Football Soundscapes of Java

Andy Fuller

PSIM Chants, 27 September 2014, Mandala Krida (Part 1)

Football is a marvellous site from which sound in all its signifying and rhetorical/affective glory issues in abundance. (Trail 2009; 11)


alap-alap Sambernyawa

bawa kami terbang ke angkasa

bangkitlah kau sang legenda

Persis Surakarta


Come on Sambernyawa

fly us up into the galaxy

rise up you legend

Persis Surakarta


Pasoepati chant


It was my first football game in Indonesia: Persis Solo vs PSGC Ciamis, 3pm on a Thursday afternoon. It was a regular game in the Divisi Utama, the second tier of the domestic league. Persis Solo were in the frame to contest for promotion to the ISL, the Indonesia Super League. The temperature above 35 degrees, there was not a cloud in the sky; there was no breeze. I was setting up my camera, wanting to get focused, while the crowd briefly stilled before launching itself, in unison, into Persis Solo’s anthem: Satu Jiwa” (One Soul).[1] I knew this was the Club’s anthem (“lagu kebangsaan” – “national song”), and I presumed it would be sung before the game. My body shook; the overwhelming nature of the sound disorientated me from my task. I had wanted to focus on (visually) recording the players as they lined up for their formalities, but the crowd immediately told me otherwise: this was about them. I swiveled around and tried to capture their singing as best I could, albeit ill-equipped. From close-up I recorded the heart-felt singing, chanting of teenagers (overwhelmingly boys, young men). I felt out of place, sticking out like the proverbial lost foreigner, but also wonderfully comfortable: the attention of the Persis Solo fans (part of the B–7 subgroup of the Pasoepati supporter group) would only switch between the game, the gestures of their conductor (Andre Jaran; more about him below), and they couldn’t give a damn about some londo (“Dutchman”) pointing a camera at them. I had come to the game without an express interest in recording the sound; I had come to hear and see as much as possible. The lasting impression, the dominant sensory experience, however, has remained the sonic environment, and thus I write this article.


A football soundscape is not limited to the chanting and sounds of the crowd or those made in a stadium (Back 2003: 323). In cities such as Solo and Yogyakarta, convoys of fans will often “rev” their muffler-free motorbikes as they pass through urban centers. The sound is menacing, threatening, and intimidating. Yet, the football soundscape can be far gentler: a ball being kicked, players chatting and shouting to each other, a referee blowing a whistle, a ball landing against a net in the back of a goal or bouncing on an athletics track are some of the other sounds. On this day, though, the noise of the crowd, its singing and chanting, wiped out the prospect of hearing the “sound marks,” such as the ball being kicked. At times it was difficult enough to hear the referee’s whistle. Manahan stadium is open – there is no roof to keep the sound trapped in, much to the chagrin of the conductor (capo) Andre Jaran – and so, even though the crowds in the northern and southern ends of Manahan Stadium are busy chanting too, they can only be heard during the brief moments when the B7 crowd are in between chants, songs. The stadium witnesses a kind of duality of performance: those on the pitch and those in the stands. The latter seemingly complementing the former, but equally rivalling the on-field action as well as seeking to influence the course of events. As such, the singing is “an active ingredient of social formation” (De Nora 2000: 7). Singing, chanting, moving does not “leave its recipients ‘just sitting’ there moping all night […] It invited, perhaps incited, movement” (De Nora 2000: 7).


Guschwan states that football matches are cultural performances that make overt the ideas, values, and creativity of the fans (Guschwan 2015: 25). Football in Indonesia might be more easily read as performance – as a kind of theater– rather than a sport in which pure contests of athletic ability and prowess are played out within a set time-frame and with clear, transparent and acceptable rules. Rather than match-fixing being an anomaly, match-fixing is so commonplace, or at least believed to be so commonplace, that little faith, trust or hope is invested in any outcome, let alone in the legitimacy of an un-expected, upset victory. Results are apparently pre-determined; referees are paid off with payouts as much as ten times their usual game fee and prostitutes. The winning teams reflect the strength of political and business interests rather than sporting or footballing abilities. For example, a region may be lacking a team in Indonesia’s top division, and thus their path to promotion will be smoothed; or, if a team has problematic and politically active supporters – such as the Bonek 1927 of Persebaya (from Surabaya, East Java) – their path towards relegation or disenfranchisement may also be shaped. The playing of football, at least in the Second Division, is more about which team’s management has the strongest political links and most active masses (fans, demonstrators) who are able to be used as well: political footballs, for lack of a better analogy. The role of the player is not to exert himself to his utmost and to create a new space or reputation for his club, but rather to perform in a manner that reflects the already-established outcomes.


The “cultural performance” of the fans in the stadium reflect the changing political and social conditions of Indonesia. The performances of ultra fans within Indonesia’s football stadiums was unheard of prior to the early 2000s. The highly authoritarian New Order regime (1966–1998) severely restricted the possibility for mass gatherings, let alone those in which regional identity could be assertively expressed (Fuller and Junaedi 2016). As is common within footballing cultures, ultra fans “create a carnivalesque atmosphere” at the stadium through exaggerated clothing, speech and symbols that create “one of the more enlightening viewpoints of contemporary life” (Guschwan 2014: 891). Yet, the ultra fandom performed in stadiums throughout Indonesia is still highly volatile. Much opposition is voiced, but rather than targeting a centralized government, opposition is directed towards the heavily politicized Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI) and the police (Dorsey and Sebastian 2013: 216). The cultural performance of fandom as such is not something just to be “looked at and interpreted” (Guschwan 2011), but also something to be enacted through, against a clearly established opposition. By performing the chants, gestures, wearing the clothes, the fans become ultras: “in this sense [“ultra fandom”] is always a doing, though not a doing by a subject who might be said to pre-exist the deed” (Butler 1990: 25).



Foreigners are discouraged to go to domestic football games. The crowd is perceived as being dangerous; riots are said to break out regularly and fighting and all sorts of violence is common. Moreover, the fans pride themselves on their violence, their toughness, their hardness (Fuller 2016). They adopt names of renowned hooligan groups from England or elsewhere and seek to emulate their actions. The violence of the crowd is a point of pride for some and also places Indonesian football fandom as comparable to those cultures which many fans seek to emulate. Violence is a typical part of ultra fandom (Guschwan 2015: 8). I went to the game with a sense of both trepidation and excitement. I trusted the person who had invited me to the game, and after some fifteen years of visiting Indonesia and living there on-and-off, I felt curiously detached from such a pivotal aspect of everyday Indonesian life. It was a relief to go to a game; and moreover, in the case of violence breaking out, I felt confident that I could look after myself. Although the Manahan Stadium is poorly maintained, a simple Olympic-style stadium with a gravelled athletics track surrounding the football pitch, it is surrounded by tall trees that provide welcome shade for the gathering fans before the mid-afternoon kick-off.

Fans sit down on mats or on curbs and benches drinking sweet iced tea, smoking cigarettes, selling or buying merchandise, and hooking up with their friends. The atmosphere is a mixture of calm, excitement and tension. After having taken the train from Yogyakarta (one hour away), I’m struck by the pleasantness of the stadium’s surrounds and that of the tree-lined streets of Solo. A picnic and relaxed atmosphere prevails outside of the stadium. Once inside and having assumed my position, I am struck again by a sense of order and calm. The stadium is “standing room only” (except for the VIP stand on the western side of the stadium), and I take up a position at the front. I’m struck by two things: the absence of an official soundscape, with advertisements, pop songs, or statements from security. And, secondly, the absence of advertising. The Pasoepati supporter groups have a relatively empty soundscape in which to perform their chants.

After having grown up attending Australian football games in Melbourne, where “match-day experiences” are increasingly micro-managed and overloaded with visual and audio advertisements, I regard this absence and silence as something to be valued and protected. In the weeks after attending the game, I share with my informants that despite all the administrative and managerial problems with “Indonesian football” (not to mention the violence between rival supporters), the atmosphere/ambience at games should be treasured. The crowd performance and sense of fan ownership and involvement is similar to what I have experienced while watching FC Union Berlin and FC Koln, only louder and more intense. While fans in Indonesia often aim to imitate European fandom, I have always countered to my informants that the domestic Indonesian crowds far outdo those in Europe, let alone Australia. The relatively slow pace of Divisi Utama football provides much space in which songs, chanting can emerge and be sustained without the spontaneous outbursts of cheering and shouting. An Australian rules football soundscape, in response to the faster pace of the game, is more intense and rapid and doesn’t allow for such intensely conducted chants.


Noise, sound, singing, chanting, whistling, booing, jeering, cheering, and clapping make up some of the primary elements of the football soundscape (Kytö 2011). Silence too is a vital weapon, creating a sense of football space. The soundscape changes markedly as a fan goes to a game. This relates to the changes in spaces that supporters, fans, and casual observers occupy as they make their way to a game. “Active fans” or “ultras” announce their arrival at a train station by immediately shouting the name of their club; their calls are then joined in with by other fans who have also disembarked at the same station. In other cases, fans congregate at the same train station, temporarily occupying and appropriating a shared public space and claiming it for their club and particular supporter group. Fan groups may then march towards their stadium, chanting, playing drums, and led by men wielding megaphones. The chanting, music and noise creates a carnivalesque atmosphere, strengthening the cohesion of the active fans. Going to a game and watching a game has generic qualities which facilitates a feeling of commonality between fans from different regions and nations, speaking different languages.

In contrast, casual fans, ordinary fans, “passive fans” – if the term “active fans” is to be accepted – make their way to stadiums in a less coordinated manner. They arrive incrementally, talk amongst themselves, mix with supporters of the opposing team and, perhaps, are more mixed in terms of age and gender, if one is to take the angry, volatile, aggressive male youth as the description of your average active supporters. Rather than creating a constant wall of sound indicating support for their club, the ordinary fan goes about his or her presence at a game in a casual manner, incorporating attendance of the game into his or her daily schedule. Rather than forming a band of supporters, they are fragmented, diverse, and with a range of emotional investment in attending the game. While not adding through concerted efforts to the pre-game soundscape, the casual fan may drift in and out of the act of creating the soundscape throughout the game. The active fans and casual fans stand or sit in their usual grandstands or spaces behind the goals. Waves of sound – clapping, cheering, imploring – emerge from unclear origins and spread throughout the stadium, gaining momentum and volume.


The anthem or hymn of a club is one of the key moments in a football soundscape at the stadium. The rendition of the anthem greets the players as they line up to face the officials, have their photographs taken, shake hands with one another and then disperse to their positions on the field. The anthem unites the home fans in song; they sing in unison to a pre-recorded, specifically-written or adopted anthem. Anthems are commonly sung as fans raise their scarves horizontally and swing them wildly about to accompany faster passages of music. The anthem, even if only recently adopted is uncontested and is imagined as timeless, reflecting also a belief in the permanence and stability of their club and its culture. Reflecting the broadly masculinist culture of football, anthems are largely folksy and stereotypically macho.

Matthew Guschwan describes the “anthem” as a “ritualized song which prepares the fans for the match” (2015: 6). That it is a “meta-communicative act” that serves to frame an event and to indicate how subsequent acts are to be interpreted. What follows the anthem is a “football” moment which allows fans to act in a manner according to the norms of football fandom. The anthem of Persis Solo club in central Javanese city of Solo is by a folk-punk group called The Working Class Symphony, and the title is Satu Jiwa, meaning “one soul.” The song was not written for Persis Solo’s supporter group, Pasoepati, but it was quickly adopted by them. And, in turn, the group have since recorded a film clip of the song in which the Pasoepati fan-group plays an important role. The same anthem is sung at the end of a match when Persis Solo wins; in the case of a loss or an unceremonious draw, a riot, or violence of varying degrees of seriousness, may breakout. The closing of the game with the anthem marks the end of the event as it takes place within the stadium.


A football game and the actions of the crowd are a specific kind of performance. Players and supporters express and shape their identities through their gestures, songs and mannerisms. Sport has a seemingly unquestionable purpose: to win, to defeat the other team or player, or – if one is already the best, the champion – to do so even more. Winners who achieve victory through doping enjoy immediate gratification and, possibly, later condemnation. If art, beauty and play happen on the sports or football field, they cannot compromise the sole purpose and aim of winning. There are few examples of players who are able to unite the twin identities of artist and footballer successfully and to actualize and be recognized for their aesthetic as well as match-winning capabilities. But these are players who play in at an elite level in elite clubs and in elite leagues; how does the idea of performance relate to the playing of the game elsewhere – say, in Indonesia? Do football and sport take on different meanings or ranges of meanings and expressions in the Indonesian or specifically Javanese context?

The origins of the chants are contentious: where do the chants of supporter groups come from? Each fan group claims their chants as their own and accuses other groups of stealing and poorly imitating their own chants. The chants heard in stadiums in Java reveal the traces and influences of elsewhere supporter cultures. Within stadiums, fans congregate in stands that articulate their appropriation of a supporter sub-category, and these categories are often identified with nations. The supporter groups use their chants as a vital means for asserting their presence as a separate and distinct cultural group from their rivals. These contestations have gotten stronger since Indonesia’s post-New Order era (1998 onwards). “Ultras” draw their main references from Italian supporter culture, while the casuals of Pasoepati and others, refer to an English approach to football support, mainly eschewing items of clothing that do not indicate any reference to team affiliation. The Brajamusti of Yogyakarta chant in one of their songs: “Brajamusti, we’re the original and from Yogyakarta, not from Italy.” Their chant is targeted towards their arch rivals in the nearby regions of Sleman and Solo who have assumed a seemingly more transparent adoption of ultra fandom borrowed from Italy or Argentina.

The chants and choreography are identified by being borrowed from Argentina, Poland, Turkey (Istanbul, in particular), Italy (of course), and England (see the interview with Andre Jaran and Fajar Junaedi, October 2014). The adoption of the Poznan by PSS Sleman fans and the Besiktas-style slow-build-up and “sshhh-ing” shows how a peripheral football culture can quickly be adopted by both mainstream and other peripheral football cultures. Although a high currency is placed on being original, supporter groups also require a well-established repertoire in order to maintain their vocal presence and enthusiasm throughout a 90-minute game. Some compromises are necessary: being “unoriginal” but “loud” is a tension that supporter groups, lead by their conductor, seek to reconcile. Being the first to adopt a chant amongst Indonesian supporter groups is often felt to be sufficiently original.

Supporter Parades and Convoys

Although the stadium is the center of football culture and fandom (Guschwan 2015), the football soundscape is not contained by the stadium itself (see Kytö 2011). Football fandom in Java is intricately connected to urban culture and the conditions of Indonesian cities. The street, rather than the subway or train line, is the primary route fans use to arrive at local games. In the city of Yogyakarta, the poor public infrastructure means that the overwhelming majority of fans arrive at games on motorbike. In some cases, fans coming from further away charter buses and turn them into transient cheer-leading vehicles for their club. Supporter groups in Yogyakarta and elsewhere are divided into smaller sub-categories, based on kampung affiliation, school, or religious organization. The strong rivalries between these “laskars” (gangs) mean that there are moments of tension, antagonism and violence before or after a game. In order to gain gravitas, legitimacy, and respect, however, the fan groups make their urban trek noisy, loud, and provocative. The convoys and parades are led by respected figures within the fan groups or laskars who are given the task of providing and negotiating security in the case of danger. Streets are frequently identified as being controlled by supporter groups through the use of flags and banners, thus indicating that they are off-limits to rival supporter groups, making certain journeys homewards or towards the stadium particularly circuitous. In the case of rival fan groups “accidentally” or “deliberately” meeting, violence is common, and – in the case of a conflict between PSIM’s supporter groups, the Brajamusti and The Maident – an (at present still) unpunished murder also took place. The intrusion of a football soundscape into the urban din is fraught with tension relating to broader social conflicts rather than being limited purely to matters of football supporter culture.

Conductors of Soundscapes

Arema, Arema

Singo Edan, pasti menang

Satukan tekadmu

Kobarkan semangatmu

Aremania selalu mendukungmu

Arema, Arema

The Crazy Lions will definitely win

Unite your passion

Set your spirit on fire

Aremania will always support you

“In the crowd, imagine, there are so many kinds of people. There are people who only finished primary school; there are people who never went to school; there are people with proper jobs; there are students who attend religious boarding schools. When do we see 45,000 people singing together, if not at the stadium? When do we see 45,000 people making a performance together, if not at the stadium? Just imagine what it would sound like if we had a roof on our stadium at Kanjuruhan, like there is at Liverpool.” (Yuli Sumpil, conductor, Aremania)

The modern orchestral conductor emerged with the rise of large-scale symphony orchestras in the 19th century. In orchestral and choral music, a musician – a concertmaster – is able to use his body or bow to maintain rhythm and indicate the quality of sound to be played. The typically bombastic and verbose Richard Wagner was one of the first to write a dedicated monograph on conducting titled, Ueber das Dirigiren or On Conducting (1869). Silhouettes of Gustav Mahler and other famous conductors by the artist Otto Boehler show the prominence and esteem they enjoyed for the role they played in creating music. They were (and remain) virtuosic figures, and conducting came to be considered an art in itself, skill separate from that of virtuosic soloist. Conductors were stereotypically egomaniacs, dictatorial, and susceptible to extremely capricious behavior. All would be forgiven following a resounding delivery of a symphony from a podium. The persona of the symphonic orchestra conductor has been taken up, appropriated, and subjected to variation within the diverse cultures of football fandom.

The capo, or dirigen in Indonesia and elsewhere, is the conductor of the crowd-as-orchestra or choir. Capo, an Italian word that can be roughly translated as “leader,” demonstrates the link of the ultra movement’s roots in Italian football, where “ultra” fandom emerged in the 1960s–70s. The dirigen, who stands upon a steiger, the term derived, I believe, from a Dutch word for “scaffolding,” is the leader of chants and an emblematic figure of a team’s supporter group. He is often a hyper-masculine figure, who simultaneously teaches, cajoles, harasses, encourages, and exhorts the masses under his tutelage and guidance. Young women also perform as dirigens, but my understanding is that they are only active in complementing the primary (male) dirigen. Fan groups such as Jakmania of Jakarta and the Bonek of Surabaya may have a relatively high proportion of female fans, and occasionally some function as guest dirigens without ever assuming a more permanent and incontestable position upon the steiger.

Stadium architecture and the particular style of the dirigen helps shape the football soundscape. Stadium Kanjuruhan of Malang in East Java, for example, is a 45,000-capacity Olympic style stadium with an athletics track surrounding the football field. The tribune, the stands, form one continuous curve around the field, creating the potential for unified singing. The sound easily dissipates, as there is no roof upon the stadium; fans are far from the action as well as other fans on the opposite side or ends of the field. The soundscape of Kanjuruhan Stadium is characterized by the slow, rhythmic beating of drums, with a simple and highly repetitive melody and lyrics. The conductor plays a varying role, ranging from active – mouthing the lyrics or indicating the gestures to be made or slowing the rhythm – to taking a more relaxed stance once the crowd has become united. The better the chant is known, the less a conductor is required to perform. During the anthem, for example, the conductor often only takes a ceremonial role, perhaps swaying to the beat or only mounting the steiger upon the anthem’s completion. To be too active during the anthem would be to draw too much attention to oneself and compromise the unity of the singing.

The soundscape is created through various methods of music and sound making. A football stadium in the Indonesian football leagues contrasts significantly with the highly organized, rigid, and regulated football stadia and atmospheres of Europe, whether it be England, The Netherlands, or Germany. The stadium in Java, particularly the two I am more familiar with – the Mandala Krida of Yogyakarta and the Manahan Stadium of Solo – are characterized by a quality of emptiness that is there to be filled up, rather than an already existing “official” soundscape or visual infrastructure. Sound is not contested so much between supporters within an already existing soundscape, but, rather, they contribute the overwhelming majority of sound to the game. For all its sense of “difference” and its embeddedness in everyday Indonesian life, the performance of ultras in the stadium (and indeed on the way to the stadium) is closely linked to the global culture of ultra fandom (Doidge and Lieser 2013).

PSIM Chants, 27 September 2014, Mandala Krida (Part 2)





The game marches steadily towards chaos. The referee (wasit, in Indonesian) does not have the respect of the players nor the protection of the police or the security staff. The fans in B7 are increasingly shouting on their own, separate from the gestures of Andre Jaran, the charismatic and macho conductor. The crowd’s shouting has lost its focus; where earlier it was providing coherent and united support for Persis Solo, the mood has become angry, threatening, and abusive. The fans shout angrily, gestures included, towards the referee, despite his persistent favoring of Persis Solo, the players of PSGC Ciamis (and in particular Emile Linkers), and the Ciamis fans. The B7 fans also direct their anger at their fellow Persis Solo/Pasoepati fans, as some have descended onto the pitch and have sought to attack the referee and opposing players. Tensions between the rival groups of Pasoepati have long been simmering and would also come to the fore throughout 2015 (see Fuller and Junaedi 2016).

After having enjoyed the euphoric moments of the crowd cheering and celebrating through their powerful singing during the earlier stages of the sweltering afternoon, I am now overcome by a different mood. I am anxious and nervous, feelings that have largely come about through the change in the soundscape. I retrieve my bag and get ready to leave just in case. And then the game comes to some kind of official end, some ten or so minute after it should have. The anger dissipates as well as over the loudspeakers comes the opening phrases of Satu Jiwa, Persis Solo’s anthem. The soundscape has once more become comforting, calming, uniting. Numerous fans light flares and smoke bombs: a few go off nearby, and it is difficult to enjoy the moment without being overcome by the unique fumes and noxious smoke. The song ends, and the soft sounds of gentle crowd chatter emerge once again.

Chanting, singing is a way of creating an authentic, intense, and participatory football experience. While the standard of play, refereeing, and the quality of the pitch may all be disappointing for the spectators, making music to support their team is creative and satisfying. The dramatic changes in Indonesian society after the downfall of the Suharto-led New Order government opened up a new space for football fans to express their varying identities in the social space of the football stadium. The cultural performances of ultra fans create a new soundscape, evoking both local and global cultures. Unlike the situation in many other cases (such as that of Besiktas), fans are able to sing into a relative “vacuum,” where they do not need to compete with corporate jingles and official stadium announcements or advertising (Kytö 2011). Through the soundscape and chants, fans can borrow from global football cultures and bring Javanese mythology and melodies into the football stadium soundscape. This article has sought to provide an analysis of some general characteristics and patterns amongst supporter groups in Solo, and to a lesser extent Yogyakarta. Many opportunities for further research exist, as the football soundscapes of cities such as Solo and Yogyakarta are rich and complex. Moreover, the crowd uses sound as a means to involve themselves inextricably in the event and performance of football.


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