Sun, 15 Jun 2003

Superman Is Dead: Punk rock's next best thing?

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The band's name sounds pretentious, as do nicknames like Bobby Cool and Eka Rock, not to mention the tagline "punk rock is about being 18 and saying no" on the album cover.

However, the three members of Balinese punk rock group Superman Is Dead claim they want to steer clear of anything that smacks of pretension and the mainstream.

This includes being labeled funky and gaul -- a hip slang word meaning popular -- as carrying political messages in their songs and being asked endless questions about the Bali bombings just because they happen to hail from the island.

"Well, we try to contribute, in the charity concert for instance," drummer Jerinx said of the bombing. "But there's no point in talking about that."

As for the magnitude of the Bali bombing's impact on the Balinese music scene, he just shrugged: "Local bands have at least one song dedicated to the incident."

The song, All Angels Cry, sort of touches on the tragedy, although Jerinx said it was more universal in its theme.

Despite their home province being a prolific haven for artistic talent, they are usually of the traditional or fine arts variety, and it is rather rare that Balinese musicians or singers gain nationwide popularity. An exception, however, is top guitarist Dewa Budjana.

The emergence of Superman Is Dead, or SID, came as quite a refreshing surprise. Last year, every teen magazine in the country was suddenly talking about the three mid-20s guys as the next best thing.

The band was all over the place, opening for American rock band Hoobastank at the Hard Rock Hotel in Bali and performing at many popular teen events in the capital, like the Puma Street Games and PL Fair.

They owed their popularity to their kicking three-chord music. And, perhaps, it was also a case of being in the right place at the right time, with today's rock scene bursting at the seams with knockoff bands trying desperately to be U2, of all the bands in the world.

SID also came along when American punk bands like Blink 182 and Sum 41 were enjoying mainstream popularity.

It all led to Superman Is Dead signing with Sony Music and the release of their debut album, Kuta Rock City.

"But this didn't happen all of a sudden. We'd been struggling the past eight years, and had already produced three indie albums," said vocalist Bobby.

Hailing from the Kuta Beach area (Jerinx owns a small bar there), the three buddies formed the band in 1995, inspired by Green Day.

"We chose punk, not because it was hot at that moment, but because it fits us -- and it's easy to play," Jerinx laughed.

He added that the style of Californian punk also fits them more than the politically oriented British version, "because we grew up on the beach of Kuta, which is culturally similar to California".

The band initially picked a song from Stone Temple Pilots called Superman Silvergun for their name, but later went for Superman Is Dead.

Does the band have something against superheroes?

"Hmm ... sort of, because there's no such thing as Superman. It's another way of saying that nobody's perfect."

The band started in the local underground scene with three albums, Case 15 in 1995, Superman Is Dead in 1999, and Bad, Bad, Bad in early 2002, with most of the tracks in English.

Gradually, they began to gain recognition among local fans and were invited to perform their own songs at cafes in the area, an unprecedented achievement among local bands.

The band also benefited from foreign travelers to the island who took a liking to their music, and brought tapes back to their countries.

"Our songs have been aired on radio stations in Australia, Japan, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. We've also received many invitations to perform in those countries. Too bad we don't have the money to go there," Jerinx said.

Financial reasons constituted one of the main considerations in accepting the Sony offer, despite the public view that joining a major label meant selling out, forfeiting creative freedom and independence.

"At first we also thought that, but it turned out to be wrong. We're given absolute freedom in creativity, we're even allowed to use the 'f' word, and other words that are considered obscene. The record company just puts a 'parental advisory' label on the album cover," Jerinx said.

"And who said that in the independent (indie) music scene we'd get that kind of freedom? That's a myth. Indie producers are always telling us what to do."

As for the contractual obligation to produce a certain number of albums within a set timeframe, the band said it was not a problem.

"That's good for us, so that we become musically responsible. As a band, we want it that way -- we want to release an album every year so that we'll exist for a long time. Whereas when we were still in the indie scene, there was a four-year gap between each album, because we didn't have the money to produce them, we're not rich," said Jerinx.

Punk is all about rebelling against something, and Superman Is Dead said they were taking aim at hypocrisy in society.

"Indonesians love to judge. Just because we drink and have tattoos and body piercings, they think we're criminals," Jerinx said.

"Another thing that bothers us is how people view punk as something trendy, something hip. We want to show people what punk really is," he added.

Part of that reality for them includes drinking on stage, even though they may be performing in front of high-school kids.

"We don't want to be involved in the antidrug or antialcohol thing. It's not because we're users, but for us, it's all about choice," Jerinx said.

"Besides, today's kids are far smarter than our generation."

Well, just listen to their album, which "talks about sex, women and alcohol. No political message". It may not be revolutionary, and it might be a tad cliche. But at least the band is making a name for itself, and that in itself is noteworthy.