The city is alive.
It roars with many voices. It roars with the peristaltic surge of scooters like sparrows swimming like fish in a flock. At peak times the deep belly growl IS the environment. It is a thing!
The city is impossible to digest, easy to feel consumed when traveling with a more timid disposition.The city eats. The background speakers of midnight street-side eateries play gamelan and grindcore. It knibbles at your skin with the sawing tickle of the Indonesian mosquito. Pray the demon Dengue is not near by. Anoint yourself with the ointment of protection of Saint DEET.
The city is haunted. He says he can only sleep after the half four morning prayer as that’s when the ghosts in the night settle. He has two rooms at home. In one, the light has been on since the earth tore 13 years ago, never turned off, never changed, it is as a bulb possessed, a lit messenger. He doesn’t go into that room any more. It is inhabited by ghosts. He could do something about it but seems content to let them be. The bigger concern is the lingering spirit of the baby found dead on the river out the back of his house the day before. Spirits dwell in the curve of the river, attention must be paid for seven days. Animism is alive and thriving alongside Islam.
The city has a temperature. It is dry, unlike its’ humid siblings to the north. The city may be indifferent to us, it is impossible to reciprocate that sentiment.
This is the first 24 hours in Yogyakarta.
It’s been about 10 years since we were last here. And this part of the trip seems too squeezed. There are areas we want to visit but cannot due to time constraints. Our schedule here is four nights: Two concerts and Chrissie presenting a talk on drawing and zines at Kunci, a local independent centre for cultural studies. First we meet with Indra, our now long time friend from our first trip here 13 or 14 years ago. He’s waiting for us at the airport. We flew in from Kota Kinabalu via Kuala Lumpur where we slept over night in a pod. Uber seems to be dying in this region, it was the main app-based taxi service in the Peninsula last time we were here. Now it’s Grab. Here in Yogyakarta it’s Go-jak. An O-jak was old style tuk-tuk, often 3 wheels, that people used for cheap transport. Go-Jak is the app-based update.
Where we sleep for the next three nights is in a shared collective house that’s in the process of decanting all items into a new house several doors down. The house is also behind a very fine coffee shop, making brews from many local beans, this is something of a developing phenomenon akin to hip coffee bars back home. On the first night however, our host Indra’s band, Narcolocos, are playing at the bar we will play at in a couple of days. So we head off for an evening of Yogya-style grindcore. It’s a large turn out on a Monday night for the 7-band line up. LeftyFish start the night with a ripping complex style that mixes smooth soul, J-pop, jazz breaks interspersed in the brutal technical frenzy. Particularly good. The rest is wave-on-wave of intensity. We leave at 1am and grab food at a road side stall before collapsing for the night after a ride home on the back of scooters.
The following day friends have organized for Chrissie to give a talk. The venue is Kunci, a local independently organised center for cultural studies that focuses in the curation of zines and independent publications. We’re told that the first local zines were in the late 60s, early 70s and concentrated on queer rights. 15 people hang out and draw with Chrissie. The discussion moves around alot but central topics are the power of drawing as a medium anyone can access share stories, the value of making things with your hands, and documenting hidden or untold stoiries through zines. Chrissie also introduces people to the great work of New York comic artist, Lynda Barry.
Next day we take ourselves out for a walk on the streets of Yogyakarta while we look for the art gallery that is holding the ArtJog exhibition. Funnily enough we have seen an ArtJog exhibition on a previous tour. This exhibition presents bold and challenging works. This time the presentations focus on the concept of “spaces” and particularly the impact of human control. We also notice a continous thread related to gender identity and conversations on religious enticements which coincidentally had featured in a few recent personal conversations. Later we prepare ourselves for our show, return to the venue with all we require, and settle in for another night of seven bands. The music ranges from indy-pop, shoegaze, the Semarang punk of Rendam, who we will get to play with again, and an industrial group equipped with a skillsaw or some other kind of construction/destruction equipment. Alcohol is very expensive here. But cheap alcohol is brewed locally and is shared in the shadows, the quality of alcohol from pleasant to harsh to lethal. Evidence of intoxication is obvious as we have to dodge the splattering of fresh vomit on stage as we set up to play. The evening is a joyous ruckus, it’s intense and immense fun here. A hidden highlight of the show was being invited to get changed in the living space of the owner of the bar. We painted up perched at the end of the dining table and then waited to go on in the venure kitchen.
Next morning we catch a train to Klatan for our second show stopping first at the train station for brilliant breakfast of tempeh, chili, rice and greens. The train trip is only three stops, 40 minutes, but Klatan seems a world away from Yogyakarta; quieter, less frantic, buildings with more color and more greenery everywhere. Klatan is famous for its springs of fresh water, in fact much of the bottled water that is brought for drinking comes from these springs. But in addition to the water siphoned for sale there are also the swimming springs! Our first port of call therefore is to the springs for a swim, a most unexpected moist treat. The band Rendam arrive at the house we are staying at where they instruct us on how to drink the local alcohol. In fact they are touring with a special brew from Semarang as part of their merch. Tonight’s show is held at a local university in an open foyer-like area. There are four bands, a local skinhead/oi band doing 4-Skins covers, another local act playing more ska-inspired original songs, Rendam with their three-piece punk rock and us. What’s particularly nice about this show is that after the performance there is a planned discussion held with the bands and audience. All sitting in a circle, the performers are asked to discuss their process for song writing, their creative process and any other points of interest that anyone may have interest to explore. It all wraps up and we head off for a few hours sleep before returning to the airport.
Thankyou Yogyakjarta for an awesome stay. Extra special ups to Indra, so good to hang out once more. And now to Guangzhou, China.