At the time of writing the Tucson shooting is not even a week old and the national “discourse” has already devolved into political stances and aggressive finger-pointing. Talk of end days percolates to the top once again and the darkness creeps in. Then there is the cover of the compilation Those Shocking Shaking Days. The title alone is cause for pause as the phrase encapsulates the disorder of today. Yet the image of five men in crisp leisure suits posing in the middle of a thick forest relaxes the senses. Another place, another time. In this moment, 1970s Indonesia becomes a sign of hope — the calm amidst the chaos of surrounding, seemingly out-of-control forces.
Granted: Indonesia is dealing with its share of problems today. The fourth largest nation in the world with the largest single Muslim population suffers from active terrorist networks and a legacy of colonialism and military dictatorships. But it is also a nation that survived three centuries of Dutch control, achieved independence after World War II and since redeveloped its national identity and economy. At the height of this turbulence was a military coup in the mid-’60s that ushered in an influx of Western culture and products. Rock — the one true international currency of the mid-20th century — was widely embraced by Indonesian musicians.
While numerous acts from this period emerged as national treasures, Those Shocking Shaking Days is instead a snapshot of the depths of Western influence — particularly its psychedelic, progressive and funky parts — during this period. Compiled by Egon Alapatt with help from Canadian producer Jason “Moss” Connoy, Indonesian rock musician Benny Soebarjda (who is also featured on this collection) and Indonesian ex-pat/researcher Chandra Drews, the compilation presents the evolving Indonesian music scene as a parallel movement in the nation’s political and social change.
The collection opens with a clear thesis of how the period reflected a miscegenation of cultures. “Haai,” by a group of brothers called the Panbers, is a curious mix of hard prog rock, trippy breakdowns and, as their peers described it at the time, “common” indigenous sounds. The case is made further by the inclusion of several relative “star” acts like the Rollies, the group that initially sparked Egon’s interest in pursuing this compilation. Its contribution “Bad News” is a sprite Popcorn-esque “Bad Luck,” good for shuffling while doing your weekend cleaning.
The controversial and domestically popular AKA are represented with two very different cuts: the dirge rock of “Do What You Like” and funky sex ode “Shake Me,” which opens with a memorable call-and-response asking whether the band likes various drugs (“No!”) and sex (“Yes!”). Koes Plus is arguably the most established group in this collection owing to its immense popularity from the ’60s onward (insert requisite comparison to the Beatles). The group distinguished itself during an era of Western cultural embrace by singing principally in Indonesian and writing its own material. It is hard to get a sense of the group’s importance through one song, especially a psychedelic outlier like “Mobil Tua,” but the presence of the prolific group (who apparently recorded over 70 full-length albums) lends credibility to the notion that Western influences were widespread.
Those Shocking Shaking Days often highlights songs or acts with a political bend, given the charged times. The Gang of Harry Roesli’s contribution is principally instrumental, but its title “Don’t Talk About Freedom” is a window into bandleader Roesli’s politics. Shark Move, a group that became known both as a pioneering domestic independent act and throughout collectors’ circles around the world, was started by compilation consultant and musician Soebardja and a group of his college buddies. Naturally, the young students leaned towards the progressive and complex. The group’s prog-y “Evil War” is a mind-bender, the highlight being its long, rigid break and warped (as in out-of-tune) bass accompaniment. Kudos also to the nimble keyboard solo rich with Arabic and South Asian influences. The political message of the song is also a great example of how an Indonesian group could get around state censors — by singing subtle lyrics in English.
As to be expected of a Now-Again/Stones Throw compilation, there are rare gems. Very little is known about the Brims except for its two albums. The comp speculates they were a local act that achieved little national success, but nonetheless a rich find for garage rock and breaks fans. And you don’t need to know any Indonesian to figure out the message of the band’s “Anti Gandja.” The obscure Ivo’s Group provides the compilation’s title track, which is a mellow folk rock melange in the spirit of Spirit. Meanwhile, other highlights include Benny Soebardja and Lizard’s “Candle Light” with its deep bass ‘n’ break intro and the low rider-worthy “Saman Doye” by the Western Papuan-based Black Brothers.
This rich material is pulled together in the aforementioned “mini-LP” CD or 3 LP set. Also included is a thick booklet with essays from Alapatt and Drews, as well as color photos and rich notes about each song. Surprisingly, all of this feels like a small peek at a moment in time. While this is a highly curated experience, it nonethless provides a sliver of hope during our current shocking, shaking days.