September 7, 2022
JAKARTA – Bandung based collective Liga Musik Nasional talks about its humble beginnings, crowd surfing with ‘ghosts’ and familial bond.
In July 2011, a number of people clad in denim and flannel loitered outside an unassuming two-story house located at Jl. Bukit Jarian No. 36, right behind Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung. Inside the now-closed cafe, down a narrow, damp staircase leading to its basement level, then-Bandung-based grindcore-unit Rajasinga was performing alongside fellow bands Bromocorah, Errorbrain and Jaritengah.
The lower half of the basement wall was painted blue, with garish graffiti decorating the other, white-painted half. A black backdrop was suspended from the ceiling with the word “RAJAGNARUK” printed on it below the top-billed-band Rajasinga’s logo. On stage, a set of lit candles were placed on top of the bass amplifier next to the drumset.
The bands were performing in a special show organized by a Bandung-based collective Liga Musik Nasional (National Music League).
Fussing over best practices
Now, Liga Musik Nasional has gone through its 20th showcase (comprising 17 numbered editions and three special shows) and is working on its 21st, all the while maintaining its reputation as an intimate yet properly produced, audience-oriented series of shows. Its ambitious, if not pompous, name, contrasts with its humble beginnings.
“What really fueled us was that we were quite fussy. If we go to other people’s events, we would almost always go ‘the lighting is a bit lacking’, ‘oh, the duration is not enough’, ‘why is the merchandise booth placed there’,” said Iit Sukmiati, one of the founders of Liga Musik Nasional to The Jakarta Post at Omuniuum, a record store in Ciumbuleuit, Bandung, West Java, on June 3. Iit runs Omuniuum with her husband, Stafianto Tri.
Iit and Tri, along with musician Doddy Hamson and visual-artist Fransiskus Adi Pramono, founded Liga Musik Nasional in 2011.
“It started with Mas [Brother] Dod [Doddy’s nickname] and Feransis [Fransiskus’ nickname]. He went ‘Mas Dod, let’s go do our own show’,” said Iit, imitating Fransiskus. “Then we started making plans.”
“But we shouldn’t be pitching in money from our own pockets,” Tri added. “From the very start, we decided to pin the costs on tickets. So, [we decided to sell] tickets, and Mas Dod was also doing rounds with a proposal on hand,” continued Iit. “Well not literally, but Mas Dod was the one who was in charge of talking to people. Him and Feransis.”
The now-closed cafe, Reneo, hosted the first three of Liga Musik Nasional’s showcases. Iit noted that they came across the venue when she and Fransiskus accompanied her high-school friend to a Pearl Jam tribute concert.
“It was quite random. We told Mas Dod about the place and we surveyed it [together] and everything.”
The surfing ghosts
“For the first show at Reneo, we only spent Rp 1,500,000 (US$100). We had a friend who helped us in providing the sound [equipment], so [Rp] 500,000 for the venue, [Rp] 500,000 for the sound [equipment] and [Rp] 500,000 for the out-of-town band that we invited,” Iit noted with her eyes fixed on her phone. She was browsing Liga Musik Nasional’s website — it keeps a neat archive of the collective’s past events.
“The first [out-of-town] band was Kelelawar Malam.”
“Yeah. The first bands were Vrosk, Rajasinga and Kelelawar Malam. They brought pocongs too,” Tri chuckled.
Horror-punk-band Kelelawar Malam was known for including people dressing up as Indonesian ghosts such as pocong or kuntilanak as part of their stage act. During the show, the band brought along two people dressed as pocongs and had them stand at the side of the stage before one of them jumped in and started crowd surfing. The band’s crew was throwing jasmine flower petals at the members all the while.
Liga Musik Nasional initially wanted to shift into a more serious deal with the owners, even talking about developing the building in various ways — for example, adding an emergency exit (the narrow staircase was the basement’s only access).
“Then it changed ownership. We couldn’t use it after that,” Doddy said. They changed venues to Karamba Cafe in Trunojoyo and finally settled at Institut Français Indonesia’s auditorium in Purnawarman, Bandung, from their fourth edition, which featured Yogyakarta.
“IFI’s auditorium was not open for popular music back then. I think we were the first ones who changed it,” claimed Tri.
Making (piggy) bank
The same system, where they footed everything on the show’s ticketing income, was used up until their fourth show.
“But the shows never lost money. Although the profit was only around Rp 100,000 to Rp 200,000, there was always some money left in our account, albeit meager,” said Iit.
Liga Musik Nasional’s first showcase at Reneo in 2011 required an admission fee of Rp 20,000. Now, the tickets for their 20th show, labeled as their 17th/XVII (featuring Jakarta group White Shoes and the Couples Company and Bandung electronic-duo Bottlesmoker) were sold for Rp 200,000 (door).
The price, however, was not a hindrance for concertgoers to go see their favorite bands perform at Liga Musik Nasional (depending on the line-up configuration, headlining bands’ performances can last as long as two hours). Despite the collective’s no-nonsense approach, and the ticket price, which is generally perceived as quite reasonable considering the quality it delivers (and inflation), the general climate of the local music ecosystem in Bandung is changing, and for the better.
The public’s willingness to pay for smaller concerts and micro shows is now steadily increasing, finally putting more on the plates of deserving independent artists and smaller organizers. Some better ones, like Liga Musik Nasional, responded to the changing climate with a more-frequent set of shows (a streak of three shows in three consecutive months on Sept. 10).
Before, Liga Musik Nasional had to come up with a model in order to sustain their efforts, and it was one that was built upon a sense of camaraderie.
“Costs that couldn’t be covered by ticketing sales we covered from merchandise sales.”
“Aside from the show’s merchandise, we would also ask the performing bands for one merchandise article, which we then produce and sell to fund the next show,” Iit explained. “That’s what we meant by the bands being the sponsors of Liga Musik Nasional.”
Some of the bands were even more than happy to support the collective by fully dedicating one or two of their articles. “We thought of the bands [who played at limunas] as family.”
While the collective belongs to a more experienced segment of artists and started with heaviest-of-the-heavies lineups in terms of genre, it managed to maintain its fluidity throughout the years and was also able to address more complex generational issues as well.
Its mashups of genre, such as having up-and-coming experimental-artist KUNTARI open for Yogyakarta-rockers Melancholic Bitch, can appear quite zany for some.