Localizing The Rolling Stones in Bandung: From The Cultural Resistance to The Subculture

Localizing The Rolling Stones in Bandung: From The Cultural Resistance to The Subculture

Article by Muhammad Irfan

Abstract: This article explores the impact of the British rock n roll band, The Rolling Stones on the youth in Bandung, Indonesia especially those who were raised in the 1960s to the 1990s. This band was followed not only by their musical style but also because of the members’ lifestyles captured by the media. The Rolling Stones even translated from English to the local slang words to describe the viciousness, rebels, and freedoms. The words like jeger, setun, or nyetun, for example, refer to the band’s attitude described by the media as using drugs, alcohol, or simply worshiping the jargon of sex, drugs, and rock n roll.  

Keywords: Bandung, The Rolling Stones, Rock Studies, Subculture, Cultural Resistance

Header image “The Rolling Stones” by Arkivverket is licensed under The Commons.


As a big band with massive influences, The Rolling Stones had a major influence on people, especially their fans. This band was very popular in Bandung, Indonesia. People in that city are familiar with the word ‘jeger.’ This word is adapted from the vocalist of The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, and refers to street fighters and those who are notorious and respected in an area. There is also the word setun. This word is the Sundanese pronunciation of the word “Stones” in The Rolling Stones. The Sundanese are the majority ethnic group in Bandung. Setun describes bad habits or the tendency to “do what The Rolling Stones member did”. It refers to the band’s inclination toward drug use, alcohol, and portraying a ‘bad boy’ image.

At small music events often held in local communities like villages or districts, especially in the 80s to 90s, music audiences in Bandung were also accustomed to shouting and yelling “A Setun A” as a chant to the performers. This exclamation could mean, “Big bro, please play me The Rolling Stones songs”. Uniquely, as long as the song being played has a fast tempo and has English lyrics, the audience will continue to dance, although the song is not The Rolling Stones’ song. Through these various examples, I assume The Rolling Stones are no longer interpreted solely as a music group but also as cultural icons. This influence also affected those people who don’t know or claim themselves as fans of The Rolling Stones.

 When Bandung Meets Rock n’ Roll

In the 1950s, when rock n roll was popularized by Elvis Presley in America and spread to the world including Indonesia, the youth in the big cities such as Bandung and Jakarta were affected. Exposed to images of rock n roll through movies in cinemas, the youth adopted rock n roll not only as music but as a lifestyle (Barendregt et al., 2017, p. 42). In Bandung, the youth formed gangs known as the ‘cross-boy.’ They were identifiable by their tight trousers (the iconic blue jeans), typical hairdos, and motorbikes (p. 51). In Southeast Asia’s major cities, some youth gangs are connected to petty crime and violence (p. 44). 

The first president of Indonesia, Sukarno, with his anti-western policy, was upset with this situation. He accused western culture as a moral destroyer of the youth and considered it a counter-revolution. In 1957, Radio Republik Indonesia banned rock n roll music (p. 45). This policy continued into the 1960s. In 1964 the police in Bandung burned many of Elvis’ recordings and also the “British Invasion” bands, like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones that were famous in the 1960s (p. 47). The situation changed as the first President of Indonesia, Soekarno and his Old Order regime fell out. The New Order regime under Suharto opened the faucet of western cultures including the consumption of Western music by youth.

The fanaticism of Bandung youth to the youth subculture related to music was then promoted massively by the Aktuil Magazine. Founded in 1967, Aktuil became the first media that brought comprehensive information on western popular culture (Kim, 2017, p. 19). The popularity of Aktuil broke sales records in 1973 and 1974 by selling 126,000 copies and became a trendsetter not only for the Bandungers but also for the people who live in other urban cities like Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, and so on. Some scholars have described the Aktuil phenomenon as the first period of pop culture in Bandung and the primary source of an alternative to western pop cultures such as westernized rock music and lifestyle (Kim 2017; Barendregt, Keppy et al. 2017; Akmaliah 2020).

From the Cultural Resistance to The Subculture

From the several western rock bands favored by the people in Bandung since the 1950s, The Rolling Stones has had a special place. Sen and Hill (2007) wrote:

The Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger had a profound effect, particularly on Bandung bands: the name, habits, and even the titles of the Stones’ songs became a kind of “cultural” standard for young people in Indonesia (p. 167).

The lifestyle and attitude of The Rolling Stones members became a key point for their fans. Based on the small survey that I conducted from January 18 to 19, 2022 with 42 respondents, 26 respondents said the lifestyle and the character of The Rolling Stones members exemplified their perception of rock n roll. For this reason, many people idolized The Rolling Stones. These rock n’ roll images are mirrored by their fashion, attitude, and stage acts, especially the vocalist, Mick Jagger. For a question about “Does The Rolling Stones influenced your lifestyle and point of view?”, 28 respondents said yes. Some of them said The Rolling Stones makes them more open-minded, peace-loving, and easygoing. Others claimed that The Rolling Stones influenced them to like alcohol. Only 12 respondents claimed The Stones only influenced their taste in music and not lifestyle per se. 

To elaborate on this survey, I interviewed some musicians in Bandung from different generations to describe The Rolling Stones phenomenon based on their experiences. One of them is Harry Pochang, a musician that has been active since the early 1960s. According to Pochang, the bad boy images of The Rolling Stones made the band become more popular for his generation than The Beatles. “Everybody can be The Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger is not as handsome as Lennon, his voice is not good, they played simple music but rock! We can be the Rolling Stones,” Pochang said.

For the youngsters in that era, The Rolling Stones and their rebellious images expressed their anxiety. In the mid-1960s, Indonesia was in the middle of a political transition from the Old Order regime led by the first President Sukarno to the New Order regime led by Soeharto. Even though Soeharto’s New Order was more open to western culture, he led the country in a militaristic fashion. He used military-like standards to oppress people under the pretext of state stability. Even hairstyles and outfits became regulated by the government. The government, for example, banned men with long hippie-hair styles and tight jeans. Long-haired men raids often occur in Bandung (Yudhistira, 2010, p. 144). At the same time, the New Order also implemented the Walawa (Compulsory Student Training) curriculum -similar to military training- for students. “We called them (the army and the police), sato (animal in Sundanese),” Pochang said.

A different experience was shared by Mpieth Gomper -a leader of The Rolling Stones tribute band active since the 1980s. Coming from a younger generation than Pochang, Gomper described The Rolling Stones as the expression of freedom. “They are more expressive, more rebellious. Expressed freedom,” Gomper said.  Even though the key reason was the same, Gomper and his generation faced different situations from Pochang’s generation. Gomper doesn’t mention the political situation in that era directly. All he mentioned was that The Rolling Stones is a good representation of himself and brought up the feeling of solidarity. 

For Gomper, who grew up in the early 1980s, The Rolling Stones were promoted regularly by some music events. According to him, from the 1970s to the 1990s, The Rolling Stones tribute gigs were held at least once a month. Some events were initiated by the Young Generation Radio, a local radio station that has had a special Rolling Stones program. Another event was held by the youth club (Karang Taruna) in RT/RW (Rukun Tetangga/Rukun Warga), the lowest administrative level in Indonesia, smaller than a village, as annual events in the community especially for tujuh belasan event, the event that was held to celebrate Indonesia National Day on August 17th. At that time, every area had its own event and its Rolling Stones cover band.

Despite not relating The Rolling Stones phenomenon to the political situation, Gomper’s testimony cannot be avoided from the socio-political context at that time. Ruling Indonesia for over 30 years since 1966, the Soeharto regime implemented some policies that proceeded from one generation to another. For Gomper’s generation which grew up in the 1980s, one of the Soeharto government’s notorious policies is the petrus operation. Petrus is an abbreviation of penembakan misterius or mysterious shooting conducted by the government under the pretext of securing the community from the disturbance of thugs. In this practice, this operation was carried out haphazardly by simply targeting people with tattoos. “In the media, the victim of this operation is called jeger. They wrote it on the title as a headline,” Gomper said. Interestingly, most of the victims of this operation were found in slum areas like the urban villages or the settlement around traditional markets or terminals. People in several areas like Gang (alley) Bongkaran, Bonbin, Cicadas, or Gang Stones (the name taken after The Rolling Stones) were often shocked by the presence of people found dead. The media portrayed them as a jeger. I assume this condition not only amplified the shifted meaning of jeger from Mick Jagger to the thugs but also gave bad images to The Rolling Stones fans. Moreover, these areas are known as the base for The Rolling Stones fans. They were then identified as troublemakers, those who go against the norm, and the expression of lower-class youth in society.

Referring to the Canadian Anthropologist, Joshua Barker (2008), the word of jeger in Bandung cannot be divided into negara beling mythology in urban slum communities. According to his research in Cicadas, one of the densely populated districts in Bandung, negara beling (shard state) is an area that is identified as dangerous. The etymology emphasizes the criminal aspect of the environment (p. 60). In Bandung, Baker also found mutual influence between cinema-going culture and jeger culture that lasted at least until the 1970s.

These urban slum communities were not strange in Bandung, especially in the 1980s. Dutch Anthropologist, Martin van Bruinessen (2013), found this situation affected by the migration wave of the people from the villages to town since the 1950s (p. 33). Unfortunately, when they migrated, they faced failures that eliminated them to the sub-urban areas. In Sukapakir, where Van Bruinessen conducted his research in 1983-1984, one house was mostly occupied by two, three, or even four families. It’s usual for two families to occupy the same room. This situation has an impact on other social problems in society (p. 19).

Figure 1: “slum river” by Fotografer Kampungan


Looking at these stories and the various social and political aspects behind them, I pointed out that The Rolling Stones in Bandung has been interpreted as more than just music. This band and its image extend not only to the upper-middle-class youth but is also considered to represent the lower class. In the 1960s, the Rolling Stones were listened to by the middle-class youth, and the students, and triggered them to express their political aspirations directly. When the music was spread broader through the local music events, this band entered the Bandung alleys, became a symbol of the liberation for the lower-class youth, and was considered as the catharsis of being marginalized from the complex social situation in Bandung urban villages.

Stephen Duncombe (2002) describes cultural resistance from various perspectives. It could be a free space for developing ideas to create alternative ways against the dominant culture or could be thought of as political resistance. On the contrary, cultural resistance could be seen as an escape from politics and a way to release discontent that might otherwise be expressed through political activity. In a more pessimistic view, cultural resistance can be seen as “does not and cannot exist” (p. 5). However, in the reading of Duncombe to the UK punk band, Sex Pistols, and their impact on the 1977 punk movement in the UK, music that brought not only the lyrics but also the emotion or laid over danceable beat can transmit its message and convey its political aspects. According to Duncombe, “reading or hearing these words provides you with a political vocabulary, analysis, and even an action plan” (p. 6). Duncombe’s insight concerning cultural resistance discourse can enable us to read The Rolling Stones phenomena in the mid of the 1960s when Soeharto regimes tended to adopt the military approach. Related to Pochang’s witness, the middle-class youth that heard The Rolling Stones more in that era and could consider the early adopter can absorb all the values that were brought by The Rolling Stones and any other western band in those years. They can understand English lyrics, can access the trends like the flower generation movement in San Francisco through imported magazines, and in another way, triggered them to express their political aspiration in the cultural ways.

The reading of Hebdige (1991) to the punk subculture in the UK can also enable us to understand how The Rolling Stones affected the lower-class youth in the 1980s. According to Hebdige, punks express the genuine aggression, frustration, and anxiety of the British youth in the 1970s towards the gloomy, apocalyptic ambiance with massive unemployment and ominous violence. However, they do not respond to it directly but dramatize it to show themselves as “degenerates” (p. 87). In the case of The Rolling Stones in Bandung in the 1980s, the listeners from the urban village’s cluster may not have understood the lyrics of The Rolling Stones but they are exposed to and absorbed the defiant message ignited by Mick Jagger and his comrades. They used the terms “freedom” and “solidarity” to tie their circle and to be free. The Rolling Stones were perceived as more than musicians but leaders of transgression.


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