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Musical Protest in Indonesian Metal

Our author Jeremy Wallach comments on the 2014 music video «House of Greed» by the Indonesian metal band Burgerkill [1] (directed/animated by JungW). He thereby talks about the tradition of popular music as a vehicle of political and social criticism in Indonesia. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here [2]).

Film still from Burgerkill (Music), JungW (Video): «House of Greed» (Indonesia 2014)

Indonesia’s statistics are impressive: fourth most populous nation, third largest democracy, largest majority-Muslim nation, one of the top twenty economies. Adding to this list is the fact that it houses one of the world’s largest heavy metal scenes and it is an increasingly common destination for internationally touring rock bands. But the sheer number of metalheads in Indonesia is just part of the story. In this masterful video for the song «House of Greed», one of the country’s premiere metal acts, Burgerkill, delivers a searing indictment of politicians’ malfeasance and avarice via serrated riffs and stark nightmarish imagery.

A Vehicle of Political and Social Criticism

Led by iconic artists like Iwan Fals, Rhoma Irama, and Harry Roesli, popular music was a potent vehicle of political and social criticism in Indonesia during the Soeharto dictatorship (1965-1998) because it was less censored than other mass media. This spirit of musical protest lives on today in Indonesia’s massive underground rock scene. Extreme metal, a form often dismissed in the West as politically inert, has emerged among its loudest voices. Sam Dunn, in the 2008 film Global Metal, notes that the metal bands he encountered in Indonesia were so politically-oriented that the lyrics sounded like «hardcore punk» to him. But Indonesian metalers like Burgerkill are just writing about things that matter to them in the manner of metal bands everywhere, except in their case those things include their country’s volatile politics.

Film still from Burgerkill (Music), JungW (Video): «House of Greed» (Indonesia 2014)

The World's First Heavy Metal President

Despite a successful transition to democracy following Soeharto’s ouster, Indonesia remains plagued by rampant corruption at all levels of government – and no one doubts that the problem starts at the top. The two-domed building at the end of the Burgerkill video is the DPR, the Indonesian House of Representatives, and the rapacious, toothsome creatures gobbling up American currency represent the Representatives. The spider-, rat- and cat-like monsters are members of Indonesia’s craven and arrogant national political elite, villainous hypocrites who despoil the environment and manipulate the system for personal gain rather than fight for the interests of their constituents. The election in July 2014 of a political outsider, democratic reformer, and Burgerkill fan named Joko Widodo to the Indonesian presidency might just transform the grim tableau depicted in the video clip. But can the world’s first Heavy Metal President defeat the House of Greed?

This text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds [3].