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  • Rumaisha Ghina

Heavy Metal in Indonesia: Challenging Societal Norms

(Image courtesy of Radar Solo)

Did you know that Indonesia regularly hosts the largest heavy metal festival in Southeast Asia? This early May, Hammersonic, which has hosted hard rock heavyweights over the years including Megadeth, Slipknot, and the Dead Kennedys, attracted around 38,000 fans. The event, featuring 55 bands, took place in Jakarta. Coincidentally, Indonesia is also the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. 

(Image courtesy of Hammersonic)

Indonesia’s love for the genre dates back to the fight for the country’s independence. Heavy metal fostered the fight to dismantle the Soeharto regime in the 90s. In 1993, Metallica held their first concert in Indonesia, with tickets sold at approximately $6 or Rp. 30,000 at the time. Many of Metallica’s fans were from the middle class, who deemed the ticket price too expensive, causing many to infiltrate the venue at Lebak Bulus Stadium, resulting in infamous riots that included burning cars and buildings. This event marked the beginning of the country's musical history where the metal revolution started. Indonesia’s prominent position in the global metal scene today can be traced back to this particular event, when the nation's youth first truly encountered metal.

Metallica was effectively banned from Indonesia for the next 20 years, but in 2013, they were famously invited back by the then Jakarta governor – and self-declared metalhead – Joko Widodo.

(Image courtesy of Warta Kota)

In the 2000s, heavy metal gained significant momentum as numerous local artists and bands emerged from Indonesia. Among them was Burgerkill, a band whose name is inspired by the fast-food chain Burger King, a place often associated as a ‘hangout’ spot for Indonesia’s upper-middle class.

The formation of metal groups was heavily influenced by the changing conditions in local communities. Originating from Ujungberung, Bandung, Burgerkill witnessed shifts in the landscape, population, and livelihoods, along with rising unemployment among young people. These changes found their way into their music, allowing them to express their despair, anguish, fears, and criticisms. Metal music provided a powerful outlet for their deepest emotions. Despite its negative stigma for being loud, chaotic, and seemingly destructive, metal created a strong bond among Burgerkill and other Ujungberung bands. Facing rejection and discrimination from music studios, society, and the mainstream music industry, they were driven to rebel against their circumstances.

Currently, new faces have emerged continuing Indonesia’s legacy in the heavy metal genre. Voice of Baceprot (meaning noisy in Sundanese) has taken the international stage by storm. Growing up in the rural town of Singajaya in Indonesia’s West Java province, members Marsya and Siti became friends in elementary school. They met their third member, Widi, in junior high school, where they frequently found themselves in the school counselor's office for their rebellious behavior. They befriended their counselor, Abah Ersa, and were introduced to heavy metal through his PC. Ersa noticed that the girls were not rebellious like other teenagers who might use drugs or cause trouble. Instead, they often voiced their opinions against what they perceived as unfair in school. In 2014, Ersa encouraged the girls to channel their emotions through music. He introduced Marsya to the guitar, Widi to the bass, and created a makeshift drum set for Siti using discarded parts from the school’s marching band.

(Image courtesy of Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The band has had its fair share of public criticism. In their predominantly conservative Muslim town, some people reacted negatively when they ventured into heavy metal. Despite this, they have garnered international attention for challenging gender and religious norms and have toured in Europe and the US. Female-fronted acts are rare in the male-dominated world of metal and hardcore, and it’s even more uncommon in Indonesia to see devout Muslim women in hijabs moshing and rocking to this particular genre. Earlier this week, the band arrived in Britain for their highest-profile gig to date, joining artists like Dua Lipa, Coldplay, and SZA to perform at the 2024 Glastonbury Festival, making them the first Indonesian band to ever play at this iconic event.


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