Jakarta, glistening with its vast trends and cultured hang-outs by day, is a hotspot for revellers and underground music enthusiasts at night. Most nights are young for some, but most have always been way too young for disc jockeys. Disc jockey or DJ is at the core of this fast growing and ever-dynamic nightlife scene; a profession responsible for keeping the night alive, often the mastermind behind a music movement, but sometimes overlooked by many.
In our first collaboration with Sindhèn App, a Jakarta based nightlife guide, we talked to six influential local DJs from the pioneering ones who paved the way for the current booming nightlife scene, to the promising ones who continue to add more sparks along the way.
We got the low-down on Jakarta’s nightlife through the eyes of the three pioneering DJs: Anton Wirjono, Riri Mestica and Jerome Chandra Mudha.
One of the most influential DJs in Indonesia as well as a successful entrepreneur, Anton Wirjono was the driving force behind the rave culture in Jakarta. He established Future10 (event organiser and artist management recordings) as well as co-founded Soul Menace (entertainment and talent management). He is also one of the owners of The Goods brand and Brightspot Market.
Life is good as Anton Wirjono enjoys a hearty serving of Goods Burger at The Goods Diner, while donning Locale‘s Puff Society Coach Jacket from The Goods Dept.
Manual: How did you first start as a DJ?
Anton Wirjono: Every time I went to clubs, I always find a spot near the DJ to observe what they were doing. It was interesting because they’re responsible in controlling the club/bar’s atmosphere. And the fact is, they are curators because they curate what we hear.
I went to boarding school in Singapore as a teenager and used to spend my money on vinyl records. From there, I explored music and sounds along with my friends from Japan, the UK, etc. One day, my seniors came to me and I thought “Oh man, they’re gonna beat me up.” But turned out they said they liked my music collection and asked me to play at the senior’s school dance, which was a big thing. And from then on, I continued to DJ for quite a bit in the dorm.
M: What happened from then on?
AW: While I was studying in America, there was a Full Moon party that was secretly held on this beach at midnight. By 3am, there were nearly 3,000 people at the venue. It was full moon, there was a bonfire too, and the music was awesome. I thought to myself, “This is what I’m looking for.” And so from then on I really wanted to DJ.
M: How would you compare today’s nightlife scene in Jakarta to that of when you first started?
AW: The significant difference is that everything is digitalised today. Back then, you had to be rich to be able to collect music. Now you can just download everything. When I first started as a DJ, it was harder for people to gain access to the music that we were playing. People came to clubs because they wanted to hear the music that we have “curated” ourselves, because they couldn’t hear it anywhere else. So there’s a DJ-crowd relationship that’s different between today and back then.
M: Do you often get stigmatised because of your career as a DJ?
AW: When I first started the stigma was always drugs and sex. I was often asked why I even DJ. The image was very negative. So that’s why I was on a mission to counter it. I believe that if you’re earnest with what you’re doing, you can create something that’s meaningful. When I was on the dance floor, back at the Full Moon party, I felt that this was something the society needed. We needed one moment where we could forget all our problems, only then can we think more positively and collectively with other people through music and gathering.
M: What do you think can be improved on the city’s current nightlife scene?
AW: Abroad, drunk driving laws are very strict. If we get caught, we get thrown in jail, and there’s no way around it. I think we should also have those laws here. They have to have strict drunk driving laws. The negative part of that is sometimes it gets out of control, so that’s why we have to be able to control it, otherwise everything gets messed up.
Another problem with the nightlife scene here is that there are many under-aged kids. There are a lot of young people who go to clubs. And that’s because of the music, it appeals to very young kids. But the clubs don’t strictly uphold age restrictions. For me that’s the problem.
M: What’s the secret to your longevity in this industry as a DJ?
AW: You have to reinvent yourself and be relevant to the market. If not, then we’d just be the old DJs. I try to expose good, new music, you know, mixing it up with old stuff that people should know about and maybe stuff that people seldom hear these days. You have to unearth it and present it to them again.
Honestly if I didn’t get paid, I would still be a DJ. Because I’m doing what I love. And it is a bonus if I get paid to do it and able to make a living out of it.
DJ-ing will always be my passion, I think. I will always do it. And I’m lucky that people pay me to DJ. Honestly everything I do, even with The Goods Dept and everything else, is influenced by that sense of togetherness I experienced from that Full Moon party. You don’t have to appeal to everyone. I think that if you try to please everyone, you end up not pleasing anyone. When I DJ, I don’t try to entertain everyone, only to those who care.
To listen to Anton’s works, head to his SoundCloud profile by clicking here.
Riri Mestica is the head of Spinach records, which is a record label, event organiser and DJ School. One of the most respected DJs and producers and he’s released several tracks and albums which have made it onto the mainstream charts in Indonesia.
Riri is all relaxed and ready as he looks forward to the release of his latest single. He is seen here at a cosy corner of Goni.
Manual: So can you tell us how you started out as a DJ?
Riri Mestica: I started as a guitarist in a band. Because I had to move to France for study, I had to leave my music and my band behind. In order to maintain the close relationship I had with music, I had to find an alternative, another means, if you will, to explore music. I came across one of my friends in France who was a DJ and I started to wonder how to be one. So my friend taught me how to DJ properly, and since that one year, I’ve been an autodidact. And from then on I began to put together underground parties.
M: As an owner of Spinach, a DJ School and management, you must be keeping an eye on today’s market. Looking at the currnet scene, what are some of the trends you’ve noticed in Jakarta’s nightlife industry?
RM: It’s difficult to talk about trends, because we’re in a pretty drastic music transition. People’s interests are shifting now. The crowds don’t really care as to which DJs are playing, even if they are famous local DJs. That’s why in Spinach I focus in developing the DJs with their personal styles.
M: What do you think can be improved on the city’s current nightlife scene?
RM: In terms of regulations, I’d say that it’s still okay. As long as it’s not like it is in Bandung now. We need more clubs with specific identities. Most of the clubs, they have to survive 7 days a week or 4-6 days a week when they are open, as such they are not confident whether they can survive if they stick to one music policy (where they only play one genre of music), because not every club can survive that way. But, if we take a look at Jenja in Bali, they’re strict to one type of music and they are successful because they have an identity.
M: What about some of the struggles that you have faced as a DJ?
RM: There’s actually quite a lot of struggles. Starting from playing with an empty dance floor, then having to stop from one residence (club or bar) because they are struggling financially. Everything isn’t easy. I also am very thankful because as long as we just work hard and be focused, it will come eventually. But luck also plays a part as well.
M: Now that you’re a full time professional DJ, how does it feel to work only at night?
RM: It’s actually not all the time, only on the weekends.
M: What about weekdays?
RM: Not really. We can treat weekdays as a bonus if we don’t take residence in a club or a bar. Because, for example, if you play out of town on Wednesday, there’s no way we can focus in the office the next day. I’m actually running Spinach and Avigra (a video/audio production company). So it’s not easy as well. In Spinach, we manage artists, and there’s merchandising side as well as a DJ school. Whereas in Avigra, there’s audio and video post production. And there’s also RIRI TV, a video blog for other DJs.
M: What are you currently busy with?
RM: I just finished a single. It is a project called rrob, where I pair up with another producer that I discovered a year ago. He’s really talented and he used to be based in Lampung. And the current single is the third one for that project. Yesterday we just wrapped up a music video too. rrob gravitates towards urban younger crowd.
To listen to Riri’s works, head to his SoundCloud profile by clicking here.
JEROME CHANDRA MUDHA
Jerome Chandra Mudha is one of the most important nightlife figures in Indonesia, especially in the Dubstep and Drum & Bass (D&B) scene. He is also the co-founder of Javabass Recordings, a label that aims to introduce Indonesian D&B producers worldwide.
Despite his intimidating impression, Jerome is completely down to earth and possesses a good dose of humour. Here he is wearing a cotton black shirt with geometric print by I Love Ugly from Männer, with the company of a comical character in his car.
Manual: What was the nightlife scene like in Jakarta when you first started as a DJ?
Jerome Chandra Mudha: I started DJ-ing in 1996 and nightlife scene was already quite divided at that time. There were clubs that were commercial and business-oriented, where they put a lot of emphasis on the hedonistic side of it. On the other hand, there was this other scene that was focusing on the music. I frequented to Future10’s (an event organiser founded by Anton Wirjono) parties because they offered us an alternative to those commercial clubs with commercial music.
M: What about today’s nightlife scene in Jakarta?
JCM: The scene is still quite similar. The undergrounds stay more or less the same, while the commercial ones are becoming more commercial. In terms of music, those commercial clubs really go after what their target market wants to hear.
M: So, commercial versus underground. Can you elaborate more on that?
JCM: The commercial nightlife scene, those that zero in on the business side, is big in Indonesia, Singapore and Bangkok. Here, people tend to follow what’s trending. This is why it’s so hard for underground music to flourish.
Some of the local DJs create their own record labels because we want to build “the scene” to introduce these underground music. ‘Cause if we don’t start the scene ourselves, then who else going to?
M: You are a husband and a father, I’m sure there are misconceptions about your DJ hobby (Jerome works full time in a production house).
JCM: I hear that a lot! As I said before, nightlife scene is quite divided – those that focus on the music and others that centres on the hedonistic elements of it, for instance, getting high on drugs in order to enjoy the music. To me, that’s stupid. Indeed, there are many clubs that provide hedonistic pleasures that even involve prostitution and such. I don’t need erotic dancers for people to enjoy my music, because I think my music is enough the way it is.
Other misconception is that people also tend to think that DJs are rockstars. People treat DJ career as a medium to shoot to stardom quickly. And there are also faux DJs as well. They’re chasing after fame, to be popular among their friends.
M: Faux DJs?
JCM: For instance, the term “female DJ”. Okay, I’m not trying to bring up the gender issues here. There are, in fact, skilled female DJs who are really good. But the problem lies in those DJs with basic DJ skills who are trying to sell their gender and sexuality. By appearing sexy, more people would flock to their clubs. I’m not saying that female DJs can’t look pretty – they can – but don’t hire a DJ just because they are good-looking. Hire them because they are good. Like Nina Kraviz, the Russian DJ, she’s a very serious DJ!
M: What are you working on at the moment?
JCM: I’m working full time in a film production house. DJ is a hobby. It’s not a profession I can depend a lot on to make money. Especially knowing that my music, which focuses on Dubstep and Drum & Bass (D&B), is quite hard to be accepted in Asia, let alone in Indonesia. I think my music would always stay underground, but that’s fine because that’s exactly how I want it.
Working in a production house, I have to throw away my idealism because we have to follow what our client asks us to do. You can do that to me in film, but not to my music.
To listen to Jerome’s works, head to his SoundCloud profile by clicking here.
This interview has been condensed and edited.