Indo Punks Unite!

Soundtrack for this post: ‘Kuta Rock City‘ by Superman is Dead and ‘Negara Dunia Ke 3‘ by Marjinal.

In December 2011 authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province halted a charity concert called ‘Aceh for the Punk’.  Police apprehended dozens of suspected punks and detained them for just under a fortnight.  They were held, without charge, for ‘re-education purposes’.  Re-education included being forced to bathe and have their mohawks shaved off, and being subjected to religious lectures and mandatory prayers and marching.  There were also reports of beatings.

These events are not isolated.  They are part of an ongoing anti-punk campaign by Aceh’s semi-autonomous government.  Aceh enjoys significant political independence from Jakarta thanks to a 2005 peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the separatist group that spearheaded the decades-long Aceh insurgency, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Formerly a Sultanate, Aceh has long been known for its independent mindedness.  This rebellious nature is matched by a deep religious conservatism (in fact the latter motivated the former).  Even before the 2005 treaty Jakarta had made a number of concessions to Aceh, allowing it to institute local Islamic bylaws.  Today the province has shariah courts, shariah police and local shariah laws that can contradict national laws.

Punks around the world reacted with outrage to news of the crackdown in Aceh.  A YouTube search for ‘Aceh punks embassy’ brings up footage of demonstrations across Indonesia and at Indonesian embassies or consulates in Turkey, the UK and United States.  A Seattle-based punk label instituted a heart-warming mix-tape initiative.

Punk by its very definition is about the rejection of authority and conservative modes of life.  As in many other countries, it has been used in Indonesia to express opposition to prevailing political and societal forces.  Punk and other underground genres like metal became important in Indonesia in the 1990s after then President Soeharto and his New Order regime co-opted dangdut music, Indonesian pop music created and promoted as a deliberate response to the influx of western music from the mid 1960s.

Punk likely has additional currency among Indonesian youth precisely because it provokes extreme reactions such as those in Aceh last month.  It seems punk still has the power to shock in Indonesia, a power it has long since lost in the west.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any Acehnese punk music, so the songs accompanying this post are by bands from Bali and Jakarta.

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1 Comment

  1. That’s so rock’n’roll. I know that this is just my spoiled, suburban upbringing talking, but it’s nice to know there are places where punk still means something. Damn the man! (suggested viewing: No One Knows About Persian Cats) Thanks for posting, Amy!


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