Meeting the Punks of Pekanbaru by Putri

Inspirasi Kediri Bertutur


This writing is one of the selected essays done by undergraduate students of “Consumer Analysis” from University of Indonesia, the faculty of social and political sciences, communication program of advertising international class 2013.

The humble beginnings of Kediri Bertutur originated from a cultural journey: “I am fully aware that to reach quality of life does not mean gaining a higher level of status and wealth. In my journey, I am seeking quality of life based on spiritual humanism that moves my very being on this earth. This lesson I can only gain from a cultural journey,” Kandi Windoe.

Inspired by the same spirit, Kediri Bertutur takes the undergraduate students on their own cultural journeys. Kediri Bertutur presents Elizabeth Putri Narwastu’s writing after taking her personal journey to Pekanbaru in 2014.

Meeting the Punks of Pekanbaru

Introduction: The city of Pekanbaru and The trends in Pekanbaru

Pekanbaru is the capital city of Riau Province. According to Indonesia’s Official Tourism Website (2013), Pekanbaru is the third largest city in Sumatra Island after Medan and Palembang. The city is located near North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Jambi and it is also near Singapore and Malaysia. Hundred of years ago, before the Americans struck oil in Pekanbaru, according to the official site of Pekanbaru city, this city used to be a place where trading happened near the outfall of Siak River where many traders from various cultures met. This is the main reason why the citizens of Pekanbaru city are diversed. Pekanbaru city is a melting pot of Malayan, Minangnese, Bataknese, Javanese and Chinese cultures.



Because of the acculturation of cultures in Pekanbaru, many Pekanbaru natives are confused about their own culture. Events about culture appreciation are very rare in Pekanbaru. The government of Pekanbaru is currently focusing on the development of the infrastructure. The development of the infrastructure started in 2012, when PON (Pekan Olahraga Nasional) or National Sports Week was held in Pekanbaru. Because Pekanbaru was chosen to become the host of PON, the government invests on developing the infrastructure of the city for example by renovating the Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport and building the main stadium. The budget was corrupted by the governor of Riau at that time, Rusli Zainal and made him and the other suspects arrested. After this case, the next governor Annas Maamun also got arrested because of corruption and two sexual harrasment cases. From this evidence, this indicates that the government of Riau haven’t given their focus fully on the development of culture appreciation. Both previous governers are only focusing on project that have big budgets so that they could corrupt it.

Even though events about culture appreciation are very rare in Pekanbaru, the youngsters also need entertainment and have other activities other than hanging out at Coffee Shops or the Siak Bridge on Saturday Nights, unlike in Jakarta, Yogyakarta or Solo where there are always events every week or every month whether it is about music events or concerts,bazaars or traditional cultural events. After doing my desktop research, I have found out that even music events are rare in Pekanbaru. The only music events which are annualy held are underground music events or scenes which are provided by certain communities. The underground music scenes in Pekanbaru are mostly featuring bands and musicians with punk rock and metal rock genres. This means that youngsters in Pekanbaru enjoy this genre of music and many of them adopt this lifestyle or trend. Not only in Pekanbaru, I have also found out from one of the locals of Pekanbaru that  other cities in Sumatra Island mostly have their underground music communities and held annual rock concerts for example in Palembang, Padang and Medan.

One of the music communities that I found through desktop research is the Bawah Tanah United community. I added the facebook profile of the community and gain some information about an upcoming music gig and the bands that were featured in it. From an article in Bertuahpos (2014), Bawah Tanah United is a community for indie bands with punk, hardcore or metal genres in Pekanbaru. This community was established in 2003 by the founder, Fino whose enthusiast about the punk lifestyle, and hardcore music genres. Bawah Tanah United have created 9 bands, some of them are KILLERBEE, Joni Death and Melayu Chaos. Bawah Tanah United creates annual events for the bands they support, open a music school for street punk kids who wants to learn to play music and became members of the community. This community even have it’s own record label which is the Dapur Terror Record. Bawah Tanah United also make band merchandises. Some people from the community also provide photography services for music events and even pre-weddings.


Concept of Punk

Before continuing further about the research and the findings, a brief understanding about the concept of Punk is needed in order to understand the following subjects. According to Oxford Dictionary, Punk is a a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s. Other definition of Punk is “deliberately cultivated an image of violence, deviance, and repugnance at the very inception of the subculture” (Leblanc 39).

Punk music emerged in the late 1970s both in London (United Kingdom) and New York, (United States). In New York, many bands like The Ramones, The Velvet Underground and New York Dolls became popular because there is a place called CBGB & OMFUG in Manhattan, New York, where it regularly let the pioneers of punk bands such as The Ramones, Patti Smith, and the Velvet Underground perform. These bands became popular underground music scene in New York. In London, the Sex Pistols were also becoming a hit sensation because of their songs are about rebelling against the condition in England at that time. Quoted from an Article “The History of Punk Rock” by Ryan Cooper, a punk music expert, “The economy in the United Kingdom was in poor shape, and unemployment rates were at an all-time high. England’s youth were angry, rebellious and out of work. They had strong opinions and a lot of free time” . This is how punk rock and Sex Pistols was born in London. The Sex Pistols created songs about their opinions about England’s condition at that time and how they would like to rebel against the norms. Many young people are influenced by the Sex Pistol’s songs and soon they started listening to Sex Pistols’ songs and follow the punk fashion trend which is created by Malcolm McClaren, the vocalist of Sex Pistols.

News and information about Punk music became popular in the 1970s. Teenagers and young adults are influenced by this genre of music and this lifestyle of rebelling against the norm.

Research Objective and Research Method

From all of my desktop research and personal experiences from a friend of mine, it is clear that it is rare to find a cultural appreciation themed event or activity in Pekanbaru and the youngsters are not fully interested in this kind of activity. I also found out that the most popular event and the music scene in Pekanbaru is mainly about underground music. Besides listening to the music, of course most of them had been affected by the lifestyle of the music genre itself, which is Punk. Therefore, my research objective is to know why do these youngsters adapt this culture instead of their own culture. In order to achieve my research objective, I have decided that I will conduct and in depth interview Fino and one of the bands he has helped producing, which is Melayu Chaos to understand more about the reason why they adopt the Punk culture, their way of life and how they define Punk itself. I was interested in interviewing and meeting Melayu Chaos because from the name of their band, it seems that they also appreciate their own culture, which is Malayan culture but they express it through Punk music. In order to meet Fino and Melayu Chaos, I need to attend a concert that will be held on October 18th, 2014 and the main guest star of the Concert is Burgerkill, a successful international award winning trashcore metal band from Bandung and Killerbee. Killerbee is also one of the bands from Pekanbaru who are now successful because of Bawah Tanah United and was launching the 2nd album at the Concert. Besides interviewing Fino and Melayu Chaos, I will also interview some of the youngsters who attend the concert to compare them, the Punks from Pekanbaru with the Punks from Jakarta.

Other than going to the concert, I would also like to stroll around the city of Pekanbaru. I will go strolling and visit the famous Coffee Shops, the most popular Shopping Mall and also the market at the ’Pecinan’ or the Chinatown. The objective of visiting these places is to do a comparison of the consumption pattern between the citizens of Pekanbaru and Jakarta.

Experiences and Findings

On the first day in Pekanbaru, after I landed at Sultan Syarif Kasim II Airport I went to Pecinan to have breakfast at one of the Coffee Shops there. They say that you could learn the culture of a foreign place if you go to the market and eat their street food.  As I stroll on the market, I observe the people in the market and from observing I learn that all the mixed cultures or the melting pot is in that particular market. While strolling , I could listen to Chinese karaoke songs while buying rendang spices from a Minangnese woman and listen to conversations in Hokkien Chinese, Minangnese, Bataknese and Javanese from the transactions between the sellers of the market and the buyers. After I went on a stroll, I went to get my breakfast at one of the Coffee Shops. The coffee shop is packed with adults and elders from various ethnic groups having breakfast. They love to have long conversations while drinking good coffee and eating delicious foods. Some of the people there even play card games while having coffee. There aren’t many youngsters at the coffee shop at that time because it was Friday morning and the youngsters must had been at school or their workplace. After I asked the waitress there she said that the youngsters visit the shop during lunch or dinner and Saturday nights is when it is most crowded. Coffee Shops in Pekanbaru and all over Sumatra Island are known for it’s delicious coffee, it’s toast, fried kway teow, mie pangsit or noodles with dumplings and even porridge.



After I visited the market, I went to the most popular Mall in Pekanbaru which is the Ciputra Mall. There are only three big shopping malls in Pekanbaru which are SKA Mall, Pekanbaru Mall and Ciputra Mall. These malls are not as big as Jakarta’s shopping malls. Pekanbaru citizens do not shop to malls very often. They prefer to buy their daily needs at the traditional markets or regular grocery stores instead of going to mini markets such as Alfamart and Indomart and going shopping to big supermarkets for example, Hypermart or Giant. There are only few mini markets and supermarkets in Pekanbaru because there is only one Hypermart and Giant. From my observation after strolling at the mall, there are only few visitors in that mall. I joined some of the youngsters there and asked them a few questions while having coffee with them. Even though they are in the middle of a reunion, but they are very kind for letting me joined them. There are four of them, one of them is studying at University of Riau, the other is studying at Universitas Sumatra Utara and another one is currently studying at Universitas Islam Bandung. They were having a reunion and I was clearly interrupting them but, they were very fun and they were very responsive to all of my questions.

Most of the youngsters prefer this particular Mall because it has a cinema and they love to watch movies and also because there is a famous coffee shop in that Mall which is Kim Teng Coffee Shop. The youngsters don’t go to Starbucks to hang out but they prefer traditional coffee shops more because according to them, the coffee tastes  better and it is less expensive and the food is very good. I strongly agree with their opinion.

When being asked about what do they think about Jakartans, they said that they actually don’t really care about them but the respondent who studies at Bandung said that some of her college mates from Jakarta are sometimes very arrogant but she said not all of them are. She said that she wants to be friends with them but she doesn’t know how to because according to her, the Jakartans are hard to approach. She also do not like the behavior of her college mates who drinks and go clubbing. She said it is not right to spend your parent’s money on something so expensive and wasteful. While she was stating this her friends were also agree.

I also asked them what international brands that they like. The girl who studies at Bandung said that she trusts international brands for sport shoes just like her Nike’s and for clothes brands she doesn’t seem to bother the need to have clothes that are from expensive brands such as Zara, H&M or Mango. She said if she finds something comfy she would buy and wear it. The girl who studies at University of Riau also agreed with her. For the guy who studies at Universitas Sumatra Utara, he said he likes ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ headphones. He said he has not bought the headphones yet because it is expensive, but he trusts expensive brands for electronic equipment because of the quality. From these statements, it is clear that the citizens of Pekanbaru are modern and sophisticated people. They are a tad similar to Jakartans but they are less consumptive. They understand the uses of sophisticated technology and the trends of fashion but they only buy the things they need.

The next day was the concert day. I went on culinary adventures in the city with my parents before they drive me to the concert on the afternoon. After they dropped me off, I went to interview some of the youngsters who were also waiting for the concert to start. Because I was a bit afraid of the punk guys, i decided to interview the girls first. They were the only girls whom I had managed to find during that time and they look friendly. The other girl looks like a normal punk girl and the other girl surprised me a bit because she was wearing a hijab and she is a metalhead. Not many punk girls and metalheads in Jakarta are wearing hijab so to me this is very unique. The first thing I asked them was what band are they waiting for and surprisingly they were waiting for Killerbee instead of the main band which is Burgerkill. The reason why they love this band is because this band is from Pekanbaru and they are proud of the band from their own hometown. I also asked them the reason why they listen to hardcore genre instead of mainstream music for example EDM or korean pop music like other girls. The first thing they said was it’s because they love it and the music is about expressing all the opinions and the anxiety you have. The girl with hijab said that even though metal sounded as if the vocalist is screaming nonsensical things, the lyrics the vocalist is screaming is actually formed by beautiful poetic and clever sentences and screaming it is the way to express it. The second reason why they chose to listen to this genre of music is because they feel cool because girls who listen to these kinds of genres are rare and therefore are always considered as cool. The next question I asked to them is why do they chose to adopt this lifestyle. The girl whose not wearing hijab said that it’s because this music is the thing that makes her feel brave to express her opinion. The girl with hijab said that she was proud of her music preference because she thinks that this music beautiful in the way it tries to express retained opinions.


After I have interviewed the girls I stayed and hung out with them for a while and after that I decided to pick the next respondent which has to be a guy. Without knowing, the next respondent happened to be a bassist of a band from Padang called ‘Sporadic’. His name is Ferdi and he is the only respondent  whose name I remember because I spend most of my time at the concert with him and up until now still in contact with me. At first, I thought punk guys would be rude and such but after I talked to this guy and some of his friends, I found out that these punks are nice, friendly and humble people. I asked Ferdi what band was he waiting for and he said that he was watching the whole band lineups. The reason was because indie bands need supports and therefore he came to watch the new indie bands play. According to him, punk is not about anarchy but punk is about solidarity, being together to support each other and rebelling in a healthy way and of course for a good cause. He also told me a good story about how he went to live by himself to Pekanbaru when he graduated from high school to earn some money to help his band produce an album and also to save money for college because he was planning to pay for his own tuition. Even he is the same age as me, I find this person as a very mature person and I was embarrassed because I have always been supported by my parents up until now and everything is provided by them. If I want to produce an album I could simply ask my parents for money but  Ferdi and his band mates need to struggle in order to earn money to record their own songs. Ferdi also told me that he also struggled during that time when he was searching for a record label to help him and luckily a record label from Jogja saw his band’s talents and then decided to produce Sporadic.

After interviewing the youngsters and hung out with them around the concert area, I decided that  it was time to meet with Melayu Chaos and Fino at the backstage. Before meeting Melayu Chaos in person, I have already chatted via Facebook with the vocalist, Bang Mambay. He was very humble and friendly both online and in person. I remember I asked him can I buy his album but instead he gave it all two albums to me free via BlackBerry Messenger which is very nice of him.


Bang Mambay said that the philosophy behind the name ‘Melayu Chaos’ is about five Malayan sons who have the same idealism which is punk. He said that this idealism was born because of his protest against the image that the government created about the negativity of punk community since 1999 until now. Bang Mambay and some of his band members were students at University of Riau and the bassist of the band is actually their lecturer at University of Riau. Melayu Chaos’ songs are mostly about solidarity, socialism, human rights and also the environment. Pekanbaru’s current situation is moving upwards in developing the infrastructure but the government is in chaos and that is why Melayu Chaos is trying to express their opinions about the injustice that happened in his own city. My favorite song from Melayu Chaos is titled ‘Alam’ and it is about the protest about the haze that has been destroying the weather in Pekanbaru. This haze is often cause by deforestation and burning the forest in order to create more land for palm oil plantations. I asked Band Mambay why does he chose punk lifestyle and he said that this is his way of expressing himself. I also asked him what is the definition of punk and what does he think about the correlation between punk and anarchism.  To him, punk is about expressing your idealism freely through a normless music. In order to play punk music, a person doesn’t need to have great skills in playing music, what matters is that the person could express himself through this normless music, even though he could only play three chords at the guitar for example. Bang Mambay also defines anarchism as rebelling, but in a positive way, through music for instance. Bang Mambay and his band is also anti capitalism. He said that the situation of the music industry in Indonesia is getting worse. Major record labels will ask for a huge amount of payment to produce an album and they could freely change the songs or the music of the musicians in order to make them commercial. He told me the struggles he faced when he and his band mates was trying to produce his first album because he needs to work to earn money to pay for it. Melayu Chaos produce their album in order to tell and to reach out to people about their expressions. They produce music in order to express themselves and to inspire people because Bang Mambay and his band mates actually have other jobs in order to support their daily needs and their main focus of creating their albums in not for the sake of the money.


For the final question, I asked Bang Mambay what bands do Melayu Chaos got their inspiration from and he answered their inspiration is actually Iwan Fals instead of The Sex Pistols or The Ramones. They admire Iwan Fals because Iwan Fals also express his idealism and opinions through his songs even though Iwan Fals’ genre is certainly not punk music. Bang Mambay said that he like the Sex Pistols but he and his band do not adapt all the cultures from Western Punk because Sex Pistols follows free sex and drugs and Melayu Chaos are not agree in that aspect. Bang Mambay said ofcourse we could adapt a culture but we certainly must choose which right and which is wrong, which is good to be adapted and which is not.

After I hung out with the band, Bang Mambay kindly introduced me to Fino, the creator of Bawah Tanah United Community. I could only talk to Fino not for long because he was busy managing the concert and checking on Burgerkill. The reason why Fino and his friends created Bawah Tanah United Community during highschool was because punks can not walk alone, they need to belong in a community and be supported and also it is fun to meet people who has the same music taste as you do. He doesn’t care about what people perceive punks, the most important thing is they are not destructive and they never cause any trouble.

After I was done with all the interviews, I continued to watch the concert but I went home early before Burgerkill’s performance.


Conclusions and the Ephiphany From The Trip

In conclusion, the reason why Pekanbaru youngsters adopt this Punk culture is because the condition of Pekanbaru makes them want to strongly express their opinions and they are also confused about how to express it through their own traditional culture because of the mixed melting pot of cultures and that is why they chose punk culture. Even though they adopt punk culture, I clearly remember many of the respondents wish Pekanbaru is more like Bandung or Yogyakarta. Even though Bandung and Yogyakarta are urban cities, the government supports culture appreciation and they hope the new government of Pekanbaru could be like Bandung or Yogyakarta’s government.

The punks from Pekanbaru are nice, friendly and humble people. They don’t drink and they are not rude unlike the punks from Jakarta. They are just a group of people who stick together and express themselves together through punk music.

This trip to Pekanbaru was a very life changing experience to me. I have found new  friends who have changed my perspective about the struggles of creating and expressing music. They taught me that creating music is not about fame and fortune, but it is about expressing yourself and trying to inspire people. After conversing with the respondents, I was also embarrassed because compared to them, my knowledge of music is still not as advanced as them. From now on, I will stay humble and learn as much as I can to improve my knowledge in music and also other aspects that are important in my life.

It used to be hard for me to approach a new person because I am an introverted person but because of the situation forces me, I learn that it is actually not that hard to start a conversation with strangers and I learn that conversations between people who have different cultural backgrounds are very insightful.

Because of this trip, as a punk music lover and listener without doubt I could say that Punk is not dead. The evidence is there in Pekanbaru, where the ideology of Punk is being practiced in a good positive way, where people gather by solidarity and together they freely express their opinions through loud fast beating normless music. Punk is still alive, here in Pekanbaru.

Reference list:

Leblanc, Lauraine. Pretty in Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. Piscataway: Rutgers University Press, 1999

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