In September – six months after the first case of the coronavirus was detected in Indonesia and a month after reports that the country’s economy had contracted for the first time in 20 years – Jakarta rock band .Feast released the new mini-album ‘Uang Muka’. With a title meaning ‘downpayment’, and cover art featuring a fortune cat looming over the huddled masses, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all a little on the nose.
Capitalism sucks, .Feast agree – but its effects are still worth exploring. “Money affects everyone differently,” frontman Baskara Putra tells NME between puffs of his vape. “It’s one thing we all may have in common but we all have a different relationship with it. For me, I believe that money is a tool used to get us somewhere, for a while.”
The seven-track project, released as a stopgap of sorts before .Feast’s next full-length album, is a collective statement: each band member chipped in on songwriting, and the result is a collection of tracks that explore various themes related to capitalism “that are personal to us”, Baskara says. Even ‘Belalang Sembah’ (‘Praying Mantis’), contributed by guitarist Dicky Renanda, which seems like a love song on the surface, is about the “unhealthy relationship we have with money”.
For guitarist Adnan Satyanugraha, his track ‘Komodofikasi’ (‘Commodification’) focuses on the world of influencers, social media and the term ‘content creation’. On the track, Baskara sings “Ciptakan kebutuhan yang tak ada, menjual cerita konflik manusia” (“Creating a need that doesn’t exist, profiting from a man-made conflict”) before a wall of guitars come crashing through. This hurtling angst continues in the rest of the album, though there are moments of comedy and that sense of dry humour that Indonesians are known for – like a skit and a cheesy ‘iklan’ (TV commercial) sample in ‘Cicilan 12 Bulan (Iklan)’ (‘12-month Installment Plan’).
.Feast have always written from their own distinct viewpoint; the band tell NME their politics have always been personal. “It’s always been relevant, at least to us. It’s something we constantly talk about,” Baskara says. “Social media, content creators, money and debt – I suppose releasing it at this time makes it all the more relevant. It’s actually coming from a place of discomfort.”
“All that we do comes from a personal and honest place, from the things that we see and we feel”
The members of .Feast met as students studying political science in the University of Indonesia, and are no strangers to controversy. Political activism in music is nothing new, and Indonesian politics is – let’s be honest – wild. The country has survived the New Order authoritarian regime, terror attacks by religious extremists, student riots, multiple waves of corruption – and still grapples with those things to this day. In the ’70s and ’80s, rock musician Iwan Fals was one of the most vocal critics of Suharto’s rule and was frequently jailed for opposing the then-president. Before him, there was pop trio Bimbo, who used their upbeat, Latin-influenced tunes (with a Sundanese twist) to criticise the government.
During the student riots in Jakarta that happened in September 2019, it was a song by .Feast – ‘Peradaban’, which means ‘civilisation’ – that rallied the masses. Students from all over the country had gathered to protest outside the gates of the National Parliament building, rallying against new legislation that would reduce the accountability of the Corruption Eradication Commission and other bills which sought to penalise extramarital sex and insults against the president. In videos shared on Instagram of students marching, they held up various flags – the Indonesian flag, university flags, flags from various student organisations – while singing the lyrics to ‘Peradaban’.
.Feast have made their mark not just on Indonesia’s culture, but its politics, too – though they never saw themselves becoming socially conscious firebrands. “To be honest, when we started doing music, we had no idea how we wanted our songs to be – there was no conscious effort to start a band and make music that is political,” Baskara says. “But all that we do comes from a personal and honest place, from the things that we see and we feel.”
A year on from the riots, students are still asking for accountability – and have more recently joined workers in mass protests against the controversial omnibus bill, which critics say will gut workers’ rights and environmental protections in a bid to spur job creation. The ongoing pandemic has already put the Indonesian government in the hot seat for its handling of the crisis; at time of writing, Indonesia has the 19th most coronavirus cases in the world so far, per the World Health Organisation.
Indonesia’s economy has suffered as a result of the pandemic – and its people’s spirit, too, the band say. “We’ve seen many of our peers and other local musicians giving up their passion and opting for a more stable job,” Dicky says. “Some of them have also sold off their instruments and gear just to make some extra cash.”
Things don’t seem to be getting better by the day, and .Feast are frustrated. “Do you know that they are still going to be holding elections in the middle of a pandemic? And with physical rallies on the streets,” Baskara says, referring to the local elections looming in December. “There [are] some people who are struggling financially, fighting to be healthy and trying to get by and then you have some people who are making and bending the rules to their convenience. That’s what gets me angry these days.”
On ‘Kembali Ke Posisi Masing-Masing’ – one of the more powerful tracks on ‘Uang Muka’ – Baskara repeats the line “kembali ke posisi masing-masing / tahu diri kau dalam bermimpi”: “Return to your original positions / to truly only live in dreams”. While it’s easy to see only the bleakness and frustration in ‘Uang Muka’, it’s also important to remember the whole point of protest music: to create a dialogue about the future we want for our world. And we see this in the youths singing .Feast’s lyrics while marching in protests – their words have inspired people to action.
Although the pandemic has everyone in lockdown and in their homes for the time being, an album like ‘Uang Muka’ is a reminder of the resilience of Indonesia and its people. But even the ones doing the inspiring deserve a break. When asked what they would like to do most after being stuck at home for so long, Baskara replies, “I just want to go to the cinema to watch a movie, man.”
.Feast’s album ‘Uang Muka’ is out now