A Date with Indonesia’s Thriving Punk Scene
The taxi comes to a halt outside Gimme Shelter, an underground rock’n’roll bar in Canggu, Bali. The booze I consumed pulses through my bloodstream and my fried eyes sting and grow heavy with cheap mascara. My lashes crash, reopen, crash. Unsteady and unsure, my frantic fingers get lost inside my wallet and tangle around my perplexing wad of rupiahs.
I pay the driver, thanking him, then hop out of the car and head over to the bar’s brooding entrance, which looks like a refurbished bat cave. I look around at everybody and it becomes clear to me that my friends and I are just visitors here. Indonesian punk is alive and kicking. I observe all the men, heavily tattooed, clad in black t-shirts and skate shoes, hovering around with ciggies hanging out of their mouths as they yarn with fellow locals.
The bouncers stamp my lower arm with the inky entrance key- blending in quite nicely with the permanent drawings that are ingrained in my pale skin.
We step inside with anticipation. The music traveling from the amplifier to my eardrums vibrates inside my mind, worms through my core and down to my toes. My eager eyes pop open and I am instantly awake.
I am now alive and kicking.
I grab a beer – my drink of choice – and then sit down. My hopeless addiction pushes my hand to reach into my bag and pull out a ciggie. I light up, inhale, drink and can’t help but think about how stoked I am to be able to smoke inside like this.
The supporting act hasn’t even come on yet, but I am already squirming in my seat, revitalised by the music and ready to go way harder tonight than I do at home.
I look to my friends and they, like me, look alive with a drink in one hand and a dart in the other. Old habits die hard.
A few Bintangs later, Strikes! comes on stage and I am full to the brim with energy and angst. I am ready to get bashed and to earn a few bruises.
I watch the band pour themselves into their instruments as they are shrouded by gloomy green and red lighting. The skinny arms and long, thick black hair of the lead guitarist sways as he jolts his body in enthusiastic-punk-rocker style. They are true Indonesian rockers and their energy and passion rubs off on everybody else. Locals in the mosh make me laugh as they bounce around and pump their fists. I smoke. I drink. I listen. I move my small body in ways that only come naturally to me in the environment of Indonesian punk rockers who bear no judgement.
Well built, energetic men run into each other with the music. They grab each other aggressively and yell. I love it and I itch to join in, but they don’t notice. Instead, I go to the bar and order a shot of gin but end up with a shot of arak in front of me. Its chemical components slide harshly down my throat and burn the pit of my stomach. I float around, washing down the shot with another beer and ciggie.
I run into a blonde French guy I’ve just met. He shouts something incoherently into my ear and slides his hand down my waist and onto the small of my back – settling on the borrowed denim cut-offs I am sporting. I laugh and I smile at whatever he says. The feeling of obligation to be polite reigns supreme. I don’t like it. I am angry at myself for not asking him to leave because being ‘a nice girl’ is easier than standing up for what I want. He is acting cocky and wouldn’t understand how he is making me uncomfortable, so for now, I will let him think that he’s getting somewhere.
As the music picks up pace my teenage riot girl self becomes present in this moment, contemplating all of Kathleen Hana’s rocker girl glory. I head further into the crowd, kicking and dancing. I scream at blonde French boy, “Don’t be afraid to get me into the mosh! Can you just get me into the mosh?” Finally, he puts me into a headlock and throws me like a frisbee neck-first into the bodies of other rocker guys. I’m glad to get away from him and his greasy blonde ponytail for a moment.
We run and bounce off each other – the locals take turns at grabbing me and throwing me around, whilst keeping a careful eye peeled. I do not want them to feel the need to treat me as though I’m fragile, although the care is appreciated. They are hardcore, fun and free. I can’t help but briefly wonder what I look like to them; a 157cm tall white girl throwing punches to the air in the middle of their local weekend punk bar. I laugh to myself at that thought.
The music plays loud and proud. It is dark and exhilarating. They speed up in their movement and slam themselves into me, almost throwing me to the ground, so of course I do the same thing back. I put my little muscles into use and kick, grab, hit, bump and jump. I am stronger than I look. The few other girls here stand around the outside and watch.
Being a female tourist in this scene that does not belong to me feels like many things. It feels like a speaker is pumping inside my belly. It feels like I should be getting married to my dwindling pack of durries and sinking Bintangs. It feels like there is every possibility I am being watched like a piece of fresh meat for sale. It also feels like I am being warmly embraced in the sweaty arms of an old school punk rocker.
The main act, Sheer Terror, are playing. They are four large, older white men who make me cringe a little at how well they fit into the old-school white-man punk-rocker stereotype. Their performance is tight and angry, and I still bop around, but the intensity of the mosh pit has decreased.
A small Indonesian man walks past me, places his hand on my back where I do not want it to be and tells me he loves me. All I can offer is my usual reaction to men’s senseless commentary- an uncomfortable laugh that they will think is flirtatious.
A haze of smoke surrounds us all as my brain buzzes and my body is being controlled by guitar riffs and angry vocals.
The music stops. Everybody stops. It is over, even though it will never be over.
I stumble outside and find blonde French boy closely following behind; what a surprise. I put another flame to another ciggie because it is more important than catching my breath.
Blonde French boy asks me where I am staying, and I realise I really can’t be fucked talking to him anymore, however charming he may seem. He adds me on Facebook, and I have no intention of answering the message I know I will receive from him in the morning.
I sit inside another taxi. My legs stick to the leather seats as I mould into them. The excitement of having just experienced my first foreign punk show is real. Something inside of me has been stirred around.
Something inside of me feels new.
Cover by Nat Kassel