Rock music is embraced by legions of fans all over the planet. This enthusiasm is certainly shared by young devotees in Indonesia. Until the band disbanded in 2011, Dewa produced some of Indonesian rock music's most enduring music.
Formed in Surabaya in East Java in 1986, Dewa were to enjoy a career that lasted a quarter of a century, eventually disbanding in 2011. During that time they underwent a number of line-up changes, evidence of instability and sometimes volatile relationships within the band. When they did get down to crafting their trademark rock anthems, they produced many memorable albums. This is perhaps testimony to the fact that artists don't always have to get on with those closest to them in order to produce great art.
Dewa set off on the road to legendary rock status from fairly inauspicious beginnings. The first lineup of the band was put together in 1986. At that time, its membership consisted of four friends, who were also students at their local junior high school, SMPN6. Of course, one of the first considerations when setting up a new band its name. The quarter arrived at Dewa because it was an acronym of the founding members' names: Dhani (lead vocalist and keyboard player), Erwin Prasetya (bassist), Wawan Juniarso (drummer) and Andra (lead guitarist). A lot of the classic names for rock bands have double meanings, and Dewa was no exception. Dewa is also a traditional Indonesian word for a deity.
Initially, Dewa rehearsed in Wawan's dormitory at the Airlangga University. The band suffered the first of its many personnel shifts when Wawan departed in 1988. At the same time, the remaining members decided to change the band name – from Dewa to Down Beat. Under this moniker they enjoyed reasonable success in East Java, gaining an excellent reputation amongst rock music fans for their energetic performances. Wawan returned to the fold, and the band resorted to Dewa – this time with an added number to reflect their average ages, Dewa 19.
Their debut album, Dewa 19, was released in 1992. This coincided with a period when there was a great resurgence in interest in rock music across the world. One of the primary drivers for this was the arrival of American ‘grunge' music to international airwaves, with its most obvious exponents Kurt Cobain's Nirvana, from Seattle; along with bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden. Dewa 19 was a phenomenal success for the young Indonesians, receiving awards in the Best Newcomer and Most Popular Album of 1993 in the influential BASF awards.
Wawn left again during the recording of the follow-up album, Format Masa Depan, which was eventually released in 1994. A year later, their album Terbaik-Terbaik achieved sales of over half a million units. There were changes in drumming personnel, before their next album, Pandawa Lima, was released in 1997. The remainder of the 1990's was perhaps best forgotten by the members of the Dewa, as they battled with frequent discord within the band, exacerbated by alleged issues with drug abuse by certain individuals.
However, the turn of the century was to prove the band's breakthrough moment. In 2000 they released their fifth album, Bintang Lima, dropping the ‘19' from the band title. A massive commercial success, this album went on to sell over 1.7 million copies in Indonesia. This was the highest-selling album in the band's long career. The next album, Cintailah Cinta, was released to similar acclaim; however it was controversial due to copyright issues.
Unfortunately, Dewa spent the remainder of the decade attempting to live up to the reputations of these two albums. Plagued by line-up changes and unable to capitalize on their success, subsequent albums fared less well with Indonesia's fickle young rock fans. However it is worth keeping an eye on anyone who claims to have been a member of the band at some point, because many of the ‘post-disbanded' solo projects are extremely interesting indeed!