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The Sound of Sustainability: DJs, the new kings of the Indonesian jungle

Music and sustainability is the b2b the music industry needs

  • Olivia Wycech
  • 22 April 2020

The Sound of Sustainability is a new monthly series by Mixmag Asia that will deep dive into the region's music landscape and talk to the green warriors that are working tirelessly at changing the way that clubs, festivals, DJs and promoters operate. With the aim of creating a greener, cleaner and more sustainable experience that lessens the carbon footprint of this hugely polluting industry, this series will look to drive and inspire change in Asia’s music community.

Bigger than any artist collaboration, a clash between music and sustainability is the b2b the music industry needs, especially in the current climate where people are sitting at home wondering what the fuck to do with their sinking ships. Besides innovating our existing business models to adapt to the new normal, it's time to turn our attention to shifting the festival narrative surrounding ecological sustainability. Or you can take it one step further and take a trip into the jungle, where you can still isolate from people, just not orangutans.

By now, we're pretty familiar with The Rainforest Pavilion, which began as an immersive art installation by the Joy Collective and combined activism and music to support the world's rainforests. The installation was first built at Wonderfruit festival and brought the rainforest to the dance floor through audio and visuals captured in the Sumatran rainforest. Then it brought the dance floor to the rainforest by using the funds raised to purchase rainforest land for permanent conservation.

Fast forward five years and Rainforest Pavilion has, through their events and initiatives at both Wonderfruit and around Bali, protected 407 hectares of rainforests together with various NGOs. Now, they are on a mission to directly purchase land for protection in Indonesia themselves.

To better understand the beast they were taking on, the crew needed to return into the jungle. In March of 2020, they entered the Gunung Leuser National Park, a tropical ecosystem in Sumatra that covers 7,927 km squared of land and is fringed with tourist trails and wild animals. It's also a home for rehabilitated orangutans. Just outside of the park is where the team went looking for a plot of land and committed to leaving knowing what the locals and park rangers actually needed help with. They also wanted to reconnect with the jungle themselves so they could reaffirm their mission.

Now that they have a price tag for a plot of land, they also have a goal. And that will unfold through crowdfunding and fundraising with the aim of purchasing the land for stewardship so that it's not developed or cleared for the production of palm oil. Perhaps one day, however, it could be used for ecological initiatives that the music industry could take part in.

As sustainability gains popularity amongst the masses, the good news is that things are going be a little less shitty (literally) in Asia's music community and we can thank techno for that. Anyway, this is what happens with you let a bunch of DJs loose in the jungle.

Read on for stories from an expedition deep into the Sumatran jungle in March 2020, as told by the Rainforest Pavilion collective.

Halim Ardie, co-founder at Rainforest Pavilion

Halim: "Oh how dense the rainforest is. The memory is just of me following the trail and focusing on each step. You don't realize how dense and expansive it really is. Like being underwater but all you see is green. Heavy just like the pressure going deeper, the humidity of the heaving jungle makes it just as hard to breathe. What irony that the rainforests are known as the world's lungs, and here I am barely able to take proper breaths. It's funny to think something so savage is the reason we have oxygen in our lungs."

Halim: "Reminiscing over our last journey before COVID-19 gripped the world has taught me how fragile life is. From running wild and free in the jungles of Sumatra to being in lockdown at home while these great animals still roam free in their habitats, it got me thinking about how much we destroyed the world for the convenience of our own. From toilet paper to palm oil, we ransack their homes so that we can sit comfortably in ours. Definitely, a reason for us to rethink our behaviour and impact on the world. Now is the time that we should be taking a look at what we are doing."

Halim: "Trekking through decaying leaves and over rotten wood, does one realize what is alive? All that is trampled underfoot pounded into mulch — what we see is biomass. Cycling through the stages of our life we don't think of skin we have shed. But growth is necessary for what we will become. Beat down by existence, our body grows. Like the ancient rainforest, the bottom floor has as much life as the highest canopy. We find life in all stages. Then why can't we find life in ourselves?"

Jen Li, organiser at Rainforest Pavilion

Jen Li: "My name is Jen Li, and I joined the Rainforest Pavilion crew in 2018. I was instantly drawn to the idea of partying for a cause. As we are amid a global pandemic, we are just now seeing the effects of our activities on the planet. I took this trip as an opportunity to better understand the situation surrounding the rainforest in Sumatra and learned that its wildlife are in danger of potential palm oil expansion. I was a bit nervous about bugs at first because I'm a city girl, but I discovered that I was less afraid of bugs when I was surrounded by them (ironic). Ipul, our friendly neighbourhood jungle man, found the outer skin shell of a Cicada attached to a tree and passed it to me. Normally I would have squealed, but I saw the beauty in it and thought it looked pretty cool. I trusted our guide, who healed his own cancer with snakebite venom, and later showed us his affinity for snakes. He's the real deal, a real jungle man."

Jen Li: "This chameleon was posing for us. Look at how sharp his talons are! The diversity of rainforests is the most beautiful thing to me. Standing in one spot you can see various species of birds, insects, reptiles, orangutans, monkeys... you name it. Looking at the ground, I saw leaves everywhere from all kinds of trees, plants and mushrooms in a perfect, harmonious and sustainable relationship, taking in our carbon and releasing oxygen to ensure our survival. We drove through hours of palm oil plantations before arriving at the rainforest, and nothing lives there — what a contrast."

Jen Li: "Rainfall is totally unpredictable in the rainforest. I love it when it rains so hard that you are instantly soaked. Our guide, Ipul, who is from Borneo, is perfectly at home when in the rainforest, no shoes needed. His tour educated us about various resources that can be found in the rainforest, including medicine, food, and tools (including our umbrellas). It was eye-opening for me to see how many resources are available in an original rainforest. We must stop further palm oil expansion and monoculture — it is like a virus for the planet's vital and natural systems."

Alex Joy, founder of Joy Collective & Rainforest Pavilion

Alex: "Our mission at Rainforest Pavilion is to create an ecosystem within the music industry that protects wild rainforest land. So far we have protected 407 hectares through various groups like Cuipo, Rainforest Trust and Vivid Kalimantan. Our latest mission is to purchase land directly. We are starting in Sumatra looking to extend the boundaries of the National Park and add more safe habitat for its inhabitants. Re-wilding the earth! Pictured here is Sumatran Rainforest from above looking up the Bohrok river in the Leuseur ecosystem, the last place on earth that all the characters of the jungle book coexist: tigers, rhinos, elephants, orangutans and bears all roam here — along with millions of other organisms many still not yet known by man. It is magic, the true expression of the soul of the planet, there is nothing like it. Rainforests are reservoirs of knowledge and medicine, so much can be learned by the symbiotic relationships that reside inside to resolve many of humankind’s issues. Yet we destroy it and replace with vastly inferior monoculture and depleted environments, forever erasing millennia of knowledge, this should be seen the same as burning libraries or cathedrals, except we require the rainforests much more. The leading theory on the current COVID-19 pandemic is that it was due to the wildlife trade which exists through exploitation of the rainforests. Is Mother Nature sending us a message?"

Alex: "Orangutan, an abbreviation of Bahasa Indonesia Orang Hutan, is "the person of the forest". If you've had an opportunity to link eyes with one of these creatures, you would have instantly recognised the humanness in them. I have met many humans who have less intelligence than an orangutan. Orangutans can recognise over 200 different plants for nutritional and medicinal value, and can fashion tools. Sumatran orangutans are some of the most critically endangered apes of the world. Valentino photographed here is the offspring of a rehabilitated orangutan, making him semi-wild in his behaviour. He loves to show off for the camera and does not shy away from humans. Wild orangutans rarely come down from the canopy. Creatures like this are what make the world mysterious; they deserve respect and space to survive."

Alex: "This is Ipul, our guide, a native of Kalimantan's rainforest who migrated when his area became depleted. It was the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak when we made this trip. First official cases had just been reported in Indonesia when we were in Sumatra. We had a long discussion with Ipul about the coronavirus, and he had a very strong view that this is not from an animal. And that the sickness was more about a weakness in humans due to the corrupted food and chemicals that people eat. He said his people rarely got sick. They never ate food from packages, because food from packages is not good. The idea of lockdown was crazy, life is dangerous so why live in fear?

Considering his pastime is rescuing venomous snakes and returning them to the wild, "playing" with them for a few days on the way, the idea of locking down in your home to hide from a virus seems ridiculous. He has self-built immunity to many kinds of snakebites and can identify well over a thousand medicinal, nutritional and poisonous plants. This knowledge is vastly being lost as forest-dwelling tribes are dwindling all over the world. He had some very good points, and a lot of data suggests those with strong immune functions have little to fear from the virus. Why have we allowed our environment to become so toxic that we are no longer healthy enough to fight viruses effectively? Why do we destroy the most biodiverse places on earth to replace them with ecological deserts and create cheap nutritionally poor foods and consumer products? What will it take to change our system to place value on what is priceless?"

Alex: "This past January, the Rainforest Pavilion suffered a huge loss. Founding member of Joy Collective, also my brother, Taro Zion Joy passed away suddenly in a drowning accident. A supremely talented wordsmith his late work was prophetic, he was in the process of making a rap album I’ll leave you with some of his lyrics;

My message hits hard
Sung from the soul of a prophet
And a band

I’m the Wicked
Witch from the East
People call me Angel
Some call me Beast

I’m the Rainforest
Rap warrior
Fighting for survival

Taking medicine’s Sagrada
Won’t heal with a Bible

Forest burn
As my tunes boom
From my tomb in the desert
Mega Six star pleasure

Coming out the dome peak
Smell the aroma
Warrior and nomad
I’ll put you in a coma

I’m the Rainforest Rap Criminal
Dropping techno
And minimal

Bite like viper
Fly like a bat
My world is burning
My prayers are heard

Crash smash you won’t dent my armour
I’m a tank I’m a jet
I’m a stealth craft bomber

We all now dwell
On the precipice of hell
Burning the planet
Just to take another pill.

Time to get right with your Goddess
Bring the fight
Where you find it hottest.

Connect with the Rainforest Pavilion here.

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