These women are about to play Glastonbury. That should be no surprise given their nation is mad about metal

Damond Isiaka
15 Min Read


CNN
 — 

Thrash metal trio Voice of Baceprot have come a long way since their teen years attending an Islamic school in Indonesia, where they first discovered System of a Down on a teacher’s computer and fell in love with heavy metal music.

Earlier this week the band touched down in Britain ahead of their highest profile gig to date, joining the likes of Dua Lipa, Coldplay and Sza to play at the 2024 Glastonbury festival. They will be the first Indonesian band ever to play at the iconic event.

Guitarist and vocalist Firda “Marsya” Kurnia said the band was “super nervous and excited” to bring their brand of Sundanese metal music to a global stage on Friday and told CNN that they were also planning on camping to get into the spirit of the world-renowned event.

“We are here and ready to rock out at Glastonbury,” she said. “Our set is going to be something different and show (the world) Indonesia and Indonesian culture.”

Dressed in skinny jeans and headscarves, Marsya and her bandmates drummer Euis Siti Aisyah and bassist Widi Rahmawati are a far cry from the average heavy metal band.

But in many ways their embrace of thrash metal – Baceprot means “loud” in Sundanese – shouldn’t be surprising. In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, metal has long been tremendously popular.

“Heavy metal is a way of life in Indonesia and Voice of Baceprot (VOB) has proven against all odds that women too can play and rock out just as hard,” Pri Ario Damar, dean of the performing arts faculty at the Jakarta Institute of Arts – and a self-professed metalhead – told CNN.

“They are young, exciting and represent a new brand of Indonesian metal.”

The band on stage at The New Parish venue on August 18, 2023 in Oakland, California.
Fans go wild as VOB vocalist and guitarist Firda Kurnia performs on stage during a concert in Jakarta.

While all female fronted acts are a rarity even in the wider, male-dominated world of metal and hardcore, in Indonesia, it’s even rarer to see devout women in hijab moshing out.

But VOB do just that.

In recent years, the band have morphed from something of a YouTube oddity to a legit act, winning fans like former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello – who recalled replaying a clip of them “ten times in a row” when he first encountered them online.

Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai has also praised their bravery for enduring death threats and attacks by religious conservatives.

“The members of VOB believe that music is the best way to address the issues they witness in their country and around the world,” her non-profit organization the Malala Fund wrote. “We don’t want generations after us to remain in the wrong system or way of thinking.”

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It might sound counterintuitive that a form of music once decried by more fringe Christian conservatives as somehow “Satanic” might be popular in a huge Muslim-majority nation. But in many ways, metal is woven into both the cultural – and political – fabric of modern Indonesia.

“We are a moderate Muslim country and are open to (new) arts and culture,” Pri said. “Indonesians love music – all kinds of genres and sub genres.”

Heavy metal music in particular, he added, has always been popular, even among “new generations of Indonesians today.”

Pri recalls the rise of thrash metal while growing up in Jakarta during the 1980s.

“It was all about the ‘Big Four,’” Pri said, referring to now legendary bands Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, who he also credits with “transforming the city’s local music scene.”

“Jakarta had thriving underground metal and punk scenes. Back then, you would go to pubs and small venues around the city on Saturday nights and hear bands playing Metallica covers,” he recalled. “You could find bootleg CDs and cassette tapes sold on the streets and radio stations would play heavy metal music all the time.”

In this photograph taken on August 25, 2013, then-Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, watches a Metallica concert at the Bung Karno stadium in Jakarta.

Globalization and the proliferation of Western acts came at a complicated political time for Indonesia.

Indonesia’s first president Sukarno, a brutal US-backed dictator who served from 1945 to 1967, famously forbade Western music and bands like the Beatles from being played in the country on the grounds they were products of Western imperialism.

“Sukarno hated Western influences like rock music, believing it was bad for the country,” according to music and cultural anthropologist Jeremy Wallach, the author of several books about heavy metal in Indonesia. “He outlawed all kinds of music that did not suit his taste.”

His successor Suharto, also a military dictator, began to ease restrictions over his own decades-long rule.

“Unbeknownst to him, (it) gave rise to underground music scenes which I believe helped to foster resistance and was partly responsible for toppling his autocratic regime in 1998,” Wallach says.

Metalheads rock out in the mosh pit at this year's Jogjarockarta festival.

The night Metallica came to town

Perhaps the most vivid illustration of how committed Indonesians were to metal took place in April 1993 when Metallica played a set in Jakarta that ended in a historic riot.

Pri Ario Damar, the arts dean, was 18 at the time.

“Metallica is massive in Indonesia so when they came, it was like a dream,” he recalled. “Fans were all super excited and tickets were hard to get.”

Pri said minutes into the band’s opening song “Creeping Death,” anger began to spread through crowds of fans locked outside. Frustrated at not being able to afford tickets, they rioted – smashing stadium gates and torching vehicles and shops.

“(So much) violence and noise was happening,” Pri said. “It was my first encounter with heavy metal.”

Metallica were effectively banned from Indonesia for the next 20 years, but they were famously invited back in 2013 by then Jakarta governor – and self-declared metalhead – Joko Widodo, who was gifted a bass guitar by Metallica’s Robert Trujillo.

“This time there was no riot,” said Pri, who also attended that second gig.

The excitement from the fans was just as raw, he recalled, and this time big screens were set up outside the stadium to accommodate those without tickets.

A year later Jokowi, as he is known in Indonesia, was elected president, the country’s first leader not to emerge from its political or military elite.

This picture taken in 2013 shows then-Jakarta governor Jokowi holding an autographed maroon bass guitar gifted to him by Metallica's Robert Trujillo.

A new era of ‘Muslim rock chicks’

Indonesia’s love for metal music has given rise to several local festivals that rival popular ones in the West and the country remains a regular stop off point for global touring metal acts.

Hammersonic, the largest metal festival in Southeast Asia, has hosted numerous metal and hard rock heavyweights over the years including Megadeth, Slipknot and the Dead Kennedys.

This year was headlined by US heavy metal band Lamb of God, and included other well-known international acts such Atreyu, Cradle of Filth, As I Lay Dying and deathcore veterans Suicide Silence, playing to over 30,000 fans, according to organizers.

“Indonesia is home to the most metal fans in Asia so heavy metal bands love coming to play here,” said Hammersonic CEO Ravel Junardy.

Lamb Of God vocalist Randy Blythe performs during Hammersonic in Jakarta, Indonesia on March 9, 2015.
Dave Mustaine on stage at the JogjaROCKarta festival with his thrash metal band Megadeth in 2018.

“What we’ve built with Hammersonic is a community. We wanted to unite metalheads and rock music fans from all around the world – like the festivals in places like Sweden and Finland, we thought, why can’t we have metal fests in Indonesia?”

Anas Syahrul Alimi, founder of the annual Jogjarockarta music festival held on the island of Java, praised the metal community in Indonesia, saying they were “one of the most diehard heavy metal fanbases in the world – and also loud as hell.”

This year, the festival will be held twice, Anas said, to cater to metalheads from across Indonesia and around the world. “Every year Jograrockarta is packed with thousands of metalheads and the atmosphere is fantastic,” he told CNN.

“Dave Mustaine was very excited when he visited our city Yogyakarta for the very first time in 2017,” Anas said of the Megadeth founder, describing him as “a unique and charming rock star.”

German thrash metal band Kreator performed at the festival earlier in January under pouring rain. “Their fans did not budge,” Anas said, adding that they shouted along and moshed all the way until the end of their set.

Indonesian heavy metal band Death Vomit from Yogjakarta are known for their ferocious and brutal sound. They performed at the Jogjarockarta festival on January 27, 2024.
German metal band Kreator holds up a banner during their performance at the Jogjarockarta festival on January 27, 2024.

For many metalheads like Dougie, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, metal provides what he says is an outlet for the stresses of everyday life.

“We relate to lyrics that are angry and raw, like songs from bands like Rage Against the Machine, Prong and Soulfly that incorporate social and political messages,” said the aspiring progressive metal guitarist from Surabaya.

Mark LeVine, an author of several books about heavy metal communities in the Middle East and Asia, says Indonesia’s metal scene has thrived freely for more than 30 years because the country – which has long prided itself on being comparatively secular and democratic – is “so culturally diverse.”

“Indonesia has hundreds and hundreds of very different languages and cultures. It is far more tolerantly multicultural than many countries in the Middle East and North Africa,” LeVine told CNN.

He also highlighted the persecution of musicians and artists in the Arab world.

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LeVine says authoritarian governments in places like Egypt might crackdown on metal because they deem it anti-establishment or “anti-religious.”

“It can score points because people don’t like metalheads like in Egypt. (But) I don’t think that plays the same way in Indonesia.”

Meanwhile as VOB get ready to play Glastonbury, they will not just be playing to foreign fans.

Faezah Eli and her friends from Singapore and Malaysia, have bought flights to the United Kingdom and will be in the crowd. She first saw them live at a music festival in Singapore back in 2021 and says she is looking forward to their Glastonbury debut.

“We can’t wait to see them on stage,” she told CNN. “It will be a new era of Muslim rock chicks.”

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