20 Years of Celebrating Dystopia in Java - Part 1By Yennu Ariendra, 2020
This popular form of dance music cannot be found on any map. Indeed, one might need a specific keyword to enter the algorithm of the world of koplo on the internet. It may also be due to the fact that many people in Indonesia regard koplo as a worthless form of music, a kind of mucking about that doesn’t represent Indonesian culture. As such, koplo is a marginalised musical form.
Koplo has come to prominence since big labels and conventional music industry channels have declined. Koplo artists are creating their own new industry. Long before iTunes, Spotify, or download services proliferated, koplo spread through pirated CDs and VCDs, and other downloadable or transferrable media.
Playing loud koplo music is accepted, but on the other hand, permission is required if you want to perform pop, experimental, or other kinds of modern music. As such, koplo is one of the forms of folk art which has a special position in society.
So, how big is the koplo music industry? YouTube statistics can give us a general idea. The most popular dangdut koplo song – in terms of views – is »Lagi Syantik« by Siti Badriah, with 580million views. The lyrics are in Indonesian and she is well-known throughout the nation. In terms of a song with Javanese lyrics, the most popular is Nella Kharisma’s, »Jaran Goyang,« which has about 250million views. Considering Indonesia's population of around 274 Million, these numbers are comparable to global hits such as »Despacito« by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee, which has almost 7 billion views.
Apart from YouTube, koplo is also popular as a live form of entertainment. Koplo songs are regularly sung in karaoke bars and are performed on the streets of Indonesia.
How is koplo present in everyday life in Indonesia? Well, for one, no one protests when koplo is blasted through large speakers in a crowded residential area. Koplo is also played by buskers and itinerant traders, in cafes and restaurants, on public transport, and even in city council offices. Playing loud koplo music is accepted, but on the other hand, permission is required if you want to perform pop, experimental, or other kinds of modern music. As such, koplo is one of the forms of folk art which has a special position in society. This also applies to classic dangdut, wayang kulit, and gamelan orchestras.
Despite this status, koplo is still somewhat marginal. Is it because koplo emerged from the grassroots of Indonesian societies? What does grassroot mean in the Indonesian context? After all, a large portion of Indonesia’s population can be regarded as being grassroots or from lower social classes who are not empowered in terms of holding financial power, education, or other rights as citizens.
Koplo has followed an absurd trajectory. Its scenes, innovations, and variations emerge and disappear in short time frames, which makes me wonder how exactly to approach it. Is koplo really a genre? Perhaps it's better seen as a kind of beat, or an idea? Or maybe it oscillates between these meanings? In this article, I use the terms koplo or dangdut koplo interchangeably to denote a genre, a beat, or an idea.
Origins: Classic DangdutKoplo, dangdut koplo, and modern dangdut have all evolved from classic dangdut. Classic dangdut developed from Malay music (also known as Irama Melayu) which was influenced by Arabic, Indian, Chinese, and Portuguese musics. The heyday of Irama Melayu, popular throughout Indonesia and Malaysia, was during the 1940s.
Irama Melayu continued to develop rapidly in Indonesia’s post-Independence era with the rise of Soekarno’s anti-imperialist rhetoric. Soekarno’s anti-West stance helped foster the emergence of locally oriented styles played by music ensembles known as Orkes Melayu (known as OM), which were one of the most prominent configurations of ensembles for this type of music.
Classic dangdut was pioneered by OMs in the 1960s through fusing Irama Melayu with Indonesian popular musics such as gambus, degung, keroncong, and langgam. The name dangdut comes from the onomatopoeic sound of the tabla drum. The largest Melayu orchestra in classic dangdut’s history, named OM Soneta, was led by Rhoma Irama and combined Irama Melayu with rock music (with strong references to UK classic rock band Deep Purple in particular). The 1970s was the peak period for classic dangdut with artists such as A. Rhafiq, Rhoma Irama, Elvy Sukaesih, and Mansyur S rising to prominence.
Development and Characteristics of Modern DangdutKoplo emerged as a new variation of classic dangdut in the early 2000s. It sprung up from classic dangdut and moved in guerrilla fashion from one performance stage to the next, from the urban fringe to villages. The primary media for recorded koplo were CDs and VCDs, many of which were pirated, which helped to popularise the genre throughout the country.
During the early 1990s, genres of music such as funkot (funky kota; funky city) and dangdut remix (dangdut mixed with house music) proliferated throughout the urban fringes of Jakarta and small cities throughout Indonesia. People danced wildly under the influence of drugs. This became known as ›joget koplo‹ (koplo dancing). Koplo can be literally translated as ›dumb,‹ ›stupid,‹ or ›brainless,‹ and this meaning has become an accepted association to the music, its lyrics, and its dance moves.
The name koplo is associated with a drug of the same name. The drug »koplo« is cheap, and if taken in large quantities can become intoxicating and stimulate psychosis. Its abuse has resulted in numerous fatalities. Users frequently take koplo pills while dancing and listening to trippy music. During the early 1990s, genres of music such as funkot (funky kota; funky city) and dangdut remix (dangdut mixed with house music) proliferated throughout the urban fringes of Jakarta and small cities throughout Indonesia. People danced wildly under the influence of drugs. This became known as ›joget koplo‹ (koplo dancing). Koplo can be literally translated as ›dumb,‹ ›stupid,‹ or ›brainless,‹ and this meaning has become an accepted association to the music, its lyrics, and its dance moves. It was also during this era that the music styles dugem (dunia gemerlap) and ajeb-ajeb also emerged.
In the beginning, musicians attempted to add syncopation and percussion breaks into classic dangdut music, which eventually led to its divergence into koplo. These syncopations resulted from experimentation with Sundanese (West Java) and East Javanese kendang beats. Kendang (or gendang) is a traditional percussive instrument found throughout Indonesia. The Sundanese kendang has numerous pitches and is known for its technical complexity.. On the other hand, East Javanese kendang is faster, more repetitive, and has fewer variations in tone and rhythm. The most popular form of syncopation on Java is known as »bukak sithik jos.« Although not every form of syncopation is given its own name, musicians and dangdut koplo fans have memorised them all. Koplo utilizes dozens of kinds of syncopation per composition, and it is from these that the basic structure of koplo music is recognised. This is similar to the use of the Amen break in breakbeat and jungle.
Although not every form of syncopation is given its own name, musicians and dangdut koplo fans have memorised them all. Koplo utilizes dozens of kinds of syncopation per composition, and it is from these that the basic structure of koplo music is recognised. This is similar to the use of the Amen break in breakbeat and jungle.
The Yamaha PSR keyboard has played a pivotal role in the development of koplo music. In both recorded and live settings, the Yamaha PSR provides its rhythmic and melodic foundations. In Indonesia, it is possible to buy a Yamaha PSR including MIDI sequencer and dangdut koplo sample pack, as well as samples of other traditional instruments such as the kendang, suling, angklung, and even a gamelan orchestra. Sometimes artists create the samples themselves using DAW Cubase or FL Studio. It is possible to input the samples in a keyboard or controller such as the Alesis Samplepad Pro. In contrast to most DJs who use turntables, CDJs, XDJs, Traktor DJ, or Ableton Live, most koplo DJs just use a keyboard. This doesn’t preclude the possibility of using other instruments, though I have rarely seen this. Solo koplo performances or a DJ with keyboard are known as »organ tunggal« (solo organ), which is in turn abbreviated to »ortung.« Sometimes, even if there are two performers, it will still be known as ortung, if the electronic accompaniment is dominant. Larger ensembles are known as OM (orkes Melayu). The term OM can be applied to Irama Melayu, classic dangdut, and koplo ensembles.
Evolution of KoploExperimentation with syncopation, percussion breaks, and music tools mean that koplo is rarely considered a kind of dangdut or classic dangdut. It does not follow the ›rules‹ of these established genres. During the 2000s, numerous singers popularised erotic and sexually explicit dancing. Perhaps the most popular of these artists was Inul Daratista, who was known for the »drilling« move she performed with her hips. Rhoma Irama, the well-known king of classic dangdut, who had become head of the Dangdut Music Association, condemned Inul Daratista (and others) for their »moral decadence« and forbade them to label their music as dangdut. Nonetheless, koplo became increasingly popular, and new artists such as Uut Permatasari, Annisa Bahar, Dewi Persik, Julia Perez and others have emerged on the scene with ever more sexually explicit styles.
The aesthetics of koplo are not determined by major cities or cultural centres. Koplo freely changes according to the specific urban peripheries or small villages in which it emerges. Furthermore, koplo is also capable of adopting various elements from major forms of music such as Indonesian pop, modern Malay music, heavy metal, house, hip hop, and K-pop, creating boundless variations.
The difference between classic dangdut and koplo is not necessarily a major concern for the listening public. Over time, musicians who have been associated with classic dangdut have absorbed elements of koplo into their music, and thus koplo is now sometimes known as dangdut koplo, or just another variation of dangdut.For me, koplo is a brilliant evolution of dangdut music. It is as if dangdut has been reborn and repackaged into local forms which are influenced by genres such as jaipong, jaranan, tarling, campursari, gedruk, and others. The aesthetics of koplo are not determined by major cities or cultural centres. Koplo freely changes according to the specific urban peripheries or small villages in which it emerges. Furthermore, koplo is also capable of adopting various elements from major forms of music such as Indonesian pop, modern Malay music, heavy metal, house, hip hop, and K-pop, creating boundless variations.
Koplo in East JavaKoplo emerged from small cities in East Java, such as the industrial city of Sidoarjo. It might have initially been a kind of rebellion against the standardisation of classic dangdut, or just a means with which to create a new kind of entertainment form for factory workers and other manual laborers. The OM ensembles started to play with and deconstruct dangdut music in their own ways. One such experimentation is known as jangdut, an abbreviation of »jaranan dangdut,« which incorporates the beat of jaranan with that of dangdut. This term was first popularised by the ensemble, OM Sagita.
OMs often encompass a recording ensemble, label, and distribution network all in one. The largest OMs for dangdut koplo are found in East Java. For example, OM New Pallapa, founded in 2004, is in Sidoarjo; OM Sera, founded in 2003 is in Jombang; OM Sagita is in Nganjuk; OM New Monata is in Pasuruan; and Milady Records is in Blitar along with a number of other labels.
Although I don’t have any clear statistics to use as evidence, my assumption is that East Java is also the main region for showcasing new dangdut koplo artists. New and emerging artists must performing in the region if they wish to gain certain recognition or status and boost their careers; major dangdut koplo artists such as Inul Daratista, Via Vallen, Nella Kharisma, Ratna Antika, Happy Asmara and Jihan Audy have all come from East Java.
Although the regions of Madura and Banyuwangi are also a part of East Java, they have their own languages and specific cultures, which is reflected in the kind of dangdut koplo that emerges from these regions.
In order to explore the koplo scene in Banyuwangi, I made a trip back to the city in which I grew up. The koplo scene there is strong and the lyrics are sung in Osing – an indigenous language of the Banyuwangi region. Songs such as »Edan Turun« and »Welas Hang Ring Kene« are popular throughout Java. Some of Banuywangi’s dangdut koplo stars include Vita Alvia, Danang Pradana Dieva, Demi, Suliyana, and Syahiba Saufa. The trajectory of dance music in Banyuwangi has a long history, starting with gandrung in the 18th century, passing through kendang kempul in the 1980s, and now entering dangdut koplo times..
During my time in Banyuwangi, I visited Pak Miswan, the owner of Samudra Records, one of the largest dangdut koplo labels in East Java. Behind his house there is a large stage, which he uses to film concerts for his YouTube channel, as well as for live recordings. It is rumored that he earns as much as 600million IDR per month from these YouTube videos. He also earns royalties from karaoke bars, restaurants, and cafes that use his recordings. I also visited a childhood friend in the suburb of Genteng. He goes by the name of OPX or OPX RAP-X, and is a Banyuwangi-style dangdut koplo rapper. I was surprised to learn from him that koplo hip hop had already been established in Banyuwangi for quite some time.
Banyuwangi-style dangdut koplo is the outcome of incorporating elements gandrung, kendang kempul, janger, angklung, Balinese music, jaranan, heavy metal, hard rock, hip hop, reggae, and K-pop.