Padi - taking Indonesia by storm

Padi - taking Indonesia by storm

Rice forms the staple diet of millions of Asians; in fact it is enjoyed right across the planet. But this is why one particular Indonesian alternative rock band have dreamt up such a simple but appropriate name for themselves: Padi.

Padi is Indonesian for rice. You might not immediately see the connection between the foodstuff and a group of young men renowned for playing loud guitar music. But the philosophy behind it is actually very straightforward. Everyone enjoys rice, from peasants and children, to bankers and senior record executives. So, all you have to do is substitute rice for rock band, and you get a band that is universally appealing. Simple, but effective, just like all the best rock n' roll names.

Padi are deliberately understated. Not for them the bombastic but extremely tired rock n' roll clichés. You won't find individual band members throwing television sets out of hotel windows, or driving cars into swimming pools. They prefer to make their passionate music do the talking.

Their origins go back to 1997, and Airlangga University in Surabaya, East Java. Five students got together to jam some tunes: Fadly on lead vocals, Ari on rhythm guitar, Piyu on lead guitar and backing vocals, Yoyo on drums and Rindra on bass.

Their debut album, Lain Dunia (Other World) was released by Sony Music Indonesia in 1999. Containing ten tracks, it sold an impressive 800,000 copies. Their second offering, Sesuata yang Tertunda (Something Delayed) was released in 2001. This flew off the shelves; in fact, it was one of Indonesia's highest-grossing records ever, notching up 1.8 million sales.

Padi are well-respected by critics, as well as adored by audiences. Rolling Stone Indonesia listed two of their albums on their chart of ‘150 Greatest Indonesian Albums of All Time': Sesuata yang Tertunda and their third studio album, Save My Soul. Additionally, two of their songs were included in the ‘150 Greatest Indonesian Songs of All Time' listing: Mahadewi and Sobat (both tracks actually appear on their debut album, Lain Dunia).

Part of the phenomenal success story of Padi can undoubtedly be put down to their humble origins. Never under any allusions about the hard work required forging a career as rock musicians, they have grafted away, enduring frustrating dead-ends and knock-back while they were hawking their original demos. Rather than simply shove the discs inside an envelope and sending them off in the post, Padi thought of the origins of their name. Record executives liked rice, so why not offer them a sample delivered straight to their offices? So the musicians in Padi set off on a campaign to hand-deliver demos to anyone who would listen. All that paid off when they were eventually rewarded a contract with Sony Music Indonesia.

Reading about their meteoric rise is one thing. Actually hearing them perform is something else. YouTube has plenty clips to whet the appetites of rock fans who don't always find themselves in the vicinity of the South China Sea when it comes to catching their favourite band. They can do hard rock; but like all the great bands, from The Beatles and Rolling Stones to Nirvana or Coldplay, they can also take the tempo down a notch. Their softer ballads really showcase Fadly's heartfelt range, and Piyu's superb fretboard skills.

Progressive Indonesian music

Progressive Indonesian music

One of the most ubiquitous and instantly-recognizable types of indigenous sounds anywhere in world music is Indonesia's gamelan. The term specifically refers to a set of instruments, rather than the musicians who are playing them. These instruments typically include xylophones, metallophones, drums known as kendang, gongs, fluted made from bamboo, and string instruments.

Originating in Java and Bali, gamelan has been hugely influential, not just in the Far East, but across the globe. Gamelan has found its way into music as varied as American alternative rock legends Sonic Youth, and other experimental Western musicians such as The Residents and Robert Fripp (of King Crimson fame).

What makes gamelan so popular with artists seeking to explore different musical agendas is the way it can fuse separate genres. Throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, Indonesian music blended local styles with distinctly western touches. Those influences from Europe or America were not only chart-friendly pop and rock, but also elements of progressive music. As well as fusing together music from different continents, gamelan is able to create a musical cocktail with localized ingredients, incorporating Malaysian elements.

Over the decades, Indonesian music has been clearly defined by bands like Gang Pegangsaan, Gypsy, Giant Step, Super Kid, Terncem, Bentoel and God Bless. These groups were markedly different from what could be termed ‘mainstream rock' because of the variety of sonic undercurrents that could be picked up in their tunes. The influences of the beautifully percussive gamelan instruments drove unique rhythms through much of the music. This became the solid basement in the structuring of the songs. Together with fluid baselines, an exciting genre sprung up, also typified by wildly experimental lead guitar playing, and loose vocal techniques.

Many of the progressive bands that originated in Indonesia became more widely known elsewhere in the Pacific region. For instance, the Abbhama Band, who only ever released one album, 1978's Alam Raya, gained something of a cult following amongst Japanese ‘prog rock' audience. Although there were certainly elements of their music that reached out beyond their immediate Indonesian horizons, they were also accused of being somewhat introspective. They were seen as a keyboard-heavy progressive band, rather than one that took on board a lot of more traditional local influences. As such, the obvious reference points were European or British prog acts, especially the likes of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

All of the songs produced by Abbhama Band were principally the handiwork of vocalist and keyboard-wizard Iwan. After the band capitulated, he went on to form a band called Wow. They released three albums between 1983 and 1990.

Another Indonesian band that made waves in the prog rock scene was Aka. Rather than the occasionally overblown and pompous sound associated with many prog aficionados, Aka played a much more stripped-back type of psychedelic rock, merging this with elements of hard rock. Add a slice of funk with dirty rhythms, and healthy lashings of black souls spirit, and you have the makings of a very interesting listen.

While Indonesian progressive rock may not be everyone's cup of musical tea, it is well worth doing some research to track down its main exponents.

Punk music – Indonesian style

Punk music – Indonesian style

For a style of music that prides itself on its youthful exuberance, punk rock has actually been around for a long time. Its original protagonists in the UK and America certainly gained a degree of notoriety for their anti-establishment antics. One its most vocal spokespeople, John Lydon, lead vocalist with the Sex Pistols, was the spiky-haired face glaring from all the British tabloids back in the 1970s. His band released singles that were deliberately provocative, including one ditty named ‘God Save the Queen' which poked fun at the UK's obsession with its monarchy. This reached the top of the charts in the same week as the Silver Jubilee (25 years) celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II.

The levels of hysteria that greeted the original wave of punk rock all those years ago seem rather quaint by today's standards. But there were certain aspects of the music and the lifestyles of its devotees that struck a chord, not only with subsequent generations, but with rock music fans right across the planet.

Many of the aspects of punk – driving guitars, heartfelt singing, thunderous rhythms – are appreciated by young rock fans 40 years after it was so denigrated in Britain and America. John Lydon and the other remaining Sex Pistols may well be heading inexorably toward their 60th birthdays, but punk rock is still being played by eager teenage bands somewhere in the world as we speak. And Indonesia is no exception.

The Far East cottoned onto punk much later than their Western counterparts. It didn't really reach Indonesia to any extent until the 1990s. There was a first wave of punk appreciation here that lasted for the first part of that decade. Bands begin to spring up with names such as Submission and Antiseptic, who were inspired by those incendiary records by the Sex Pistols, as well as other exponents of the artform, such as the Scottish band known as The Exploited. The latter proved to be so inspirational because their debut album was entitled ‘Punk's Not Dead', itself a clarion call to fans of the music to keep on going for the next 40 years!

A second wave of Indonesian punk rock got going around about 1996. This gained its inspiration from a punk ‘fanzine', or magazine for fans, originating in the USA. This went under the fetching title ‘Profane Existence'. At the same time, Indonesian youngsters latched onto a British anarchist punk band called Crass. Crass records were open challenges to the political status quo in the UK. This wave of punk appreciation coincided with a seachange in Indonesian public opinion that was opposed to the Suharto regime (which fell in 1998). Those Scottish punks The Exploited actually visited Indonesia on one famous occasion, playing their rabble-rousing music in Jakarta in 2006.

Certain members of the older generation still find it rather intimidating when young rock fans choose to wear outlandish clothes and dye their hair every colour under the Pacific sun. But most of the punk fans are content to listen to their favourite bands in relatively small, private venues, expending all their energies on jumping up and down on the spot (a ‘dance' craze imported from the original British punk scene, where it was known as ‘pogoing'). Thousands of these punk bands are springing up all over Indonesia. As one member of Indonesian band Cryptical Death said: “You can find punks all over the country. They're in Sumatra, Jakarta, Bali … everywhere. It's simply an expression of freedom. That's why people love it'.

Recommended Kotak videos

Recommended Kotak videos

Kotak started out in life as a ‘Dream Band', first spotted on a national talent competition back in 2004. For that reason many purist music fans have been dismissive of the group's place in the Indonesian rock scene. Because they're perceived as being ‘not authentic enough', they were not treated with the same respect as those musicians who found fame the hard way – working their way up through relentless gigging in small clubs. However, Kotak have gone on to prove their detractors wrong with a series of excellent albums.

A terrific place to really get to know the band, if you don't already, is to check out their videos on YouTube. Tendangan Dari Langit, viewed by well over half a million viewers so far, is one of their most popular music video moments.

The film uses the technique of melding the band's driving rock music with the equally powerful world of sport. Both activities have much in common. They attract legions of devotees and the best of the action often takes place inside large arenas, in front of thousands of passionate fans. In this case, as the band launch into their song with a melodic but powerful guitar riff, they are surrounded by enthusiastic cheerleaders gyrating in time to the music.

All the other Kotka trademarks are present and correct. Tantri leads the vocal assault in her inimitable style, her beautiful voice strong enough to shine through the power chords. Cella's guitar is played hard and slung-low, allowing him to brandish the instrument with a swagger reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards (a long, long time ago!) As Kotak weave their catchy choruses, they bop around in the middle of a grassy pitch as if they are limbering up for a crucial athletics or football event. There is even a smoke machine behind the drummer coughing out great orange clouds!

At 2:15 Cella works a mesmerizing solo into the song. Reflecting the drama of the moment, a young footballer is depicted going to great lengths to improve his game. At one point he appears to be playing football on a rocky landscape, kicking the ball towards crevasses. When the action switches back to the band we see them surrounded by various coloured balls, as if they themselves have been involved in some form of rigorous training.

At 2:30 Cella's name flares on the back of his top, as if he has morphed into a football star. Arms aloft, he takes the crowd's acclaim, while holding a flare that spews out coloured smoke dramatically. The other band members follow suit, lifting their flares victoriously, while a multitude of cameras flash in the arena's tiered stands. By this point all the instruments have dropped out of the mix, except for a relentless martial drumbeat that is urging the band to victory.

As the song builds towards its climax, young footballers are shown practicing on desert landscapes; later, red-bedecked crowds swell the stadium to shout on their approval.

This is a perfect blend of strident, powerful rock music, and a video that enhances the band's performance by linking it with the struggles and triumphs of soccer. By the end of the song you'll be punching the air yourself!