In 1991 Seattle-based grunge band Nirvana released their sophomore record Nevermind, an album like no other. In no time, Nevermind’s popularity sounded the death knell for the previous chart-toppers of the 1980s, hair metal. But did Nirvana and Nevermind really entirely obliterate hair metal from the music scene?
Yet sixteen years after Nirvana was supposed to have written hair metal’s obituary—hair metal being a derogatory term to refer to the rock music played by long-haired effeminate musicians who indulge in long guitar solos and power chords—the annual Rocklahoma Festival in Oklahoma relives the glory days of hair metal. In its first gathering in 2007 the festival featured bands worshipped by 1980s youth: Quiet Riot, Steelheart, Cinderella, Winger, Dokken, Faster Pussycat, L.A Guns.
Some 100,000 fans turned up at the three-day concert, not so bad for a sub-genre considered moribund since the early 1990s. It turns out that hair metal isn’t quite dead yet.
If you search for “Hair Metal” on Facebook, tons of pages on the subject will appear, boasting an average of between 6,000 and 19,000 fans, indicating that hair metal is alive and well, although perhaps not as renowned as it used to be.
But what about the hair metal scene here in Indonesia? You certainly can’t watch one of those despicable television morning shows without seeing an 80s-influenced band playing. But underground and below the radar, hair metal bands have formed a thriving scene.
One band that decided to stick with the 1980s is GRIBS (Gondrong Kribo Bersaudara or Long Afro-ed Brothers), with lead singer Rezanov, guitarist Dion Arnaldo, bass player Arief Snik and drummer Ryanfeiza Harashta.
The collective of four cousins formed after they started playing music together in 2005. Four years later they released their debut album, Gondrong Kribo Bersaudara, through their record label Suara Gunung Kelud Records, and distributed by Demajors.
The thirteen songs on the record are powered by hair metal clichés: thundering drum beats, high-pitched vocals and solo guitar melodies that will remind fans of the simple joy of playing air guitar to their bedroom mirror. The album did not sell well but critics loved it. Gondrong Kribo Bersaudara was one of the top 20 best releases of 2009 according to Rolling Stone Indonesia.
Does the release of this album augur well for a hair metal revival in Indonesia? “It’s premature to speak of a hair metal revival,” said Rezanov, minutes before taking the stage of the Bulungan Youth Center in South Jakarta. That evening Reza was dressed to kill in tight brown jeans and a matching jacket, a necklace and bracelets.
“But it’s important to familiarize fans with GRIBS,” said Reza. While Riza was speaking a fan came by and offered him a beer, which he politely declined. Riza does not drink alcohol.
But what about sex, drugs, booze and rock and roll? “It’s far more crucial to popularize rock music, instead of just partying with booze. A lot of things are far more important than all the excess,” he said, chuckling.
But Riza is dead serious about bringing hair metal back from the dead. In fact Reza decided to quit his job at an advertising agency to focus on music. Being in the advertising industry did teach him about the importance of the media, which today is unfortunately dominated by sappy pop songs.
From its early days, GRIBS employed television in order to realize their plan for chart domination. GRIBS does not oppose making television appearances and even lip-synching to their own songs.
“We want to popularize hair metal through a larger medium, television,” Reza said. And judging from the number of fans on their Facebook page, the effort has been quite successful. GRIBS has about 5,490 fans on the social networking site who call themselves GRIBS Fighters, and on Twitter GRIBS has 781 followers. There has even been a recent surge in the number of GRIBS fans after Reza’s appearance in Diana, a musical directed by art house film director Garin Nugroho.
The band has also shied away from another hair metal cliche, writing songs about womanizing or using drugs and alcohol.
In fact, GRIBS have written songs with socially- and politically-conscious lyrics. The band has a song about urban life in Pejuang (fighters), Serangga Kecil (small insects), Gadis Serigala (wolf girl), about civil disobedience in Lawan (fight), and about the country’s alarmingly poor-quality television soap opera in Sinetron Indonesia (Indonesian soap opera).
Music snobs may scratch their heads, perplexed by how hair metal, which in its early incarnation was preoccupied with sex and drugs, could become so popular again. Reza said hair metal’s renewed popularity lie in its mix of histrionic sounds and visual bombast. Hair metal manages to combine the strong and powerful sounds of hard rock with the obstinacy and rebellion of punk rock and the glitter of glam.
“We always go all out at every gig, wearing spandex pants and outrageous outfits to look gorgeous. With only jeans and t-shirts we would be outshined by all the glamorous people in our audience. Then we should just hand the stage over to the fans,” Reza said.
Another hair metal band that has successfully blended striking visual styles and rowdy music is the Yogyakarta-based band Sangkakala, who call themselves the purveyor of “Bantul No-Wave Heavy Metal,” Bantul being a small town south of Yogyakarta.
In the case of Sangkakala dressing well comes first.
“I like to dress sharply,” said Sangkakala lead singer Baron Kapulet Araruna or more simply, Blangkon, when asked about his penchant for tight tiger print pants and various other typically glam outfits.
“The tiger skin motif is the best animal print pattern. It accentuates the masculinity of its users. Snake and zebra motifs are also good but the tiger print looks bad-a*s. We don’t even care that it is overused and identified with dangdut performers,” Blangkon said with a laugh, probably referring to the all-female dangdut group Trio Macan or Tiger Trio.
“We once held a concert in which both the band and the audience had to dress the same. Fans who failed to do so had to pay their own admission,” said Blangkon roaring with laughter.
Blangkon and bass player Rudy Atjeh, who graduated from Yogyakarta’s Indonesian Arts Institute (ISI) with a major in visual arts, founded Sangkakala in 2005. Drummer Tatsoy Tatang, who was also a student at ISI, joined the band later. Guitarist Iqbal Lubis was in ISI’s music department before joining the band.
“Here people don’t pay attention to the visual aspects of a band, they only focus on the music. That’s why we take dressing seriously in order to emphasize the visual. As graduates of a visual arts department, we are very conscious of the importance of the visual. We can offer our audience more as our band is a product of the fine arts. We call it an audio rock fashion show,” said Blangkon.
“Our sound is only a small part of our performance, less than our theatrics,” he added. One of Blangkon’s gimmicks on stage is to greet fans with assalamualaikum (peace be with you) before kicking off a show.
To attract attention to their music, Sangkakala—unlike GRIBS who aggressively use the media—takes the high road, performing only at select venues and events.
In 2009, Sangkalala took part in the Yogyakarta Biennale, giving clinics on musical skill, hair styling, costume modification and merchandise distribution at the high-end art festival before performing a solo gig.
True to its name, most hair metal performers have long hair, preferably with facial hair as well. On this issue Sangkakala decided to be revisionist. Iqbal is the only one with an excessive mane while Blangkon and Rudy wear 80s-style mullets and Tatang has neatly trimmed hair.
“We care more about costume and grooming,” he said. In the band’s view, hair metal style doesn’t match the complexion of most Indonesians, in particular members of Sangkakala. “That type of hair may suit Reza of GRIBS well. He’s handsome. In our group we have Iqbal’s good looks,” Blangkon said.
Why the mullet? “The mullet, although it’s not
a local style, has taken root here. It has been adopted by dangdut singers and is usually worn by people at the bus terminal,” Rudy said.
“I’ve tried all kinds of haircuts but none work,” said Blangkon, who was wearing feminine flower-printed black pants, but looked masculine with his mullet and moustache.
Another element of the hair metal legacy that Sangkakala adopted is stage pyrotechnics. In Yogyakarta, Sangkakala is legendary for lighting fireworks during their performances. “We use fireworks to give the impression that we are a big, successful band. We have no dry ice so we have to create the effect by using the smoke from the firecrackers. Most of the time we have problems breathing, but it is fun,” Blangkon said of the band’s trick.
With its glam elements, fireworks and over-the-top music, Sangkakala has made waves in the Indonesian music scene and become one of the most sought after hair metal bands. After releasing their self-titled EP on the label Yesnowave, Sangkakala has returned to the studio to record new material.
Their first six-song EP was a recording of a live show on January 5, 2010.
The emergence of GRIBS and Sangkakala is a reminder that hair metal never actually left the building.
The two bands achieved success by blending the audio, the visual and stage pyrotechnics the way Motley Crue, Cinderella, Poison and Guns ‘N Roses ruled the scene almost two decades ago.
It may be too premature to speak of a hair metal revival, but GRIBS and Sangkakala are determined to show the world that after all the years gone by, hair metal is still alive and kicking.