Monday, November 23, 2009

Eyes, Dark Grey Lenses Frightened of the Sun

Thankfully, last Saturday, the weather held off as I headed up to Ancol in order to attend the Surya Slims Playground Festival. The whole shebang luckily didn't dissolve into the Sidoarjo style mud bath that many European and North American music festivals end up becoming. Surya Slims isn't in fact a supergroup comprising of Fatboy Slim and Chris Rea's sister Sue, but a local brand of cigarette. We were all correspondingly presented with a packet of said brand upon entry to the festival, something I'd find it hard to imagine happening at a Western gig.

It certainly wasn't Woodstock up at Ancol last Saturday in fact and those in attendance were basically polite middle-class kids after a bit of weekend escapism from Jakarta's unremitting grind. Mind you, the hippies at the original Woodstock ultimately proved to be more Ivy League hedonists than revolutionaries and have subsequently proved as much by taking the reins of the capitalist world. I guess what I mean to say is that the event wasn’t an orgy of free love and brain altering chemicals.

How do I know this? Well I've long noticed a kind of dance floor diffidence in Indonesia, a seeming reluctance to really let go and be physically possessed by those voodoo popular music rhythms. Ironic perhaps for a land known historically for its dance culture.

Certainly, my friends, used to the enthusiastic free for all of Western festivals, noticed a strange lack of audience movement. Much of Indonesia's popular music has long struck me as whiter than white. Whether it's bland, whining, anemic three chord rock bands, soppy ballads pierced by soft metal guitar solos or local clubs largely opting for the whitest, most funkless and frigid forms of West European techno, there doesn't seem to be enough Africa, African America or Jamaica in it for me. However I don't want to go up in a balloon over is this as there have been more interesting signs of musical life in the country in recent years, what with the spread of file downloading and new technologies.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand, after a quick Red Bull and vodka (a purely functional necessity you understand) we headed over to watch the first big act of the night, Peter Hook. Peter (or Hooky as he is known), was the bassist for the seminal Mancunian band Joy Division before lead singer Ian Curtis decided to fully live up to the existential terror of the band's lyrics and killed himself. The group then became New Order and churned out a slew of perfect, angst ridden, sequencer driven pop records in the 80s and early 90s.

Hooky has now left the band however his DJ set was liberally peppered with tracks from the old back catalogue and thus the icy, metronomic sturm und drang of tracks like Joy Division's "Transmission" and New Order's "Blue Monday" were surreally blasted into the humid, tropical beach air of Ancol. Fair brought a tear of nostalgia to my eye it did.

Next up, over on stage two, the ambient techno of Cafe del Mar favourites Chicane was in full flow. As with a number of other electronic acts before them, Chicane had drafted in a live singer, bass player and drummer in order to negate the essentially faceless nature of modern dance music and render it more palatable for mainstream audiences. Thus, alas, the groups set sounded more like top forty fodder than the inhuman, machine age transcendence that is club music’s aesthetic forte.

Following this, it was a return to classic rock as the mega selling Franz Ferdinand took to the main stage. FF look the part for sure, four Scottish milquetoasts in sharp threads, sporting even sharper fringes. They also know how to put together a set of driving, spiky rock though. I could clearly discern the influence of late 70s new wave acts such as Gang of Four, Wire and even early Talking Heads in Franz Ferdinand’s oeuvre but I guess most of the audience here tonight weren't even born when those guys were around (in fact, I was only about seven years old at the time myself, I'm not in my dotage yet I'll have you know).

The final word of the evening went to the man they call, Sasha, perhaps the UK's most iconic superstar DJ and often dubbed 'God' by many enthusiastic clubbers. Known for his 10 hour sets that take thrill seeking ravers on spaced out journeys to the edge of the cosmos and back, Sasha was here restricted to a couple of hours of tranced out, ambrosial digi-bliss. The crowd swayed, deep in their own musical universes (and possibly psychically orbiting a tremendous altitude due to the effects of various non-prescription medicines).

At around 3am, the effect of having imbibed a skinful of Red Bull and vodka was beginning to take its toll and I began to feel the heavy hand of an imaginary bouncer on my collar, ready to boot me back through the doors of perception into the real world. It was time to take my still untouched packet of Surya Slims and head for the exit. I soon found myself back in the centre of town. Those Jakarta weekends ay? The city that never sleeps, which is presumably why it looks so bloody awful the next morning.