It's a balmy summer evening as the final glimmers of twilight push through the grove of towering eucalyptus trees surrounding the back patio of the Stage Room. Tucked away inside the University of California, San Diego, it feels more like a remote wooded retreat than the site of the blistering metal showcase that we eagerly await: the 11th and final stop of Voice Of Baceprot’s inaugural US tour.
VOB, Indonesia’s sensational new musical export, file quietly across the patio and into the small venue. Comprised of three young Muslim women from West Java – Marsya (guitar, vocals), Widi (bass) and Sitti (drums) – the roaring power trio have drawn comparisons to the likes of Rage Against The Machine and System Of A Down for their electrifying and outspoken condemnations of war, misogyny and various forms of repression.
Hailing from a rural district dominated by a devout Islamic faith, such wanton rebellion, from three young women, no less, has brought threats, vandalism and actual violence upon the band and their families. To say that they have sacrificed much to be here really is a massive understatement.
Unfortunately, increasingly dire news reports of an impending hurricane seem to have scared off some potential fans; tonight’s crowd number just over a hundred, all of whom fall into a reverential silence as Marsya and Widi face Sitti’s drum kit. They turn and face the crowd to a hail of rowdy cheers.
After thanking the audience for braving the impending storm, they rip straight into [Not] Public Property. Seething with raw energy, Marsya slashes away on her Gibson SG while Widi unleashes a pulsating bassline that locks effortlessly into the drums. Each chord, each crack of the snare and each lyric is imbued with riveting authority.
The band are road-tested and tight. In their black hijab, their punishing attack and caustic lyrics epitomise the striking blend of tradition and rebellion that underpins their identity. Wasting no time, the band pile into their latest single, The Enemy Of Earth Is You, an exhilarating call-to-action against environmental destruction. Marsya flashes some deft fretwork, but the trio generate the most power when they lock into a muscular groove, driving the song to its wild, frenzied finish.
Frustratingly, the sound throughout the early part of the gig is not mixed terribly well, with the sharp mid-range of the guitar lost in the trio’s oceanic low end. However, by School Revolution it’s all sorted and the girls flaunt some serious chops, with Marsya unleashing taut, staccato fretwork along with a flawless rap attack that sends the audience into blissful, shape-throwing abandon.
Kawani and PMS meet with an equally ecstatic response, the latter track laden with a powerful combination of intense riffs and a sky-scraping chorus that sees a number of fans shouting ‘I never needed all of your stupid fascist words’ along with the band.
Sitti on drums is an absolute powerhouse, unleashing complex polyrhythms and bouncy tempos with convincing proficiency. And enough can’t be said about Widi’s bass chops; combining ripping metal basslines with hip-swivelling waves of slap bass, she’s the very backbone of the band’s sound.
VOB have just released their full-length debut, Retas, and the setlist contains all eight original tracks from that album, also including Age Oriented and a fiery version of What’s The Holy (Nobel) Today?
They buttress their relatively slim selection of originals with a trio of covers by System Of A Down (Chop Suey!), Rage Against The Machine (Testify) and Beastie Boys (Sabotage). Though the setlist has them down for closing with a cover of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, they instead finish with a drum solo, followed by a blazing thrash instrumental that leads into God, Allow Me (Please) To Play Music – a tense and emotionally charged anthem that speaks to the suppression and societal expectations they overcame to let their voices be heard.
It is a potent and fitting way to end a 75-minute set that seems utterly barren of restraint. After the show, the girls cool off in a classroom that’s been turned into a makeshift dressing room. They are beaming. Their first tour of America has been a success.
Though the crowds have been a bit smaller than what they now see in Europe, they are unconcerned. This is their first US tour after all, and in New York, they played the Gramercy Theatre – their very first theatre (“It was so fancy!” gushes Widi). In a couple of days, they’ll head home to Indonesia, but not before making a very special stop. Marsya proclaims, “We’re going to LA tomorrow to visit Harry Potter at Universal Studios!” All three erupt in giddy laughter.
In an age where so much music is overproduced and sanitised for mass consumption, Voice Of Baceprot are a riveting reminder of its true essence. They braved much to be here tonight, and their performance has left an indelible mark on the small but raucous crowd. The world awaits their encore.