Efek Rumah Kaca @ GSG Institut Teknologi Telkom, Bandung – 10/2/2012

Efek Rumah Kaca
1 hr 15 min 50 sec / 104 MB / 192kbps MP3

Efek Rumah Kaca are a band from Jakarta who I was actually going to see in Kuala Lumpur last December but their tour was postponed or cancelled for some reason. Fortunately, before leaving Nusantara (and yes, I’m using this term to include Malaysia as well), I had the opportunity to see them. And possibly making it more special, I had the opportunity to see them perform an acoustic set, even if their performance was “acoustic” in the sense that instead of using an electric guitar plugged through reverb, delay and other effects pedals and a guitar amp, the guitarist used an acoustic guitar plugged through reverb, delay and other effects pedals and a guitar amp.

A few of my Indonesian friends like Efek Rumah Kaca. And whenever I ask them why, they usually have the same response: “Mereka pakai Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar” – that is, they use good and proper Indonesian.

Maybe I just don’t understand, growing up with English as my native tongue, in a country that never successfully fought off imperialism with “One Motherland, One Nation, One Language” as its funadamental ideals, but I always found that reason odd. It might be that whereas the “One Language” in the Youth Pledge of 1928 was seen as a progressive move toward unity among all people of the archipelago oppressed by Dutch colonialism, the only analogous Australian example  I can think of is “Speak English or Fuck Off”, the rallying call of unity against the oppression of Anglo-Australians at the hands of the powerless non-Anglo minority populations. But even a brief look over the Anti-Bogan blog, will demonstrate that maybe these Anglo Freedom Fighters weren’t really specific when it comes down to the “good and proper” usage of English.

[TANGENT] I think it would be funny if there was a t-shirt that said: “Speak Cadigal or Fuck Off”. If it hasn’t been done already. [/TANGENT]

Racist connotations aside, I still can’t seem to understand the main reason for enjoying a band is because they use “good and proper Indonesian”. Maybe its because, even though I’ve spent years in school learning something that is considered proper English, I spend so much time trying to find the best ways to break English. I sit and look at pages and pages of LolCats pikchaz on teh interwebz. And although they said he wouldn’t make it, said he was a loser, said he was a fuckin’ psycho, look at Ninja now, all up in the interwebs, two thaasend naarn, and damn there’s just something awesome about hearing that Afrikaans accent rapping in Akrikaanglish. Besides Die Antwoord and their accents, some of the best (English language) hip hop is all about trying to find the best ways to tear apart the English language. And its not just a feature of hip hop, one of my favourite books, The God of Small Things, is a favourite because of the way Arundhati Roy plays with English. I am in awe of her ability to do so. Opening up the first page of the book, you’d find Arundhati Roy dedicating the book to “Mary Roy who grew me up” and people who don’t know any better always ask me, “Is it because she can’t write English properly?”

And I know its not just me that thinks one of the best things about travelling is learning the different ways that English is spoken. Anyone who’s been to Malaysia knows the determination one feels toward mastering the “lah”. You need to know where it goes, and how to say it – it’s not just something you can put on the end of every sentence. And if you stay there long enough, you might start to say, “open your shoes”, “close the light”, and if you stay there even longer you might begin to just use a whole bunch of Malay words in your English, or even impose Malay grammar rules on your English and start putting adjectives after the nouns. Maybe that last one was just me. You cannot deny the fascination of hearing English spoken in a completely different way to what you’re used to. Of course, there are the haters who’d call it “broken”, but fuck Lee Kuan Yew and let’s all Speak Good Singlish!

You don’t even need to go that far to hear English spoken in different ways. Catching a train around Sydney, you’d hear a whole lot of different accents and if you listen close enough you might even notice some little grammatical quirks depending on where you are. Listening to Chinese fathers talk to their children in English in the third person is one. And it wasn’t until I had it pointed out to me by a Singaporean friend, I noticed that I, and others that I know, have a tendency to end sentences with “but”. Seriously, why the fuck am I ending sentences with conjunctions? (Actually, at first my Singaporean friend though I was speaking Indonesian, adding mbak on the end to every sentence I made when talking to a friend). Maybe its a Bankstown thing. Bankstown in itself is a linguistic amusement park. The linguistic tour of Sydney is an internal journey as well. I’m aware that I switch between a variety of accents and styles of English depending on context. Maybe the differences are subtle, but I notice them.

Maybe my inability to accept “good and proper Indonesian” as a reason for liking a band come from the fact, that I didn’t grow up with “good and proper” English. Firstly, on my dad’s side of the family, I never had a grandmother or granfather, not even a nanna or a pop (I never knew my maternal grandfather, so I don’t actually know what the informal form of grandfather is. Is it pop?). Instead, I had a nonna and a nonno. And I never asked for hot milk, I would always yell out for hot latte. And no, latte is not a coffee, it means milk. Plain milk. And when I was growing up I never had to poo, I would always caca. On my mother’s side, even my Anglo-Australian nanna can’t speak “good and proper” English. And that’s ok, because if she did, I probably wouldn’t get so much enjoyment out of hearing people say, “I seen it” or “I aksed ‘im”.

Before I get into a real debate about descriptive linguistic versus prescriptive linguistics, I should go back to talking about Efek Rumah Kaca. I seem to be able to go on lengthy rants about language, but I’m not so good at describing music. I like Efek Rumah Kaca, I really do, but I just don’t know how to say why I like them. With most music I listen to, especially music with vocals in a language other than English, or music with vocals that are in English but produce the same feeling (e.g. grindcore), I’m attracted to it on a purely aesthetic level. I also can’t say why I like Efek Rumah Kaca on an aesthetic level, I just do.

After listening to Efek Rumah Kaca a few times, and as my ability to understand Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar increases, little fragments of clarity begin to emerge as lyrics become understood. What previously sounded like Sigur Ros now sounds like a powerful homage to a well-known human rights and anti-corruption activist and a warning to authorities that continue to oppress the rakyat. And then, just like that, I like Efek Rumah Kaca more.

For this gig, catching three angkots, from one side of Bandung to the other, to a place we weren’t really sure where we were going, and finally arriving and sitting on the floor with a hundred or so other people, who were all singing along, was totally worth it.

Oh, and…

    • Ari
    • April 20th, 2012

    “A few of my Indonesian friends like Efek Rumah Kaca. And whenever I ask them why, they usually have the same response: ‘Mereka pakai Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar’ – that is, they use good and proper Indonesian.”

    I shall explain from my perspective as I was one of the people who answered with such response to you. ERK is one of few Indonesian bands that writes all lyrics in their native tongue, properly. “Proper” here means they know how to use the language effectively, and it creates differences with other bands/singers who often use English lyrics (see shitty White Shoes and something something and other so-called “indie” Indonesian bands). I’m not, by any means, saying that Indonesian bands that use English are bad or whatever. I’m just saying White Shoes and something something is shit 😛
    ERK skillfully writes repression, violence, and activism in their songs. It’s almost like reading a work of literature…almost. They send strong messages to their listeners with well-written lyrics, instead of just saying “Aku ingin dimanja-manja tapi kamu cuek-cuek aja” or something similar to that. ERK is not the only band that does this of course. I’m sure you will find that Iwan Fals (often) uses proper Bahasa Indonesia too. And of course, lyrics in Bahasa Indonesia will be easier to remember and all of their Indonesian speaking fans can sing along without any hassle 😀
    So it’s not only about their Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar; it’s also about how they use it for sending great ideas.
    I’m glad you like their music.

    • I agree that one of the positive things about ERK is that they use Indonesian. I’ve talked with many people about the importance of using language that ordinary people can understand especially if you are trying to get across a message that you feel is important. I remember having this conversation with Mike Marjinal and Sanan and I would always talk about it and complain about activist groups or bands that only used English. I would always find myself sitting in activist discussions or forums and feeling sad because I knew that while I could understand everything, a friend sitting next to me might understand nothing at all. I think people sometimes forget that in Malaysia not everyone can even follow basic English. I think if we are writing songs or publishing flyers or holding forums, we should try as hard as possible to make sure that even the kakak or mak cik at the warung tom yam or the aneh at the restoran mamak can understand what we’re saying. One of the good things about Occupy Dataran, was that as more and more people joined, the language of discussion gradually changed from being mostly English to mostly Malay and this allowed a lot more people to participate.

      I guess the part I get lost at is the “good and proper” part. But maybe it just has different connotations for me. For you, it might just mean using language in a way that gets your message across effectively, whereas for me, when I think of “good and proper” language I usually think of a sort of top-down imposition on they way that people use language in an every day sense.

      Here’s a quote from a Marjinal interview I remember reading once about this issue:

      “Marjinal peduli dengan nation ini. Kita berusaha menulis lirik dalam bahasa Indonesia, karena kita peduli dengan nation ini, ingat Sumpah Pemuda. Awalnya, banyak yang mencibir, kok band punk liriknya pake bahasa Indonesia! Musik bagi kita kan salah satu jalan untuk berkomunikasi. Liriknya harus dipahami orang Indonesia dong. Musiknya boleh aja gado-gado, mau gambang kromong kek atau pake calung seperti Punk Lung dari Cicalengka, itu sangat kreatif, Atau terpengaruh geberan band-band punk sono, tapi lirik harus bahasa Indonesia walaupun nggak harus benar dan baik seperti yang dislogankan pemerintah. Musik itu selain enak didengar, untuk senang-senang tapi harus punya tujuan yang jelas yang diungkapkan lewat pesan yang memberi inspirasi untuk masyarakat.”

        • Ari
        • April 20th, 2012

        I agree with Mike, of course, when he said it doesn’t have to Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar when it comes to lyrics, as long as it says something inspiring for the listeners. However, if you enjoy reading/listening something written in Bahasa Indonesia yang baik dan benar (plus the cool music), ERK is a good choice.

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