No-Brain Dance and Cultural Resistance in Javanese Dance Music
a preliminary note
Koplo or Dangdut Koplo or just Dangdut modern style is dance music that born and develop in the grass-root. For Indonesian, Koplo is associated with Koplo pills. Psychotropic drugs are inexpensive (actually standard drugs) and are intoxicating if consumed in large quantities. Many people die from overuse. These pills usually are consumed while dancing and listening to tripping music. Funkot and Dangdut Remix are tripping music that has spread in Jakarta’s suburb clubs and other small cities in the ’80s. The audience sways under the influence of drugs with a unique and wild style. The dance became known as Koplo dance. Koplo also means stupid, retard or no brain, words that are quite clear to describe Koplo regarding the music, the lyrics, and the dance.
Koplo music itself was born in the early 2000s in several areas in East Java and the north coast of Java (Pantura). As a legacy of Classic Dangdut music, Koplo started from “Panggung Hajatan” (a small concert initiated by someone who has a ceremonial event, like a wedding or circumcision) that happens a lot in the area of suburban and rural. Pirated CD / VCD at that time, was a publication media that made Koplo known throughout Indonesia.
At first, Koplo was not received well by Dangdut music artist (In that time Dangdut is referring to Classic Dangdut), because the music was so cheap and did not follow the Classic Dangdut music rules. Moreover, many Koplo singers popularized erotic movements and vulgar appearance. One of the legendary artists is Inul Daratista popularize Goyang Ngebor (Drilling Dance), a kind of drilling dance movement using the buttock. Rhoma Irama, a Classic Dangdut legend, who at that time was the chairman of the Dangdut music association (PAMMI) called Inul’s phenomenon as moral decadence, and openly forbade using the Dangdut name in this type of music. At this point, Koplo became even more popular. New artists appeared with more vulgar dance, Uut Permatasari, Annisa Baha, Dewi Persik, Julia Perez and many others.
The public doesn’t think much about the difference between Classic Dangdut and Koplo, but there are indeed significant changes in Classic Dangdut music itself. Gradually the Classic Dangdut artists began to adopt Koplo elements in their music, and until now Koplo can still be named Dangdut Koplo or just simply Dangdut. Classic Dangdut is starting to lose its popularity. Musically speaking, Koplo itself is the most brilliant and brilliant evolution in Dangdut music. Koplo laid a strong local foundation in its music, and at the same time, also experimented with global music elements.
Koplo has hundreds of variants and not centralized in big cities. Koplo grows and spreads in many parts of Java suburban and rural, its development is very dependent and influenced by existing local culture. Koplo itself has a unique character, it is more like a spirit of grass-roots movement than a music industry. If it established well, there is enthusiasm to immediately respond or even destroy it. That is why Koplo will always create new variants.
DANGDUT/KOPLO AROUND JAVA (YouTube Playlist)
Koplo Variant in Java. Heavy Metal from East Java and The Queen of Pantura
Koplo developed from small cities in East Java, such as Sidoarjo, Mojokerto, Nganjuk, Kediri, Banyuwangi and many others, starting from OM (Dangdut group) who play Dangdut music with their style. Dangdut was re-translated by presenting local folk art elements as their music core, such as Jaranan (horse dance), before combined with Indonesian Pop music, Hip-hop or even Heavy Metal. This creation, of course, is more rough and fast, as the general character of the East Javanese people. Koplo in East Java can be called Jangdut or Jaranan Dangdut, although later there is a claim that Jangdut is not Koplo. The term Jangdut was popularized by OM Sagita. Until now, the biggest OMs and Dangdut label in Indonesia are located in East Java like Monata, New Palapa, Sera, Lagista, Sagita, Milady Record, and Samudra Record. Innovation, variant and artist/star also promoted by these groups/labels. Banyuwangi has a very different culture from the rest of East Java. Gandrung and the famous dance music in the 90s, Kendang Kempul is the strong folk art in this area. Koplo which grows in Banyuwangi is based on slow beat, but several rhythmic instruments, such as Kendang (percussion instrument) and kenong are played in rapid and complex ways. It’s easier to call this Koplo variant as Dangdut / Koplo Banyuwangian music.
Pantura is the term that refers to the north coastal area of Java that positioned between Central Java and West Java (Sundanese). Their culture is also a kind of mixture between the two. The majority of people work in agricultural areas or become laborers in factories (usually going to work in the factories around Jakarta or even abroad). These areas are very identical to Dangdut / Koplo. Bintang Pantura (Pantura Star) is one of the most famous Dangdut / Koplo contest shows on national television. In Indramayu area and surround, people never mention Koplo. The Koplo variant in these areas is called Organ Tarling or Tarling Dangdut, although then, there is also Tarling Koplo variant. Tarling or Classic Tarling is a folk art from the Indramayu region which is more like a traditional folk song. Tarling comes from the words gitar and suling (guitar and flute). This Tarling can be recognized from its musical scale. This scale that cannot be found in Java and Sunda, believed to be the legacy of ancient Malay or older Javanese culture. In 2010, the Dangdut Tarling variant experienced its peak, giving birth to famous artists such as Aan Rolani and The Queen of Pantura, Dewi Kirana. Song like “Mabok Bae” (Always Drunk) and “Mujaer Mundur” (Retreating Catfish) was very popular in that era. Dangdut Tarling has a slow rhythm but simplified several Kendang beats (which has thousands of complicated beat) to become kick patterns. We will sense a slow and fast rhythm at the same time. Not only Tarling, cities such as Cirebon, Tegal, Pekalongan in Pantura area also have different folk arts, and they started to build their version of Dangdut from their local heritage.
Variants of Koplo continue to grow in other areas of Java, especially in smaller cities. In West Java, Koplo artists combined Dangdut with Jaipong (Sundanese traditional fast dance), which later became known as Jaipong Dangdut or Pongdut. In Banyumas, Dangdut was re-translated with Calung folk art as its core. In Yogyakarta itself, where I live, there are Campursari Dangdut (Campursari is a simplification of Gamelan orchestra), Congdut or Keroncong Dangdut (Keroncong is a Portuguese influenced Javanese folk music), Javanese Koplo and Gedruk Dangdut or Gedruk Koplo (Gedruk is sub-genre of Jaranan horse dance). These variants are more like the transformation between traditional folk art into contemporary art. It can be said, the existing folk art has never changed its essence, the change is only in its form, merely influenced by modernity and development of technology. It’s doesn’t mean that traditional folk art is disappeared too. To understand a Koplo variant in someplace, someone must also understand the existing folk art in that area.
EAST JAVANESE DANGDUT/KOPLO (YouTube Playlist)
WEST JAVANESE & PANTURA DANGDUT/KOPLO (YouTube Playlist)
CENTRAL JAVANESE DANGDUT/KOPLO (YouTube Playlist)
BANYUWANGI DANGDUT/KOPLO (YouTube Playlist)
It is quite difficult to study the diversity of Koplo music, but at least we can simplify several things. At first, Koplo used several types of syncopation or percussion breaks in Dangdut music. This syncopation was taken from the experimentation between Sundanese and East Javanese Kendang beat. Kendang itself is a musical instrument that is commonly found in traditional performance arts in Indonesia. Particularly in Java, Kendang categorized to the lead section (it’s still debatable, but it’s more like a conductor function in ensemble) instead of a common rhythm section. Sundanese Kendang has more pieces with different tuning, also with a lot of variety of beat/pattern. East Javanese Kendang is more minimal, played fast and loud without so much variation. This experimentation created a lot of syncopations/percussion breaks and rhythmic/melodic patterns. The “Bukak Sithik Joss” (Open a little bit please) syncopation is the older and most widely used at the moment. Not every syncopation has a name, but Koplo musicians can play the most of it in the ensemble, even without any rehearsal or note (music score). Koplo music uses dozens of different types of syncopation in one composition, where Koplo‘s musical structure base is recognized.
From this base, Koplo was further developed according to the folk arts/culture in their respective regions, such as Jaipong, Jaranan, Campursari, Gedruk, and others. Not stopping here, they also adopted various global elements such as Heavy Metal, Electro House, Hip Hop to K-Pop.
The Yamaha PSR keyboard is an important instrument in Koplo development (sometimes also using the Technics KN series keyboard or Korg series). In the most recording or concert, Yamaha PSR plays the foundation of rhythm and melody for the music. I don’t know in other countries, in Indonesia this Yamaha PSR is more focused on Dangdut and Koplo music, someone can even play the entire Dangdut / Koplo music composition with just a keyboard. Yamaha PSR can be purchased with big data of Dangdut MIDI sequences and Dangdut sampling in it, including sampling from traditional music instruments such as Kendang, Suling, Angklung and even Gamelan. They also do the sampling by themselves using DAW like Cubase or FLStudio. The sample results are embedded into the keyboard or other controller such as Alesis Samplepad Pro. Solo session or when DJing with keyboard only, called Ortung or Organ Tunggal or solo keyboard in English, it is a contrast to the conventional DJs that use Turntable, CDJ, XDJ, Traktor DJ or Ableton Live for live performance.
Dystopian Celebration on the Stage
Koplo lyrics tell or connected to a real condition in suburban and rural communities; urbanization, broken heart due to class differences, supernatural ritual, death because of cheap liquor, to the ballad of migrant workers. The lyrics do not talk about resistance or a strong political statement. The lyrics are a very simple/honest expression, including the use of parables, which can refer to the complex life of marginal society and its problem. Parables are the thing that common in Javanese life, to express some problems directly is not a polite thing. Through parables, they can put the critic or protest. If they are entering a complex situation, for example, there is no other way out, they prefer to make some jokes regarding their surroundings or even themselves. Of course, these parables system or even jokes have a long history, it’s not so hard for most of the Javanese people to understand the context behind parables or jokes. Public narratives, such as Javanese literary works or even Javanese history, did use a wide variety of parables.
The song “Kimcil Kepolen” (She so Extra) tells the story of a broken heart because the girl’s mother prefers the men who have at least a Kawasaki Ninja motorbike as their ride. Class differences in Indonesia are still very high. The income between unskilled workers and executives is very far away. One girl told her excitement because she was liked by the owner of fishpond (a rich man in this case) in the song called “Juragan Empang”. Poverty is a real problem both in cities and villages. Many girls dream of marrying a rich person or else, they would go to work abroad, such as in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia or Malaysia as migrant workers. Sometimes, not as a factory worker or domestic servant, but also a sex worker. Among them, many are still underage.
Supernatural ritual is used to achieve someone’s goal. In the song “Jaran Goyang” (Dancing Horse. The name of supernatural spell for love), someone chooses to go to a shaman and spell Jaran Goyang, so the girl falls in love with him. Supernatural rituals are commonly used by Javanese people, not only for love but also about “pesugihan” (ritual for prosperity) to “tolak bala” (ritual for safety). Belief in supernatural things is certainly driven by a difficult situation in life. Domestic abuse problems to the death caused by oplosan (Liquor experimentation with hazardous materials) are the real phenomenon that also captured by the lyrics.
Most of the lyrics tell about life sufferings, either directly or through parables. Contradictory to the lyrics, Dangdut / Koplo songs accompanied by happy, wild and loud music. Dangdut / Koplo audience generally dance with a certain excitement, sometimes they dance until getting trance as if all the suffering and sadness was merely a joke, which deserves to be celebrated. The stage and costume were also designed just like in a TV show
Dangdut celebration is a narrative game of the people in the grass-root that also considered as the second citizen. They face injustice or unequal treatment from the state to the lack of state protection from the power of multinational corporations. Maybe is not coincident that Dangdut/Koplo fastly grow in the conflict areas or where poverty, low education, and other problems happen
DANGDUT / KOPLO PERFORMANCE & DANCE (YouTube Playlist)
Cultural Resistance in Java
The Dutch Colonial formed a divided society, relations between the cities were limited, communities were divided into classes, city/area/kingdom that potentially becoming a threat is pitted against another city/area/kingdom. Perhaps this was the strategy to gain social and political control. After centuries, the regions, cities, and classes develop each other in their unique way. Until now, Javanese ethnicity has a vast diversity between its areas, that has cultural differences in behaviors, norms, arts, rituals or language dialects.
But of course, there is something in common for Javanese. In general, Javanese people have a more adaptive and fluid attitude towards changes or difficult situations. History is even written in myth or prophecy. The concept of time is not linear. Expressions are expressed in parables and various symbolic actions. Sometimes, common things could become a critical political statement. Symbolic expressions tend to be used when they are defeated, oppressed or culturally marginalized. Art or folk art has been chosen as a medium of expression, especially performance art because it can involve a wider audience.
This attitude has become part of cultural identity, passed down from time to time, from folk art to other folk art, because only through art, they can maintain their identity and dignity. Jaranan or horse dance is an ancient performance art that is still developing until today, involves trance, acrobatic movements, showing off kebal (immune to any kind of weapons) and magic. Jaranan was born and developed in conquered areas, far from the Kingdom of Mataram (Javanese regime in16th-18th centuries) surveillance. Jaranan it’s a symbolic art that refers to the idea that the conquered areas still have power or dignity.
Koplo is a cultural resistance in the contemporary map. Like the previous local folk arts, they built on the same spirit of resistance. Koplo is a dystopia, a world built through disappointment, celebrated in various stage; television, hajatan stage, YouTube, Spotify, social media, street musician or even in public transportation.