Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ego Tripping makes for two Zoo reviews in a day

"What the jiminy do I know about Indonesian music?! For all I know, an intellectually-impaired single mother in Jakarta has just accidentally synthesized the mythical long-lost note of E Sharp using nothing but a roll of old electrical cord and her teeth. Perhaps some sinister and ancient cabal is sworn to protect the horrible secret of E Sharp, and now it’s up to a sassy, effeminate hairdresser on the run from the law (or is he really only running from... himself?) to protect this young woman on her perilous trek to reach Dr Reginald Q. Oboe at the Vladivostok Conservatorium of Music before the accursed note becomes self-aware and Kills Us All.

This would be my educated guess. Fortunately, it’s safe for me to assume that you come from a position of relative ignorance as well. Three in ten Australians still think Indonesia is the country most likely to invade us. Australian tourism usually doesn’t progress beyond Ed Hardy-clad douchebags projectile vomiting en masse on the despoiled shore of Kuta Beach. Clearly, this is not an environment conducive to meaningful cross-cultural exchange.

Which is a shame, really. Over the last decade, one thing above all others has gifted Jakarta with a burgeoning DIY music scene. Firstly, the most easily accessible music media is MTV Asia, a 24 hour channel hosted by an endless procession of bland, American-accented Filipino girls introducing an endless procession of bland, American and East Asian R&B artists. Any casual watcher of MTV Asia will be hard-pressed to find such an egregious use of autotune and such an abundance of prepubescent men in all-white Beaver Boys outfits anywhere else in the annals of human civilization. it’s a truism of modern music that whenever the music industry tries to enforce hegemonic tastes onto the public, the vanguard of common decency takes to the barricades with electric guitars in hand.

So it is with Zoo’s album Trilogi Peradaban, a three part punk-rock “fuck you” to the stultifying blancmange that the failing business model of the major labels keep shitting out onto the airwaves and the narrow confines of the alternatives provided by indie and DIY labels in the West. It would be easy for modern-day hipster gentry in the English-speaking world to write this sort of thing off, but some cultural perspective is necessary here – too often we forget that not everyone in the world was bowing down and praying towards Seattle five times a day in the early nineties. Trilogi Peradban is part of the same musical renaissance that we went through twenty years ago – the purest expression of Cobain’s old “punk rock should mean freedom...” line – and this defies the Arctic Monkeys-induced cynicism to which people my age have become accustomed.

Indeed, there’s very little in this album that we’d recognise as “punk rock”, beyond the second part of Cobain’s Law – “ long as it’s good and has passion”. Passion is in abundance on this album: passion for Indonesia’s heritage, passion for the country’s instruments, and passion for the local audience over foreign interlopers in tight jeans and asymmetrical haircuts. As the album’s trilogy progresses, whatever vestige of overseas influence gradually disappears as native instruments become more integral to the songs, and esoteric references to President Sokarno’s icy relationship with Malaysia in the 1960s and the Aceh independence movement are sadly lost on anyone unfamiliar with the language. So much of it is discordant, the singer’s occasional similarities with Mike Patton after a Red Bull binge can be off-putting, sometimes it actually does sound like they’re trying to find the long-lost E Sharp, but ultimately, this album is a forebear of great things to come from our northern neighbour."

Written by Sean Gleeson

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