Indonesian music culture from 1997-2001


Indonesian music Jeremy Wallach

Musician, anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, and assistant professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, Jeremy Wallach has delved into Indonesian music culture with new book, “Modern Noise, Fluid Genres: Popular Music in Indonesia 1997-2001” which he wrote in Bahasa Indonesia.

Soon after Wallach started doing fieldwork for his book, the country started to undergo a dramatic political transformation in 1998. This timely coincidence allowed him to witness a direct relationship between the underground music and the growing opposition movement that sought to challenge Soeharto's repressive regime.
Wallach interviewed Indonesian music communities - from punk to metal and dangdut - that took over the airwaves of the country from the era of the New Order transition towards the Reformation Order to document this period.
His documentation stated back in 1997 when he relocated to the Southeast Asian country to study Indonesian pop culture. Although he was first deterred by Indonesian artists' unwillingness to speak about politics, the political unrest that followed that year sparked by the resignation of president Soeharto enabled him to meet with prominent figures in the Indonesian pop culture and political scene.
During that time, Jeremy was exposed to dangdut music in its optimistic phase. He also found himself in the midst of music movements organised by students and was exposed to youngsters starting their own punk and metal craze.
The book has carefully documented that era with thorough research and in-depth insight that goes beyond the pop music scene and also digs into underground music. It also explores what happens to local music when musicians and audiences are exposed to foreign cultural influences from far and wide. Wallach dives into this question against the backdrop of the evolving world of Indonesian music after the fall of the repressive Soeharto regime, and the chaotic transition to democracy.
Wallach visited Indonesia to promote the Indonesian version of his book “Modern Noise” by having a discussion at the American cultural centre. There he told the Jakarta Post about the expansion of metal music is a global phenomenon that has brought metal music aficionados closer, turning them into a global community in an increasingly interconnected world. He said that “it's certainly a phenomenon that can't be ignored and has led to a number of significant developments. First of all, it has led to the underground scene of local communities that are connected through zines, through internet sites, through recordings being traded back and forth across national boundaries that's connected through the global networks of scenes bu also has a strong local identity and a strong regional identity. So there is a sort of global social network that this is part of. And this scene also has a strong local identity.”
When asked if he thinks metal or underground music contributed to bringing down the New Order regime, Wallach said, “The contributions, I think, are hard to quantify. But we know certain things. We know that the underground scene had set up a social infrastructure. It helped set up social networks to people that are important for maintaining communities where activism could be supported. People in campuses, we know that through zines, through the circulation of underground artifacts, various radical lefties ideologies and theories of resistance of political opposition circulation through networks brought by young people. We know that certain opposition of consciousness was fostered by angry, resisting music. We know that a lot of heavy metal is very political despite what people think. Bands like Sepultura, Talga, Testament, Rage Against the Machine or System of a Down; their music was very political. It was about political systems and people knew this, and were influenced by it. Is there a direct connection? Probably you'll never find one, but there was definitely an overlap between the heavy metal community and the activist community. They moved in the same circles. So there was a connection.”
Through his thorough research and documentation of Indonesian music scene of that period, Wallach takes the reader on a joy ride across recording studios, music stores, concert venues, university campuses, video shoots, and urban neighbourhoods. By combining local ground-level ethnographic research with insights drawn from contemporary cultural theory, Wallach proves that exposure to globally circulating music and technologies has neither extinguished nor homogenised local music-making in Indonesia. If anything, according to Wallach, it has endowed young Indonesians with creative possibilities to explore their identity in a multicultural nation undergoing earth-shaking transformations in an exponentially interconnected world.
Through his documentation and studies, he concludes that the diversion nationalism of Indonesian popular music serves as an alternative to the religious, ethnic, regional, and class-based extremism that have been a menace to unity and democracy in Indonesia.


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