Grunge Diaspora in California: Navicula US Tour | Homegrown & Well Known Special Edition
In the Indonesian music industry there’s a word that has been used frequently—a bit too frequently, maybe—and sadly inappropriately: go-international. Every time Indonesian musicians tour overseas, or perform in any way outside of Indonesia, it will, most of the time, be easily referenced in the media as them “going-international”. But more often than not, in fact, the event is organised by Indonesian expats (students/workers), using Indonesian on stage/to communicate, played in front of Indonesian communities (and when you see bule/non-Indonesians, they are either the husbands/wives of the Indonesians or ex-Indonesian residents), and have usually received full—other than financial—support from Indonesian consulates in the cities they play. In other words: from Indonesia, for Indonesians. Business as usual. Don’t even imagine the phenomenal Asian invasion like Psy via “Gangnam Style”. Nothing really international at all, except being physically outside of Indonesia. Instead of go-international, the correct term that should’ve been go-diaspora.
What happened with Navicula last month was neither go-international nor go-diaspora. But it might be the most international recognition you can imagine for a relatively unknown Indonesian band in America, the music mecca of the world, the biggest music industry globally. After winning two different rock competitions organised by two different, huge international business entities, the Balinese quartet were flown to and played in Quebec, Canada, in September. Then, just a few weeks after that they were again flown to Los Angeles for a 3-day recording session—with some concerts around California following: in Berkeley, San Fransisco, Davis, Ventura, and Bakersfield, to name a few.
For this veteran music collective just to be in Hollywood, doing a proper recording—the best recording in their entire careers, to be precise—in Record Plant (Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Motley Crue, etc, are Record Plant’s regular customers), was already special. Then, to be taken care of by a famous sound engineer/producer/artist, Alain Johannes (former member of Queens of the Stones Age and Them Crooked Vultures, session musician for Foo Fighters, current guitarist of Spinnerette, and upcoming producer of Jimmy Eat World’s newest album), during Navicula’s very first trip to the USA; all those facts were so overwhelming, too good to be true. So from the first day in the legendary recording studio (which totally amazed them, and the magic still hasn’t worn off) Robi, Dankie, Bull and Made wasted no time, were super serious, and gave their live recording their very best shot. Their target was to finish 5 songs in 3 days, and they succeeded. Those 5 songs will be used for their upcoming album, scheduled to be released in 2013. According to Robi, the sophisticated set up of the instruments and sound system in the studio naturally boosted their spirits and created extra energy for surviving the long recording process, from early morning till late at night, for 3 days straight. Not only were the boys in a very positive and productive mood, the sound engineer/producer was as well. Alain Johannes could not hide how blown away he was by Navicula. He admitted to the boys that he never dared to dream about helping out a competition winner of Navicula’s quality. He had thought he’d be dealing with an okay band from La La Land—who know a thing or two about playing, have one radio-friendly song, have the rocking frontman factor, it’s all good, on the scale of mediocrity. Duly impressed, Alain ended up inviting Navicula to do an additional one day recording (for free!) at his own studio at his house.
During the recording session, RODE mic, the company that brought Navicula to The States, also made a special documentary movie about the recording session which will be premiered in Sydney, Australia, on January 10, 2013, at which Robi & co. will play during their next overseas trip. Jetlag? Screw that.
After recording in LA, the boys went directly to Berkeley to perform in the infamous all-ages club 924 Gilman Street (co-owned by the founder of Maximumrocknroll, Tim Yohannan, where Green Day, Offspring, AFI, all played in their early days). This might be the first time ever that an Indonesian band performed there. Even though the venue wasn’t too full, the audience were seriously stunned. Same during the concert in San Francisco, two nights later. The venue was 3/4 full but the response was excellent. Not only because of their tight musicianship and solid songs but the audience was also very engaged by the mini documentary that Navicula made previously, during their Greenpeace-organised Kalimantan tour (where Navicula for 12 days rode motorbikes crossing Borneo to witness the rainforest and ecosystem destruction). The following shows in Davis, Bakersfield, Ventura, and Joshua Tree got better and better receptions in each town. Most notable was the gig on December 7 in Bakersfield where Navicula opened for H.R. (of Bad Brains). It was their biggest show of the trip. Maybe because H.R. has living legend status, but, still, Navicula stole the show and had a chance to enthusiastically introduce themselves to H.R.
Other than having to cancel their concerts in New York and other East Coast cities due to financial drama and the short notice/lack of preparation, it all went quite well for our beloved Bali musicians who used to be the regular headliners—together with Superman Is Dead—of The Beat Rock Fest in the early days. The band who’ve been around since 1996 seem to be ready for an international audience, and vice versa. Go international? Not quite there yet. But grunge diaspora, certainly, hell yeah.
See you in Sydney in next week!
I spent many good, bad and ugly days with Navicula during their trip crossing California in a shitty, near identical Almost-Famous van.
• Homegrown & Well Known is my biweekly column in The Beat (Bali) mag. Basically it’s an interview via e-mail with Bali’s local big shots. This is the 21st edition, was firstly published—a slightly different version—on The Beat (Bali) #328, Jan 04-17, 2013
• Photos courtesy of Navicula, Alfred Pasifico Ginting and Lakota Moira