Is it techno? Is it traditional? No, it’s techno hybrid ethnic house music
Jeremy W. Wallach
The sign over the door reads: ‘Bar Dangdut.’ As you cross the crowded dance floor and approach the dimly lit DJ booth, you see two hundred or so cassettes lined up edge to edge around the perimeter. Cassettes generally do not have the same sonic presence at high volumes as compact disks or vinyl LPs, but the house sound system is impressively loud, clear, and punchy. The DJs, both young women, occasionally use a microphone to sing along with the music they play as they weave a seamless web of powerful sounds.
The male patrons on the dance floor dance in pairs, sometimes with one another sometimes with one of the dance hall hostesses or one of the ‘freelancers’ (the local name for non-employee women who befriend male patrons at dangdut clubs for money or for kicks) who frequent the establishment. The dancers, mostly middle-aged, some obviously intoxicated, appear to be enjoying themselves immensely as they joget (dance) to the latest dangdut hits by the likes of Meggi Z and Lilis Karlina.
Suddenly the soundtrack changes, and a strange, pulsating electronic rhythm takes over, a genre the patrons might recognize as house jaipong, a recently forged hybrid style that fuses electronic dance music with indigenous rhythms and melodies from West Java. It sounds like music from Mars. The alien sounds emanating from the club sound system quickly drive many away from the dance floor, while other pairs of dancers rush in with bold, aggressive moves that appear to be a cross between traditional Indonesian dance and the choreography from Saturday Night Fever.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Indonesia’s two major working-class-identified popular music styles, dangdut and regional pop (pop daerah), spawned new subgenres that combined their familiar melodies and musical textures with the sounds and production values of global electronic dance music. These subgenres acquired labels such as ‘dangdut trendy’, ‘dangdut remix’, ‘house Jawa’, ‘disco Minang’ and ‘house jaipong’.
These developments coincided with the diffusion of aspects of 1980s Jakarta club culture (once the exclusive domain of trendy, Westernised rich kids) into the leisure pursuits of the urban Indonesian lower middle and working classes. The new remixes and electronic dance music compositions were therefore ideally suited to the tastes of the clientele of downscale discos like Bar Dangdut, as well as for filling in the breaks between sets at nightclubs that still featured live dangdut performances.
The techno-hybrid grooves of ethnic house music and dangdut trendy are assembled from a bewildering array of musical genres: sampled snippets of African American slang, bits of Hollywood movie dialogue, rhythmic patterned shouts (senggak) reminiscent of West Javanese traditional music, and hip hop drum loops. Also added to the mix are sampled xylophones, barrel drums, kettle gongs, bamboo flutes, and other indigenous musical instruments representing various Indonesian ethnicities. These grooves prop up a wide repertoire of remixed or re-arranged dangdut and regional pop songs, as well as the occasional keroncong, folk, or classical (tembang) composition re-imagined as a dance floor anthem.
Since dangdut is itself a combination of Indian film song, Western hard rock, disco and Arabic pop (among other things) and regional pop is already a blend of Western pop and indigenous musical elements, the new dance music styles are essentially hybrids of hybrids. £hey represent a high-tech update for already complex urban identities through their often daring reconfigurations of global, national, and local Ôethnic’ sounds.
In Indonesia, where the tendency to romanticise ‘traditional culture’ is strong among both national elites and Western observers, the techno-hybrid grooves of ethnic house music are a powerful antidote to the widespread notion that the rakyat kecil, the so-called ‘little people’, are somehow less ‘modern’ than those in the dominant class. Rather, the listeners dancing to this music in discos like Bar Dangdut find themselves in a close yet deeply troubled relationship with technology. In their day to day lives, these working class people encounter technology in a very different context — in the machinery in the factories where they work and the buses they drive. The music of the dangdutÅdisco offers a pragmatic, temporary escape from the drudgery of daily life. Technology, freed from the bounds of the workplace, returns as an intimate companion and source of sensual pleasure.
Jeremy W. Wallach (jeremyw@lognet. bgsu.edu) is an assistant professor in the Department of Popular Culture, Bowling Green State University (U.S.A.).