Only five Indonesian bands have ever set foot on stage at Wacken Open Air, the massive German music festival that has hosted some of rock and metal’s most prominent names since it began 31 years ago. That number is set to increase in September next year, however, with the addition of Voice of Baceprot, a hijab-wearing groove-metal trio of women in their early 20s who hail from the region of Garut, West Java.
It’s undoubtedly a proud moment for many Indonesian metalheads, and a dream come true for Voice of Baceprot, who have yet to reach household name status at home. But the announcement has also prompted the resurgence of critics who’ve slung negativity at the band since they formed in 2014, many on the grounds that it’s unbecoming for hijab-wearing Muslim women to play rock music. Some have suggested their perceived lack of skill and onstage experience make them unworthy of that Wacken’s coveted global stage, while others have even insinuated the band did some backdoor dealing, paying to perform at the festival.
You don’t have to be a detective to deduce that the sneering and speculation are steeped in old-school sexism, conservatism, and stale ideas about rock music as a playground solely for boys (and Satan-worshipping ones, at that).
As for the rumours that Voice of Baceprot paid to play at the festival, Wacken Open Air put those firmly to rest in a statement to NME: “A member of a booking team saw a report on them on TV, we got to know the girls’ agent for Europe and decided to offer them a slot at our festival. Needless to say, we’re really looking forward to their show at W:O:A 2022!”
“To slander is easier than to create, which is why it is not surprising to see many choosing to sneer and mock instead”
Indonesia has had its fair share of female rockers, but not many are currently active on a mainstream level – certainly not ones who headbang while wearing religious headscarves. Voice of Baceprot have become lightning rods in this landscape, and they’ve heard it all.
“To slander is easier than to create, which is why it is not surprising to see many choosing to sneer and mock instead,” says Firdda’ Marsya’ Kurnia, the band’s lead singer and guitarist. Even some of their parents were confused by their “hobby” early on, she adds. Fortunately, they have since begun supporting Voice of Baceprot – rounded out by bassist Widi Rahmawati and drummer Euis ‘Sitti’ Aisyah – after seeing how serious they are and after the band were booked for music festivals around West Java.
Voice of Baceprot will fire back at their detractors on their next single. Titled ‘God, Allow Me (Please) to Play Music’, it directly confronts those still refuse to view women as equal to men. According to Marsya, it deals with the “suppression of women” and “our common designation as objects and second-rate human beings”.
It’s a defensive song, she admits, but one that needed to be written and sung.
Marsya doesn’t say whether the prayer in the title is literal: if the band feel the need to ask permission from God to rock out. Still, she clarifies that Voice of Baceprot – all of them devout, but progressive-minded – will not tolerate being misjudged and derided for their faith.
“Maybe if we were not women, we would not feel the need to occupy ourselves with writing a song asking for permission from God to play music freely. If we were not women, maybe people will not say that we are an embarrassment to our religion because we were selected to perform at a huge metal festival that they deem a Satanic music festival,” Marsya says, visibly upset but still determined to prove naysayers wrong.
“We were just a bit saddened when we realised that even a work of art could be categorized based on gender.”
Voice of Baceprot aren’t naive: they know that as three Muslim women, wearing headscarves and playing metal music, they make strong talking points. But they’re eager to prove themselves with their music and their socially conscious lyrics.
On their first single ‘School Revolution’, they sing about feeling imprisoned by the limiting studies at school, unable to express their passions. The lyrics mix Indonesian and English, with metaphors of school as a ‘prison’ and an English verse in which Marsya sings: “And my soul is empty / And my dream was dying / My soul fall in the dark side / And I lose my life”. It’s dramatic lyricism, but “we tried to bring forward themes that are closer to home,” Marsya says.
As the upcoming single and Wacken Open Air booking signal, Voice of Baceprot are ready to make big moves. Last year, the band moved from Garut to Jakarta, the country’s capital and its entertainment centre, primarily to be close to their new management. They are also releasing a series of tracks from the live EP ‘The Other Side Of Metalism’. Two weeks ago, they kicked things off with a cover of One Minute Silence’s ‘I Wear My Skin’, and followed it up last Tuesday with a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Testify’. The band have shared several covers on YouTube, but ‘The Other Side Of Metalism’ is getting a release on streaming services, as well.
Voice of Baceprot have also begun taking lessons with established Indonesian musicians, including guitarist Stevie Item from metal band Deadsquad and Indonesian bass legend Barry Likumahuwa. The trio are eager to expand their repertoire beyond hip-hop-infused groove metal.
“Early on, we were influenced by bands like System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Linkin Park,” says Sitti, “but on our new songs, we’d like to explore other influences that we’ve never tried before.”
Voice of Baceprot’s mentors teach the trio how to better their technical skills and onstage presence – but also how to promote themselves, especially on social media. Social media was, of course, how the band first shot to fame. In their early days, their live performance videos spread widely on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – at first within Indonesia, and then beyond. Last year, Tom Morello retweeted a video of Voice of Baceprot performing Rage’s ‘Guerrilla Radio’, which he pronounced “ROCKING”, while enthusiastic supporter Flea has tweeted that he is “so down with Voice of Baceprot”.
“We are honored and overjoyed that our voice could be heard by these famous musicians who also happen to be our idols,” Widi says. Voice of Baceprot know, she adds, that they “have been given this massive opportunity for our music to be heard not just by locals but also by people abroad”.
And as for all the metalheads clamouring for a collaboration, Voice of Baceprot don’t currently have any concrete plans to further their relationship with those rock stars, but Sitti says it’s something they hope can happen one day.
There’s still over a year before Voice of Baceprot take the stage at Wacken Open Air. In the meantime, the trio will hone their skills and channel their anger at sexist, conservative haters into their music.
“Sexism is firmly entrenched in this matter because most of these detractors are either ignorant or do not know how sexist their remarks are,” Sitti declares. “But we’ve chosen to relax, pay no heed to them, and keep on making music.”
Voice of Baceprot are releasing songs from ‘The Other Side of Metalism’ EP every Tuesday, with the full EP out in early August