For now, they're sticking to the image and the hard-driving rock that have turned Koil into one of Indonesia's biggest underground bands. Partial to black latex, rubber vests and platform shoes, the look is industrial Goth and the music an amalgam of slow, chunky guitar over samples of synthesized voices and haunting noises punctuated by the growls of Otong. The 30-year-old, with dreads down to his waist, personifies the band's DIY ethos, a trait that has earned it a fanatical cult following and critical acclaim. After two albums and a demo in 10 years, the band has emerged as the standard-bearer of Indonesia's fledgling alternative-rock scene.
The fact that Koil's four members have toured for the past two years, selling out venues even though they exclusively play material from their last effort, 2001's Megaloblast, underscores the loyalty of their fans. "We're not competing with anybody and don't really care if we get left behind," says Otong.
Although more than 30,000 copies of Megaloblast have been sold, Koil says it is content with its niche following. Other Indonesian rock acts, however, inspired in part by Koil, are going straight for the mainstream jugular. Punk rockabilly act Superman Is Dead, Bali's best-known group, has just signed with Sony. Stoner-rock quartet Seringai is also gearing up for its own debut on disc. All these acts are representative of an underground scene that is creating a new market while stomping on the tradition of bland love songs, which dominates the country's radio playlists and karaoke machines. "Bands have more references now from outside," explains Arian Arifin, lead singer of Seringai, which means "grim" in Indonesian. "Bands are beginning to understand the music industry."
That supernova could be Superman Is Dead, which sings in English and has crafted its image in the vein of Green Day and Blink 182. The sound is less poppy but the gear is the same: requisite chain hanging from the wallet, roomy pants that occasionally slip down below the belt, and old-school Vans. Seringai has carved its own niche out of a sound pioneered by the Deftones and Queens of the Stone Age. The quartet has already generated significant buzz in the critical cities of Jakarta and Bandung before even releasing an album.
Koil, the godfathers of this rock scene, still seem more interested in another bottle of Singa Jengke than scoring a major-label deal. That night, as we chill out at their favorite hangout—a sprawling Chinese cemetery on a hill high above the flickering lights of Bandung—and pass around the hooch, it seems like these guys believe being on the fringe is where it's at.