Teen Age Riot: The Story of Poster Cafe and Jakarta’s Underground Scene
The Satria Mandala Museum is a monument to decadent glory. Located in Gatot Subroto, Jakarta, it’s home to an extensive documentation of Indonesia’s military history. But, nestled in a deserted corner of the complex is a building abandoned for nearly a decade. Little can one tell, that this hollow piece of architechture once housed the legendary Poster Cafe.
It was the early 90’s, and Indonesia was under the New Order’s rule. Despite the censorships and human rights abuse, an underground music scene flourished. During the late 80’s, bands such as Roxx and Rotor camped around venues like Pid’s Pub in Pondok Indah, playing trash metal-inspired sounds to young, niche audiences .
“Before Poster, the scene was more ‘underground’,” observed Eka Annash, now singer of acclaimed garage-rock band The Brandals. “Mustang Radio was one of the few media that gave any exposure. They had a show, Rock and Rhytm, held regularly in Granada . That was in 1991.” A band, Antiseptic, were invited to play there. In contrast with the dominant metal sound, Antiseptic played punk songs inspired by Misfits and Dead Kennedys. The small, fanatic band of punkers in the audience launched into a full-blown riot .
They were part of a bigger wave. Bands such as The Stupid, Idiots, and Pestolaer have emerged, playing rowdy, chaotic punk to increasingly large audiences, most of them barely in their 20’s. Venues such as Voila Discotic and Manari Open Air  became a hub for alternative music communities. One of the most prominent being Young Offender (YO), the first punk community in Jakarta, formed in 1992 by Ondy Rusdy and Ade “Taba” Yusuf.
One of the main way these communities expanded was through “bahasa kaos”, whereby one would wear the shirt or accessory of a band, adopt it as one’s identity, and use it to seek and identify others with similar physical expressions.
As absurd as this sounds in a modern context, the obscurity and dearth of information on alternative subcultures at the time made this approach viable. Record shops like Duta Suara in Sabang began selling albums and magazines featuring alternative artists, exposing youths to subcultures such as grunge, industrial, Britpop, and punk. Scenesters used the Blok M Plaza area, among others, to trade cassettes and organize events . Some members of YO, including Ondy Rusdy, Evi Punk Tat, and Udet, had direct contact with punkers abroad. Ondy was exposed to punk during family visits to Boston. Evi briefly lived in Germany. Udet, considered one of Indonesia’s original punks, studied in New York and immersed himself in the scene . When these lucky few returned home, they spread the word relentlessly.
Yet venues were scarce. After Voila and Manari closed, punk regained its footing in Hotspot Cafe. After over a year, in late 1993 or early 1994  a concert held there ended in a fight with local thugs. The fallout ended punk’s sojourn with Hotspot. Manari, though, had been reopened and was renamed Poster Cafe. “Business was bad, so they invited young bands to play.” Ondy said. With a capacity of 2,000 people and a simple, rectangular layout, it was ideal for concerts. YO began organizing shows there regularly, gaining a cult following.
Conflicting accounts remained over this period. While Ondy insisted that through 1993-1996, Poster was used regularly for concerts, research by academic Fathun Karib stated that during 1994, there was a lack of punk concerts in Jakarta until 1995, when a major concert was held in Bulungan. What is known, though, is that YO underwent significant changes. Submission, Ondy’s band, started playing industrial music by Ministry. Arguably the most influential transformation was Pestolaer’s. Once one of Jakarta’s most notorious punks, they reinvented themselves as Britpop/Madchester heroes influenced by The Stone Roses.
YO, however, was weakened by drugs and internal conflicts. In 1996, they organized their final concert in Poster Cafe. Ondy was already in Australia, studying fine arts. Taba stayed behind. His newfound sound started inspiring new bands playing music reminiscent of their Britpop heroes. “Punk was already strong,” opined Taba, Pestolaer’s singer. “So, I wanted to try something new.” Theirs was the beginning of a new and glorious wave.
The 29th of September 1996 marked a new era. A two-weekly show, Underground Sessions, re-announced Poster Cafe’s presence in the local scene . Though the roots were laid down by punk, bands from various genres popped up. Rumahsakit, Parklife, Room V, Chapter 69, Wondergel, and Stepforward became regulars in the scene, among many others, with genres ranging from Hardcore, Madchester, Britpop, Industrial, and more.
Interestingly, these bands extensively covered songs from their idols. “There was no alternative entertainment.” said Edo Wallad, then of the band Brown Sugar. “You hear the same music everywhere. Poster was a spot that specializes in ‘different’ music. We can’t see The Stone Roses live, so we’ll just copy them! Some bands grew out of this thinking, and that’s what set them apart.” Bands such as Naif, Pestolaer, Rumahsakit, and Waiting Room were a few of the regulars that eventually released albums containing original songs.
Though Naif went mainstream, major success eluded most bands. “You won’t make it if you don’t accept the label’s meddling.” Taba said. “Most of us won’t have that.” The occasional mention in magazines and having their albums sold in shops were enough. “We didn’t want to be mainstream. We’re underground.” Said Harlan Boer, then of the band Room V. For most audiences, the Poster Cafe generation remained a niche curiosity.
Poster Cafe made more of a mark in the alternative music scene. “Our scene was sporadic, but everybody met at Poster Cafe. It was a melting pot.” Harlan said. “The shows were mostly on weekends and started on afternoons, so high school kids could come, too.” Eka, then of the band Waiting Room, concurred. “That’s what we were looking for. A place where we could communicate and appreciate each other.”
1999 brought their demise. On the 10th of March, the punk show Subnormal Revolution ended in a riot, as concert-goers clashed with residents . As the riot drew to a close, so did Poster Cafe. It had been coming – a mixture of financial difficulties, the disbanding of seminal bands, and its reputation as a hotbed for drug abuse already had them clinging to existence. “They bought drinks outside and come in for free.” Edo lamented. “In the end, the scenesters killed the scene.”
Poster Cafe never lived to see the 21st century, but its impact is still keenly felt. “There had never been a venue of that size where various communities and genres could meet.” Harlan said. “Look at the bands these days. The music, the attitude.” Observed Ondy. “Our generation started that.” Later, scenesters shaped by the mutual experience of Poster Cafe merged with even more communities in spots such as BB’s Bar and Parc, paving the way for influential indie bands Seringai, The Upstairs, The Brandals, C’mon Lennon, and more .
Now the building itself lay dormant. According to workers, after Poster closed, a billiard club took over until it, too, went broke. Since then, the site remained empty as museum directors refused to rent the space. A visit there reveals a spot now reclaimed by nature, exuding the unmistakable smell of mold and decay.
The Satria Mandala Museum continues to pull in visitors. But one wonders, how many of them ever stopped, noticed this abandoned building, and realized its history?
Most, we observed, never even gave it a passing glance.
Raka Ibrahim is a writer based in Jakarta, Indonesia. His reviews and essays has been published by several independent arts and music publications such as Gigsplay, Jakartabeat, Jurnallica, and Indoprogress. In 2014, he was selected as a participant in the Young Art Critic’s Workshop held by ruangrupa and the Jakarta Arts Council. He currently writes for the Indonesian Arts Coalition (KSI), RutgersWPF, and at the Jakarta-based youth organization Pamflet.
In 2013, he co-founded Disorder Zine, an independent music and culture webzine. The Jakarta-based zine has been working on Kemerdekaan Bawah Tanah, a three-part in-depth feature series on the history of Jakarta’s independent music scene, focusing on three small yet highly influential music venues. The first part of this series, Poster Cafe dan Revolusi Tersembunyi, was published in 2014.
Visit them at http://wearedisorder.net/
- Wendi Putranto, “Histori Rock Bawah Tanah di Indonesia”, bonus article for MTV Trax Indonesia Magazine, August 2004
- Graha Purna Yudha. Now Plaza Semanggi, Jakarta
- Fathun Karib, “Kesadaran Kolektif dan Identitas Komunitas Jakarta”, Sociology undergraduate thesis, Faculty of Social Sciences and Politics, University of Indonesia, 2007
- A precursor to Poster Cafe, located next door to Poster.
- Interview with Ondy Rusdy, 21st January 2014
- A lack of proper documentation and an indefinite timeframe is an unfortunate, yet prevalent characteristic of this period.
- Interview with Harlan Boer, 22nd August 2013
- Eka Annash 12th September 2013
- Fathun Karib 30th September 2013
- Ondy Rusdy 19th November 2013, 21st Januari 2014
- Ade “Taba” Yusuf 22nd September 2013
- Edo Wallad 20th September 2013
- Harlan Boer 22nd August 2013