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Jakarta- the New Bangkok? (Or new Sao Paulo?) :: Skrufff

Reported by Charlie G [] on December 15, 2009

“As Morf quite succinctly posted on our Facebook page ‘Jakarta is half way between going into a steam room with your clothes on and locking yourself in the garage with the engine running. Apart from that it's a riot!” And it is.”

Headlining Indonesia’s 2nd annual Jakarta Annual Dance Music Event (JADE) Graham from superstar VJs Addictive TV admits to being highly impressed with both the city’s club scene and JADE, as was Rocky from fellow headliners X Press 2.

“Club-wise Jakarta was fantastic,” Rocky agrees, “We played at Blowfish on Friday and the space and sound were both excellent. We also went and checked out Todd Terry on the Saturday. Again an amazing space/sound system. There definitely seems to be a lot going on there, I noticed a poster for Richie Hawtin this weekend and a whole bunch of other nights/events coming up,” he says.

Thai rising star DJ Celeste is also enthused (‘Jakarta is a great place to be and be seen in’) leaving Dutch producer Secret Cinema (aka Jeroen Verheij) as the only JADE guest to sound a note of caution,

“I was here in Jakarta a few years ago and it really hasn't changed that much. DJs are still playing the more popular music, women are still looking beautiful and sound systems are loud. All good for a major club scene you'd say. One problem though; there is no scene,” he suggests.

“What I mean by that is that people don't go out for a certain type of music yet. They go to something that is known, to say they've been there, done that, whatever, not to really go out and dream away into the music while dancing,” says Jeroen.

“But I must add, Jakarta has major potential to becoming Asia's capital of electronic dance-music thanks to forward thinking people like the people from JADE,” he continues, “Let's hope JADE will grow and grow and will become Asia's centre of electronic dance music, like Amsterdam's dance event is for Europe.”

JADE itself is the brainchild of leading local DJ / producer Ai Tumbuan who brought in two of the country’s top promoters and nightlife entrepreneurs, Yudha Budhisurya and Arief Sundjaja, who as well as running the Embassy Club group both host the annual Playground Music festival. With all three highly experienced in the international club business, each is keen to put Indonesia on the nightlife map, a vision that seems realistic given the thousands who already go clubbing night after night in surprisingly hedonistic circumstances.

“We had the feeling that the city has a great sense of that ‘anything goes’ vibe about it,’ says Graham from Addictive TV, “It was nothing like how we expected it to be. I personally thought clubbing there would have had a much stricter feeling about what you could do, say more like in Shanghai, but it was actually the opposite.”

Wikipedia’s entry on Jakarta notes how the city is ‘famous for its nightlife, with a very cosmopolitan atmosphere in clubs such as Blowfish and Stadium’ though also references the riots of 1998 when 1,200 died in the city over 4 days of ethnic related violence. And just five months ago, nine died when suspected Islamic terrorists exploded suicide bombs at two 5 star hotels, the Marriot and Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Five months on, the ongoing terrorist threat is made tangible by ubiquitous security guards scanning for car bombs at the entrance to every shopping mall, though Jakarta’s vibe otherwise seems remarkably tranquil, with local people smiling as often as those in Thailand,

However, as culture guide points out, smiles in Asia  (in Thailand in particular) can be far more complex in subtlety and meaning, varying from the ‘yim yor’ (‘the smile used to mock, taunt or laugh at someone’ to the the ‘yim mee lay-nai’ (the smile used to conceal evil ideas, AKA ‘I’m smiling because I’m just about to rip you off and you don’t realise’.).

In Jakarta however, yim tak tai (polite smiles used for strangers) seem definitely more prevalent, presumably because locals have met fewer of the terrifyingly sleazy tourists that continue to flock to Bangkok. Its club scene instead is decidedly local and deliciously vibrant.

“There's no shortage of party people out there is there,” X Press 2’s Rocky agrees.

“Between ourselves, you and Addictive TV, we played three separate clubs on the Friday, all of which were busy. I definitely think that events like JADE are heading in the right direction and coverage from the media will only help to open folks eyes as to what's on offer in Jakarta.”

Friday night in Jakarta my first of three consecutive gigs is at X2, a state of the art laser studded 1,000 plus capacity super-club aimed firmly at Jakarta’s monied elite. So much so in fact that a luxury car marque has placed a brand new model slap bang in the middle of the dancefloor, but despite this X2’s overall vibe is good.

I’m warming up for Dutch trance producer Marcel Woods (trance being apparently Jakarta’s dominant genre presently) though in the event, the crowd prove open and receptive to stripped, but energetic electro. Building the groove steadily via tracks from the likes of Ramon Tapia, Oliver Ton and Oliver $ I spin for 2 hours to an increasingly packed floor that’s euphoric by the time a  (very tired looking) Marcel takes over.

Six hours later I’m on the plane to Yogyakarta, a relatively small city 50 minutes by plane from Jakarta. Yogyakarta was briefly Indonesia’s capital and is packed with universities and students and according to the JADE crew is a special party city. They also insist their club there, Embassy, is one of their best, so it’s with some trepidation that I arrive at 1am to discover just 4 girls dancing and a smattering of guys holding up the bar of the 200 capacity venue

Local resident Billy seems impressively unconcerned, however, mixing together an uptempo house set seamlessly and smiling. And indeed by 1.30 a huge influx of girls, gays and assorted fashionistas have packed out the club, transforming it into a sea of happy faces and up for it clubbers.

Jumping on the podium right across the front of the DJ booth a selection of girls (and less frequently guys) writhe and pout throughout my entire set, and the whole club as one seems intent on having a good time. Yogyakarta, indeed rocks.

Sunday back in Jakarta, DJing at Stadium is an entirely different affair. 5,000 clubbers are rammed into the 4 level club in an atmosphere which is as dark and even intimidating as the limited lighting permeating its upper floors. Notorious for many reasons (not least for being open for 72 hours non stop from Friday to Saturday) Stadium is located close to Jakarta’s red light strip where scores of street walkers strut their stuff, and is correspondingly sleazy and genuinely edgy.  But at the same time it’s a club where the likes of Sasha has played at unannounced- for free, according to local legend.

For me, Stadium’s progressive house reputation means I’m dramatically limited in what I can play but a largely instrumental selection of crunchy electro-tech keeps everybody happy with Ame’s Rej and Nathan Fake delivering two of many hands-in-the-air peaktime moments. Dancing at the front enthusiastically is Secret Cinema’s Jeroen (on what’s his second trip to Stadium of the weekend) though speaking afterwards he’s adamant that Jakarta needs more.

“As I said, there’s no real ‘scene’ yet in Jakarta,” he insists.

“What is needed is some local producers doing inventive and forward thinking electronic music and make it a 'cool' thing. Making dance music a culture instead of it being about becoming a DJ just because it looks good. You have to be an artist, before you can call yourself a DJ. So let's hope some people group together and cause a stir in the Jakarta clublife, and create a culture everybody would want to belong to,” he smiles.

“I also felt something was boiling here in Jakarta too,” Jeroen adds,” There are so many clubbers and they like to party. And so did I, so hello to everybody I've met.”

One of Jakarta’s great benefits is also its climate, comprising all round summer tropical heat, though none of the DJs see it as a ‘new Ibiza’. In fact, it’s got much more in common with South America’s great clubbing city Sao Paulo, being an edgy, tropical 20 million people packed megalopolis with locals dominating nightlife far more than tourists.

“I think Indonesia, with Jakarta and Bali could definitely become a serious clubbing destination, but not necessarily for Europeans in the same way as Ibiza - it's slightly too far to travel,” notes Addictive TV’s Graham.

“But it definitely has the potential to become a major clubbing destination for Asia and the Far East, as well as being a great stop-off point for European DJs and acts going to Japan, China and Australia,” he says.

“In all honesty, I don't think anywhere could be the new Ibiza,” Rocky concurs.

“The beauty of that time and place was that there was no internet. It really was all word of mouth, now it's word of web and everyone knows about the latest thing within seconds of it happening.”

“Also, the thing with Ibiza, and a huge part of it, although many would disagree, was the drugs,” he continues.

“I don't care what anyone says, but that played a major role in why Ibiza became the phenomenon that it did. This simply would not happen in Jakarta I think.”

“I think Ibiza will always be what it is and Bali can certainly become a stronger destination it its own right, with better beaches, better weather, all year round,” Celeste agrees, “And Indonesia is well connected with the rest of Asia. Jakarta is cool apart from the traffic, which is a mess.”

Thanks to the people from JADE and Jakarta but please,” Jeroen concludes, “Please build a subway system, a monorail, whatever to the airport, PLEASE!” (Thailand smiles explained)

Jonty Skrufff (