by Trisha Sertori
Rudolf Dethu loves music. This man who does not play an instrument breathes sound like the rest of us depend for life on oxygen. The sounds people create are what give him life.
“Since I was a kid I’ve been interested in music,” says Dethu in understatement of his passion. He was born 42 years ago, he says with an ear for music, popular culture and new directions that drew him to start a bunch of bands that were not mainstream, breaking fertile ground in the process.
‘I started many bands. The first was around 1988. That was a cover band. It was a small start in music, but I felt drawn to music even though I could not play an instrument. I saw I could convince people of which were the good bands and other people started listening too,” says Dethu, most widely known as first manager of punk band, Superman is Dead.
Making a buck in Bali during the 80s and early 90s out of managing and marketing new musical directions was almost impossible.
“If bands were not playing covers they were not employed,” says Dethu. It would take more than a decade for Indonesian bands playing at Bali’s nightspots to be released from the hang over of musical colonization. And Dethu was there for the break.
“I have just returned from Lombok where I was working with OneDollarForMusic in a music workshop for kids, showing them you can make money out of music and writing your own songs. That reminded me of the first time Superman is Dead was allowed to play one of their own songs in Bali. That was in 2003. Until that time you had to play covers in the clubs or you were not allowed to perform.”
From that one song in a Bali club, Superman is Dead went on to become nationally recognized under the management of Dethu. The band recently gained their one-millionth fan on Facebook.
“Superman is Dead is now the biggest punk rock band in Indonesia. I stopped managing them three years ago as I had to choose between managing the band or focus on my fashion label, Suicide Glam. But we are still very good friends.”
Managing a band from Bali a decade ago was not easy, says Dethu. The internet as a marketing tool was in its infancy and flying a band and its entourage back and forth to Indonesia’s capital cities was too great a financial stretch.
A problem solver, Dethu slimmed down the team to just the band and himself for intercity flights, working with roadies from these cities.
“This was a new concept but it showed we could live in Bali and have crews in say, Medan or Jakarta, without the cost if flying the whole entourage.”
Dethu recognized the power of the internet very early and began his marketing campaign for Superman is Dead from internet cafes opening across the nation, which were brimming with students and the band’s target market.
“Because we lived in Bali I started my marketing [of the band] on the internet. That was around 1999 to 2000. People here say I was one of the first guys to use the internet as a marketing tool—we had to use it because we were in Bali with very little money,” says Dethu who found his way into the music industry, quite by accident, from a ship circumnavigating the world.
In his early 20s Dethu took to the high seas working the cruise ship circuit. His spare time on board was spent compiling new music CDs for friends back home.
“When I was on the ship I made compilation albums of all the hip bands I was hearing, sharing musical knowledge and sending them back to friends. At that time the internet was not available, so the compilations I sent back became a sharing place for music history discussion.
“These went hand to hand and ended up with a girlfriend of a friend. When I came back [to Bali] within a week I was invited to be a radio presenter and producer with Radio Casanova—it was incredible. That girlfriend was a radio producer,” says Dethu of life’s unexpected results when coupled with passion and serendipity.
Currently Dethu is a music writer with The Beat magazine and disc jockey and producer on The Beat Radio where he sends out over the airwaves The Block Rockin’ Beats. “Music for me has always been about the history of music—knowing how this all started”.
*This article was originally published on Jakarta Post, January 13, 2011. For online edition of the above article click here
*Read also related articles in Jakarta Post re Bali Creative Community and OneDollarForMusic