If you’ve been in Jakarta these past few weeks, you would have found it difficult to miss the hype for this year’s Java Soulnation Festival, in particular its international performers Nelly and LMFAO.
Sure, those two US acts have stellar worldwide reputations, but for this year’s Soulnation, held in Jakarta last weekend, they were merely the tip of the iceberg for quality artists from at home and abroad.
Among them was Sunday’s headliner, Public Enemy, whose wise words “Don’t believe the hype” seem particularly apt.
Plenty of fans — your reviewer included — saw a slew of quality performances without even venturing toward the pair of headliners. The hefty extra charge to see them on stage made the decision easier.
Soulnation, staged for the fourth time this year, is leading the way in bringing quality music to Indonesia. Even without the special shows, what made the event stand out was the impressive sampling of Indonesia’s best homegrown talent.
Local bands RAN and Un Soiree kicked off Soulnation on high notes.
Un Soiree, playing on the Global Organics Stage located next to the entrance, welcomed festival-goers with its bluesy, jazzy, and definitely soulful sound.
RAN attracted a big early audience with its infectious and retro Motown-influenced tunes.
In addition to the mellower shows, the festival included contrasting acts such as hip-hopper Wizzow from Batik Tribe and mash-up party group SOB.
Wizzow sometimes veered into the rap-heavy metal sound popularized by Limp Bizkit, but his set was proof that hip-hop in Indonesia is heading in the right direction.
Though reminiscent of popular mash-up artist Girl Talk, SOB (also known as Sons of Beat) failed to match his skills or finesse. DJ Schizo, however, definitely showed some talent, and when mixed with a live band and dynamic vocalists/hype men, SOB had a winning combination.
The highlight of the first night for regular-ticket holders was the phenomenal Naughty by Nature show. This year marks the group’s 20th anniversary and their set showed why they have thrived for so long.
MCs Treach and Vin Rock with DJ Kay Gee were a huge hit. Their mix of old favorites such as “Hip Hop Hooray” and “O.P.P.,” with well-received new songs and infused with humor and stellar showmanship, created a magnificent end to the first day.
The unofficial theme of the festival’s second day was the many sides of Indonesian pop music.
Bands Hi-Vi and Twentyfirst Night had beautiful vocals in common, but offered different musical styles.
Hi-Vi’s jazz-influenced pop sound brought an upbeat yet relaxed feel. The perfect balance of crisp instrumentals and spot-on vocals attracted a diverse crowd, including hipster types, teenagers and older festival attendees.
Twentyfirst Night’s set showed their extensive pop abilities. The set started with the melodramatic yet popular “Terbaik Untukmu” (“The Best for You”) but the band picked up the pace and improved as its set went on. Twentyfirst Night’s beautiful songs “Bicara” (“Speak”) and “Tergila” (“Craziest”) were definite highlights of the set, but their solid fan base seemed happy just to hear one of their favorite bands.
Vibetronics, Soulvibe and Dyztrk teamed up for an uneven yet pleasant show that mixed exciting, tech-heavy, funky songs with others that were inoffensive, indistinguishable or boring at best.
Roman Foot Soldier’s indie art school pop was definitely an original sound at the festival, but the execution was lacking. While the band has promise, their set was filled with uninspired songs that sounded like poor imitations of Western indie pop bands such as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Phoenix. When this band finds its own voice, it will definitely make a big splash in the local music scene.
The biggest draw on Saturday was US R&B artist Mike Posner. His set filled the main stage area to capacity and latecomers had to wait outside and hope that people would leave the area. The energetic and flirty Posner gave it his all and the crowd reciprocated by singing every word of every song straight back to him.
The final day of Soulnation lacked any hyped special shows and the whole atmosphere of the day was more laid back, but it didn’t mean Sunday’s lineup lacked quality. Soulnation’s other international acts wowed the Indonesian crowd.
The charming British pop songstress Sophie Ellis-Bextor turned the main stage arena into a huge dance party with her catchy, disco-tinged dance songs.
Dutch band Valerius were the hardest-working act at the festival. The pop rock band played all three days and their efforts paid off as crowds steadily grew.
The festival ended with an overlooked yet absolutely amazing show by Public Enemy.
Chuck D, Flavor Flav and DJ Lord attracted a relatively small crowd, but it was probably the most passionate audience of the whole weekend. Despite a crowd about a fifth the size of Posner’s or Ellis-Bextor’s, Public Enemy extended their set by an hour. The show had everything: classics such as “911 is a Joke” and “Welcome to the Terrordome”; audience interaction; and messages about social awareness.
Public Enemy’s passion for music and performing, obvious affection for Indonesia, and humility left attendees with the perfect final impression of this year’s Soulnation.
With the variety of acts, genres and performances, Soulnation did a superb job featuring Indonesia’s most talented musicians, punctuated with interesting international acts.
Music lovers benefited from this mix and no doubt the bands picked up some new fans.