The state of Indonesian visual kei today

The year’s 2017.

It’s been several decades now since Japanese pop culture started gaining fans in Indonesia. Called by broadly-sweeping term of ‘jejepangan’ that also includes enthusiasts of Japan’s traditional culture, the ‘scene’ has been around for longer than some of its fans today.

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The bigger question might be, “What is a ‘jejepangan’ band? What sets them apart from other bands that also play modern, Western-influenced music?” But it is not what we’re going to focus about here. Let’s zoom in to one slice of the ‘scene’ that is undeniably Japanese: visual kei.

Bands that idolize or are influenced by Japanese visual kei artistes have been known for about two decades now in Indonesia, specifically in the island of Java, more specifically in the capital, although other cities also boast their home-grown talents. In greater Jakarta – and also in other cities nearby like Bogor and Bandung – fans of visual kei/Japanese bands kept in touch through mailing lists and forums in the early days of the spread of Internet. People shared information and, ahem, files, and this closely-bond, rather small-ish scene started organizing events for bands where the bands basically performed for friends who were also their fans – the lines were blurred. Sometimes they managed to get sponsors, many times they didn’t. Bands like Melody Maker, Wasabi, Shuriken, Sakura Drops, Onizuka, JETTO, Le’Sacralist, and X Shibuya also gained fame by performing at ‘jejepangan’ events held in campuses, especially by the departments of Japanese letters.

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A former musician active during the era to whom we talked to reminisced of how it used to be: it was basically a DIY scene, where performers really had to rely on their own resources to be able to come on stage with costumes and make-up that resembled those sported by their favourite Japanese musicians. And after all the effort, they didn’t usually reach break-even point: they did it out of love, and would be lucky if the organizing committee paid them enough for transport and food. Some bands made it big though, despite niche-y big: some got featured in Hai magazine, went on-air in radio shows like Iro-iro, appeared on MTV. Some of them managed to pen, perform, and record their original songs, sold through places like Soho Semanggi, to warm applause of fans.

But as time goes by, band members got old and came to have ‘real life’ to be taken care of: work, family. Their bands were not something they could find a living from. Some bands switched genres, and by extension scenes, as they paddled their way to survive. Added to the fact that the scene was not free of internal drama that created rift among bands or even members of the same band, the scene fell apart, leaving some vacant years without any activity that was quite noticeable, although more bands came and went – one of the most promising was Jellyfish. Most would be remembered as cover bands performing in ‘jejepangan’ events without music legacy of their own. Jellyfish left a few records behind, but even they did not survive as a band.

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In the last few years, the VK scene in Indonesia has been stirring back to life. The ripples are still small, but undoubtedly big changes have surged in. It’s now easier for bands to spread their music and news about themselves, thanks to the Internet. Contacting labels, live houses, promoters, can be done in the blink of an eye. That’s how BLACKMORAL got their job in Japan as a supporting band for LOST ASH: sending e-mails and demos directly to the live houses through e-mail addresses they found online. It was not a trip that made them return home rich and famous – after all, breaking into the already tightly competitive VK market in Japan is not an easy thing – but it made them realise and learn a lot of things.

The most important thing was, they realised that back home, there wasn’t a good system running to support the industry. Hell, the industry itself barely existed. Lives, events, and fans were not properly managed. It hit them home that things needed to be done if we really wanted to have a healthy and alive visual kei scene in Indonesia.

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BLACKMORAL has since undergone changes in line-up and music direction and is now operating as four-piece HYDRA, taking influence from bands like ViViD and DIV. They’re signed to Singapore’s Table Studio with fellow label mates IVY MOIRE that hails from the other end of the island of Java. While HYDRA is colourful and cheerful, IVY MOIRE is darker, edgier, but both have managed to gain fans, showing that there is room for visual kei of different styles in Indonesia. Alongside other bands like MEA and the sadly-defunct Sihir Project, they have been releasing records of original songs. Fans would buy their CDs and merchs, displaying them proudly. More people realise that bands need concrete support to keep on going, including through sales and events.

On Sunday, January 22, 2017, HYDRA held an event called HyperDay 2.0, in which they headlined a string of ‘jejepangan’ bands. The event took place on the 6th floor of Blok M Plaza, which offered a quite spacious place for people to gather, although by definition it’s not a proper live venue.

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Not all of the bands were ‘visual kei’ (the hot, awesome Actinium is definitely not), and all bands still covered songs by Japanese bands instead of presenting a setlist fully comprising their original songs, but the enthusiasm shown by both bands and gig-goers looked very promising. Many came in their VK cosplay getups, indicating that VK still has quite a lot of hardcore followers. But is their number big enough? Is the number growing? Can there be a healthy, self-sustaining VK industry in Indonesia, a country so big where fans are scattered across different provinces and difficult to gather together? These are questions and challenges that VK bands and fans in Indonesia still need to tackle. It might take a few years before we see any gladdening results, but one thing is clear: if people in the scene don’t work together and foster the market, Indonesian visual kei will never really take off.

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Get the latest records of HYDRA and IVY MOIRE

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HYDRA – Ami

HYDRA returned with their second single, Ami, still offering cheerful sounds, clearly made with furitsuke in mind. Just like their previous single, PASSION, this song is guaranteed to pump up the mood of the audience. Don’t forget to join the hand movements if you watch this song being performed on stage!

Get their records, merch and info at their Facebook page.

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IVY MOIRE

HYDRA’s dark brother, IVY MOIRE, showed in this record that they are too capable of soft, haunting sounds, with vocalist Kyou singing to piano-based melodies. Just like HYDRA, IVY MOIRE offers their lyrics mostly in Japanese, targeting not only a larger VK audience but also local fans who are used to listening to VK songs in Japanese.

Get their records, merch and info at their Facebook page.

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