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Rekah Isn't Afraid to Talk About Mental Illness

The Jakarta-based screamo act writes songs for depressed kids and lonely bedrooms.
Photo courtesy the band

You probably know someone who has struggled with mental illness in the past.

I can still vividly remember those uncomfortable days of my early 20s when I would come down with anxiety and insomnia that would last for days. I don't know what I was so anxious about at the time. Was it the job I hated? My messy love life? My uncertain future? Who knows. All I know is that it felt like the lowest point in my life.


The Jakarta-based post-hardcore band Rekah has a way of bring all these all these feelings to the surface again. The band's debut EP Berbagi Kamar is an album about mental illness—a controversial topic in a country where people are either content to ignore that anything is wrong or, in the worst cases, quick to place the mentally ill in shackles.

"In 2015 I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder," said Tomo Hartono, the guitarist/ sometimes vocalist of Rekah. "At some points I could feel so brilliant, but then at other times—most of the time really—all I could feel is helplessness and powerless. I found Reka h as a sort of escapism from all the turbulence inside my mind."

Berbagi Kamar, it means "Sharing Bedrooms," come out about one year after the band's first single "Untuk Gadis Yang Selalu Memakai Malam" made some waves in the Indonesian emo scene. It was the kind of song that gets angsty teenagers get in touch with all the feels—a driving screamo song with soaring guitars and just enough anger to get the kids moshing (anger is an emotion, right?).

Now their new EP expands on this chaotic mix, sounding a bit like Deafheaven jamming out with Japanese drama-core stars Envy after one to many bottles of Anggur Merah. It's heavy, epic, and, at times, surprisingly melodic. There's also a touch of poetry in their lyrics, which are sung entirely in Bahasa Indonesia. It's like Sutardji Calzoum Bachri stumbled into an emo show and, inspired by what he heard, decided to help ghostwrite a few lines.


Tomo's lyrics tend to focus on the typical adolescent concerns of losing your lover, feeling alone and empty late at night, and wanting to escape from it all. He admits that he's a big fan of literature, taking inspiration from Herman Hesse, Sartre and Chairil Anwar when he's writing lyrics.

"It'd be a sin not to mention Chairil Anwar," Tomo told me. "If not for his writing, I wouldn't have gotten into literature and probably forever think that poems are only about flowers and twilight."

There's a poeticism to Tomo's lyrics that still survives translation, so that's how I'm able to tell you that the band's lead vocalist Faiz Alfaresi is screaming "My body is a temple destroying itself / My tongue is a the mother of words betraying its own promises" in the opening track "Lihat Aku Menghancurkan Diri."

Depression, anger, frustration; these might all be common themes in emo music in the West, but a lot of Indonesian bands like to focus on "safer topics" like broken hearts and unrequited love. But according to the Ministry of Health's own statistics, some 6 percent of all Indonesians 15 years or older suffer from some from of mental illness.

Can a band like Rekah make these people feel less alone? I hope so.