Jörg Brüggemann has been working on a project on globalized Heavy Metal culture. In February he travelled to Indonesia to portray the local Metal scene with the help of a VG BildKunst scholarship. In the following interview Dawin Meckel asked him why he went there and what he experienced.
Dawin Meckel: Six month ago you portrayed the Metal scene in Indonesia, a free project you had started in Germany last year. Why did you choose Indonesia?
Jörg Brüggemann: One and a half years ago I watched the documentary film "Global Metal" by Sam Dunn, an anthropologist, filmmaker and Metalhead, who travelled the whole world to portray the various Metal scenes. He also went to Indonesia. The local scene doesn't come off well in the film though. Unfortunately the protagonist he had chosen for Indonesia reveals himself as an anti-Semite. It is especially annoying that he was at first shown praying in one of the biggest mosques in the world and emphasizing the sincerity of the Indonesian Islam. Unfortunately idiots exist everywhere, it has nothing to do with Islam or Metal.
Last year I attended a workshop where I had to share my room with Agung Nugroho Widhi, a young photographer from Indonesia. At that time I had done my first pictures of Metal fans in Germany and I was very interested in finding more Metal scenes to portray. Agung himself was no Metalhead but he told me that the scene in Indonesia was huge. And after a friend of him had sent me 20 links of Myspace websites of Indonesian Metal bands, I knew that Agung was right. I found the combination of Southeast Asia, Islam and Metal really exciting and I wanted to know in what state the scene was, as I imagined that the characterization in the documentary film I had seen couldn't be sufficient.
DM: Have you ever thought about doing a project on Techno, HipHop or any other youth culture? Why Metal?
JB: Compared with other musical genres, Heavy Metal is still located in the dirty corner of pop culture. It has never had a big influence on mainstream, although Metal was the most successful style of music worldwide in the 1980s. I have never been a real Metalhead, although I had listened to a lot of hard music in my youth, above all Hardcore and the first wave of Emo. A friend of mine who works in the music industry made me realize that Metal is experiencing some sort of Renaissance at the moment. In times of crises Heavy Metal has always been able to increase the sales figures.
A new generation is growing up which gets socialized with Heavy Metal. This is, however, a progress you hardly notice if you are not part of the scene because the dissociation to non-Metal fans is part of the self-definition of Metalheads. Furthermore I soon noticed that Heavy Metal comprises a whole world of codes, symbols and esthetics that you can wonderfully deal with through photography. Even if they look brutal and dangerous, they are the friendliest and the most ordinary people of all. There is no aggression left inside themselves, they put it all into the music. This year and last year I went to the Wacken Open Air in Northern Germany, the biggest Metal festival in the world. Amongst 75.000 drunken young men I didn't see a fight, not even people pushing each other. Everything was totally peaceful. I always find it interesting when something is not what it seems. I don't want my project to become a freak show, as this is exactly the cliché we all have of Heavy Metal fans. I would like to deal with this phenomenon that has become prevalent in the whole world in an honest way. Of course, a lot of make up, ugly grimaces and a lot of alcohol belong to Heavy Metal but that's not all. Even universities have started to deal with it. Two months ago the faculty of cultural sciences at the university of art in Braunschweig hosted a conference on Heavy Metal as a cultural asset. They don't shrink from calling Heavy Metal the last big narrative of the Western world.
DM: Please allow me this prejudice but I conceive Metal fans as a skeptical fringe group that operates in secrecy. To what extend are they involved in everyday life in Indonesia and how difficult was it for you to get close to them?
JB: It didn't take long before every Metalhead in Java knew that I was around to take pictures of them, as some guy posted the information on Facebook and Myspace. Everyone was extremely helpful and many people were glad that someone from Europe was interested in their culture. Indonesia has recently been in the media because of the Tsunami, suicide terror in Bali and burned-down churches. Many Indonesians suffer because of this negative image. Young people in the cities live a modern life and are orientated towards the west. Although the whole country is confessed to Islam, it is only moderately religious. I took, for example, a picture of a girl wearing a headscarf and a Deathmetal shirt or of some boys wearing a Metal shirt while praying in a mosque. This is absolutely no problem there because the country has always been open for external cultural influences, due to the fact that Indonesia is a multiethnic nation and cultural intermixture had always been practiced. For some reason nearly all Western youth cultures originating from Rock'n Roll like Ska, Punk or Hardcore are extremely successful in Indonesia. Almost everyone listens to hard music. I even saw skin-headed Oi punks, wearing suspenders and driving pimped-up scooters.
Especially the Metal scene is huge and well-networked. They do not have to exist in secrecy, although they have problems with the police or radical Islamists from time to time. They don't have many possibilities to organize concerts, as they always have to bribe somebody. Furthermore two years ago 12 people died in a mass panic at a concert in Bandung, caused by attacking policemen. Unfortunately the Metalheads get still blamed for this incident. Nevertheless the Metal scene sometimes offers the only support many young people experience in life. Domestic violence, alcohol and unemployment are the big issues nowadays. The boys band together, learning respect and trust. Being part of it and living in solidarity are extremely important. Some even find jobs in one of the screen-print-factories, producing Metal shirts for the whole world. By being a member of a band they get stability in life. Everyone who has ever seen a well-playing Deathmetal drummer or guitarist knows that it takes years of discipline to handle an instrument so well.
DM: What strikes someone looking at your pictures is the fact that Metal fans and their German colleagues hardly differ from each other. They wear the same clothes, the same hair style and use the same gestures. To what extend is the topic "globalization" also part of your project?
JB: Globalization actually is the real topic of my work. In autumn I am planning to travel to Sao Paolo for the project and to some other countries where I would like to take pictures of the scene. Heavy Metal is just the projection surface, even though one that I'm extremely interested in. It sounds like a stereotype but at the moment a revolution is going on, unnoticed by most people. The generation aged 20 has grown up with the internet, they have already contacted many people from different countries and cultures. So they do not ask about nationality first, they are interested in music preferences. Honestly, it could not have come out in a better way. Especially for the music scene it was very easy to assert itself because music is a universal language. In every country you will find some youngsters, wanting to scream and shout "AARRRGGGHHHH". They listen to Metal and don't mind if one has blue-colored eyes or dark skin. Restoring inner solidarity and bounding against external circumstances are the goals of Metal, which makes Metal a perfect global youth culture. A German Metalhead shares more similarities with an Indonesian Metalhead than he does with a German HipHop fan. Using the internet, everyone finds their favorite bands, even if you are located in Iran. This process is unstoppable, it is a positive development. One boy I photographed in Java told me that a serious Indonesian Metalhead has to travel to two destinations: Mecca and Wacken.
all images © Jörg Brüggemann/OSTKREUZ