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The young Turks vs the
old guard

Former Peterpan frontman Ariel (second from left) is back with new band Noah.: Former Peterpan frontman Ariel (second from left) is back with new band Noah.
Former Peterpan frontman Ariel (second from left) is back with new band Noah.

2012 will be remembered by music historians of the future as the year when the local music scene had one of its watershed moments.

The year will go down in the country’s music history as a moment when — quoting Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci — the old is dying and the new cannot be born. And here we are not even talking about the age-old division of mainstream versus indie. Even within the independent music scene the gap could not be more apparent.

This year, the independent scene was defined by the competition between the old guard and a new generation of young musicians, some of whom are in their teens, who are trying to chart a new course for the country’s music scene.

Members of the old guard, bands like Seringai, Pure Saturday, Roxx and rumahsakit made comebacks this year, releasing records that their devotees easily hailed as the saviors of rock.

While the technical quality of the bands’ recorded material could surely match their earlier output, stylistically there is little that we can take away from them. Seringai’s Taring (Fang), Pure Saturday’s Grey or Roxx’s Jauh Dari Tuhan (Far from God) are certainly no duds, but they fail to impress. These records have the sound of bands at their most complacent, reworking an old formula and adding bits and pieces as the budget permits.

The same “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule has also been adopted by several bands that many critics consider to be representations of the “extremely” mainstream music scene, the likes of Noah and Nidji.

Noah, the new incarnation of the massively popular pop band Peterpan, and arguably the biggest band in the country, made an impressive return to the scene this year. They peddled the same formula. The band rehashed the old tricks of mixing sappy woe-is-me lyrics with writhing guitar lines and tinkling pianos.

The band’s comeback record “Separuh Aku” (Half of Me) was a massive hit and their sold-out concerts lined the pockets of Musica, which has suffered financially from illegal downloads and a lack of worthy performers beyond Agnes Monica. As for Nidji, they remained consistent; churning out fist-pumping Coldplay-lite that could sell a lot of sodas on national television.

As there is no “alternative scene” to speak of in the mainstream music industry, the breath of fresh air comes from the small circle of independent musicians — sometimes residing outside Jakarta — who run a covert operation. These bands aren’t bothered if they sell their music or not.

And the most amazing thing about these young Turks is that they — without the pressure of having to score big hits or perform on national television — were able to produce some of the best and most original music in 2012.

Take the Palembang, South Sumatra-based collective Semakbelukar, for example. The band made a splash in the local scene after releasing its Drohaka EP earlier this year as a free download through the Yogyakarta-based netlabel Yes No Wave.

This collective, led by vocalist David Hersya, certainly has difficulties fitting in with the Britpop-
influenced independent scene, because they play one of the most uncool genres, Malay-influenced music which relies so much on the simple beats of traditional percussion and the soothing sound of a lone accordion.

But for some inexplicable reason, David Hersya’s irony-free take on traditional East Coast Sumatran music comes off as the most-groundbreaking and original work this year, an anomaly in a field dominated by The Smiths rip-offs. It helps that David has one of the most impressive pipes and can come up with some of the best rhymes in recent memory. Semakbelukar will surely follow in the footsteps of local hero Golden Wing, which rocked the country’s rock scene in the 1970s.

Another surprise this year also came from outside of Jakarta. Bandung has long had the country’s most active scene and this year the city proudly dispatched its best talents in the form of four young men who are barely in their twenties.

Sigmun, the quartet of Haikal Azizi, Nurachman Andika, Mirfak Prabowo and Risyad Tabattala, got their big break when they contributed a song for the closing credits of the blockbuster movie The Raid. Not many people noticed, but those who paid attention would surely agree that their track was a better composition than what Linkin Park MC Mike Shinoda wrote as a score for the Hollywood release of The Raid.

If Semakbelukar shuns irony, Sigmun embraces it shamelessly. After all, the quartet’s biggest inspirations, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have been mined and parodied to death and the only way to bring credibility to their mimicking of the two legends is by copying them with the right amount of ironic glee.

Haikal even sings in the highest register of his voice as if to prove the point that they are goofing off. And coupled with sludgy riffs and the booming sound of its rhythm section, Sigmun delivered the most fun this year. Sigmun knows how to have fun and this band did it best this year.

They do not yet rule the scene, but in five years from now we will see more bands in their mold.

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