With a crown of funky fuzzy curls atop his head, Oki Rahadianto cuts a striking figure. His wide grin, a not-so-secret weapon possessed by many Indonesians, beckons curious onlookers to join him in friendly conversation. Since his youth, Oki has had a passion for music. Throughout his career as a student, making music, reading books, engaging with the community and participating in critical discussion have all been sources of joy and self-fulfillment. In 2013, Oki won a scholarship to a study towards his PhD at the University of Newcastle. Majoring in sociology, his research focused on the difficult transition of young Indonesian musicians into adult working life. Now officially a Doctor, Oki still calls Newcastle home.
Born in Solo, Oki graduated cum laude from the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Jogjakarta. He quickly rose to the ranks of dosen muda (young lecturer) at UGM. “Growing up in Solo in the period of the post-98 riots, my friends and I didn’t have many places to hang out because all the malls and cinemas were burnt down. We used to go to Jogja on the weekends so I was very happy to end up going to university there,” explains Oki. At UGM Oki mingled with a number of Australian exchange students participating in the ACICIS program. “I had the chance to become what you might call an ACICIS mentor. If I’m not mistaken, one of my most important jobs was to engage in conversation with them. Anyway, I am still in touch with a few of the friends I made until today,” says Oki.
Armed with a small amount of exposure to Australian culture through his friends in Jogja and a three month stint spent down under ten years ago, Oki made the bold move to Newcastle in 2013 where he quickly found himself immersed in a vibrant music scene. Since his arrival, Oki has contributed enthusiastically to the vibrancy of the local culture by connecting with various community groups and exploring a diverse range of musical genres. Positioning himself deliberately in the heart of the city, Oki set out to explore the local pub culture while living among the local youth in share houses. Word quickly spread of the arrival of a new musician on the scene.
“The first band I joined was called Smozzle Tov. They played traditional Jewish and Eastern European Music. My first gig with Smozzle Tov was for a community that operated on a barter system. We were paid in boxes of vegetables hahaha!” recalls Oki. With that band Oki also collaborated with several Asian and African musicians at multicultural events. He also worked with a creative Blues band called The Masked Man which drew on elements of theatre to liven up shows.
One of Oki’s most memorable experiences so far has been collaborating on Helena Kitley’s album, The Temporal Lope. “Personally, I was very happy with the outcome of this album. The launch was a success, too.” Oki also participated in the shooting of a music video for this album. “It was awesome because in the clip we had to play while getting covered in rain. We filmed it at night in the middle of Newcastle winter. The next day I had to go out buy some vitamin C hahaha.”
Oki has also contributed to filling a gap in the knowledge about Indonesia among the locals of Newcastle. “I started a music project in Newcastle called Newyindo which is short for Newcastle-Indonesia. The idea was to get conversation going between Indonesia and Newcastle,” says Oki. He adds, “I would get disappointed when speaking to locals who seemed to only know about Bali. Someone even said to me, I’ve been to Bali but haven’t been to Indonesia yet.” The band was made up of a range people from different cultural groups from Indonesia and Australia and played at a number of events showcasing cultural and musical fusion. “I’m sad to see in Indonesia that traditional music is often regarded as ‘uncool.’ When I was younger, I also fell into that trap. Now I finally realise that all music is good because it is created within its unique socio-cultural setting.”
Possibly, one of Oki’s most renowned gigs has been with the local glam rock covers band, Glam Slam. On one of his trips to the Wickham Park Hotel, he first saw this group perform and became an instant fan. “I went and spoke to them during a break and after that made sure to come and watch their shows as often as I could,” says Oki. “A little while later, the guitarist, Dave Forbes contacted me looking for a bassist and me if I’d be interested in playing glam rock. I said yes, of course, and they sent me their playlist for the next six months.”
Oki joined Glam Slam playing covers of the likes of Queen, Bowie, Cheap Tricks and even Skyhooks. “Onya mate!” adds Oki. “The hardest part for me was adopting the androgynous look for performances to match the spirit of the glam rock era. I had to wear platform boots, make up and lipstick.” Explains Oki. “I also had to learn to walk in the boots while working on my stage persona to fit in with the glam image.” Oki has played with Glam Slam almost every weekend in Newcastle pubs. The popular group has even been listed in the top five gigs in Newcastle!
Into the future, Oki hopes to continue his lifelong work as a sociologist as well as a musician. He defines success as being able to contribute to the well-being of his family back in Indonesia. “In Indonesia we do not have a proper social welfare system. I want to be able to help my parents cover medical treatment at a hospital and help members of my extended family pay for the cost of education. For me, success is something that we can share together.” Oki expresses great pride in his parents and mentions his mother’s kindness and strength as one of his greatest sources of inspiration. Now armed with a PhD and platfoom boots, we wish Oki all the best on his life journey.