Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Al Fresco Clubbing

Jakarta's club scene has been looking quite vibrant of late. There are now a copious amount of clubs around in which to engage in some serious dancefloor shuffling, all of which are immaculately kitted out with extravagant post-modern decor and an equally extravagant rich, young clientele. Retro, Stadium and Embassy, which have more recently been joined by Bliss and South Jakarta's Centro, are all silky smooth temples of bass that resonate to the hedonistic sounds of global club culture every weekend. Drinks may be pricier in these places but, unlike a clubbing night out in the West, at least they're not queuing ten deep at the bar. This neon escapism has been further enhanced by the big-name DJs who have been coming to town in greater and greater numbers recently. Despite tsunamis and bombs, many international DJ superstars come to Jakarta to spin the platters that matter and, at the same time, check out one of the maddest cities on the planet. Sasha, David Seaman, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, Roger Sanchez, K-Klass and DJ Rap (famous one and all, honest) have all whipped Jakarta club goers into an electronic frenzy over the last year or two.

However, the club scene here is not confined to indoor venues. Outdoor events - or raves, as they often referred to - have been held regularly at Ancol, Sentul, Anyer beach and even once at the National Museum. These nights have proved very successful because outdoor festivals have a power and excitement all of their own.

The original outdoor rave scene sprang up in the UK in the early Nineties. Lovers of techno and hardcore (a popular precursor to some of today's club sounds) would rent huge, empty warehouses whilst keeping their hedonistic intentions a secret from the warehouse owners. They would then set up makeshift sound systems and spread the word over the grapevine. Hoards of pilled up ravers would then descend on the venues and dance until dawn or until the police arrived to pull the plug. What these warehouse parties lacked in sophistication they made up for in energy and illicit thrills. Mega successful techno act Orbital actually derive their name not from any cosmic, NASA-esque idealism but from London's M25 orbital ring road, around which most of these impromptu rave venues were situated (The group recently returned to their toll road roots with a show at Jakarta’s Sentul Stadium, right next to the Bogor tollway). These warehouse (and often also outdoor) raves were soon outlawed by a government hell bent on stopping the kids from having fun. Evidently the loved up positivity and subversive politics of the scene scared the Conservative powers that be to the extent that they even tried to introduce bizarre legislation forbidding people from playing music with repetitive beats for extended periods.

The rave scene had finished but as the music of techno, trance, house, jungle and drum and bass reached critical mass and went over ground during the Nineties, Al Fresco techno lived again. Annual summer outdoor rock festivals, for a long time a feature of the European music scene, were gradually subverted by club music to the extent where separate outdoor dance festivals began to flourish. The music has now been assimilated into mainstream culture and these festivals don't have quite the same anarchic edge to them as the original raves did. However, the idealism, the peace, the love and the hedonism all remain intact.

This is the history that Jakarta's outdoor festivals have been drawing on over the last three years or so. The city's best outdoor venue would have to be the Ancol Park complex. Its two massive beachfront areas (Pantai Festival and Pantai Carnival) have proved to be absolutely ideal for the purpose. These beachside raves have been spectacular affairs. Dance record labels Gatecrasher and God's Kitchen have held festivals here as well as the superlative annual Jakarta Movement event. Massive stages and sound systems, kaleidoscopic laser lights, huge crowds and intelligent organization have all contributed to the great success of these nights. Plus, as a bonus, you get that balmy Asian weather and the chance to squash sand between your toes on the beach, clearly an improvement on the cold rain and sludge of Britain's Glastonbury Festival.

Next Saturday (11th June) sees the return of the Jakarta movement festival to Ancol. The night will feature DJs from the British super club Cream as well as well-known local DJs. Tickets can be purchased on the "door" (ha) but are also available now for Rp.85,000. Disc Tarra at Plaza Senayan (572 5710) might be a good place to start. It promises to be a fun filled night and what with local boy DJ Adhe beating competitors from Japan and Singapore in the Heineken Thirst DJ search competition semifinals in Kuala Lumpur recently, the scene is looking healthy.

Simon Pitchforth