You know you've had a big night out in Jakarta when you are stumbling along the corridor to your apartment, searching your handbag for your keys and hoping like hell they are in there, at the same time as the local musholla is belting out the sunrise prayers on the loudspeaker at 4.30am. Well played, trashbag.
On Saturday night I had my first taste of a few different types of Jakartan nightlife. It was quite the evening.
First on the party train was dangdut, at a seedy little bar on Jalan Blora. By seedy and little, I mean it had mirrored walls on both sides to try and make it look bigger, and the mirrored walls were dirty, marked with hand prints and greasy circles that might just have been from hair product of some lady of the night. It was all class.
Taxi driver conversation on the way:
"Ah miss. Jalan Blora. Discotech, ya? Dancey time ya? Party huh?"'
"Ah miss. Suka dangdut? You like?"
"Yeah I like dangdut. It's fun. You like dangdut?" (note, I've never seen live dangdut before, only karaoke)
"Sometimes I like dangdut miss, sometimes I like Bob Marley, sometimes I like Meatloaf. I like Beetle too. *singing* If it be, if it be, if it be ohhhhh if it be."
"Ah yes, If It Be is a good song."
Didn't have the heart to tell him it's called "Let it Be".
On to the dangdut. For the unacquainted (probably about 99 percent of the world outside of Indonesia), dangdut is the music of Indonesia's people. It's a mix of Hindi-sounding jams, giddy pop beats and often some electric keyboard, flute or 80s-style alto sax and electric guitar interludes (fall back career… writing for a wanky music magazine). You also seem to get a lot of John-Travolta-Staying-Alive high waisted flared pants. It's very fun and catchy.
The doyenne of dangdut, as far as I know, is Inul Daratista. Inul's gyrating hip movements (which she calls "drilling") almost got her banned here, and this porn bill kerfuffle that's going on right now is partly to protect the kids from Inul's womanly curves of doom.
Here's a sample of dangdut for y'all. Don't say I never gift you with anything wonderful.
Now unfortunately, at our seedy dangdut bar, they weren't quite rocking it as hard at good 'ol Inul. The band looked like they were on sedatives or were in some kind of dangdut internment camp, us crazy bule and a few ayam (means chicken, but also prostitute apparently) were the only ones setting the slippery dance floor ablaze and to make matters worse, when the live performers had finished their set, they put on a DJ who was playing techno dangdut and it burned my ears. It sounded like chipmunks on crack had gone crazy in Indonesia and decided to try and make music using the squeaky wheels of unlicensed taxis as an inspiration. We had to get out of there.
On to venue number two. It was called Crown, and the part of the club that we ended up in gave us about the same view of a bunch of squirming ladies' nether regions as you would see if you were in an obstetrics ward and someone in a white coat was screaming "oh my god, the baby is crowning!". There were poles, there was an ornate water fountain in the middle, there were podiums and there were dancing girls in bikinis delivering shots to coked-up Chinese businessmen, but not before unbuttoning their shirts and simulating the sex act with them on stage.
We just stood back, drank our warm cans of beer (we got a free "choice" of drink with our cover charge… warm beer or water) and talked about the media landscape in Asia and Australia, among other things. There was also a massive clubbing space in Crown, big enough for thousands, with all manner of flashing lights.
But we wanted more. The night was still so young. So onward we went to Stadium, the "holy grail" of Jakarta clubs. It opens on Thursday night and doesn't close until Monday morning. According to the hyperbole, it's one of the biggest and best clubs in Asia. It certainly had some of the finest faux marble columns I've ever seen, that's for sure. And it's pretty damn big. Apparently the top floor doof-doof dance area holds about 3000 people… and there are three other bar/dance areas as well.
We drank some shots, danced around a bit among the sweat, drug pushers and flashing lights… one of our party gave us a "tour" of Stadium, for those of us who were newer to Jakarta. He barged through a door marked "staff only", up some stairs and past a confused looking madam ("if they ask what we are doing, we'll just say we are here for group sex," our tour guide said), to show us the hidden "rent per hour" rooms. We also saw the VIP couches on the balconies.
We went downstairs, to the live music bar, where a band of people with more pep than I have in my little finger were belting out hits in English and Indonesian. They reminded me of S Club 7 back in their heyday. It was quite funny, they had their very own Indonesian version of Justin Timberlake in the band. He had on a Justin hat and had clearly studied well the moves of Sir Timberlake. We danced around and sang along to crap by Shakira with Indo JT getting on down with us. There was also an Indonesian Fergie in the band as well, singing about her London Bridge. But then… an older looking man in a suit took centre stage and the employees in the bar started to wave their arms up and down as if a religious deity had arrived.
"Oh crap, I bet it's the owner. The owners always get on the microphones, think they can sing and the staff feel obliged not to tell them how shit they are."
"Yeah, I bet it's the owner. Look at his pinstripe dress pants. You can tell he's deluded and has tickets on himself and is about to put us all through agony with a soppy love ballad sang three keys out of tune."
"Seriously this is such an Indonesian thing, they do it at so many bars."
"OK, he's starting. God, he's even doing the amateur testing the microphone thing. Someone was just using it, of course it works."
He belts out his first ear shattering note and then launches into rock classics, and we all sit there with our jaws dropped open.
"Holy shit. He's pretty good."
Move over Indo JT and Fergie… Indonesian Rock God is in the building. I thought the power of his voice would make the marble pillars crumble… but I guess plywood holds up to strong vocals.
After he had finished his set, we decided it was time to head home.
But not before witnessing a brawl on the faux-fancy stairwell. It was a pretty tame fight… over a pickpocket apparently.
That's why my money was shoved down my bra, stripper style.
One we passed the push-shove, it was out on to the street to battle the gauntlet of beggars, cigarette sellers, drug sellers, dubious fried food sellers and illegal taxis.
Once we were safely ensconced in a Bluebird cab,
it was a quiet journey home, watching the traffic whiz past and the prostitutes on the street corners with their pimps sitting behind them on motorcycles.
Hello, Jakarta's seedy underbelly. How lovely to make your acquaintance.