“Music in Indonesia is like football in Brazil,” begins Made J, owner of the new home of Balinese punk, metal, rock and blues, Gimme Shelter, in Batu Bolong.
“Everyone can play. When they say they can’t, you hand them a guitar and they can play three or four songs. When they say they can, they play like fucken Van Halen!” he laughs.
His bar, which opened last August, is the latest in a string of venues catering to Indonesia’s giant, world class punk, metal and rock and roll scene. In a country of 260 million people, 18 000 islands, where punk and metal stand alone as the dominant form of youth and music culture, it goes without saying there is abundance of world class talent here. The hardest part is staying on top of it. That’s where Gimme Shelter comes in, though even Made gets caught out occasionally.
“Man, I didn’t know! I literally got told about the gig at (Bali’s other punk venue) Twice Bar on Monday, like, ‘yo, man I’ve got this band coming over can they play?’ I’m like, okay, and that was it. That was the only thing I got!” he laughs, incredulously, of a recent gig featuring the underground gods of Indonesian street punk, Marjinal, which brought over 500 people to his venue causing a bit of a stir inside and outside the venue, earning the ire of the local Banjar.
“Four tables broken, chairs smashed to pieces, one of the toilet doors came of its swing, I was like, ‘shit man,’” he laughs of the gig, which earned him a paltry USD$500 (a little less than a dollar per person) – much of which will be spent on repairs and smoothing over relations with the Banjar.
In a country mired in poverty, running a punk venue was never going to be an exercise in profiteering but, as Made puts it, “At the same time it was a fucken good gig.
“The kids had a good fucken time and one day they those kids are gonna have a job and they’re gonna come buy a beer,” he says.
Along with poverty, Indonesia’s history of dictators, genocide, inequality and political corruption ensures the music often comes with a message.
“Here you’ve got kids and they’ve got fucken nothin’ and when you’ve got nothin and you back someone against the wall what are they gonna do? People get fucken angry, they get sick of that shit,” says Made of the politicised punk rock that features regularly at the venue.
Just as likely, however, are messages that ignore politics in favour of providing positive reinforcement to the youth, in the form of advice for healthy living, spirituality, and the importance of family and friends.
“The music we are into has a message. It’s not about us getting fucked up. It’s about being positive, being straight-edge (no drugs or alcohol), looking after your family and friends, keeping creative and stuff,” explains Denny, whose band Strikes is a regular at Gimme Shelter and Bali’s other two world class punk venues, Twice Bar and House of Rumble, in Kuta.
Originally from Medan, a poverty stricken “ghetto” of two million in North Sumatra, punk hardcore and metal have long served as Denny’s main source of catharsis.
“If you have problems and you have anger inside you, you get anger more and more, and it will eat you, you know?” he says.
Strikes have supported Aussie metal core giants, Parkway Drive, and will open for New York punk veterans, Agnostic Front, at Gimme Shelter in May. They might be covered in tattoos, studs, mohawks and mullets, but Indonesia’s punks are not hear to scare you. They’re here to look after each other in a land that is famously cut throat.
“Through the music, through skate, through surfing, through art, through taking photos, it’s kind of like meditation you know,” says Denny.
“Otherwise you will get crazy. Same like if you don’t walk your dog,” he says.
All photos via Gimme Shelter