Indie and Inul reign in 2003 music scene
Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
After a blah 2002, weighed down by a lack of creativity and variety, the popular music scene yielded some refreshing surprises in 2003, with indie acts coming into their own.
They were not groundbreaking in any sense, but the indie artists gave some life to an otherwise dull scene dominated by indistinguishable rip-off acts.
The burgeoning local indie rock music scene and its clout was the subject of a one-page report in the Asian edition of Time magazine.
One of the most popular names was Bandung-based band Mocca, offering a cutesy-wutesy concept in their all-English debut album My Diary, with swing and bossanova inflected soft pop, fairy taleish lyrics and the breathy, girlie voice of the lead vocalist.
Released by indie label Fast Forward Records (Ffwd), the album sold 65,000 copies, remarkable for a debut album, which usually sell from 10,000 to 30,000 copies at most, and even more noteworthy because promotion was kept to a minimum.
The band's low-budget, montage-style video for its title track also earned Video of the Year from MTV Indonesia.
Also notable was Lain band, whose Djakarta Goodbye had initially been distributed in several record stores in Seattle, when some band members were studying there.
Vocalist Zeke's Thom Yorke-ish crooning and their samples- drenched music are intriguing, yet still far from being a blatant rip-off despite the similarities to Radiohead.
With their own label called Our Coffee Records, Lain also rocked MTV Indonesia with the innovative Train Song video, taking the best director award from the 24-hour music channel.
Several other indie bands making a name for themselves in the mainstream were The Milo, with moody and melancholy pop a la My Bloody Valentine on Let Me Begin (M4AI); Seurieus band who mixes rock with humor on the album Rocks Bang-Get (Geus Rieut); and garage rock band The Brandals, whose singles have been enjoying wide radio airplay.
The success was noted by major labels, which wasted no time in signing them up or distributing their music.
Sony Music Entertainment Indonesia recruited Balinese punk band Superman Is Dead (SID), as well as establishing PRS Records to distribute albums from noted indie progressive rock bands like Discus and In Memoriam.
Dubbed the next-big-thing but sounding like a bad Green Day imitator, SID still managed to land high airplay and grab a platinum award for selling over 150,000 copies of Kuta Rock City.
Aside from Sony, local record company Musica Studio earned even more, with former indie band Peterpan selling more than 400,000 copies, thanks to the catchy pop/rock tunes of debut album Taman Langit (Garden of Sky).
There is no disputing that indie rules, at least for now, but other artists also made inroads.
Former jazz whizzkid Indra Lesmana put jazz back on the map, with a swing and big band formatted soundtrack album for the local romantic comedy Rumah Ketujuh (The Seventh House).
Comedy group Project Pop, meanwhile, received a warm reception from critics and fans with their fourth album PopOK, particularly its witty, clever and catchy hit single Dangdut is the Music of My Country.
Asian hero Iwan Fals also scored with In Collaboration With.., teaming with up-and-coming songwriters. Although the result does not measure up to Iwan's previous works, sounding lame and sappy, the album went triple platinum by selling over 450,000 copies.
Other standouts were Didiaho, a world-beat inflected album from North Sumatran Viky Sianipar, pop singer Ari Lasso, who showed progress on his second solo album Keseimbangan (Balance), and newcomer Audy, whose light pop debut album 18 was surprisingly enjoyable.
Dangdut, the popular local music that is a hybrid of Malay, Arab and Indian influences, showed no sign of improvement in its sound and sales (although it is the undisputed king of variety TV show ratings), with the exception of singer Iyeth Bustami who draws on the Malay Zapin beat.
But it did spawn the phenomenon that is Inul Daratisa, whose gyrating "drill" dance angered religious groups and legendary singer Rhoma Irama, but worked in her favor by making this small- town-girl-made-good a popular hero. Her vocal range may not be that outstanding, but her public appeal was unrelenting.
That was that: The rest of 2003's releases were nothing special, paving the way for the ascension of the indie acts.
Some have put it down to market saturation, with record companies unwilling to take risks and sticking to formulas for success.
The push for the indies might also have to do with the efforts of the record companies, looking for a money-spinner after the three-year international sales slump.
The president director of Sony Music Entertainment Indonesia, Jan Djuhana, said that total industry sales in 2003 dropped to about 30 percent compared to last year.
Padi, a Sony client, conly achieve sales of over 600,000 with their third album Save My Soul, a major disappointment considering their previous albums always sold in excess of 1 million.
It may have something to do with the material, which is not as catchy and unpretentious than its forerunners, and sounds too much like Radiohead.
Jan blamed the worsening market condition, claiming that Padi was still the number one seller in the market.
A worldwide blight on the industry, piracy is still a main cause of the sales slump.
Last year's data shows piracy is 650 percent greater than the legal sales of three million copies each month. Financial losses caused by piracy to musicians and record companies is estimated at Rp 11 trillion (US$1.375 billion) annually.
With piracy still pretty much unchecked, the local music industry is facing a gloomy outlook for the year ahead, with Jan predicting that sales would remain down.
If there is any increase, he added, it would only be around 10 percent the highest.
As they say, there is no business like show business, so anything is possible. Hopefully, by some miracle, there will be a revolution in creativity, which ultimately is needed to boost sales.