I just realized that I have several videos scattered on YouTube. So in the hope of archiving them, I am going to post them here.
This one here is from the keynote session of the Punk Scholars Network Indonesia 2020. I had a good experience in this session. Thanks William Anthony Yanko for moderating and Muhammad Fakhran Al Ramadhan for organizing the event!
So last fall I was invited to give a talk about punk in Indonesia for Punk Scholars Network Indonesian branch. It’s part of the Network’s annual international conference and symposium.
I was excited but also nervous to give a talk at this conference. It’s been a long while since I wrote anything about punk (14 years to be exact). And I also felt humbled since the other keynote speakers were punk scholars whose work about Indonesian punk/underground communities I really admire. I almost said no actually, but after some thought I agreed to be one of the speakers since I wanted to start writing about punk again.
So below is the text of my talk. It’s sort of an update to my last writing about Indonesian punk. It’s far from a smart take, but it did make me want to write about Indonesian punk again. And I also want to give a shout out to Muhammad Fakhran al Ramadhan for giving me the opportunity to give this talk.
Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry Revisited: A Distant Reading of Indonesian Punk Cultures
Let me start with this statement: Although I grew up with punk during the new order regime and wrote a couple of papers about punk in Indonesia that I presented more than a decade ago, I have not been in direct contact with the Indonesian punk scene for more than 10 years ever since I left Indonesia to study and now teach here in the States. So today I am going to update my thoughts about contemporary Indonesian punk cultures as a distant reader. I am going to do it through revisiting the last paper I wrote and presented about Indonesian punk, titled, “Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry”; hence the addition of the word “revisited” in my presentation title for today. I hope it makes sense in the context of the theme of today’s conference, “doing local, doing global” and is worthy of discussion. I truly appreciate any kind of feedback from the audience here.
In the old version of this paper, I used the framework of the culture industry formulated by Frankfurt School theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, to examine the emergence of punk in Indonesia as a counterculture movement and I am going to do that again. For those not familiar with Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s formulation of the culture industry, for them it is a concept that refers to the commercialization of culture and how it perpetuates the dominant ideology. Back then, I argued that the emergence of punk as a counterculture movement in Indonesia, in the words of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s, was “made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.”
Punk was initially exported to Indonesia in the 1990s as a commercial package of “anti-establishment” music via major label distribution of commercially hyped groups such as Green Day and the Offspring. At the time, the Indonesian youth (I was one of them) were classified, organized, and labeled as the target market by the culture industry in their global expansion. Although as my fellow keynote speaker, Jeremy Wallach, points out, “the Indonesian punks’ tastes quickly turned to less hyped but indisputably seminal bands from the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly the Ramones, the Exploited, and the Sex Pistols.” This kind of incorporation, I argued then and now, significantly marks the development of the Indonesian punk movement up to the present.
In the old version of this paper, I described how initially, the culture industry presented the Indonesian youth with naturalized forms of punk. In this case, punk had already been predesigned as, to quote Horkheimer and Adorno again, “feeble resistance which that very industry has inculcated in it.” The culture industry had already understood that one of the characteristics of the global youth culture is its spirit for resistance. As Dylan Clark states in his chapter, “[t]he image of rebellion has become one of the most dominant narratives of the corporate capitalist landscape: the ‘bad boy’ has been reconfigured as prototypical consumer [original italics].” Therefore, when the culture industry brought punk to Indonesia, it promoted punk’s rebellious ideology in order to capture the youth as consumer. Through such apparatuses as commercial magazines and radio stations, the culture industry encourages Indonesian youth to buy its cultural package. To quote Leslie Haynsworth, “by promoting [the] artists’ countercultural stances, the corporate music industry and the mainstream music press are disseminating—and more importantly, endorsing—subcultural values, practices, and iconographies [original italics].” One such instance in my memory was when Hai magazine published a special “HaiKlip” issue on punk in 1996, featuring Green Day, the Offspring, and Rancid.
In my previous examination, I also connected my framework of the culture industry in the development of punk in Indonesia in the 1990s with the context of Soeharto’s new order regime. The new order state, with its repressive and ideological apparatuses, tried to control the lives of the people including the youth. One of the state’s tools to control the youth is through family institution.
In his study of Indonesian “street kids” (anak jalanan) as a form of subculture, Kirik Ertanto argues that according to the new order’s State Law “family decision-making is used as a tool to achieve national development…. The youth is perceived as valuable national asset. Therefore, efforts to produce improved human capital should be executed as early as possible.” This condition prompted the repression of youth by their parents as the extension of the state’s apparatuses. This is one of the reasons why some Indonesian youth were absorbed by punk as a cultural product. They were more than eager to accept punk’s ideas of anarchism in order to resist the parent/state repressive culture.
Then, I also made a note about the class dynamic in the introduction of punk to Indonesia. I argued that the Indonesian upper middle class youth had a mediatory role in bringing punk and its anti-establishment, anti-consumerism, and anti-authoritarian ideologies to Indonesia, since for a non-English-speaking country like Indonesia it was almost impossible for the working class youth to be able to directly access punk products from countries such as the US and the UK. Through the mediation of the middle class youth as both “the prestige seeker and the connoisseur,” punk products were disseminated to other youth who do not have direct access to them via bootlegged records and xeroxed copies of zines, such as Profane Existence, Maximum RockNRoll, and EqualizingxDistort. I argued here that this “illegitimate” chain of distribution had in many ways disrupted the position of the culture industry as a hegemonic commercial practice. Reflecting on this, the mediation of the Indonesian middle class youth perhaps also explains why certain punk groups got popular among Indonesian punks compared to their contemporaneous compatriots, something that mystified Wallach at the time of his study of Jakarta punks.
This was also where I pointed out how through the “unwilling” incorporation with the culture industry, which I frame as a kind of pogo dancing, Indonesian punk developed their utopian goals as a counterculture movement. In this case, I questioned Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s argument that the culture industry “not for a moment … [allows its consumers] any suspicion that resistance is possible.” At the time, I argued that it was through their “dance” with the culture industry, that punk in Indonesia was able to posit themselves as, in Stacy Thompson’s words, “the placeholder for the possibility of a cultural form that resists its own commodification.”
In order to support my argument at the time, I described several phases in Indonesian punk’s dance with the culture industry. First, I looked at the mimicry phase of Indonesian punk where they started to imitate “conventional” punk fashion (studded leather jackets, doc martens boots, mohawk hairstyle), form their own bands—first performing covers of seminal punk bands and then writing their own songs—and also produced domestic version of punk zines. I argued that although this phase might confirm Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s assertion that “[i]n the culture industry…imitation finally becomes absolute,” it was not a simple and immediate reaction.
To prove my point, I chronicled how the imitation of punk fashion by Indonesian youth at this mimicry phase was at first, following Dick Hebdige’s formulation, a semiotically rootless and perhaps a costly one. I asserted that studded leather jacket and doc marten boots do not semiotically signify “working-classness” in Indonesia. Yet, I also pointed out that the shock value of that kind of punk fashion can still be regarded as “a symbolic violation of the social order,” at least initially. I also pointed out the nuance in the local punk bands’ preference for using English lyrics despite their lacking language skills. The use of English lyrics, I argued then, could also be perceived as a subcultural reaction against Indonesian major label companies who generally restricted its use.
Then I moved to discuss the next phase when the figure of punks gradually became widely recognized in the Indonesian popular culture landscape. Here I focused on how the culture industry started to see local punk groups as a marketable product, which happened around the same time when pop punk bands such as Blink 182 and Sum 41 dominated international rock charts in the early 21st century, and when MTV broadcast its programs in Indonesia through syndication with a national private station. I mentioned how, similar to what has happened in the US or the UK, major record labels started to seek potential local punk bands to market them to the public, such was the case with Superman is Dead (SID) from Bali and Burgerkill from Bandung.
Yet, I also argued then that in this post-mimicry phase many Indonesian punks have now become familiar with the philosophy of DIY, anarcho-punk, and anti-fascism. I asserted that just like some of the Indonesian punk bands went “mainstream,” some others grew more political and took a harder stance towards the culture industry. Here, I mentioned the emergence of countercultural collectives such as Forum Anti Fasis, Kontra Kultura, Utopian, and Akar Jelata in Indonesia as examples of the progressive movement within Indonesian punks.
I ended my argument back then with kind of a naïve assertion that despite their inability to break away from the culture industry’s master discourse, Indonesian punks were realizing their utopian goals as a counterculture movement in the post-Soeharto era with their progressive, anti-hierarchical, and self-reflexive mindset. Here, I cited a portion of song “Suatu saat nanti” (Someday) from the seminal anarcho-punk band from Jakarta, Bunga Hitam to prove my point.
Now looking back on my argument, I actually find it somewhat too optimistic and lacking depth. Not only did I trap myself into the monolithic thinking of the culture industry, I neglected to attend to the richness and diversity of Indonesian punks themselves. For one, I did not necessarily consider the role of built environment and social contours of major cities and regions such as Jakarta, Bandung, Denpasar, and Kuta in shaping Indonesian punk scenes and cultures and how these places and spaces are simultaneously shaped by the existence and development of their local punk scenes. At the time, I was not yet aware of the work by another of my fellow keynote speakers for today, Emma Baulch, who has examined the complexity of localization or hybridization of global media forms, such as punk, within the local cultural logics of “Balinese-ness” in Bali underground scene. I was also not yet aware of Sean Martin-Iverson’s work that looks into the dialectic of “territorialization” and “deterritorialization” in the development of the Bandung hardcore punk scene and their orientation as part of global hardcore punk scene. To put it simply, I failed to consider the messiness in Indonesia punks’ pogo dancing with the culture industry as I treated it more like line dancing.
In addition, things have drastically changed in Indonesia and in Indonesian punk scenes themselves since the last time I wrote my essay. For example, now Indonesia has a self-described “metalhead” as president (for better or worse), social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram have also become so popular in the country, and there is also a worrying phenomenon of socio-political polarization in the country, mostly based on religious identity and populist nationalism. All of which I believe have affected local and global expressions of Indonesian punks.
So today I would like to attend to some of the messy entanglements that I have recently observed in the pogo dance between Indonesian punks and the culture industry, or more accurately culture industries, since the singular term assumes a monolithic domination while the plural forms better reflect the complexity and contradictions within its operations. I am going to start with the phenomenon of the “religious turn” of Indonesian punks, something that my fellow keynote speakers Hikmawan Saefullah, or “Papap,” examines in his article, “Nevermind the jahiliyyah, here’s the hijrahs,” and will also most likely be discussed in detail by him today. Examining the emergence of religious underground collectives and hijrah groups that undertake Islamic proselytization in the scene, such as the One Finger Movement, the Ghuraba Militant Tauhid, and The Hijrah Youth Movement, Saefullah suggests that this religious turn within the Indonesian underground scene is “a result of the absence of a coherent political Left within the subculture and the high financial and social cost of maintaining underground culture and ideology.”
I could not agree more with his analysis. However, I would also like to add that this religious conservative turn can also be understood through a larger picture in the landscapes of the cultural industries in Indonesia. Just as punk productions got commodified by the force of the cultural industries, which demoralized some of the participants in the Indonesian punk scene according to Saefullah, the country has also witnessed the marketing and commodification of piety in Islamic teachings in the post-Soeharto era. As discussed by scholars such as James B. Hoesterey and Marshall Clark, in the post-new order era there is a boom in the so-called “pop Islam,” which incorporates genres such as sastra Islami (Islamic literature), film Islami (Islamic film), and sinetron Islami (Islamic soap operas), along with other products that “breathe Islam” and the popularity of pop preachers like AA Gym or the late Jefri Al Buchori.
The introduction and rapid popularity of social media platforms have also contributed to this growth of popular branding of Islam, especially among the middle class, in the form of microcelebrities and influencers. Emma and Alila Pramiyanti, for instance, discuss about one phenomenon related to this: the hijabers of Instagram. I believe the phenomenon of the religious turn in Indonesian punk scenes cannot be wholly detached from this broad context. Perhaps, the Indonesian punk scene has become the latest pop culture victim of this “brand Islam.”
Another thing that I have also observed from afar is the incorporation of nationalistic themes in punk productions, especially in the so-called “mainstream” punk groups. Consider for instance this lyrics from Superman is Dead (SID)’s song, “Jadilah legenda” (Be a legend):
Listening to the lyrics, I cannot help but wonder if this song were released during the new order era, perhaps the Soeharto regime would be pleased with Indonesian punk’s patriotism, even if there is an interpretation that this song is dedicated to the working class. SID is not the only group which incorporates nationalistic theme into their songs, I have also observed similar adoption in the songs from such groups as pop punk Pee Wee Gaskins’ “Dari mata sang garuda” (From the eye of garuda), the seminal alternative punk band Netral’s “Garuda Di Dadaku” (Garuda on my chest), and many other bands as well.
Perhaps this “nationalistic turn” is one of the impacts of the shift in using the Indonesian language as the preferred lyrical language among Indonesian punk groups, something that Wallach argues as enabling punk bands to more successfully position themselves as the voice of local youth and develops a sense of the underground as a national scene. Perhaps this is also another consequence of the absence of the coherent political left in the subculture that Saefullah mentioned in the case of the “religious turn” in punk. But again, I would like to look at this nationalistic punk phenomenon as a part of a larger trend in the Indonesian cultural landscape in post-Reformasi era. Indonesian punks’ incorporation of nationalism develops around the same time when nationalism, or expressions of “banal nationalism” to borrow Michael Billig’s formulation, re-emerges as a marketable product for the youth. I am somewhat familiar with this because I have done research on the phenomenon of digital nationalism in post-Soeharto era. From nationalistic-themed movies such as Merah Putih (Yadi Sugandi, 2009), to nationalistic video games like Nusantara Online (Sangkuriang/Telegraph, 2010-2013), to patriotic social media events like “upacara bendera digital” (digital flag-hoisting ceremony), the concept of banal nationalism has been re-branded into an appealing and marketable product for the Indonesian youth. And Indonesian punks have experienced this as well.
Of course there are oppositional voices against this nationalistic turn in Indonesian punk scenes as can be seen in the song from Bandung’s legendary hardcore punk band Turtles Jr., “Bakar bendera” (“Burn your flag”), or a more blatant one from Bandung’s anarchopunk band, Milisi Kecoa, “Ganyang nasionalisme” (“Down with nationalism”).
Yet, things get complicated when you also have punk groups that adopt a nationalistic attitude while simultaneously embracing the spirit of anarchism. I find this tendency in groups such as Rebellion Rose from Yogyakarta that claims “nasionalisme adalah harga mati” (“nationalism is non-negotiable”) to emphasize its absoluteness, while also promoting anarchist values. Even the public face of anarcho-punk in Indonesia, Marjinal, recently released a single titled, “Indonesia Memanggil” (“Indonesia Calling”), which has lyrics like this:
Perhaps the marriage between nationalism and anarchism in Indonesian punk has not necessarily turned into the adoption of national-anarchism as a rebranding of totalitarian fascism yet, but it does not mean that it will not turn into a dangerous territory given the global history of fascist cooptation of punk as seen in the skinhead/bonehead phenomenon, and the recent embrace of populist nationalism in Indonesia.
There is also a phenomenon of folk culture revival in the Indonesian punk scene, which I think of it as a kind of offshoot of this nationalistic turn. One example of this is Punklung, who combines underground style with traditional Sundanese bamboo percussion instrument such as calung and angklung. I believe one of the presenters in this conference is going to discuss this in detail and I am looking forward to it.
The last thing that I would like to discuss in regard to the complexity of the Indonesian punk’s pogo dance with the culture industries is something that I am myself also complicit in, which is the adoption of popular social media and streaming platforms such as Youtube and Spotify in the local and global circulation of Indonesian punk’ productions. This is of course not unique to Indonesia only since these platforms are popular globally. However, it adds another layer of messiness in the adoption of principles like DIY, or anarcho-punk by the Indonesian punks.
Let’s use Youtube for example. This digital platform has grown from amateur video-sharing platform to become one of the world’s most powerful digital platforms covering not only music but also things like make-up tutorials, how-to videos, and other stuff. It is also my go-to platform to get my fix of Indonesian underground scene. On Youtube, I can watch music videos from some of my favorite bands like Turtles Jr., Jeruji, Sendal Jepit, and many more. The platform also enables me to discover newer bands like Joey the Gangster and Saturday Night Karaoke. In a way, Youtube has become one of the principal media for many Indonesian punk groups to participate in the global underground marketplace.
However, Youtube is also a for-profit platform. In fact, Youtube and other popular digital platforms have been categorized by several media scholars as the representative of “platform imperialism,” or “platform capitalism.” Youtube is also not neutral in its technological design. With its algorithmic architecture that creates a particular participation framework that calculates how many times a video is watched/clicked, how many people like/dislike it, how many people share it on another platform, etc., Youtube has encouraged a certain mode of usage over another. And this can create interesting circumstances for Indonesian punk groups, especially those who espouse DIY ethics.
For example, Marjinal’s music video “Luka Kita” (Our Pain) from their official Youtube channel has garnered more than nine hundred thousand views on Youtube, liked by 9.6k people, and disliked by 224, and have 609 comments. What does this mean for the anarcho-punk band? Do they care about this transparent data of those who like and dislike their video? Do they monetize from the views? Do they read the comments? Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. Yet, these algorithmic metrics are the principal logic of Youtube platform, and it is hard not to notice them, or not care about them when we use the platform.
Yet, I also believe that this is a much more complex situation than the discourse of “sell-out,” or simple commercialization. Because there are some Indonesian punk groups who have visible presence on Youtube, but still circulate their music independently.
In addition, those who resist participating on Youtube can still have a “phantom” presence on the platform. For instance, Jakarta anarcho-punk band Bunga Hitam is well-known for their stance against any type of non-DIY media. Yet, you can still feel their presence on Youtube in the form of videos posted by their “fans,” who sometimes also request their audience to like and subscribe to their videos.
This entangled situation happens because digital platforms like Youtube operate within a dual logic of commercialism and community that relies on the existence of network(s). To paraphrase Ulises A. Mejias, while networked platforms are responsible for privatizing and commodifying social relations, they also have made sociality more vibrant and interconnected, making it easier (not harder) to express oneself, exercise one’s rights, organize against injustice, give voice to minorities, democratize knowledge and cultural production, and so on. Thus, in the case of the Indonesian punk’s adoption of digital networked platforms, perhaps it is because their benefits outweigh the costs.
So, to end my presentation, I would like to offer a kind of reflection about this updated pogo dance between the Indonesian punk and the culture industries. First, it surely creates a much messier and entangled landscape of Indonesian punks and their politics. But if you think about it, pogo dancing or moshing is always messy and can be chaotic. There can be antagonism. Even fights sometimes break during pogo dancing. So perhaps this messiness is always expected from punk. Second, while it seems that the Indonesian punk may lose their oppositional and progressive valence considering the religious and nationalistic turn within their scene, as well as their adoption of various digital platforms that privatize and commodify social relations, I am still cautiously optimistic with their persistent potential as resistant alternative community that can disrupt and challenge the contemporary forces of the culture industries. Lastly, perhaps with its ambivalent characteristics as “both resistant and [commodified]” the Indonesian punk scene is not striving to accomplish a utopia as I initially suggested. But it is more for developing a heterotopia, a counter-site “in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.” Thank you.
 Horkheimer, Marx and Theodor W. Adorno. “From Dialectic of Enlightenment,” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1st Edition. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. (Eds.), New York: W W Norton & Company, 2001: 1226
 Wallach, Jeremy, “Living the Punk Lifestyle in Jakarta,” Ethnomusicology 52.1, 2008: 99.
 Clark, Dylan, “The Death and Life of Punk, the Last Subculture,” in The Post-Subcultures Reader, David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl (Eds.), New York: Berg, 2003: 223.
 Haynsworth, Leslie, “‘Alternative’ Music and the Oppositional Potential of Generation X Culture,” in GenXegesis: Essays on “Alternative” Youth (Sub)Culture, John M. Ulrich and Andrea L. Harris, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003: 55.
 My use of the word “products” here follows Stacy Thompson’s materialist theory of punk economics that situates punk’s material productions and social relations within the broader fields of music industry, the commodity form, and contemporary capitalism. See, Thompson, Stacy, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business, New York: SUNY Press, 2004.