Being female rock musicians in a predominantly patriarchal scene is not easy. Their skills are underestimated, their mastery of their instruments are questioned, and they are often presumed as groupies, hanging around the scene merely to get male attention. But nothing tops the indignity of the harassment they often face when performing.
This is still true to this day, but even more so nearly three decades ago, when Wondergel, an all-female band entered the indie music scene in Indonesia. In fact, it was after witnessing how brutal audience can be to female rockers, and how the latter persisted, that gave the five women that formed the band the inspiration to form an all-female band.
“We were backstage in a gig in Bulungan when suddenly the crowd went insane,” Meita Kasim, who played rhythm guitar in the band, told Magdalene in an interview in a café in Menteng, Central Jakarta. “They screamed and shouted out loud, but it wasn’t an excited type of scream. Curious, we took a peek and saw that the crowd were shouting at Toilet, an all-female band. I think it was their first time playing.”
“They were booed off the stage, some shouted ‘get naked!’ They were pelted with cigarettes butt and other things. They were verbally and physically harassed when they were on stage. It was really painful to watch. But what amazed me was the fact that they didn’t care and played anyway. I remember they covered Anthrax, which is a metal band, flawlessly. Then the crowd stopped shouting. They were speechless,” recalled Meita.
Witnessing ‘Toilet’ performance and how they handled the crowd, they came up with the idea of making their own all-female band. They were in their last year of high school at the time. Asides from Meita, there were vocalist Emilda Rea, Lia Maharani on the base, Karin Yunia on lead guitar, and Astrid Astuti on the drum.
It was 1992, when punk scene dominated Jakarta’s underground music. Displaying the influence of brit-pop, new wave and punk music, the band became one of the pioneers of Jakarta’s underground music of that decade. In their golden era, they were often likened to brit-pop/indie-rock bands such as Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly, Veruca Salt, and Lush.
Although early in their career Wondergel only covered songs from Western bands such as Elastica and Suede, it eventually wrote original songs and became the first recording band in the indie scene with all female personnel.
The name Wondergel itself has a funny story behind it.
“Note that it was a punk scene back then, so we had to come up with a ‘shocking’ and ‘offensive’ name. I remember at that time, there was a sanitary napkins advertisement with a tag line ‘Napkins with Wondergel, leak-proof!’. So we decided to name our band Wondergel,” Meita said laughing.
As an all-female band, they got a lot of attention, and not all of it was fun and games. Though there were positive feedbacks, being verbally abused, spit on, throwing cigarettes and even dirty underwear were quickly becoming a normal occurence to them. The first time the band performed was in a school music festival (pentas seni) in 1992 and it went fine; however, performing at metal music events was a different story.
“Just like Toilet, we had a lot of unpleasant experience. Once we were thrown with urine while we were on stage, but it didn’t stop us from performing. It’s funny to think that we got different treatment from the audience just because we were all women,” said Meita.
“We had two options: either we cried and went home or we kept playing. We chose to play. Surprisingly, once we started playing, it all stopped,” Meita added.
The Reunion Showcase
The band went through several changes in personnel, and after its members graduated from university and began to go their separate ways, it eventually broke up in 2000. They conducted a reunion show in 2010.
This month, on August 12, Wondergel will hold another reunion concert in collaboration with some musicians and artists. The show will take place at Arion Swiss-Belhotel in Kemang, South Jakarta.
“All of a sudden, I had the urge for Wondergel to reunite on stage again. I passed this idea to one of Wondergel’s close friends, Stanley Tulung, who was also one of our musicians in our 2010 reunion. He said okay, then added some ideas for our reunion,” Meita explained.
“After some intensive discussions with Stanley, we agreed to go with the original plan: we wanted to raise the musical aspect of our songs to another level,” she added.
Meita then immediately contacted the other Wondergel members. Unfortunately, some of them can’t perform for various reasons. Among the members of the last formation, only three will be able to join the reunion, including Meita.
After a lot of weighing, discussing, arguing and contemplating, Wondergel have finally chosen three musicians as a replacement, and they’re all men. When asked why they chose men when Wondergel is an all-female band, Meita said the upcoming concert is not about the band only. Rather it is meant to be a celebration of the spirit of the 1990’s music and the blurring of the divides, whether it’s genders or genres.
“Not only that they are of different gender, these three men also come from different generations from Wondergel. Each one of them is very accomplished in his field, in various genres such as blues, classic rock, alternative rock, progressive rock, jazz, and pop. It will be interesting to see their takes on our indie, pop and punk songs,” she explained.
Some of the musicians and artists who will be joining Wondergel reunion include Kartika Jahja, Levi The Fly, Pestolaer, New Disease, Treasure Hiding, and more.
For more information about Wondergel reunion, follow their Facebook page, Instagram account @wondergel_reunion and listen to Wondergel’s single ‘Junkie’.
Read Camely’s piece on rapper’s Yacko’s new campaign against sexual harassment and follow @bunnnicula on Twitter.