A heavy welcome for Metallica

May 12, 1993

By Max Lane

Thousands of Indonesian young people rioted in Jakarta last month after they were excluded from a major stadium where the heavy metal band, Metallica, was playing.

Metallica and heavy metal have developed a strong following among thousands of Jakarta's young working class and high school student population. Metal music cassettes, often recorded in pirate fashion, are to be found everywhere.

In the weeks prior to the band's arrival in Jakarta, there was a visible increase in young people wearing black singlets and headbands.

The Metallica greeting of raised thumb, forefinger and little finger has become a new greeting among much of Jakarta's youth. The Indonesian Democrat Party, which in last year's election campaign mobilised a million youth behind slogans of social justice, also encouraged this greeting among its own youth supporters at the time.

The rage and rebelliousness that are a part of heavy metal music are endemic among youth in Jakarta.

More than half of the city's 10 million people are under the age of 20. Most of those not in high school are unemployed or work in low-paying factory jobs or as street peddlers.

Repeatedly over the last 10 years, riots have broken out on the smallest of pretexts in Jakarta and other big cities. Some have been caused by people being turned away at entrance examinations for the civil service. In the city of Ujung Pandang on the island of Sulawesi, heavy-handed police enforcement of new regulations requiring helmets on motorbike riders caused a riot.

Riots have been provoked before by rock concerts, but the Metallica concert on April 10 led to the biggest so far.

Ticket prices ranged from Rp30,000 to Rp150,000 ($15-75). For many of Jakarta's poorer youth, even the cheapest tickets were over a month's earnings. The concert was also held in an area near Pondok Indah, Jakarta's wealthiest suburb — an area where the skyline is marked not only by scores of parabolic TV dishes, but also by the occasional helipad.

The riot started as security personnel at the stadium used brutal methods to stop youth without tickets trying to sneak into the stadium — or young people who just looked like they had no tickets. As thousands milled outside the stadium entrance, somebody set fire to a nearby cafe.

The bus carrying the band arrived and was immediately surrounded by fans. The military moved in with canes to clear a way. People replied by throwing stones, and the melee was on. As it spread through several blocks, thousands became involved.

Severely damaged were a Suzuki showroom, hundreds of cars parked at the elite Pondok Indah shopping mall, hundreds of cars at the Dwima supermarket and department store centre, and several other car showrooms.

As the crowds spread into the Pondok Indah residential area, one car that was stopped was carrying minister of justice Oetoyo Oesman. The minister's adjutant lost his ring and mobile phone, and the ministerial flag holder vanished from the front of the Volvo.

Buses, taxis and private cars disappeared from the area. Smoke rose above the stadium from the surrounding areas.

A number of security people were injured, mostly by flying stones, and more than 100 rioters were detained.

The rioting was finally brought under control by the arrival of 1000 marines and military police and the opening of the gates to the concert, letting thousands in free. In fact, the stadium had only half filled with paying fans.

To prevent a recurrence the next day, 7000 troops were deployed. Fans had to pass through a series of three "filters" to get into the stadium. After the paying fans entered, the organisers again allowed in thousands without tickets.

Will such concerts be banned in the future? No, said Brigadier General Hendropriyono, commander of the Jakarta Military Garrison. Presumably referring to his ability to deploy 7000 troops on the street for such an event, he said that as long as conditions were strict enough, they would not be banned.

But that's not the universal view of the elite. According to the vice-chairperson of the parliamentary Commission on Youth and Education, Mohammad Muas, "The dynamic of this [culture] inflames rebellion ... most of the lyrics in rock music encourage people to rebel. If such rock music is allowed to flourish in a climate different [from that where it originated], it's obviously not a good idea."

However, the "anak metal" (metal youth) are now an established part of the youth community. So the next time you hear Gareth Evans or some Indonesian official explain that the Indonesian people are too respectful for Eastern cultural norms of harmony to want real democracy, remember the "anak metal" and the justice minister in his Volvo!

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