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When Indonesian Metalheads of the 80s Become Parents

Two Indonesian scholars and metalheads explore what it means to grow up with heavy metal under the New Order regime and raising children in 2018 in their new book.

Most people start listening to metal as teenagers. It’s only normal since all kinds of metal contain everything favored by the youth: resistance, rebellion, aggressiveness, and all things taboo. But as a metalhead grows older, as they start their own family and raise their children, how does the everyday life influence how they view metal and its ideologies?

Do metalheads of the 80s have to compromise now that they have to change diapers and show the "Baby Shark" video to their babies 50 times a day? Is it still possible to shout to Cannibal Corpse’ lyrics on the urge to kill someone while educating children not to harm others? And can they get away with wearing Cradle of Filth’ “Jesus is a Cunt” t-shirt to a family gathering?


Those are the questions that music scholars Yuka Narendra and Gita Widya Laksmini Soerjoatmodjo address in their book Heavy Metal Parents. The two colleagues spent a long time interviewing Indonesian metalheads who grew up in the 80s — those who witnessed metal infiltrating the local music scene at the most politically oppressed time in the country's history. Those metalheads' resistance to the suppression of freedom of expression under the New Order government was remarkable — in a way, they were the ones who shaped the local metal scene into what it is today.

Yuka, himself a metalhead and father to a two-year-old daughter, talked to VICE's Marcel Thee about the book, the music he's loved since he was 10, and what metal means to a generation of parents today.

Photo courtesy of Yuka Narenda and Gita Widya Laksmini Soerjoatmodjo

VICE Indonesia: What’s the most metal thing you’ve done?
Yuka Narendra: Becoming a metalhead, obviously. Being a scholar who specializes on metal comes second. That’s why Gita and I wrote this book. A lot of people think the book is about how to teach a metalhead to become a metal parent. It’s not. The book is a cultural criticism. [Laughs]

What are the challenges that heavy metal parents face that other parents don’t?
I only know the perspective of heavy metal parents because I’m a metalhead myself. When I’m with Evelyn, my non-metalhead wife, I never make a big fuss over whether something is metal. Because at the end of the day all we want is for our child to become a good, compassionate person. When it comes to being open to various experiences and life choices, I think that’s not exclusive for metalheads. Such universal values will always exist and they will always resonate with the era. It’s just that in my case, it’s metal that introduced me and many people around me to universal values of humanity.


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Are heavy metal parents better than non-heavy metal parents?
I think such dichotomy isn’t going to help anyone. In essence, I want to tell a story of how people growing up in New Order era discovered themselves through metal. And when they become parents, metalheads know better than to reject their kid’s music taste. As parents, metalheads understand that their kid’s music choice represent the identity they’re shaping.

Everyone at some point in their lives must feel alienated in their search of identity. So what's so unique about metalheads growing up in the 80s who now have their own children?
A metalhead understands that their kid might not be a part of the majority narrative and so he or she finds themselves in things that aren’t common. That’s all. But the margin isn’t only for metalheads. Being marginalized is a human phenomenon and thus a universal value.

So essentially, there’s no distinction between metal fans and fans of other genre?
Maybe the difference between metalheads and other music fans who don’t talk about social issues is simply exposure. But we shouldn’t generalize that, say, EDM fans are less political or aware than metalheads. It’s not like that. Do metalheads make better parents than non-metalheads? Not really. We can’t see things as a dichotomy just so we can have an answer to which is better, because this is about identity. Not about comparing which approach is more effective.


How far would you get your kid to like metal?
Of course, I hope my daughter Kinara will be a metal fan. On car rides, Kinara always asks to listen to music. Sometimes I’ll play some metal tunes from the 80s and it seems that she likes it. I only play metal from that era because that’s the kind her mother can tolerate. So I’ve never played Down For Life, Seringai, or Napalm Death and Slayer. The point is, if I play upbeat music, Kinara looks happy. She would dance and look really giddy. Evelyn also has a music box that plays Vivaldi’s “Spring,” and Kinara really likes to play with it.

So do you think you’ve successfully influenced her to like metal?
In the end, Kirana has her own favorites, which is the theme songs of the children series Robocar Poli, Tayo the Little Bus, and Rainbow Ruby. Sometimes she holds up an eggbeater to us and forces us to sing along to “Rainbow Ruby.” What can I do? In the end maybe even a metalhead has to submit to Robocar Poli. But Kinara is only two years old. So it’s possible that when she grows up later she’ll be a fan of John Coltrane, John Cage,John McLaughlin, or Joni Iskandar. I mean, that will be her own decision. I just want her to be happy.

Do heavy metal fans should retire as metalheads once they've become parents?
That’s not necessary. Once a metalhead, forever a metalhead. It’s simple, really, metal is the kind of music that talks about humanity and compassion. So if someone agrees with its values, he or she will defend humanity and fight against oppression. Why do I have to retire from all that?

Last question. What's the most heavy metal parenting you’ve done?
Searching for the Robocar Poli theme song in various languages on the internet, and playing all of them at Kinara's birthday party.