A Short Conversation with Jogja Noise Bombing’s Indra Menus

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By Gisela Swaragita. Photo by John Yingling.

One of the most remarkable things about Jogja Noise Bombing (JNB) is the fact that the collective’s activities and shows have been getting a lot of international attention lately. When asked whether the collective actively looked for international recognition, Indra Menus (To Die) claims that it was completely unintentional. Menus, who’s one of the stalwarts of Jogja Noise Bombing and the Indonesian noise scene in general, claims that noise bombing started as a way to have a good time with a bunch of friends.

What’s more, none of the members are actual true-blue noise fans. “The members come from various musical backgrounds. Most of us play in or are fans of other music genres; we have grunge fans, metalheads, hardcore punk kids, even we have wota boys (idol group fans) among us,” said Menus. He explained that JNB was initiated as a liquid community open for anyone who is interested with noise, both noise artists and fans. “But things are different if JNB is to send a representative for a festival. In that case, we’re quite selective  when electing an artist among us to represent the collective.”

Most of the people involved with Jogja Noise Bombing are also members of other collectives, mainly YK Booking (a collective that organizes gigs for touring bands in Jogja). Sometimes this leads to confusion about whether an event is organized under the banner of YK Booking or JNB. However, JNB surprisingly tends to get more luck with getting venues for shows, despite the noisy nature of the music.

Menus believes that this is tightly related with the gap between the South and North music scene in Jogja. “The South music scene is identical with the art students, while the North is identical with students of other disciplines. I feel like the South scenesters assume that that the music and bands that come from the North are identical with shallow fun times, thus they lack meaning, and often considered as the black-sheep of (pure) art. While in the south, the venues and art galleries are more open to music that are closely related with experiments because it is (considered) more value-laden.” Contemporary art galleries in Jogja, like KKF, Ace House, and iCan are very welcoming of JNB. It’s not just for noise shows, either;  opening an art exhibition with a noise set is an old tradition in Southern Jogja. YK Booking, on the other hand, which deals with “art-less” and “meaningless” bands, faces more challenges when trying to secure venues for gigs.

When they’re not busy performing, Menus and the JNB crew spend time looking for good spots to noise bomb. They will split tasks among members; some of them are tasked with finding  a spot with reliable electricity source, while some of them will befriend local tough guys to make sure that there will be no thugs threatening their security during their set. The weirdest bombing venue was a fried chicken restaurant, where they performed noise sets while the staff were frying chicken.  Menus says that his life goal “is to bomb a noise set in my ex-girlfriend’s wedding,” and given the weird places they’ve performed, who knows?

But why would the international world pay attention to such childish fun times? Menus said that many foreign noise artists touring Indonesia are surprised that Indonesian noise artists can still play noise with poor infrastructure. In Europe, US, and Japan noise artists enjoy proper venues, beneficial record labels, prestigious media, and reliable tour networking. “The much better infrastructure actually hurts them in some way, because they don’t have to push boundaries anymore. They’re stuck in a comfort zone, and they cannot create anything new,” opined Menus. Foreign noise musicians really like “the way that JNB hit the streets with DIY gear.” Menus is also aware that exoticism plays a big role in putting JNB into the international spotlight: “I sense that many foreigners still see Indonesia as a primitive country, and it adds to the surprise when they see powerful synths made by the humble Kenali Rangkai Pakai.”

Having foreign artists in their gig line up also makes it easier when they want to organize a gig. Venues like it when they have foreign artists playing, making it easier to book venues. However, having foreign noise artists influences the nature of the gigs. “It is almost impossible to have foreign noise artists in a street bombing session. In their home countries, they usually do a set for one to two hours. They also tend to do a slow, thorough preparation for their set. On Indonesian streets though we have to be fast and careful, otherwise we might just get chased away by the neighbourhood residents’ dogs. We have to play fast as the flash, and leave. Thus, it is more convenient for everyone if such artists play in indoor gigs so that they can do as much preparation as they want.”

Despite all the international attention that Jogja (and JNB) has been getting, Menus is still a pretty relaxed person, at the end of the day. When asked what he likes to do in his spare time, all he says is that he “would just daydream all day, listening to Portishead.” Which is also a pretty fun time, all things considered.

You can read Gisela’s brief history of Jogja Noise Bombing here.

James RiversGisela 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.