I’ve always thought that you can tell a lot about a country and its people by attending some kind of live music event, whether that’s a huge, sprawling festival, a small, intimate gig or just some random, impromptu performance on the street. It’s interesting to see how nationalities behave en mass, how they go about having fun and letting their collective hair down and how they treat their fellow countrymen (and visitors) in tight spaces and large crowds.
I’d previously pumped my fists to Kanye West in Hong Kong, thrashed about to the Arctic Monkeys in Spain and hurled myself around to all manner of punk, rock and dance acts at the Big Day Out and Soundwave festivals in Australia. It was time to see what Indonesia had to offer. Almost as soon as I’d got settled in Jakarta, I was online to see if there were any gigs I might fancy going to and was pretty impressed to see that both the Pet Shop Boys and Metallica would be performing here within a week of each other. It took me less than thirty minutes to book tickets for both events.
As an aside here, I’d like to make it clear that, due to many years of travelling as a single female, I fall firmly in the camp of ‘if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing alone’. There may well have been a time when I chose not to do something because I had no one to do it with, but I can’t remember when and it certainly isn’t the case now. Yes, it takes guts to turn up to an event full of families, couples and groups of friends with only your camera for company, but in my experience it’s never as embarrassing or uncomfortable as you imagine and the rewards are well worth the effort. People are far more likely to chat to someone standing alone than to approach a group or a couple and many of my best friendships started out as a conversation at some kind of get-together or event. So when none of the teachers were interested in coming with me (to be fair, some of them already had plans) I thought, “Sod it, I’ll go on my own.”
The night of the Pet Shop Boys gig arrived and I decided to get an ojek (motorbike taxi) to ensure I arrived on time. Jakarta is renowned for its horrendous traffic which can turn a ten minute journey into a two hour ordeal and I didn’t want to miss the excitement building in the crowd before the act came on. I had scribbled down the address on a scrap of paper and shown it to my driver (few of the ojek riders here speak English) but as we neared the venue, it became clear that he was a little unsure as to which turn off to take.
Just as I was about to get off and try my luck with a different driver, I was aware of another bike pulling up alongside us and a smiling Indonesian guy with the longest dreadlocks I’d ever seen waving cheerfully and shouting hello. He asked if there was a problem and I shouted back that I was on my way to see the Pet Shop Boys but I thought we might be lost. Without hesitating, he gestured my driver to follow him and five minutes later had delivered me safely to the venue, even ensuring I wasn’t charged extra for my little detour. Thanks to my new found friend, I had arrived on time and the gig was amazing!
The following weekend heralded the return of Metallica, their first show in Jakarta for twenty years, but for this gig I wasn’t alone. I was now dating Emilio (remember the guy with the dreads?), who just so happened to be a musician himself, and since he already had his own ticket (great minds think alike), our seats were in different sections of the stadium. We still managed to fight our way through the crowds to meet up outside before it all started and we both experienced the infectious enthusiasm of the fans as they started a Mexican wave (booing anyone who didn’t join in), thrashed about wildly to ‘Enter Sandman’ and held their lighters aloft during ‘Nothing Else Matters’. Their friendly, inclusive craziness and passionate display of patriotism when James Hetfield held up the Indonesian flag convinced me that this is a country I want to get to know better, one gig at a time.