Thousands of people made the great traffic-filled trek up Jl. Uluwatu on Saturday and Sunday lured up the hill by Soundrenaline, dubbed Indonesia’s biggest music festival.
Unlike other festivals hosted in Bali that specialize in targeting big international acts, like your Dreamfields or your Sunny Side Up, the appeal of Soundrenaline is that it boasts a pretty comprehensive line-up of local bands, some of Indonesia’s best groups across a variety of genres. And most of the crowd is actually made up of Indonesian people. It’s a pretty special gathering.
Though of course, the headliners always seem to be international and not usually the most current. This year was Simple Plan and Bloc Party, while last year Wolfmother got the honor of being the main act.
We made it over to dusty GWK both days in a row last weekend to check out the scene and stayed until our backs hurt.
Unfortunately there was a bit of stuff to complain about (hey, we know it ain’t easy to run a festival so large), but the music more than made up for it…
Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK) Cultural Park is a terribly odd complex in the bukit part of Jimbaran. The giant park—which isn’t even finished yet— is devoted to the Hindu god Vishnu and gotten pushback from the community. Hindu religious leaders argued the gigantic statue would disrupt the spiritual balance in Bali and it was just not right to use a sacred symbol as a commercial tourist attraction. Imagine how they must feel now, knowing that the park is the site of some of Bali’s biggest parties.
All that baggage aside, GWK makes an epic outdoor venue, especially for large-scale, multi-stage events. The park features large grassy spots and imposing limestone cliffs that block you in and shut out the surrounding traffic and landscape, transporting you over to festi-land—you’d hardly believe you’re still in crowded south Bali.
While admirable that Soundrenaline tried to modernize with wristbands this year, the whole system seemed to do more harm than good. The wristbands were scannable, used to grant festival-goers entry and could be topped up for food and beverage transactions. The whole idea behind the wristbands was to render the festival cash-less—exception going to the cigarette-selling girls who clearly accepted cash (no doubt, benefits of being the title event sponsor and a part of Indonesia’s most lucrative industry).
In theory, these wristbands should have made things more efficient, but in practice, it was a cluster f*ck. First of all, especially on day one, long lines plagued the ticket box. It didn’t matter if you had already done your due diligence and bought your tickets ahead of time online or at Indomaret. Lines were lengthy on day one to switch the tickets you purchased for your special wristband. IDs had to be shown, but as we found out, it actually didn’t matter if your name on your ID matched the name on your tickets.
Second of all, if you for some reason had multiple single passes and wanted to change them over to wristbands, thinking that meant you wouldn’t have to wait in line on day two and could save some time, then think again. Someone in our group had extra single passes so we switched over the tickets to wristbands on the first day. Turns out our friends wanting to use the extra single passes decided to come for day two instead of day one. Horrible mistake. When they presented their wristbands on Sunday, they were met with a “maaf ya.”
“These wristbands are only good for day one.”
“But we didn’t use them on day one. They have chips, you can check in your computer system that they were never scanned for entry yesterday.”
“But what’s the point of the chip? We already paid Rp 75k for them.”
Other issues we took with the wristbands were the long lines topping up (surges to be expected between acts on the main stage) and needing to calculate exactly how much money you wanted to put on those things. No way would we be able to sleep at night knowing we left Rp15k extra on those wristbands that would forever go unused.
We’re not going to go in too deep over this one, but the festival could have done a better job on the toilet sitch. They went with “sewa toilet”, rentable porta potties that are usually hygienic enough, but for the main stage area, we only found two for women and two for men. For thousands of people. Believe it or not, the men’s line was much longer than the women’s when we went. Guess someone must have gotten a bad case of Bali belly!
Also lacking on day one were enough food options. Everything seemed to have hour-long waits for sub-par food. Disorganized and overwhelmed food booths and trucks that seemed to have no idea how to handle masses of people seemed to be the issue. Our opinion on the food drastically changed on day two though, when lines were legitimately much shorter and we discovered the tried and true Queens of India booth by the amphitheater stage. Never disappoints!
Can you hear me now? Nope
Maybe it’s a part of immersing yourself in the festival experience but cellular signals at GWK were atrocious. As in they were so bad that if you’re separated from your group, you might never be able to find them again because of the size of the venue and the hordes of people. This literally happened to us and everyone we know. Good thing for old-fashioned calling and sms-ing, which was somewhat functional at GWK. Hope you had enough pulsa!
Best surprise: Elephant Kind
Elephant Kind wasn’t even on our radar but boy are we glad our friends insisted we meet them at the amphitheater stage to check the indie band out. As with most of the bands at the festival, Elephant Kind seemed to have a decent following—a fair share of the audience appeared to actually know their songs. Their upbeat “Oh well” had a fun feel and got a lot of people out of their seats, dancing. If you’re interested in an Indonesian Kings of Leon meets Lumineers sound, then check them out.
Solid showing by Bali bands: Hydrant, Navicula
Though the festival is all about Indonesian music, there had been chatter in the lead-up to the event that there weren’t any Bali bands representing the home team. Whether or not this alleged major oversight is true or not, we were happy to see that there ultimately ended up being a number of Bali original acts like the Hydrant, Navicula, and Lolot. While we didn’t make it to Lolot, we can vouch for Rockabilly ‘bandidos’ the Hydrant and grunge group Navicula.
The Hydrant played early on Saturday, before sunset, so the crowd wasn’t too huge as people were still arriving (and stuck waiting in line). Suspender-wearing lead singer Marshello is quite the performer and brought his A-game, with high energy, buckets of charisma, and plenty of his signature Elvis-style hair combing. The double-bass jammed hard and spiced things up with a playful guest appearance by LA-based vocalist Leanna Rachel.
Navicula appeared later in the evening on the “Louder than Ever” stage. What perhaps blew us away most was the sheer amount of diehard Navicula fans rushing to the front who happened to know all of the lyrics to all the songs. Lead singer ‘Robi Navicula’ appeared to give it all, feeling his music so intensely and def went for the band’s harder, more punk-heavy songs.
Bands playing early in the afternoon were eerily on schedule for relaxed Bali time standards, so on time that we even missed our beloved ska group Shaggydog on Saturday as the afternoon bands also got pretty quick sets. Learning our lesson from day one, we tried to get there early on Sunday for reggae band Steven Jam (formerly known as Steven and the Coconut Treez) but still barely made it before they started playing Indo beach anthem “Lagu Santai” to wrap it up.
Meanwhile, the big name international bands meant to close-out the festival were at least an hour late each. We were sure looking forward to reliving our awkward, angsty tween years and jamming out to Simple Plan, but we just couldn’t hold out with all the delays so ended up calling it a night after a heart-pounding performance by Indo hard rock band The S.I.G.I.T.
Likewise, on Sunday, we just couldn’t keep our eyes open for Bloc Party and had to vacate the premises after Temper Trap—which was already almost two hours late.
Thumbs up for Temper Trap
But “thanks god” as Indonesians love to say, that we stayed for The Temper Trap. Even if a lot of the Indonesians in the Soundrenaline audience don’t regularly listen to the Aussie rock band, they sure were hyped to have an Australian band playing with an Indonesian singer. You could just tell lead vocalist Dougy Mandagi was in his element, introducing his band in bahasa and speaking with ease to the sizable crowd.
Mandagi seemed to pour heart and soul into his Soundrenaline performance and the energy was contagious. Some of the Trap’s songs are actually pretty slow and we wouldn’t think of them as dance numbers, but with Mandagi constantly changing guitars and bouncing from drum set to hand drum to maracas, all while singing hard with authority, he got the crowd moving and singing. Man’s got a killer falsetto, seriously.
A notable moment was when Mandagi told the crowd that they had a last-minute change up, so they borrowed the drummer from Indo rock group Andra and the Backbone. The drummer first saw the music at 1pm and practiced it at 2pm that same day, Mandagi complimented him.
The Temper Trap focused on showing off their new album (just released in June 2016), opening things up with the title track of “Thick as Thieves.” The crowd seemed to eat up the new stuff, gobbling down songs like “Fall Together” and “Alive”.
But the band reached back for an oldie, ending strong with arguably their most famous, classic number, “Sweet Disposition,” only to trigger confetti guns and fireworks. The Temper Trap literally went out with a bang and for us, it was the perfect ending to this year’s Soundrenaline.