You might be surprised to know that Indonesia has one of the largest thriving punk scenes in the world. After spending a few days in Indonesia it doesn’t take long to notice teenagers and young adults wearing band t-shirts, jackets covered with patches and black skinny jeans. At its core, punk is all about the raw energy and passion that comes from resisting the tight grips of generic society, politics and capitalism with a strong DIY focus. For many locals the punk lifestyle is a form of self-expression and rebellion again social norms in an often-conservative society.
Punk rose to its prominence in Indonesia in the 1990’s under the nose of Suharto’s New Order through the mass circulation of cassette tapes of bands such as Green Day, Nirvana and Bad Religion. The government took little notice of the growing DIY punk community at the time seeing it as a harmless distraction for the teenagers. What the New Order didn’t realise was that punk made the youth of Indonesia politically aware. It was a loud collective voice protesting the social and political injustices caused by the government through songs, concerts, art and zines. Activism and mounting pressure by the younger generations of Indonesians finally pushed Suharto to end his authoritarian reign in 1998.
Since then the punk scene has flourished and diversified with bands such as Marjinal and Superman Is Dead. Some fundamentalist would even say that fashion punks who simply dress and pose without understanding or contributing to the culture have commercialized it.
In Australia we often take our freedom of self-expression for granted. More often then not we can say what we want, subscribe to ideologies and dress however we feel without the fear of persecution and ridicule. Unfortunately, in recent years punk culture has come under heavy fire from the Indonesian government. The deputy mayor of Aceh province described punk as “the new social disease”. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia, which falls under strict Sharia law, imposed after the devastating Tsunami that washed through the city of Banda Aceh in 2004.
In 2011 a group of 64 youth were arrested after attending an open-air charity punk concert. Whilst they had not committed any crimes, punk was and is seen as immoral in the eyes of Sharia law. The punks were held captive for ten days of “re-education” being forced to shave their hair, remove their piercing and pray for hours. Yudi one of the arrested punks says the government see the ideology of punk as a threat, often looking for opportunities to persecute and harass individuals such as when poser punks commit crimes and violent acts. He believes the actions of a minority don’t represent the whole community.
It takes courage and guts to be yourself, to stand up for something you believe in and question the system. Despite clashing with authorities punk is a universally resilient sub culture, which will continue to thrive for many years to come. The raw passion in the punk lifestyle and music should inspire us to open our minds and make change by doing.
Munn, Kk. K. 2014, Indonesian punk: PUNK’S NOT DEAD!, Radio National, ABC, viewed 24 March 2016, < http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/360/indonesian-punks/5909858 >.
Larsson, M. 2014, Punk Vs. Sharia, Vice News, viewed 24 March 2016, < http://www.vice.com/video/punk-vs-sharia >.
Dunn, K. 2013, One punk’s travel guide to Indonesia, Razor Cake, Los Angeles, viewed 24 March 2016, < http://www.razorcake.org/columns/one-punks-travel-guide-to-indonesia-a-column-that-originally-ran-in-razorcake-76-now-an-ebook >.
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