Indie music, 7-Eleven Jakarta and the glory of consumption

Remember that wood-paneled, smoke filled blues, reggae and rock club in Menteng. Sure, at one point it was “behind Formule 1 Hotel” and “across the street from 7-Eleven” AKA “sevel.” Fact is, BB’s was there way before that stuff was. For the longest time catching Tony Q and the anak reggae on Friday (or the occasional nothing-like-it Indonesian goth or metal band) pretty much made it worth it going to the office for another week. And now, like the Tanamour, the scene is no more.

Ibu Beavis Pelacur

Ayo ke Sevel!

So the answer to what ever happened to the indie music scene in Jakarta is the subject of a little footnote-type article in the Jakarta Post today. It turns out — sadly enough — that the scene never was that big and places like BB’s and Parc in Blok M (remember that?) were a big part of it. However, the article mentions Rossi Music on Jl. Fatmawati in S. Jak and Lumbung Padi café in Jeruk Purut as having help-the-scene potential.

So after BB’s bowed out, it seems that a lot of people — like me — didn’t know where to find Indonesian bands to listen to. Regularly enough there are independent-type reggae shows and concerts. But they’re often held in unsuitable venues (with lots of mud, no toilets, etc).

And so one of the last times  I saw kids hanging out listening to reggae in Menteng was . . . at the Fuji Menteng7-Eleven.  What the hell’s up with that?  Well, sevel was promoting the event on Twitter. Menteng (Indonesia’s first garden city) is  a cool part of town. There were kids skating and doing freestyle across the street in the park. And music is always a  good thing. So I guess it just kind of seemed like the right thing to do.

But there’s more. Because in today’s pretty interesting editorial the Jakarta Post stands up for the “Japanese convenience store giant 7-Eleven [that] has since early 2010 been invading Jakarta with its orange, green and red storefronts, and is now gearing up to expand into other major cities across the country as the growth centers of the economy spread to areas outside Java.”

It’s all about the $2 – $20 class of folk, the paper says. That’s what makes you middle class. Having money to spend at 7-Eleven. (Although the focus is really on $2 to $5 / day crowd.)

So let’s say I do have $5 bucks to spend. What’s that going to get me at 7-11? Cigarettes, which are subsidized by the government. Some bizarre breaded crap that has to kept in an incubator 24/7 or it will escape or mutate or something. Shit coffee. Bad gas. Maybe one bottle of Corona. Maybe a peek at an out-of-the-plastic magazine. So I can take away a desire for more crap I don’t need. (Which will work out great ’cause I ain’t got the money either.)

Plus I can catch the hapless reggae act supposedly slummin’ it there with the jolly red, orange and green Japanese giant.

But, says Jak  Post editorial, don’t hate the Seven just because it’s monstrous, tasteless and “controlled or partly owned by foreign interests. ” That would be groundless,  narrow and inordinately nationalistic.

And then they lay out the gospel of consumption directly from the Book of Mormon:

“The rationale is that production is at the same time consumption, and consumption is simultaneously production. Without production there is no consumption, but without consumption there is no production either, since in that case production would be useless.”

So there you have it. Beavis and Butthead get a job flipping burgers and with their pocket change buy nachos at the convenience store and Indonesia moves one step closer to the reasons I don’t want to live in the “developed” world. Selamat deh!

The difference in Indonesia is that people still remember what was there before 7-11. How can you not? It’s been like a year.  And all those alternative modes of production/consumption —  pasar, dagang, warung, nongkrong — they’re still here.

So how does Seven compete? Rather forcefully I would say. You take the best street locations and radically change the look, feel and function. You max out your meters squared and AC units to make the neighborhood as hot as possible. That will get dozens of people into the store to buy cold drinks. Employ three  of the skinniest nerds you can find — so that pretty much everybody feels like its “their store.”  Follow people on Twitter and coax them back down to their old stomping grounds with the new-and-improved fake street-vibe thing. Hurrah for the mediocre class!

13 Oct. 2011: In the interests of balanced coverage I note that 7-Eleven is or will be a franchise. So I guess, if you got one, you could make it pretty cool. Still I struggle with the sevel-as-Indie thing.

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