billed as “A Night in Hell”. The invite came by text message from an Australian guy we met a few months ago on the expat forum. The venue was called “Intro”, though John told us it was called “Options”, so we had some misadventures finding it – it seemed like we might as well been looking for Narnia.

The club was not much more than a two storey box with a small stage and a picketed balcony. The front spilled over onto a teeming patio. Inside, clove smoke choked the room. Cloudy and packed, the place reminded me of a dive I knew in Maine fifteen years ago and eight thousand miles away. John wasn’t hard to find. Self-described as the “tall white guy in a yellow t-shirt”, we found John standing a full foot above the swaying mob.

We saw four bands play. The first group emulated Bright Eyes, and tried to bring a sensitive indie rock sound. The lead singer of Come On Lennon performed one song while laying on his back, knees akimbo. It gave me a false impression we might be in for a sleepy night.

Then the boys from Noxa charged onto the stage, and in their wake a darker crowd. I saw more than one “Slayer” tee-shirt among them. “Well nourished,” said John, describing the players. They certainly were thick people, heavy enough to pound out some convincing death metal. The lead singer growled his Lemmy best in between energetic head thrashing seizures. Totally entertaining. I’d see them again in a second.

The charismatic Brandals opened with a couple of catchy pop songs that I think must have been their own. Those were the best of their set. They followed with a bundle of 60s tired covers like Johnny B. Good. Still, they’re a group with personality, and are well known here. I saw a Brandals sweatshirt at Bloc M later in the week, hanging next to No Fear and No FX apparel.

My favorite of the night would have to be Getah, a tight indie metal group whose influences were refreshingly difficult to track. My 80’s music catalogue would put them between Fugazi and the Chilli Peppers. Crunchy guitar god stuff. They finished with a slamming cover of The Wall. That was a weird moment, singing along with a crowd of Indonesians to a song I once adopted as an anti-third-grade anthem.

John seems to have be a good hall monitor for the Jakarta music scene. With no English language weekly for event listings, the SMS network he’s plugged into may be the best way to find out about gigs in the city. His review is encouraging. He says with the exception of Japan, Indonesia may have the best music scene in Asia.

The club reminded me in one other way of The Penny Post back in Old Town. I had to put my clothes in a plastic bag at the end of the evening. A little reek of brimstone is part of the admission price, I suppose, for a Night in Hell.


An inventory of the senses has got to include something about equilibrium; usually neglected in a list if the top five or six. Jakarta more than anywhere else reminds me that bipedal walking is actually a series of little interrupted falls. Tottering along Jakarta’s crowded roads and sidewalks, interruptions come mid-step. In daytime, the curb becomes a tented alley. People cook, sell, wash, squat, eat, sleep, and otherwise carve out their livelihood. Every stride has to account for a dozen or more competing vectors. Chances are good for a collision or an awkward impasse. The concrete slabs are uneven, broken, slippery and yawn without warning into open sewers below. Jostled, tripping, dithered steps, off-plumb all the while. Walking along the street, obstacles are fewer, but velocities much higher. This is not a walker’s city. Crossing traffic is a sport. There only seems to be one law: fall into the empty space.


After more than a week submerged in Jakarta’s hot smog, I’m actually beginning to feel better about our new climate. Seven years in North Carolina is pretty good preparation for Indonesia’s heat. Some days have been gentler than others. Cloudy days with a morning rain are best – the air quality always seems better after a scrub. I remember sitting on the steps of my old farm shack in Durham, praying for an afternoon thunderstorm. On clear days like today, the sun chafes angrily, and the air is smothered with soot. I endured plenty of days like that back in NC, working on hot top roofs and flirting with heat stroke. The air was cleaner on the farm, of course. Chili paste, which comes with everything here, opens the pores and cools the skin. There I used a little green watering can to douse myself several times a day, much like traditional mandi bathing with a scoop. But here it will always be August, and rain dances will only be answered for half of the year.