Tanah + Air - Senyawa's first headliner concert in Indonesia Kanako Yamamoto

Tanah + Air - Senyawa's first headliner concert in IndonesiaKanako Yamamoto


Thursday, December 22 2016. Gedung Kesenian Jakarta Theater was built in 1821 during Dutch colonial times. Approximately 300 dark red seats are elevated gradually as it expands away from the frontal stage, and in the center there is a luxurious looking chandelier hanging. The stage is closed with curtains that are same color as the seats, and there is music that sounds like Indonesian folk songs playing in the background.

A voice with an enthusiasm like a game show host announces the beginning of the concert. The voice is coming from Wok The Rock, owner of Yogyakarta-based music label YES NO WAVE. Laughter rises from audience by people who know who he is.

The theater darkens and the curtains open, revealing the shadow of Wukir Suryandi on the screen reminiscent of Indonesian shadow puppet theater, Wayang. Wukir on the other side of the screen bows his self-built instrument Bambu Wikir. Eventually, Rully Shabara's shadow appears and his low voice joins in. Both of their sounds fill the theater's high arched ceiling, and Senyawa's first-ever headliner concert began.

For the first half of their set they played many songs from their album Acaraki. I saw the dress rehearsal the night before, but their songs are heavily improvised never sounding the same. Their set was different from the one I saw two weeks ago at the Asian Meeting Festival as well.

At the fifth song images were projected on the screen. Accompanying their song Tanah, which means ground, we are shown trucks and bulldozers running through vast construct sites. For the next song Kereta Tak Berhenti Lama an image of trains constantly running is projected. At the end of the song, Wukir plays a melody used for announcements familiar even to Japanese people. This melody is used for departures of trains in Indonesia, and for this concert signaled the lights to go on in the theater. As the theater lightens, four coffee sellers, which used to be a common sight on Indonesian trains, walk around the audience calling out "kopi (coffee), kopi (coffee)!" Senyawa's intense sound played only by their shadows ended abruptly without giving the audience a chance to breath, but this extra performance by the coffee sellers relaxed the mood, announcing the end of the first half of the first set.

During the second half of the first set the screen finally opens. Wukir jumps around stage while occasionally playing his Bambu Wukir. He seemed obviously excited compared to when I saw him play two years ago at Osaka MOERADO and at Asian Meeting Festival two weeks ago. Seeing him like this made me realize how important this concert was for Senyawa. Since they started playing together as a duo, they have extensively toured Europe, the States, and Japan, but have never been officially booked in Indonesia and were hardly known in their home country. Senyawa only became more acknowledged because American band Bon Iver publically praised the group and this was widely broadcasted on Indonesian media.

The first set finishes and there is a 15 minutes break. The second set begins. The theater darkens, and Rully appears behind the audience seats, slowly walking towards the stage while singing. As he reaches the stage the curtains open and Wukir starts to play his enormous self-built instrument called Garu, which is made out of a Javanese plough. This stringed instrument plays low and high registers and is also played percussively. Wukir switches between plucking with his fingers and bowing. He also uses a loop machine to layer various sounds on top of each other.

Images were projected during the whole set, and they played many songs from their 2015 release Menjadi. The projected images move between a close-up of tropical carnivorous plants, twitter timelines under hashtags like #berlin [1] or #IS scrolled down at incredible speed, news footage of an accident between wild animal and car, burning forest, massive amounts of garbage floating in the rivers of Jakarta, and footage of 1998 anti-government protests in Jakarta. The last footage was a mixture of protests against Jarkarta's mayor claiming that he had disrespected Islam and a soap opera. The second set felt like they were making a political statement. Wok The Rock says that the lyrics Rully writes after Menjadi have been increasingly darker.

During their last song Tadulako, Wukir applied full distortion on his original compact guitar instrument made out of a cooking paddle that he named Solet. He plays riffs and bass lines that sound like heavy metal. Rully layers his death growls on top. In response Wukir blasts ecstatic noise. At the end, Wukir falls on top of his effects pedal board and raises the feedback noise to it's highest. Rully feeds off of this and screams even louder. The esteemed theater that has performed countless classical concerts is now filled with distorted metal and hardcore music. This contradiction between the sound and the venue is surreal but pleasant. It now became clear to me why Senyawa has always answered in their interviews that the genre that is closest to their music is metal. Political thought and humor are important elements in metal. The dissonance they succeeded to create in this venue in itself is a political act, but for the audience to hear such distorted loud noise in such a formal theater is purely fun. Later I was informed on Twitter by a post by cafe MONDO owner Shun, that Wukir's t-shirt read JEMBUT, which means pubic hear in Indonesian. [2]

The sound stops and the two leave the stage. The overwhelmed audience members start to applaud and after a short moment, the two performers calmly return to the stage. An encore begins. Wukir plays a bamboo flute, and Rully stands at the edge of the stage and sings without a microphone. After the encore, the audience gives a standing ovation. Rully picks up the microphone and announces that people can come on stage and look at Wukir's self-built instruments. Many come on stage and congratulate Rully and Wukir as well as the staff members that built this performance together with Senyawa.

Senyawa's first headliner show in Indonesia Tanah + Air that lasted for more than two hours was built by an ad hoc artist collective consisting of artists based in Yogyakarta. The 14-member Tanah + Air creative team that came by bus from Yogyakarta consisted of producers Kristi Monfries and Wok The Rock and members of Kongsi Jahat Syndicate [3] and Lifepatch [4]. The production time was only three months. This team formed by colleagues in the local scene of Yogkarata did not have a single director, instead everyone contributed with ideas and constructed the whole performance collaboratively. Watching these members joke around with each other and create something like this so naturally made me think difference between art and music. The music they play and the vibe is like being at an underground live house where things are not very structured. However this concert was made by a collection of ideas put together by independent artist - can we not call this a work of art? They are often invited to Japan or Europe as "artists", perhaps they have already established a new creative position that escapes genres and conventional categories we try to apply.

"You come to Indonesia for the first time and you only see Jakarta? You have to come to Jogja for at least one week to research about music!" This is what I was told by the members of the creative team. They told me that Yogyakarta has a more organized network than Jakarta, which has become a megacity. It seems as through they wanted to signal something to the people of Jakarta with Tanah + Air and there definitely is a rivalry between the two cities. When I asked the local audience from Jakarta, which included art administrators, DJs, musicians, and music fans, everyone praised the concert. I am curious what kind of impact these creators from Yogyakarta will have on the people of Jakarta.

Kanako Yamamoto
Founder of Offshore - a cultural platform for music, art and culture in Asia. She is active in writing and organizing events focusing on socially engaged art, noise music, and improvisation. Born in Amagasaki, now living in Naha.

[1] At the time of this concert, #berlin was a popular hashtag because of the incident of a bus driving through a Christmas market in Berlin.
[2] The original tweet by cafe Mondo owner Shun talking about Wukir's t-shirt with the word JEMBUT - "Last night's Senyawa headliner was amazing. I was blown away when I saw them at the Jakarta Noise Festival for the first time, but I didn't imagine that they have become this far out. Also to see Wukir where a t-shirt that says "JEMBUT / PUBIC HAIR" inside such a established theater made me cry...Awesome."  https://twitter.com/SHUNJKT/status/812167728756731905
[3] The stage director for Tanah + Air, Goofy operates as Kongsi Jahat Syndicate organizing and producing domestic tours for punk and hardcore bands. https://www.facebook.com/Kongsi.Jahat.Syndicate/
[4] Andreas Siagian, Adhari Donora, Dholy Husada who worked on the projects and stage design of Tanah + Air are members of Yogyakarta-based artist collective Lifepatch. http://lifepatch.org

Photo by gus wib