Slank - Indonesian rock with attitude

Slank - Indonesian rock with attitude

Back in 1983 while still pupils at a Jakarta high school, a bunch of mates got together to jam their favourite Rolling Stones songs. Like the Stones in their heyday, they relished a devil-may-care attitude, sometimes verging on the reckless, as they reinvented the English band's riffs in their own inimitable style. Above all, they focused on the delivery of the rock n' roll rather than the niceties of a polished performance. This, essentially, is where they got their name from, as Slank (or Slengian in Indonesian), means ‘recklessly ignorant'.

In some musical circles, these attributes might well be seen as a hindrance rather than positive qualities. But with Slank, the opposite is the case. Indeed, they have bottled up this impudence and used it to terrific effect, wowing audiences way beyond their native Indonesia, and releasing 20 popular albums in the process.

Hardcore rock fans: Slankers

If anything, Slank have managed to gain something of a cult status in Indonesia. They have an army of eager followers who delight in the generic term ‘Slankers'. At concerts, many of these fans produce hand-crafted flags consisting of the band name ‘Slank' shaped into a graffitied butterfly. It is also obvious from looking around these audiences that Slankers are not necessarily all young fans. Some have obviously been devotees since Slank's debut album was released in 1990. Others have cottoned onto them more recently, perhaps from rifling through their parents' record or CD collections.


To look into the band's meteoric rise you have to go back to the early 80s, and that school band that started life as a Rolling Stones tribute act. Known as Cikini Stone Complex. They swiftly became bored with playing songs which had already been done to death by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the gang, and promptly split. Drummer Bimbim recruited a guitarist, Bongky, and along with his colleagues Denny and Erwan. They formed a band named Red Devil. At the end of 1983 they decided to change their name to Slank for all the reasons already mentioned.

Their initial line-up was now Kaka (lead vocals), Bongky (bass guitar), Pay (lead guitar), Indra Qadarsih (drums) and Bimbim. As is the way with many young rock n' roll bands, they spent a lot of their formative years plying their trade in small clubs around Indonesia, steadily building a loyal following, and mastering their instruments.

They secured their first record deal in 1990 and this was soon followed by their debut album, Suit suit … hehehe. Throughout this decade they released albums that were always well-received by the rock appreciating public, although continued to be plagued by that familiar bugbear of rock bands seeking fame and fortune: internal disagreements. Nevertheless, their first three albums became best sellers, with an award being granted by BASF Indonesia. Album number four, Generasi Biru, became a multi-platinum seller, storming Indonesia's music charts. By 2005 they were being recognized by a global audience of Slankers, becoming Indonesia's first stars of MTV.

As well a touring around the Pacific Rim and becoming familiar to audiences from Japan to Korea, Slank have toured Europe and America to widespread acclaim. Their first English-spoken album was entitled Anthem for the Broken-Hearted. This was recorded and mixed in America in the space of three weeks, testament to Slank's seemingly never-ending enthusiasm for their riotous blend of rock n' roll.

The best Netral videos on YouTube

The best Netral videos on YouTube

One of Indonesia's premier bands, a great way to get to know Netral's dark but mesmerizing blend of modern rock is to check out their YouTube videos. Garuda Di Dadaku 2 is one of the best you can tap into on the search engine of the world's most popular music video site.

With over 100,00 hits, Director Angga Dwimas Sasongko's short film of this track is proving a consistent target for Netral's legion of followers. The central theme of the video is football, and this proves to be a strong allegory for music itself. Just as a soccer contest involves skill, athletic flair, passion and speed, the driving rock soundtrack is itself a pulsating force. The dexterous fretboard skills perfectly complement the young athletes performing wonders on the football arena.

The video opens with a ‘group huddle', the moment that precedes many football matches when the team gather in a circle, heads bowed, in order to strengthen their common bonds and shared ambition. This is definitely apt for the music to follow. The track itself commences with its own version of a communal ‘huddle' – the bass, guitar and drums kicking off in perfect synchronization, united by a common goal to entertain.

As Netral get into the groove, the camera pulls back to reveal banks of television screens behind the drummer. This is interwoven with a big soccer encounter. Again, we can see where the director is making the connection between the two events. Both activities have the potential to bring together eager hordes of fans. If a camera were to pan a gathering of young people baying enthusiastically, unless you were party to what they were actually looking at you would never be able to tell the difference. The passion of the rock fan and the passion of the football devotee are simply two sides of the same coin.

At 1:10 the action takes an interesting twist as we see the video's young protagonist getting into his training regime, his face the picture of determination. Whether he's rushing through back alleys en route to his lift to the training ground, or he's struggling along with all his teammates to keep up with the intensive coaching sessions, his spirit shines through. What makes us truly appreciate the intensity of what he's putting himself through is when the director cuts back to the band. The lead guitar is relentless, the notes from a beautiful-looking Gibson Les Paul singing from the amp stacks. The rhythm section is particularly good at what they do, with the drums and solid bass-lines driving the track; just as the young soccer star's laced-up boots propel him along the pitch towards the goal line.

At 1:52 the music breaks down from the main riff to a shifting instrumental. The tension builds in the video as various dramas occur. The central character's team is losing a crucial game; he falls out with various people, including the coach, then tears off his captain's arm band. Reflecting this turn of events, the televisions behind the band shatter metaphorically. But a martial drumbeat accompanies the boy as he leads his team onto the arena, the bass player pounding his own chest with his fist to symbolize the power of the moment. Young fans congregate around the stadium, proudly brandishing the national Indonesian red and white flags, urging their team to victory.

Three of the best Dewa 19 videos

Three of the best Dewa 19 videos

Over the years, Dewa 19 have been one of the most consistently popular rock outfits to have emerged from Indonesia. Here is our run-down of some of the band's YouTube highlights.


If you don't already have this superb album in your collection, then here is the next best thing. By going to YouTube you can click on a link that contains the entire album. Already watched by nearly 200,000 site users, the 1995 release was both critically and audience-acclaimed. Lasting for 47 minutes and 34 seconds, set your YouTube channel to play in the background, perhaps through connected speakers, and you can enjoy listening to one of Indonesia's most talented rock exponents. There are no slideshows or movies showing in the background, but that's because the full album is there to be listened to. If you want to make a montage of separate Dewa 19 videos, that's up to you.

Kamulah Satu Satunya

With 210,000 YouTube hits, this video epitomizes the ‘good times' vibe of the band. The track itself is seriously upbeat, with catchy hooks and harmonies that are guaranteed to bring a smile anyone's lips. The upbeat rock track definitely has a hint of US alt country to it, from the jangly rhythm guitars to the ‘oohs' and ‘aahs' in the backing vocals. There's even a checked shirt in evidence as Dewa 19 jam their song from a stage, inspiring various couples to get up and dance. A delicious guitar riff sweeps the song along to its climax just short of four minutes. In many ways, a perfect slice of Indonesian pop.

Pandawa Lima

Here the band's 1995 album is available to be listened to in its entirety. Lasting for 50 effortlessly cool minutes, the opening track, Kirana, is a delicious slice of laid-back middle-of-the-road rock, where a steady rhythm is attacking by jarring power chords and tremolo-effects on the guitars. The melody itself floats along on this sold base, working towards choruses that are augmented by keyboards. This is definitely the sound of a band firing on all cylinders, with catchy music that would fit so many different scenarios – film soundtracks, commercials, open-air festivals. A special mention must go to the lead vocals, which really carry the song with a strident melody.

Track two, Aku Disini Untukmu, starts off with an insistent acoustic guitar riff, punctuated with keyboard notes, and augmented by a slightly off-key melody. By the time the chorus comes along, the band have settled into a more conventional rocky outlook. Other highlights include the ultra-groovy Suara Alam, which even has some ‘jungle sound effects' going on in the background! The music is a power ballad that is absolutely perfect for summer music festivals. Crashing chords with a touch of wah-wah on the guitar help to create the perfect feel-good vibe. This track demonstrates exactly why Dewa 19 have been so phenomenally successful in their home country of Indonesia, and far beyond.

With so many good tunes it is nigh on impossible to select a stand-out track – this will be down to personal taste. The album closes as it began, with a gently uplifting country rock piece, entitled Kamulah Satu-Satunya. You'll be left with a warm glow long after you've finished listening to this remarkable album on YouTube.

Why rock fans should go to Purgatory

Why rock fans should go to Purgatory

Musical styles come and go. Purgatory, an Indonesian rock band, lasted from 1991 until 2000. Nine years is certainly not a brief lifespan for a band, especially when compared to some pop performers.

Acts you see in the charts now are often the titles of the CDs that end up being flogged in street markets for cents. Yes, pop, by its very nature, is a fickle business. Those cheesy chart melodies with their devilishly catchy choruses are only intended to be listened to today; forgotten by tomorrow. In this way, the next young pretender can quickly assume pole position in the conveyor belt of fame.

Although there can be no denying that a lot of rock music satisfies the same criteria as pop. It can be extremely catchy, with a huge potential audience. But it is crucial to make the distinction between rock and pop because pop is invariably transient, whereas classic rock endures. And there is one name that should be added to all those names that are still downloaded from online music stores on a daily basis, long after the original band has either split, or its members have died, or both. Next time you're browsing through The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix, or a host of others, think about a band called Purgatory.

Purgatory were an Indonesian band that this formed in 1991, roundabout the time that US grunge exponents Nirvana were making such huge shockwaves right across the global rock audience. At that time a bunch of friends got together to cover songs by Obituary and Sepultura. They picked the name for the band, not from any religious texts, but from the cult horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The initial line-up for Purgatory was Al on drums, Lutfie and Arief on guitars, and Hendrie on bass guitar and vocals. Their first release came four years later with an EP that was entitled Abyss Call. Shortly after this a compilation album was released, Metalik Klinik 1, with one track supplied by the band, Sakaratul Maut. A proper Purgatory album followed, entitled Ambang Kepunahan.

Just as the band were never content with simply regurgitating songs by the likes of Sepultura there always debate about which particular genre to pursue. Certainly their earlier material bears all the hallmarks of ‘Death Metal', where any sense of melody is buried very deeply beneath a morass of thrashing guitars and furiously accelerating rhythms. By the turn of the decade they had decided to add another vocalist, as well as a DJ, to add further dimensions to their performances. In addition to this, they also decided to wear masks.

Their second studio album, 7:172, released in 2003, reflected this departure from the two-dimensional straitjacket of Death Metal, into the more potentially audience-friendly arena of Nu Metal. Although there is a song on one of their subsequent albums which name-checks Death Metal exponents Napalm Death, their sound was far from just a rabid-noise with vocals that were growled into a microphone rather than sung.