Pandai Besi: The Medium is the message

The Medium is the message – Marshall McLuhan

Loads of things that I could say about this particular session but let’s start from one thing: How Pandai Besi enliven the message.

Approximately six years ago, I was finishing an assignment for my BA, it was an in-depth reporting and I was doing a piece about – so called – Indie music in Indonesia. It was quite awhile after the fuzzy mayhem of Aksara invasion in the early 2000, but the scene wasn’t ripe enough  – the sacred word “Indie” hadn’t been used in a random music festival held by Indomaret or by lame bands that want to sound like they understand what they’re doing.

At that time, debut album “Efek Rumah Kaca” was an eyebrow raiser. Literally came from nowhere and after thousand hours of practicing in a studio without any gigs, three “normal” men released a truly shocking album. Local scene aristocrat Harlan Bin found them and started to forge a path for Efek Rumah Kaca to be acknowledged. The self-titled album was an easy bomb: minimalist, satire and truly effective. It embodies fine-tuned songwriting. Touching various social issues with polite approach and extremely curated and polished diction.

So for the assignment, I interviewed Cholil. Mid 2008, it was a sunny afternoon and we were sitting on a cold tile floor, in front of his office in Kuningan, South Jakarta. Cholil wore Sonic Youth T-shirt and fluffy flip-flops. It was the moment when ERK released “Kamar Gelap” under Aksara Records. It was a great interview and I clearly remember one of my questions for him was the representation of Efek Rumah Kaca’s music in everyday life of Cholil, Akbar and Adrian.

“Of course we take care our music seriously with commitment and consistency, meaning that we want to practice what we preach. But essentially, the essence of Efek Rumah Kaca is not about the band members, but about the music. We want to make sure that people understand that this is about the music, not about us. It has to be about the music, because it‘s the core.”

Cholil’s answer about that particular question remains hidden somewhere in my head and the idea of music as the core grew spreading subconsciously affecting my perspective towards music. And until today, I could still see the relevancy of that statement.

Efek Rumah Kaca’s message is incredibly strong it separates itself into a form of a greater idea, an understanding. I’m talking about the history of protest songs. I’ m talking about music as social-political movement tool, as the instrument of certain awareness, a campaign anthem, a vehicle and truthfully, a way to deliver a message. ERK’s music grows bigger than the band itself. It’s so powerful that the music is not only owned by the band, but also by people.

ERK’s message captures social phenomenon elegantly, without any hesitation to be pretentious. It converts serious and most probably “hard to digest” themes for youth to become something that so tangible, so flexible that everyone could chew it. In a brief period post “Kamar Gelap” ERK became the microphone of various social movements in the country.

 With brilliant content and amazingly vast audience demographically, I could say that Efek Rumah Kaca also educate people with their music. There are many students who apply semiotic analysis to ERK’s songs as their final thesis topic. Serious engagement with their listener also established in the digital world. Their official website www.efekrumahkaca.net contains not only news and updates about the band, but also fuels young writers and essayists to contribute blog writings related to their music. Their music is so mighty it triggers people to actually bring forth new things. This is a band that truly inspires.

 Another afternoon I had lunch with Yuri – the band’s manager – and told him my admiration for Efek Rumah Kaca in terms of being able to sustain their existence among people without any new songs/album. I don’t see many bands in Indonesia that could maintain their credibility maximum three years without new album. But in ERK’s case, the music is so relevant that the demand for their performance is always high, even five years after “Kamar Gelap”.

 While rumours about their long waited third album became obsolete, lured by boredom of playing exactly the same stuff on stage for years, secretly Efek Rumah Kaca formed a new line-up. A pseudonym called Pandai Besi (Blacksmith), playing songs from their previous album with totally new arrangements. When I heard that concept for the first time, I was confused. First, it’s far easier to write completely new songs with new line-up or just play exactly the same material with additional instruments. The second, this pattern (or experiment) is so rare. CMIIW but I never found anything like this before, a band with new line-up, playing old songs with 100% new arrangements.

 So technically what Pandai Besi did is they replaced everything and leaves nothing else but one thing: the lyrics. Why? Because the lyrics is the message. The message is already prominent and prioritized it doesn’t matter if they mould it into a different form, because what really matters for the people from the beginning is the message.

 With help from their friends, Efek Rumah Kaca turned from minimalist and efficient into Pandai Besi, an empire full of vibrant orchestration, post-rock repetition and delusive hooks. As predicted, there were many failed singalongs from audience in Pandai Besi’s early gigs. It’s not easy to slowly change and familiarize something that is not entirely old but also not totally new. But in the end of the day, Pandai Besi succeeded to steal people’s heart.

 As prove of their existence, newly formed Pandai Besi went to the historical Lokananta Studio for recording. Pinned as a crowdfunding project, they asked people to contribute to the project as a support to the album and the means to conserve Lokananta Studio as the legendary music studio in the country. In return, they promised an exclusive concert and tempting packages of goodies. This live session is the crowdfunding concert that they promised. Full house at the Goethe haus, the performance was hypnotizing. This concert has been a valid verification of the existence of Pandai Besi as the new face of Efek Rumah Kaca. A more dynamic, colourful and heart-warming version of Efek Rumah Kaca.

 After completing the challenge to escape from boredom, another dare came. In order to accomplish further education Cholil has to leave Jakarta. Today, Pandai Besi performs regularly without Cholil on the stage, leaving Akbar as the only original member from Efek Rumah Kaca. But I’m sure it’s not a problem for Pandai Besi. Because I know for sure, from the first time I interviewed Cholil back in 2008, it’s never about the people behind the music. It’s about the message.

(written for Producer’s notes in Sounds From The Corner)

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