“That our music can fly as far as possible, reaching places we have never been to before,” guitarist and vocalist Firda ‘Marsya’ Kurnia earnestly replies.
“That it will make history,” answers drummer Euis Siti Aisyah, or Sitti, with a laugh.
Marsya and bassist Widi Rahmawati good-naturedly shush her. “How can it be history if it just came out?” Marsya asks.
Well, Voice of Baceprot are no strangers to blazing their own trail. In nine years, the NME 100 graduates have gone from teenagers playing covers in their rural hometown of Singajaya to some of the country’s most prominent metal musicians (baceprot, pronounced ‘ba-chey-prot’, means noisy in their native Sundanese). Along the way, these three young, Muslim women have faced hostility, wilful misunderstanding and contempt – all of which has hardened the band and their resilience.
No wonder VOB named their debut album after the Indonesian word for a body of igneous rock that cuts through other rocks. “To us, ‘retas’ means to open or smash boundaries, much like our musical journey so far,” Marsya tells NME. “We hear people questioning what genre our music falls into. It’s so easy to be fixated on a certain idea of metal and I think we shouldn’t get bogged down by all these boundaries, as long as the music is honest.”
Mixing flavours of early 2000s nu-metal and hard rock, Marsya, Widi and Sitti embrace big riffs, funky basslines and technical instrumental sections – a far cry from the covers of religious songs and Top 40 hits they started out playing under a decade ago.
The trio had all joined a theatre extracurricular class in middle school, and were cast as musicians in a production, but “our acting was terrible,” Widi remembers. They dropped the acting and kept the music, their school counsellor, Cep Ersa Eka Susila Satia, also known as Abah Erza, helping form Voice of Baceprot.
“I think we shouldn’t get bogged down by boundaries as long as the music is honest” — Marsya
In the beginning, the band had up to 15 members (people gradually left due to their parents’ disapproval) and they would play songs by the likes of Maher Zain, Maroon 5 and Jessie J. One day, the girls came across Abah’s rock- and metal-heavy playlist on his laptop. System of A Down’s ‘Toxicity’ was the very first song that the band learned to play; a 2016 video of the trio covering it was one of the many videos that propelled the band to virality on social media. By the following year, they were making global headlines.
Voice of Baceprot have used their music to draw attention to important social causes from the get-go. One of their earliest songs, ‘The Enemy of Earth is You’, which laments environmental pollution and climate change, was released in the wake of 2016, a record-breaking year of natural disasters in Indonesia – including flash floods in the West Java regency of Garut where VOB are from. As high schoolers, they wrote ‘School Revolution’, a critique of a rigid educational system. ‘Retas’ opens with ‘What’s the Holy (Nobel) Today?’, an anti-war anthem they wrote in 2017.
Clearly, Voice of Baceprot have vital messages they want to deliver. But as long as the band has existed, they have been dogged by criticism, mockery and vitriol – from death threats made by religious conservatives, to sexist speculation about their success, to an unnerving obsession with their headscarves, or hijabs.
“People would say, ‘You girls are good, but you should’ve gone with qasida’,” Marsya recalls, referring to Islamic songs commonly sung by a group of women in hijabs. “There were also accusations that we wore hijabs after starting the band to gain popularity quickly, that we took advantage of the stigma surrounding our choice of clothing. Like, what? As if we wanted that kind of attention.”
The obsession with the trio’s appearance also came from abroad, especially during Voice of Baceprot’s 2021 European tour, which prompted the band to call out journalists fixated with their hijabs from the stage. “They would ask, ‘Who forced you to wear hijabs?’, ‘Can you play music while wearing hijabs in Indonesia?’” Marsya says. “While it is true that it’s not that common to see an all-female metal band in hijabs, our country is not that strict.”
Initially, the noise and mockery got into their heads, the band giving voice to their anguish on ‘God, Allow Me (Please) To Play Music’: “I feel like I’m falling down in the deep hole of hatred / I’m not the criminal / I’m not the enemy / I just wanna sing a song to show my soul.” But it also taught the trio an invaluable lesson about tolerance and respect.
“In our village, we were too comfortable with our privilege as the majority [as Muslims], until we got into the metal scene, where people don’t see hijab-wearing women as part of it, so we became the minority,” Marsya says. “That’s why we think the message of peace and tolerance is so important.”
Talking to Voice of Baceprot in 2023, it’s obvious from their thoughtful answers – not to mention sense of humour – that the band have learned to take the hate and hardship in their stride.
“We grew up surrounded by pros and cons,” Marsya begins.
“Threats and bullying? We grew up with them,” Widi adds.
“Now, we’re just numb to it,” Sitti says. All three of them crack up.
The trio, who are all in their early 20s, have been friends since childhood. At the height of the pandemic, they made the move from Garut to Jakarta to further their music careers; today, they live together in the Indonesian capital. They also started taking lessons from established Indonesian metal and jazz musicians, such as Stevie Item of Deadsquad and Barry Likumahuwa, and became more “productive” in writing their own songs.
Their growth is obvious in ‘Kawani’, one of the newer songs on ‘Retas’ and the band’s first instrumental number. A thrilling mid-tracklist entry, ‘Kawani’ (which means ‘courage’ in Sundanese) features a groovy, heavy double-pedal section and Sundanese-flavoured bass solo all in less than four minutes. One of the more interesting songs on the record, it’s possibly just the start of Voice of Baceprot’s exploration of Sundanese music. “Perhaps in the future we can collaborate with someone who can play a Sundanese traditional instrument,” Marsya muses.
“Why bother with all the noise? The energy we’d spend on it can be used to create art instead” — Widi
A page has just turned on another new chapter of Voice of Baceprot’s story. Last Thursday (August 3), they embarked on their very first US tour, which will all in all take them to 11 cities. VOB are nervous and excited for this new adventure: “We want to take pictures in front of the Hollywood sign,” Marsya says, laughing, “and we’re excited to see a new audience!” Besides the typical preparation – production, logistics, documentation – the band are focusing on getting mentally ready for anything. After all, as Marsya puts it, “everyone says America is like the last boss in a video game”.
In the past, the band have been co-signed by a few high-profile US musicians, including Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea. Morello, in particular, seemed to strike up a friendship with the trio, getting on a Zoom call with VOB that was uploaded to the band’s YouTube account.
Now that VOB are headed to the US, will they be getting in touch? “The last time we talked to Tom was last year. We would love to collaborate with him on stage, but at the very least hopefully he will come to our show,” Marsya says with a smirk. “But hey, if there’s an opportunity for a bigger collaboration on record, we wouldn’t say no!”
News of Voice of Baceprot’s US tour has also reached the band’s hometown, prompting a surreal and hilarious encounter for Marsya’s family. “I just got a phone call this morning from my mum. She said someone came to the house offering a piece of land for sale,” she says, laughing. “‘Your daughter was on TV, she must make a lot of money!’”
It’s exciting to see just how far Voice of Baceprot have come, but their struggle is far from over. The amount of gatekeeping and mudslinging they experience on a regular basis, especially from so-called metalheads, is still concerning. “There has been progress, but the number of women in the Indonesian metal scene is minuscule, and it’s still not a safe space for us,” Marsya says. “Sexual assaults still happen at concerts, and obviously social media is very toxic. Comments such as ‘how come VOB gets selected? There are bands that are more metal out there’ or remarks about our bodies or anything physical are still very common.”
On top of that, coming from a more conservative background means that to some, VOB’s musical achievements mean nothing unless they settle down with a man. “It doesn’t matter that we’ve toured Europe twice and are about to do a US tour. When we go back to our hometown, the questions we get are ‘When will you get married and have kids?’ That’s seen as the highest achievement for a woman,” Marsya laments.
Even while on the precipice of a career milestone, Voice of Baceprot have no illusions on what they’re up against. What’s heartening is that they are equally clear-eyed on how they will prevail over the cacophony.
“Why bother with all the noise? The energy we’d spend on it can be used to create art instead,” Widi says. “We’ll just respond with music.”
Voice of Baceprot’s ‘Retas’ is out now. The band are on tour in the United States – find more info here.
Listen to Voice of Baceprot’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music
Writer: Yudhistira Agato
Photographer: Saska Paloma Gladina
Makeup: Vanesha Ayu
Location: Dharmawangsa Studio, Jakarta