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Independent music scene struggles to keep beat alive amid pandemic

Gisela Swaragita
Gisela Swaragita

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, April 1, 2020  /  05:42 pm
Independent music scene struggles to keep beat alive amid pandemic

Rully Shabara performs with Senyawa, his project with instrument builder Wukir Suryadi. Independent musicians have been hit hard by the cancellation of tour dates because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Facebook/Senyawa Musik/File)

Vocalist Rully Shabara Herman hasn't stepped outside his home and hasn’t met any of his friends in more than two weeks.

“I have isolated myself at home since early March, after I came home from a show in Bandung [West Java]. It was then that I knew this crisis could be serious,” he told The Jakarta Post on Monday.

The first half of 2020 should have been a busy period for Rully, who was scheduled to tour Europe from March to May with his three projects: experimental duo Senyawa, rock band Zoo and tribal trance performance troupe Setabuhan.

One by one, the festivals he was to appear at were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After thorough consideration, Rully canceled all his remaining bookings and concealed himself at his home in Sleman, Yogyakarta.

Touring the world and having several projects at a time is in Rully’s nature. In the last decade, Rully has toured Europe, North America, Brazil, Australia and East Asia with his projects. 

Even when he has not been on tour, he travels around Yogyakarta every day to meet friends and colleagues and to discuss his projects.

“I am used to being busy all the time, going here and there. Now I have to stay inside and combat the boredom,” Rully said.

To kill time, he now reads books, watches films and writes short stories. On Monday, he launched a campaign in which he offered to draw for people who promised to give one day’s worth of meals to their neighbors and friends who are in need because of the crisis. Rully can create up to seven drawings a day and considers it an eight-hour work day.

“Many times, we think about big, dramatic gestures to help people while those who are closest to us may not have food,” he said. 

Many independent musicians in Indonesia found themselves staying at home as more and more shows were canceled.

Pop rock trio Grrrl Gang had to cancel their anticipated journey to the United States to play at the prestigious South by Southwest festival (SXSW), which was initially slated for March 13 to 22.

“We have prepared everything: passports, visas and the hotels. Then just a few days before we were supposed to depart, SXSW announced [the festival] was canceled,” Daffa Andika of Kolibri Rekords, Grrrl Gang’s label, told the Post on Monday.

Read also: [UPDATED] List of all postponed concerts in Indonesia so far over COVID-19

At home, Grrrl Gang had to cancel at least four shows, while other Kolibri bands were forced to cancel their upcoming gigs. 

“Bedchamber canceled three shows, Circarama two shows and Flowr Pit also canceled some shows. All concerts for several months ahead have been canceled,” Daffa said.

The label also had to cancel its routine events. Kolibri’s Kolibar project, a pop-up cocktail bar at music events, was also halted.

“In April, we were supposed to host Juicy Festival. We announced the lineup and sold tickets, but as the situation worsened, we had to cancel it,” Daffa said.

To cope with the situation and to stay busy, Kolibri initiated a weekly release named City Rockdown, a wordplay on city lockdown.

“Every week, for four weeks, we will release songs recorded by our artists and Kolibri friends as an EP. The release will be available for free on Bandcamp," Daffa said. "Later, we will pick eight songs from the four EPs and make a compilation album. The album will be sold as CDs and the revenue will be donated to provide hazmat suits for paramedics."

Daffa said that although the pandemic had impacted the independent music scene, those under the Kolibri label were not struggling financially, as they did not depend on their bands to make money.

“They either have day jobs or are still at school,” he said.

The situation is different, however, for stage and sound system crew, who get paid per project.

Adi "Gufi" Adriandi, one of the most respected music managers in Yogyakarta, confirmed that music industry workers were now surviving on a daily basis with their savings.

“We earn our living through ngolor kabel at stages,” he told the Post on Monday. The phrase can be translated as "untangling cables", which Gufi uses to explain that he manages performing musicians. 

This year, Gufi was supposed to tour the US with Grrrl Gang and manage a farewell show for songstress-pianist Frau before she departed to continue her studies in Berlin in June.

Wendi Putranto, manager of metal band Seringai and program director of creative space complex M Bloc in South Jakarta, said his life had been disrupted by the pandemic.

“M Bloc is a public space. Every day, thousands of people flocked there,” he said.

The 6,500 square meter complex in Blok M, South Jakarta, was built in the 1950s as a housing complex for employees of state-owned currency printing company Peruri. The complex was abandoned in 2005 before being repurposed.

M Bloc opened in 2019 as a trendy venue with 17 tenants from the culinary, music, comic book, fashion and beauty sectors. It also houses a concert space and a mini amphitheater where concerts and discussions often take place.

Events at M Bloc have been canceled since March 16 and tenants closed their shops on March 23 to avoid attracting large crowds.

“In total, from early March to the end of April, 15 events have been canceled or postponed at M Bloc. They include music concerts, festivals, theater shows, exhibitions and various creative community activities,” Wendi said.

To stay busy, M Bloc has gone online with the digital event Pekan #KreatifDiSaatSulit (Creative in Times of Difficulties Week), which will be held until April 6.


#KreatifdiSaatSulit, sebuah pesan optimisme yang kami sebarluaskan kepada teman-teman di saat-saat penuh tantangan seperti sekarang ini. Ibarat sebuah api kecil dalam kegelapan, api ini harus terus dijaga agar menyala dan disebarkan untuk menghidupi lilin-lilin lainnya. Jangan sampai ketidakpastian akan hari esok jadi batasan tak terlihat yang membuat kita ragu dan memilih diam saja. Dalam sepekan ke depan, #mblocspace akan berkolaborasi dengan para kreator, seniman, wirausahawan, serta pelaku kreatif lainnya melalui talkshow dan konser musik yang bisa kalian saksikan cukup #dirumahaja. Dari setiap obrolan, diskusi, dan penampilan musik ini sekiranya akan memberikan wawasan, inspirasi serta hiburan bagi teman-teman. Melalui acara ini pula, kami sekaligus mengadakan penggalangan dana melalui untuk membantu menyediakan masker dan APD bagi tim medis yang bekerja di garda terdepan pemberantasan wabah Covid-19. Selain itu kami juga tengah mempersiapkan bantuan langsung bagi para pekerja harian di bidang musik seperti kru band, kru panggung, kru acara yang mengalami berbagai pembatalan acara belakangan ini. Diharapkan bantuan ini nanti dapat digunakan untuk membeli kebutuhan pokok sehari-hari mereka. Mari kita tetap kreatif, bergerak membantu sesama, memperkuat solidaritas dan terus bertumbuh menembus batas!

A post shared by M Bloc Space (@mblocspace) on

Seringai has also switched to the digital lane to stay engaged with the band's fanbase, the Serigala Militia.

“We record podcasts, hold workshops on new singles, edit vlogs, post daily content and do other programs that involve the Serigala Militia,” Wendi said.

According to Wendi, fans can help musicians in this trying time by buying merchandise and streaming their music on streaming services. 

“Also, if they hold a live streaming concert that allows donations, do contribute,” Wendi said.

Read also: Dipha Barus remixes Hindia’s 'Secukupnya'

Enjoying your favorite musicians' digital content is the easiest way to help them in this grim period, said Ario Tamat, founder of creative platform KaryaKarsa.

“As there are no events, it is hard [for musicians] to earn money. This applies to both famous and underrated musicians,” he said.

Ario also pointed out that other industries that surrounded the music scene had been impacted.

“Promoters, event organizers, crews, lighting and sound system providers, ticket sellers, food and beverage vendors will be impacted, as well as the merchandise industry, as sales at events and concerts are usually high,” he said.

To help the creative industry, fans are urged to contribute by paying for content on digital platforms.

“Consumers should be willing to spend money to watch online shows, because the entertainment industry can only survive with contributions from the audience,” he said.

Ario said that KaryaKarsa could help creators market their creations through its website

“Musicians need alternate sources of income besides live performances and brand endorsements,” he said. 

KaryaKarsa hosts more than 1,500 creators and has 15,000 paying users. The website also hosts marketers, podcasts, comic artists, YouTubers and education motivators in addition to musicians.

“Users pay KaryaKarsa and we give the money to the creators every month, just like a salary,” he said. (wng)

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