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A Look into Indonesia's Insane Noise Scene

We spoke with the filmmakers who documented the Indonesian noise scene, where shows often happen in the street.

Reed Dunlea

Terror:Incognita by Adythia Utama

The fourth most populous country in the world, comprised of thousands of volcanic islands between Southeast Asia and Australia, is home to a committed and scrappy noise scene. In Bising: Noise & Experimental Music Scene in Indonesia, three Indonesian filmmakers (who also make noise music) bring us around their country to document a community marked by harsh noise and freeform experimentation.

According to the filmmakers, the scene has grown from a handful of people to the dedicated movement that it is today. And while finding welcoming venues and a wide audience may be a challenge (like it can be for noise in most of the world), the filmmakers also point out that at least there is not the same type of repression that Vice documented against certain segments of the Indonesian punk scene.

“The fact that there’s a growing noise or avant-garde scene in Indonesia is amazing and inspiring,” says Jason Kudo, one half of the Brooklyn experimental group Ora Iso, who recently toured Indonesia. Ora Iso mostly hung with the Jogja Noise Bombers, who throw renegade noise shows in unlikely settings (like the street) and organize an annual festival. “If it wasn’t for them I’m not sure what I would have done over there. They literally took care of me almost every day I was in Jogja. They’re some of the most generous and genuine people I’ve ever met.”

In the United States, as Kudo points out, musicians and fans can often take for granted the access to creative spaces and actual, physical bodies in attendance at shows. In a country like Indonesia, the effort involved in maintaining subcultures can manifest as much more like a way of life than a hobby. We spoke with Bising co-director Riar Rizaldi about the evolution of the Indonesian noise scene, the importance of documentation, and using noise to deal with their frustrations with Indonesian society.

The filmmakers are organizing screenings around the world. You can watch the trailer here, and check their Facebook page for upcoming international screening locations and dates.

What is your name, how old are you, where are you from, and what was your role in the film?
Riar: Hi my name is Riar Rizaldi, I’m 24 years old and originally from Bandung, Indonesia. I am co-director of this film.

What is life in Indonesia like? How does noise relate to the everyday?
Well, how to answer this question depends on the city you live in. I live in Jakarta and Bandung and I could say: chaotic. That is my personal opinion. Living in here is sometimes stressful. You have to deal with corruption, heavy traffic everyday, religious intolerance, low incomes, and a majority that lack in art appreciation. But then, if you live in Jogja maybe the answer could be different. My impression with Jogja is more relaxed. I guess for most people who have an interest in noise and living here, noise is a platform for them to express their rage through something more chaotic than their everyday routine.

Why did you decide to make Bising (which translates to “noisy”)?

The idea came from our producer Danif Pradana. He and Adythia Utama were making a fake trailer of an Indonesian noise documentary. They put the trailer online and it became mini sensation around the experimental scene in Indonesia, so they started to develop the idea of making full-length documentary. Adythia asked me to help with the idea and concept. After that, Danif (producer), Adythia (director), and I started to shoot the film. The three of us are filmmakers and also quite active in the noise/experimental scene. We thought that the Indonesia noise scene is underrated, even locally.

Sodadosa by Jaddah Bakar

What projects do you and the other filmmakers do?

I’ve been performing with analog video synchronizers and DIY homemade electronic devices. I was also in duo/group Mati Gabah Jasus, we mixed trumpet improvisation and noise. Adythia has been actively performing under the moniker Individual Distortion since 2005, he mashes harsh noise with grind and breakcore. Danif plays on this noisy-drone project called Kenshiro. He has had a harsh noise project Kalimayat since 2004 or 2005 as well.

How did you become interested and involved in this scene?
This Japanese band called Incapacitants was the reason why I got interested in noise. I saw their live show on the internet in 2006, and it got me confused, like, “What kind of music is this? Why this guy shouting into a microphone and the other guy busy playing with pedal effects? This is so extreme!” As a teenager, finding something that extreme is always exciting. Then I started to look up other artists, made my own project, met new people who have an interest in noise and experimental music, and started organizing shows and events specializing in experimental music.

Where did the noise scene that you document here start?

There’s this rumor that the noise scene in Indonesia started in the 90’s with people blasting Merzbow records and playing in the cemetery or something like that, but we never had any proof. No recordings, no videos. So we thought that we had to record the scene, to give the artists a place to speak about their approach to noise music. We have to make something that proves there is an Indonesia noise scene.

Who are the most important acts in the Indonesian noise scene?
I think projects that came from 2004-2005 like Kalimayat (from Jakarta), Sodadosa (from Jogja), Bertanduk! (from Jakarta), and Aneka Digital Safari (from Bandung) are important acts that influenced the local scene today. There were some people who made noise before them but it’s more close to contemporary art territory rather than a music scene, except these projects called Worldhate and Mournphagy in the late 90s. To Die from Jogja is influential as well, they were a grindcore/punk band before the headmaster behind it, Indra Menus, changed the direction of the band into a more freeform group. I think Netlabel has a big and important role in the Indonesia noise scene. Yes No Wave Music is the most important Netlabel that helped building the noise scene for so many years.

How many people are involved?
When I got involved in the scene perhaps no more than ten people were active. I mean, some people had their projects, released their DIY CD-r demos, had three or four shows, and disappeared. Only a handful of people were active. The condition is changing though, since more and more people are getting involved and starting to build their city’s scenes. More foreign artists are starting to tour Indonesia as well. Now almost every weekend you can find a gig that specializes in experimental and noise music.

What cities have noise? Is there a lot of overlap between different cities?
When we began the documentary, the cities that actively held noise gigs were Jogja, Bandung, and Jakarta. Noise artists from Jakarta and Bandung often managed to travel to Jogja to perform, and vice versa. In 2011-2012 lots of people from other cities began making new noise projects. It feels like they started to notice noise and tried to build their own projects. Interestingly enough, they used to be in the hardcore punk and metal scenes. I remember one day I saw lots of pictures of people punching pedal effects on my Facebook timeline. Now, you can find a noise gig in Borneo.

Can you tell me more about the relation between the noise scene and the punk scene?
Most people who involved in the scene are either a hardcore punk veteran or art school graduate. So the punk scene is close with the noise scene. Well anyway, I think in Indonesia any scene from any subgenre is always close to each other. Sharing a stage is a common thing here between a punk band and noise performer. Noise artists sometimes perform at DIY punk gigs, and vice versa.

Are there any noise artists who are incorporating more traditional Indonesian music?
Not in the noise scene per se as far as I know. But there are people from the free improvisation and experimental scene using traditional elements as part of their music. One that crosses my mind is Senyawa from Jogja, which is really good and recommended.

Is it difficult to get gear in Indonesia?
I guess to get just stompboxes and other standard gear is not really hard to get here. In Bandung there is STORN System that produces synthesizers and other stuff that’s quite affordable for noise artists. DIY homemade instrument building is getting big. People build their own noise synths. Synth-building culture in Indonesia is worth checking out, since the material to build synths is quite limited. Check out this Indonesian DIY synth archive blog. It’s run by Lintang Radittya, a genius synth builder from Jogja who runs his own business under the name Kenalirangkai Pakai. He has supplied many noise artists with killer synthesizers.

Jogja Noise Bombers by Denan Bagus
Tell me about Jogja Noise Bombing and playing in the street.
Jogja Noise Bombing is a crew of mavericks. Essentially they are a group of guys who think that noise music can be presented anywhere and anytime. They help touring noise musicians play awesome gigs in the street, in restaurants, in bars, in galleries, everywhere. They have this event Jogja Noise Bombing Week, it’s an event where they organized a whole week to introduce their activity to people. They also organized Jogja Noise Bombing Fest. It is a regular two day festival of noise, and located in a weird place. Half of the performers are foreign noise artists. They had one of the Jogja Noise Bombing Fests in a local fried chicken restaurant! Besides those, they also hold workshops from basic synth making to pure data sequencing. I think they are quite influential right now. I’ve seen similar approaches in other cities, like Surabaya. They have an event named Melawan Kebisingan Kota (literally translated to Against City Noise). Some people on Borneo island are starting to make their own Bombing version as well.

Does Indonesian noise have connections with foreign scenes?
Yeah, we have had a couple foreign noise artists coming in recent years. Recently local artist started to go out and tour abroad. Also our scene is quite close with neighboring scenes in Singapore and Malaysia.

Is Indonesian noise political?
I wish it was! I don’t know, there is this tendency in Indonesia of making noise just for the sake of loudness and aggressiveness. Some people mix spoken word performance mostly based on left wing literature with noise but that’s it. However, there is this project Liwoth, I believe they are disbanded now. They parody Islamic culture, which I think is quite ballsy since blasphemy is forbidden by local law in Indonesia. They were chanting ‘Allahuakbar’ (God is great) and comically using hijabs and mocking Islamic salat prayer with disturbing noise in the background. That was really subversive.

Argot by Remon Red

Has there been any backlash from police or authorities against noise?
So far I don’t think there has been a backlash. Quite often in Bandung, it’s not the police or authorities that are irritated by the scene, but the neighborhood. Sometimes the gig could get stopped by the neighborhood because it’s just too loud.

Are there any conflicts between Indonesian culture or religion and noise?
Like with the police or authorities, we don’t have any trouble or conflict with religion or culture. Basically the scene is filled with people that might not really care about religion at all. Well, some people might. And sometimes the more they’re into religion, the more they pull themselves from the scene. Besides the Islam majority, Indonesia is also well known for its superstitious and mysticism beliefs. There was this event that happened in 2010 when French noise artist DJ Urine was touring here in Indonesia. We organized one gig in Bandung, and DJ Urine was interested in collaborating with local traditional musician Sundawani. At that gig we also invited this crazy insane noisy performance group AKU and a horror-punk unit, Kelelawar Malam, who always make fun of superstition. AKU use blood and gore and stuff in their performance, and Kelelawar Malam brought some kind of black magic ritual to their set. And all of sudden this group of traditional musicians got mad at us and said that we invited all the bad spirits to come to this gig. Three of my friends noticed that some instruments all of a sudden were making sound by themselves and the stage was shaking. Although I don’t believe in superstition, this local traditional musician seemed really mad at us. So we had to finish the gig as fast as we could. That was insane!

Bising's directors Riar Rizaldi & Adythia Utama

How did you make this film? How long did it take? What was the process like?
It took four and half years to make. We traveled to other cities (from Jogja to Tokyo) interviewing people, collecting footage and researching for the first two years. Most of us have day jobs. Adythia was working with this Japanese company doing documentation for this idol group from Indonesia and I had to continue my study abroad, so for the next two years this film sat inside our hard drives without anyone touching it. In the beginning of 2013, we started to edit the film. We finished the film in 2014. We had a premiere screening in Hong Kong, and then the film got screened at Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival in Switzerland. The film is currently being screened all over the globe. So far we already screened the film in 12 countries in Asia and Europe. We are seeking distributors who are keen to release the film on DVD, so we can make another film. We are now in pre-production of a new documentary about Indonesian authentic dance music called Funkot and its relation with the Japanese dance music scene, where Funkot has suddenly become a thing. I hope we could finish the film next year, so after we inform the world that there is a noise scene in Indonesia, we can start telling people that there is this MDMA-driven, heavy bass, super chaotic fast dance music from Indonesia.

What are your hopes and goals for Bising?
We hope that through our film, the noise scene in Indonesia gets recognition in the international scene. We want people to know that there is a noise scene in Indonesia.

"Apa kabar?" is how Reed Dunlea says hello in Indonesian.