libertad festival | ten years of no lords

May 24, 2017

words by: jay nichvolodov

This is no Club Med vacation: no travel agents, free-flow margaritas, bell hops, swimming pool bars. We set off from Jakarta’s port in a small wooden boat for a three-day getaway, one for those more in favor of mosh pits and dodgy booze than cocktails and room service. This is Libertad Festival - a beach kingdom for punk.

We load up, bound for Semak Daun (sound it out), a short way off the north coast of Jakarta. The thick smell of the nearby fish market blows our way, alleys and streets are clogged with vendors bringing daily catch to market and mosque calls to prayer. Orange life vests are divvied out, cigarettes smoked, seats taken for a head count. Despite the early hour, there is an air of reunion - many of us know each other from past concerts or festivals or punk houses. Camaraderie settles on the group; we're headed for our tropical home for the next three nights. There’s no turning back now - not that any of us would want to.

Now in its tenth year (and rumored to be its last), Libertad Festival is put on by the Bandung, Indonesia chapter of Pyrate Punx, with help from myriad Indonesian collectives. Attendees are evenly Indonesian and foreign, coming from Europe, America, Canada, Japan, South America, and Southeast Asia to be part of Libertad. Bands and beaches are the main draws, grounded by the warm-hearted, inclusive punk community. Hardcore punk legends MDC (Millions of Dead Cops) headline this year, leading bands from Russia, Myanmar, Malaysia, the UK and a slew from Indonesia. Attendees are in their best: leather jackets adorned with band patches, heavy Doc Martens in the +35 C heat, chains, piercings and ever-present tattoos like patchwork across arms and chests.

We arrive, thanks to that rickety boat. The scene is postcard perfect - and absurd. A crumbling, partially sunken dock leads through clear turquoise water to white sand beaches. It takes all of five minutes to walk the whole island, with only two and a half permanent structures on land; more of a mushroom-cap atoll than full-fledged island.

Studded jackets and mohawks spill out of the vessel, bobbing just offshore of the tiny, palm-treed island less than two hours from the shores of massive, overpopulated Jakarta. Leaping into the bath-warm water, the melee heaves amplifiers, guitars and tents onto the sand to stake claim. Castaways assemble under the banner of transnational punk: their own self-made, self-organized networks crisscrossing the globe. A Sumatran record store links to a Berlin squat, Myanmar’s arm of Food Not Bombs connects to anti-fascist activists in Oakland, a hardcore band from Austin plays alongside a crust punk band from Java.

As soon as we unload, set up begins and a vital element of the whole event swings into action: DIY and mutual cooperation. There are no sponsors, no overseers, no profit. Clusters of dreads and back-patched jackets congregate and claim patches for tents. Collectives hang their flags in the trees, and clotheslines arise suspending black band shirts and threadbare, patched jeans. Helping hands lift the large gig tent into place, a fatigue-green tarp - surely once used for some international aid mission - serves as our makeshift club, complete with a moshpit of sand. The tarp-tent for the kitchen is pitched, a Food Not Bombs flag draped alongside. Camp is complete.

Threaded throughout the festival is that punk DIY spirit. From meals and cooking, set up and tear down, band rundowns and boat excursions, it's all on us. No matter where you came from, what your band is called, or how many tattoos you have, we come together to ensure the most sandy, surfy time possible.

By day, the Libertad camp is nothing but smiles and blissful vibes. Every tent door is open, people stop to visit and tell stories (“The police shutdown our show!”), or share smiles and a drink if language is inadequate. There's communal cooking in the tent kitchen, a few punk merchants selling patches and tapes, even a few nursing a homebrew hangover from the night before. A burly Russian, despite swimming, sleeping in the sand, and sweating in the gig tent, managed to keep his Mohawk crisp and upright the entire time.

Nights are for the bands. Red and blue stage lights glisten across the sand as guitars roar to life and people funnel into the soldier-green tent. A voice from the microphone requests, “Take your boots off!” - better to have a shoeless mosh pit in the sand than Doc Martens crushing toes. Band after band takes the sandy stage, volume flooding the island from one end to the other. Even the Hijabbed ladies selling coffee and instant noodles can't help but duck in and have a look. After our fill of booze and bludgeoning, some burrow into their tents or under their tarps, while others of us sleep in the sand under the stars, the sea breeze lapping waves to the shore.

Autonomy is celebrated at Libertad and events like it. In corruption-ridden Indonesia, police abuse and extortion abound. Perhaps equally so, many Indonesians can feel constrained by strains of stigmatizing religious conservatism. Being out in the sea, far away from the eyes of the police and religious conservatives is holiday enough for many Indonesians - this fact is vocally applauded. It's not so unlike the Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ) raised in Europe and elsewhere in years past. We are, for better or worse, under our own government out here.

Mohawks in the sand. 

Mohawks in the sand. 

By day three, most of us have begun to show hairline cracks. No sleep, dual day hangovers, little in the way of bathing, and way too much sun. But today holds our final challenge: Alcoholympics. An ancient cultural tradition from time immemorial, representatives are made to complete a grueling test of brute strength - and just drink as much as possible. By this point, strangers were friends, we had seen the best and worst of each other, and we didn’t care if you played in a pop-punk band when you were younger. However, this event of Roman brutality would prove our downfall: afterwards the camp was as dry as an Islamic boarding school. And therein lies the paradox of island freedom: an unbounded revelry in our liberty, but once the beer’s out, the beer’s out.

Having attended two years prior, I'm pleased that the whole thing didn’t go full Lord of the Flies, like it had the last time. Everything had improved this time, everyone worked together and did their share. Just as we came, many hands lifted gear, collected garbage, and took to the wooden boat again. Just as we had arrived, we left, and our temporary kingdom was reclaimed by its rightful owners, the land and sea.

All photos c/o Jay Nichvolodov, Globetrotter Magazine.
Header image of
No Security, a band from Malaysia.