2013 in BATS

Well, it’s been a while, but it’s about time to do a quick update of what’s been going on in BATS recently. After the slow motion car crash that was the residency of Cache Superstar in early 2013, it seems appropriate that the second half of the year saw Crash Motion take up the reins. With the best looking female singers since 2010 and a strong male vocalist it was a pretty successful time and BATS was packed most days.

This was Cache Superstar (Jan-July 2013). Let’s just say the line-up changed quite a bit by the time they had finished. The well-built male lead vocalist was very good though. As for the rest, let’s draw a veil over it, it would be kinder.

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Crash Motion, the band in residence from July to December, were a hard-working group from Canada. They made a good effort to integrate with the locals, particularly memorable was their version of Pelan Pelan Saja, a big Indonesian hit. Other memorable songs they did were Don’t You Worry Child and Starships.

The band’s line-up saw a quick return for Daren from Earthbeat, surely now BATS’ most capped lead guitarist. The bass player was a crowd favourite as a native Spanish speaker doing all the Latino songs (Suavemente being his signature song). The keyboard player was incredible – anonymous at the back but holding it all together. The two girls were very easy on the eye, especially after a few drinks. The slimmer one did sing sharp quite a bit, but that improved over time and her optimism was infectious. The large-breasted one slimmed down a lot over the course of the contract but thankfully not in all areas.

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Also worth noting is another change of manager, and a massive hike in both prices and volume. I think it must be because prices are based in dollars, so when the rupiah collapses against the dollar, a beer goes from being 90,000 to 120,000. The speakers have now been jacked up to the extent that anyone close to the stage will have ear pain for the next 2 days. It would probably be illegal in the West, but, well, we’re not in the West.

Anyway, we look forward with optimism to 2014 to see what the new all-British band, The Volume (below), will bring us. They’re newbies in Indonesia, although they have just come off 2 years on cruise ships, so it’s a bit of a different gig. A more stable stage, more prostitutes in the crowd, and a different type of OAP. Their first couple of weeks have been impressive, but 6 months is a long time, let’s hope they maintain their health, focus, sobriety and sanity.

Volume band

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Review of Earthbeat, BATS, 2010

Rating: 63%

Earthbeat are a solid professional show band, whose members are mainly from Canada, and have been on the circuit for several years. They played at BATS from July 2010 – January 2011 (having previously been there in 2009).

line up ..

Earthbeat 2010 (minus Ariel)

Overall rating 63%.

Memorable song: Can’t take my eyes off of you

Update: Earthbeat played again in BATS (for the final time as it turned out, they went their separate ways) from July 2012 to January 2013. They changed the vocalists but the core of the band was still the same. A very strong French-Canadian singer was brought in, replacing the equally good Brad who had been with them from the beginning.

Earthbeat probably rival Solidaz as having played BATS the most times, and latterly were the go-to band who would always give a good solid performance. They will be missed in Jakarta.

Memorable song: La Camisa Negra

Glamourous band at BATS July 2011 to January 2012

The second half of 2011 saw a bit of a low point for BATS, with the 6 month residence of Glamourous Band, a French Canadian band who spelt their name incorrectly amongst other sins. They were a bit young for this type of gig (mid-20s), and most had never been to Asia before, so not really an ideal band for BATS, and so it turned out. Audiences declined over the period and only started to recover once the strong Australian band Platinum Vibe took over in January 2012.

Glamourous Band 2011

Glamourous Band 2011

They didn’t help themselves by not learning new songs fast enough, and generally not putting in the work to mix with guests between sets, or building a rapport with the crowd when playing. Anyway, they seemed to enjoy their first taste of Asia, including the time-honoured long-term relationships with local girls, and have now reformed as Remix Band, so while not BATS-standard, I’m sure they will find their niche somewhere.

Memorable song: Party Rock Anthem

Rating: 57%

Review of Generation Band, Tiga Puluh, 2010

Rating: 67%

Generation are a real band not an agency creation. They’ve been on the circuit for years (with some personnel changes) and probably their time playing Tiga Puluh at the Le Meridien hotel in Jakarta is not something they’ll look back on with a great deal of fondness.

Tiga Puluh is a classic example of how bad management can destroy a venue. It has gradually slipped down the rankings over the years and it now languishes at or near the bottom. It has a good layout and is great when full, but, to paraphase Bruce Springsteen, the glory days have passed it by.

Generation played there from March-August 2010.

Generation Band (2010)


They played as a 6-piece (2 female singers – Jenna and Jaralin, 1 male – Alvaro, guitar – Jerry, drums – Ryan, everything else – James). Unusually there was no bassist; there was an actual bass guitar although it was being passed around the band.

Overall I have given a rating of 67%.

1. Musicianship (15/20)
Generation have great musicians, particularly Jerry, who is undoubtedly one of the top guitarists on the circuit, and Jenna, who is an outstanding lead singer. Although they use backing tracks quite a lot, the tracks are extremely accurate, more so than any other band I’ve heard in Jakarta. They are also unique in that they have two lead guitarists (Alvaro can also play a solo) and therefore for example they are the only band that can play Hotel California properly (if that is important for you..).
2. Atmosphere (12/20)
They made the best of a bad situation in Tiga Puluh, and even when there were not many people there they were able to create an atmosphere. The irony is that at the time they were playing in Tiga Puluh, the band in BATS was pretty awful and it would have been far better for all concerned if Generation had been rocking BATS every night instead. A bit like Fabregas being stuck at Arsenal when he could be winning trophies with Barcelona. Same deal – a contract’s a contract. And at least BATS weren’t telling everyone they want the band then not offering any money ..
3. Communication (15/20)
The band are fantastic communicators, particularly Jenna the lead singer. Often when bands are technically very good they don’t feel they need to bother communicating as they think the quality of their work is sufficient (some EL-Live line-ups spring to mind). Generation can match any other band technically, but are also down-to-earth, happy to mix with guests, share the stage with visiting musicians – a magical combination.
4. Songs (12/20)
Generation have an extremely long songlist that they have built up over the years, and play all the main rock and top 40 songs. One minor quibble is that it sometimes it takes them a while to add the really up-to-date new songs.
5. Value for money (13/20)
Tiga Puluh is comparatively not too expensive and when Generation were there it was definitely good value for money. Nowadays it’s a different story, but that’s for another review.

Review of Oxygen Band, BATS, 2011

Rating: 65%

Oxygen Band played in BATS from January to July 2011, and were put together specifically for this gig (they disbanded in July 2011). Band members came from the EL-Live agency. The band had a standard set up with 3 vocalists (Inga, Vanessa – female, and Oba – male).

Oxygen band (minus Vanessa)

They were superb musicians, and it’s difficult to find fault with them or their performances. There wasn’t really a weakness. Both Inga and Oba were strong lead vocalists, Vanessa was a good second female vocalist, the rhythm section was solid, and the keyboard player (Zach) was a real virtuoso, which doesn’t often happen (although he tended to overelaborate at times, showing his technique rather than what the song needs, which is sometimes just less keyboard). Joe the guitarist was good but probably not in the top rank of guitarists, but he contributed a lot to the show. Oba was one of the strongest male vocalists I’ve seen in Jakarta, but for a black man it was interesting that his rock’n’roll voice was much better than his rapping. Overall I have awarded a rating of 65%. They were certainly worthy of the best gig in South East Asia – BATS.

1. Musicianship (14/20)

All members of the band were strong musically and there wasn’t really a weak link. Minor improvements in keyboard and guitar as mentioned above would have helped, and there was the odd night that they were so drunk that quality suffered a bit, but hey that’s Jakarta!
2. Atmosphere (13/20)
BATS is always a great atmosphere, and Oxygen if anything added even to what you would normally expect there. I believe that a strong top 3 are the key to a great band in BATS and Oba, Inga and Vanessa are maybe the strongest singing unit BATS has seen for a while (possibly even edging Earthbeat), both in terms of singing and getting the crowd going.
3. Communication (13/20)
They made a decent effort to mix with guests, and while on stage the chatting with the crowd was genuine and interactive. Occasionally they allowed other musicians on stage (I sensed maybe reluctantly). Despite their slight sense of superiority they did put a lot into the gig.
4. Songs (13/20)
Generally a good mix of songs, including up-to-date top 40. A bit too much Lady Gaga for my liking plus a tendency to always end up the last set singing Zombie (it kind of became Inga’s signature). Also they sometimes did an “introduce the band” segment which is not really appropriate for a covers band (on guitar, Slash, on drums, Don Henley …) and I wondered if it might have been because they were out of ideas at that point. Talking of which, the sets when Oba was leading the band in Inga’s short absence had a bit more energy, flow and creativity.
5. Value for money (12/20)
While BATS is a bit overpriced, it’s not the worst (see CJs!) and after seeing Oxygen band you generally had the feeling that they had put on a good show giving value for money. They were out on their feet each night which in a way is good to see; they put their hearts into it.

I hope we’ll see some or all of them back in Jakarta before too long.

Memorable song: Zombie

Review of CJs at the Mulia hotel, 2011

Rating: 53%

CJ’s bar at the Mulia Hotel in Jakarta has been the no.2 cover band bar in Jakarta for many years. But it breaks some of the rules the others follow.

Firstly the band (which seems to drop or add members once in a while, but never actually changes completely), is by no means a six or seven piece band. Sometimes you lose count of how many there are up on stage. OK, the stage is big (the whole length of the bar – maybe 20 metres), but I’ve counted at least 10 in the band, of which at least half are singers.

Secondly, the Mulia hotel is a 5* hotel but not part of one of the international chains, it is locally owned. So it is not on the same circuit that other bands are on, and they cut costs quite a lot in terms of the quality of musicianship (I believe the benefits package the band members get is lower also, for example, not including accommodation).

Prospective band members are shipped off to a kind of training centre where they are taught to play in the CJs style (playing songs at faster than usual tempo, jumping up and down alot, focus on audience participation such as a bit of grinding on stage). I don’t think they do voice training though.

Thirdly, some band members are “local” i.e. Indonesian, and others from cheaper countries like Colombia. This is not necessarily a bad thing but the band as a whole quite often comes across as amateurish, perhaps a lack of practice. Once the female singer missed the start of the set by about 10 minutes as she had gone to a room with one of the guests! Also, it looks like there is quite a bit of competition as to who sings which songs, as there are so many singers.

The drinks payment system is rather arcane (it takes a long time to get change back) and the lack of international systems means the risk of being ripped off or having your credit card defrauded is higher (I have heard of several cases of this). So this is really a place where you want to be paying cash only. However waiters are friendly and to be fair it has improved over the last few years.

The band plays until around 2.45am, longer than the other bars, but otherwise follows the model of 3 sets interspersed with DJ sets. For some reason the DJ has some kind of fire thing going on around his decks, but it looks a bit half-arsed.

However, CJs can be truly proud of one thing. It has the most expensive drinks in Jakarta, no mean feat. For example a simple vodka and tonic will cost 140,000Rp, an eye-watering £10.21 or 11.66 Euros.

While it is difficult to review the CJs band as such (does it even have a name or is it just called CJs band?), as of June 2011 I have come up with an overall rating of 53%.

1. Musicianship (12/20)
Rhythm section is tight, minimal (if any) use of backing tracks. Some of the singing is not so good. The Indonesian-looking singer who sings “Joanna” is generally flat and he would be better as a backing singer only. Current female singer is pretty good with a strong voice. The black male singer prowls around stage like a lioness who has lost its cubs but neither his singing nor his rapping are very polished (in fact I’d describe his rapping as disappointing), the one with glasses is probably the best of the singers and is also a good dancer. Nick (ex-Solidaz) is a good addition with his legendary voice although I wish he didn’t sing “Insomnia” so often (it’s not a good song). Also the Colombian guy sings the Spanish language songs, his voice is average but the Spanish is naturally excellent. See what I mean about too many singers?
2. Atmosphere (11/20)
The atmosphere is often quite flat in CJs, it might be because the layout of the bar doesn’t give it a focus in the way that BATS does for instance. There are long periods when the band plays, the crowd watches and claps a bit, but it feels a bit underwhelming. However, when it’s full and everyone’s drunk, the atmosphere is excellent, especially on Wednesdays – ladies’ night.
3. Communication (11/20)
The CJs band focusses on audience participation at certain parts of the evening, trying to get people to sing along or inviting women on stage for a bit of a grind. These work pretty well, especially the drunker people get. On the other hand they don’t seem to make much effort in between sets in mixing with the guests. Also they don’t generally invite other musicians to sing or play with them onstage (that is usually a sign of lack of confidence).
4. Songs (11/20)
The choice of songs doesn’t vary much night by night, but it is pretty up-to-date. Despite the fact that the guitarist is very good there isn’t often a chance to see him do big solos, which is what many want to see in a live band. It’s focussed more on current top 40 than the classic anthems.
5. Value for money (8/20)
CJs is overpriced, and that’s not the band’s fault. But there’s no escaping the fact that their prices are higher than places which have better bands, so unfortunately the score in this category is low.

Rock and roll lifestyle

Hotel cover bands are usually 6-piece or 7-piece. There’s a drummer, bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and usually three lead vocalists (1 male, 2 female or vice versa). Also band members are quite often multi-instrumentalists: the keyboard player might come to the front to sing the odd song, the guitarist might do a rap, the bassist can switch to keyboards.

What is expected of the bands? Well usually they will play 6 nights a week, starting around 10pm and finishing around 2-3am. Their performance will be divided into 3 or 4 sets, and in between a DJ plays. They are expected to rehearse 3-4 times a week too, and learn new songs (especially very recent hits).

They are encouraged to socialise with the guests at the club between sets (although some do it better than others). If the guests feel a personal connection to the band they are more likely to return. Also guests may buy drinks for the band which all adds to the revenue figures. Bands who act as if they’re U2 and storm off to their dressing room at the end of each set are not really doing their job.

What are they paid? This depends on the band’s quality, experience, and what the agency can negotiate, but each band member can expect to get around $2000-4000/month with free accommodation and food at the hotel. If they are any good, drinks will be paid for by guests so theoretically most of the money can be saved. Doesn’t always work like that though – there is plenty to spend money on in Asia after all! Anecdotal evidence suggests rates are going down.

Contracts are generally for 3-6 months, after which they will often move to a similar bar in a different country (usually in South East Asia or the Middle East). Some places adopt an unofficial rule that they will not take a band who has played in that city recently. Band members are generally aged from around 25-45 but there have been some younger or older than that. What do they do when their career is over? Run a bar? Become an agent? Retire to a tropical paradise? Keep on rocking?

The lifestyle can only be described as … weird. It involves a lot of sleeping in the morning, partying/drinking at night, listening to drunk people telling you how great you are, female attention (for some), playing the same songs every night. [Incidentally, in each new band that comes to town, an average of 1-2 of the 5 male members starts a long-term relationship with a local girl, then spends the next months/years trying to return]. But the attention is transitory – once the band packs up and moves on another one comes to take its place. And what bands sometimes don’t realise is that most people go because of the bar’s reputation not because of the band (more on that later). Oh, and don’t get sick. Unless you’re actually in hospital you have to get up on stage!

OK, so it’s not quite the rock and roll lifestyle, but you get paid for singing songs and drinking each night, so who’s complaining?

Why write a blog about cover bands?

Jakarta, Bangkok and Manila form a kind of golden triangle in South East Asia: pollution, traffic, entertainment, massage, clubs and all the other good stuff. There are others (let’s call them sub-triangles): Yangon, Ho Chi Minh and KL? Phnom Penh, Cebu and Hong Kong?

Anyway, if we dig a little deeper into the “entertainment” aspect we find “musical entertainment” which takes many forms. Technoclubs, lounge clubs, pub bands, hotel bands, karaoke clubs, live gigs to name a few.

As the title suggests, this blog is about the cover bands. I’ve never come across any bands playing original material for entertainment as you would in Europe or America. I’m not saying there aren’t any, in fact I’m sure there must be some. Band members are mainly expatriates from places like Canada, New Zealand, Colombia, U.S.. In fact Canadians predominate, especially French-speaking ones, I have no idea why.

The covers bands I am talking about play in the big hotels around the region: Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La, Le Meridien, Ritz Carlton, Hilton and others. Some are real bands that have been together for years. Others have been put together by agencies just for a particular gig.

It can be a bit of a murky business with dodgy practices abounding, and of course at the root of it is the desire of 5 star hotels to get guests into their clubs spending big money (ie considerably more than they are paying the bands). The guests are mainly visiting businessmen staying at or near the hotel in question, and women who, depending on the country or the bar, either trying to trap one of said businessmen for romantic purposes, or just enjoying a night out with friends / partners (and all points in between). A lot has already been written about that particular dynamic.