By Gisela Swaragita. Photos by Hilman Fathoni, licenced under CC-BY-SA.
The Indonesian noise scene has been getting a lot of international attention lately, with big names such as Bob Ostertag waxing lyrical about the vibrancy and diversity of the scene and Ora Iso, a musician from New York, touring the country in 2015 bringing a bunch of cool photographs back to New York of them cruising the busy streets of Java on motorcycle, dragging bags of equipment to venues. Yogyakarta (Jogja for short) is arguably at the centre of this surge of interest, led by a collective known as Jogja Noise Bombing (JNB for short), a loose group of noise musicians and gig organisers that has had a huge role to play in making Indonesian noise what it is today.
Jogja Noise Bombing did not emerge out of the blue; instead, it’s a continuation of a tradition of experimental music that has been present for two decades in Jogja. Jogja attracts students from all over Indonesia, since the town hosts hundreds of high-quality yet inexpensive academic institutions, as well as affordable food and housing. This large student population makes music and art collaborations amongst young people from various backgrounds possible, and this town has witnessed some of the most bizarre experiments of all.
Noise in Jogja is said to have emerged in the second half of the 90s, when it won the hearts of the art students active back then. Noise was considered as a cool addition to contemporary art installations, a trend initiated by now-established artists such as Jompet Kuswidananto and Venzha Christ. Seek Six Sick introduced the genre to Jogja’s music scene with their noise-drenched guitar sounds in the late 1990s, and the mid-2000s saw a series of Breakcore Labs events, a music platform for breakcore music and experimental audiovisual performances. But it was not until the early 2010s that noise became more than an accompaniment for contemporary art exhibitions. This was when Indra Menus and a group of newer kids, all highly influenced by Seek Six Sick, started to take their gear out onto the streets and perform in public under the banner of Jogja Noise Bombing.
According to Menus, one of the earliest figures in the scene, there were two record labels in Jogja that inspired Jogja Noise Bombing in 2009: Patirasa Records (run by Wednes Mandra of Rabu) and Ear Alert Records (run by Hilman Fathoni). These two labels were home to bands and projects that were too odd for any other record labels. Tired of playing noise sets at punk and metal shows, they wanted to play at shows dedicated to noise music. The cost of putting on shows was prohibitive, however, especially since noise wasn’t popular enough to draw paying crowds. So they decided to take the noise out on the streets and use public locations as their venues.
And so, on a sunny afternoon in early 2010, seven of these kids dragged their equipment out onto the streets and played all across town, hitting up locations such as the front yard of a public live house, a street intersection and a university gym.
The name they chose for the collective reflected the nature of the shows: vandalising public spaces with noise. “It’s in the same logic with graffiti bombing. While graffiti bombing vandalises the space with spray paint, we vandalise the space with noise,” said Menus. Their first “bombing” led to several other bombing shows, and shortly afterwards, a real movement that launched Jogja’s noise scene on its way to international recognition.
The collective has been active up to this day, relentlessly organising events such as exhibitions, workshops, collaboration, discussions, movie screening, picnics, and camps. In 2015, Ace House collective dedicated their space for these activities for one week and called it JNB Week. Jogja Noise bombing has also organised several big noise festivals that featured prominent international noise musicians, making these regular JNB Fests one of the most attractive alternative tourist destinations in Jogja. The most recent festival was held earlier this year, staging three hours full of noise sets by artists from all over Indonesia, Europe and the United States.
May 2016 saw an outdoor noise camp where perfomers played sets in the great outdoors, all while gathered around a campfire. JNB also released two compilations, titled Berisik (“noisy” in Bahasa Indonesia) in 2015 and 2016. They have also been part of prominent music and arts festivals such as RRRec Fest and Festival Kesenian Yogyakarta (Jogja Arts Festival).
Speaking about Jogja Noise Bombing’s appearance at the Jogja Arts Festival, Menus said that “it was funny that we were invited to play in FKY,” The festival was held in Taman Kuliner, an open area with a food court and park, which was the site of a prior noise bombing show that saw the performers get kicked out by security. However only a few months later they ended up back in Taman Kuliner, playing at an established arts festival.
Right now, there are a handful of artists that are considered part of the collective, such as Sodadosa, Menstrual Synthdrone, Sulfur, Bossbattle, Suffer in Vietnam, Anxiety, Evil Jazz Mortus, Palasick, Jurumeya, Asangata, Bangkai Angsa, Pleretian, Control Z, Mencurigation, To Die and Coffee Faith. Some of these projects have also played abroad: both of Indonesia’s representatives in the Asian Meeting Festival in Japan for the past two years have come from Jogja Noise Bombing. Indra Menus (To Die) took part in 2015 and Krishna Widiathama (Sodadosa, Sulfur) followed in his footsteps this year.
At this very moment, the members of Jogja Noise Bombing are most probably busy discussing plans and upcoming shows over WhatsApp. The next Jogja Noise Bombing-organised show actually takes place tomorrow night, featuring South Korean experimental unit Tengger, just one of the many shows that will be organised between now and the end of the year. If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that Jogja Noise Bombing will continue to provide avenues for effect pedal abuse and that ear-shattering fortissimo racket.
You can read Gisela’s follow-up conversation with Indra Menus here.
Gisela Swaragita plays bass and sings for Seahoarse, a dream pop band based in Yogyakarta. She occasionally teaches English at a local university and takes on various odd jobs for a living, from translating in international seminars to puppy-sitting. Her favorite things are cheesy pick up lines and experimental cuisine recipe videos on the internet.