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Punk against the state

Darius Ossami / actApril 2, 2013

Indonesia's punk scene is alive and kicking despite conservative forces in the mainly Muslim country which would do anything to repress tatooed activists.

Punk in IndonesienImage: DW/ D.Ossami

Medan is in the north of Sumatra and its architecture is a relic of the Dutch colonial period.

With the muezzins calling to prayer five times a day, it's a typical big city in Indonesia.

Tulang in Medan Bild: Darius Ossami 2013
Tulang earns money with screen printing at his bamboo homeImage: DW/ D.Ossami

But what makes it different is Tulang's bamboo house on the city outskirts. Young tattooed men with mohicans go in and out. There is loud punk music emanating from the speakers.

Tulang is a member of the band RKA. He's over 30 and has been a punk for a long time. He says his neighbors aren't bothered by the fact that punks from all over the world visit and that sometimes concerts are extremely loud.

Right now, Kami Ada has come to visit. The Berlin-based punk band is made up of one Colombian, a Pole, a German and an Indonesian. Their name means "We Exist."

Cimot, who is Indonesian and has been living in Berlin for three years, chose the name and then organized a five-week tour of Sumatra, Java and Bali.

Punks in Medan Bild: Darius Ossami 2013
Punks advertize online and with classic methodsImage: DW/ D.Ossami

Prayer breaks

Whereas Indonesian punk subculture is as varied as its western equivalents and all styles from street punk to hardcore can be found, one major difference is the role of religion.

Indonesia's punks take off their shoes when they play in clubs that belong to Muslims. They take breaks when it is time to pray so that people are not disturbed.

However, some punks are worried about what is happening in the province of Aceh which borders Medan and where shariah law has been introduced.

Just over a year ago, some 65 punks were arrested there and sent to a re-education camp.

Poloh and Kiki refuse to be intimidated by the moral police: "We will continue to fight so that we can dress as we like and for freedom of speech and our democratic rights in Indonesia," they told Deutsche Welle.

Cracking down on punk

Even in Jakarta there has been a crackdown on the punk movement. Until February this year, one of the few places punks could meet and make music freely was Pondok Jati Station. Punks lived there for years and organized well-attended concerts that would be interrupted only by the trains but the location has now been demolished.

Milisi Kecoa in Bandung/Java. Bild: Darius Ossami 2013
Dozens of punks were arrested and sent to re-education camps in 2011Image: DW/ D.Ossami

Armbon thinks it is a great loss. "We need a space and more freedom, especially in Jakarta," he says.

Although there is some pressure from the authorities, Indonesia's punks stay in touch via the internet, at concerts and through fan magazines. They also organize benefit events to raise money for orphans or to campaign against corruption. Some have even set up a soup kitchen called "Food not Bombs."