By Andrea Panaligan Published Dec 22, 2023 5:48 am

Most of the time, when a young person wishes to exercise their right to have an identity crisis, they turn to the deliciously rebellious art of music. 

Child psychologists should really look into one of my journal entries when I was 14, where I said I didn’t feel like a real person until I started listening to 5 Seconds of Summer. I can’t even poke too much fun at it because I still think it’s true – it was the first time I understood what it meant to have something you like so much, and to meet others who felt the same. As Kaitlyn Tiffany said in her book Everything I Need I Get From You, the experience of bodily joy I felt when I listened to their music “is an invitation to reconsider the conditions that hold you away from it most of the time.” And I was heavily reconsidering.

While lack of talent prevented me from starting a band of my own (and I found I could pour out my crises into writing instead – hi!), music never stopped being my deliciously rebellious thing. 

Photos and art by Elleisha Angeles
Indonesian indie rock band Grrrl Gang. Photos and art by Elleisha Angeles.

I’ve developed a habit of listening to Guys Don’t Read Sylvia Plath by Indonesian indie rock band Grrrl Gang when walking to work — it opens with, “I wasn’t born to be a mother / I was born to raise hell everywhere I go,” and the pause after “raise” always gives me a pang of exhilaration. 

Ahead of their Manila show, I met vocalist Angeeta Sentana and bassist Akbar Rumandung, two of the three-piece band, at a cafe behind a popular gig venue in Mandaluyong. We recounted their beginnings and the making of their debut album “Spunky.” Their work, from the origin of their name to the community they continue to build and be part of, feels subversive not for the sake of subversion. It feels like young people challenging what they’ve known all their lives to seek something more — more meaning, more music, more possibilities, more of that bodily joy. 

We present a step-by-step guide to creating your own deliciously rebellious band, as told by Grrrl Gang to Young STAR.

Grrrl Gang performed at Balcony Music House in Makati last November. 

Step 1: Allow yourself to wonder, “Why don’t we just start our own band?”

The members of Grrrl Gang met in college. When Angee said she joined the campus music organization, Akbar retorted: “That’s completely useless for you. Why don’t you just make your own band?” The organization reportedly only did song covers, and Akbar knew Angee was an excellent songwriter. 

Together with guitarist Edo Alventa, they started to find footing as a dream pop act, influenced by the likes of Frankie Cosmos and Veronica Falls. “Over time, we saw how the Indonesian audience reacted to our songs. They mosh during Bathroom. In a way, we were influenced by their energy, so we leaned into a more punky sound. It started with (our single) Pop Princess then with our EP ‘Not Sad, Not Fulfilled,’ and now with ‘Spunky,’” Angee says.

(clockwise from top) Grrrl Gang members Edo Alventa (guitars), Angeeta Sentana (vocals), and Akbar Rumandung (bass). 

Step 2: Make a name for yourself, literally.

“I thought it would be funny to name ourselves ‘Grrrl Gang’ when it’s one girl and two guys. Over time I realized most listeners are accidentally baited into it; they think it’s like a girl’s thing. Meanwhile, the majority of our listeners are males,” Angee reveals. “They see female musicians as exotic, so (the name) is like a ‘counter’ thing.” 

The riot grrrl reference is not lost on them, and they serve the subgenre well. Brutally honest, humorous songwriting is scored by addicting guitar riffs, creating resonant and memorable records. Angee shouts “Girls, gays, and in-betweens to the front!” at their crowds, echoing Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna. The band’s album “Spunky” was even released in America by riot grrrl label Kill Rock Stars.

Grrrl Gang performs songs from their new album “Spunky” to an energetic Manila crowd. 

Step 3: Abandon all embarrassment and write songs out of your journal entries.

“Sometimes I would write fire lines,” Angee says with a laugh, recounting how she would look back on her diary and find good material for songs. Bassist Akbar would sometimes suggest different approaches to the writing while guitarist Edo worked on the music. 

I, a chronic oversharer, asked Angee if she ever struggled with having to sing about feelings she doesn’t have anymore. “When I was 18, I wrote Bathroom. I experienced the worst breakup I’ve ever had. I felt like my whole world was ending and I felt so vulnerable when I wrote it. I would feel emotional whenever we performed it. But now, over time, I just got bored of it. I’m not her anymore.” It’s all part of the process, Akbar adds.

“It’s not about you,” says bassist Akbar. “It’s always about the community.”

Step 4: Realize that performing live is really just having fun with your friends.

The band’s first time performing was at a campus event, and Angee wanted to puke. “Everyone was supposed to play a half-hour set, but we had five songs and played for like 10 minutes.” They went straight back to class afterward.

Before starting Grrrl Gang, the trio was part of a collective that organized shows for bands in their college town Yogyakarta, nicknamed Jogja. “We had that foundation already and we knew a lot of people, that’s why we were able to be born.” The band previously organized a show for Filipino indie folk band Ourselves the Elves at Jogja; in return, they got to play at Mow’s in Quezon City.

Someone came up to me (and said), ‘Your music saved my life.’ It was really special that our music has that power.

They also remember bringing American rock band Turnover to Jogja at a time when gigs were often concentrated in Jakarta. “We just loved going to gigs. It’s why we organize shows for bands from other cities. We love to invite all our friends to mosh and sing along to bands we really like,” says Akbar.

The highly energetic tracks of their debut album "Spunky" denote a band that really knows their voice and is not afraid to play around with it.

Step 5: Feel everything – then make an album.

Their debut album “Spunky” was born when they realized “we’ve been together for so long and we haven’t had a proper album yet.” Angee says they were deliberate about it not being a compilation but actually having a narrative. “We were a year fresh from graduating, so we wanted to look back on how tumultuous things were at that age, where you’re having so many identity and existential crises. We decided to capture that in our album.”

Angee shouts “Girls, gays, and in-betweens to the front!” at their crowds, echoing Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna.

Akbar calls the process “kinda intense” because they worked with Lafa Pratomo, a producer outside their circles. Still, they found it easy to communicate their album plans with Lafa. “Before recording, he’d sit down with each of us, having a one-on-one conversation about our interests,” Angee recalls. “Because he read the lyrics of the songs, he asked me, ‘What did you go through? Because you wrote these insane, depressing lyrics,’ so I opened up to him. I was able to translate the emotions I felt through my singing.”

The resulting work is everything fans came to love about Grrrl Gang and then some. The highly energetic tracks denote a band that really knows their voice and is not afraid to play around with it. It’s raging and grungy but also so hopeful — brimming with the joy of engaging in such an exploratory process of creating art that says what you want to say better than your own words could. 

“I thought it would be funny to name ourselves ‘Grrrl Gang’ when it’s one girl and two guys," says vocalist Angee.

Step 6: Remember that your heart is your community

“I realized we were making an impact when, after Bathroom’s release, someone came up to me (and said), ‘Your music saved my life,’” Angee remembers. “I was like, ‘whoa.’ I didn’t know that could happen. It was really special that our music has that power.”

The band says touring abroad and getting to introduce their music to more people is “something we’ve been dreaming of ever since,” and while it’s scary, they’re happy to be doing it together. 

“There will be a lot of challenges of course, especially if you create something from zero. But the thing with the underground or independent scene is that you’re pretty connected with each other,” Akbar says. There will be a lot of helping hands, but you have to be able to pay it forward, too. “It’s not about you. It’s always about the community.”

Story by Andrea Panaligan
Photos and art by Elleisha Angeles
Special thanks to The Rest is Noise