From October 8-10 at Jakarta’s Ancol Beach, the Gudang Garam cigarette company is the major sponsor of what promises to be the largest and highest-profile music festival ever seen in the country — Java Rockin’ Land.  Among the line-up supporting the lead act, the Smashing Pumpkins, are Wales’ Sterophonics, Australia’s Wolfmother and The Vines, and bands from several European countries.

Following calls this week for the bands to either pull out or demand that the tobacco sponsorship be dropped, Wolfmother’s frontman, Andrew Stockdale, posted a notice on the group’s fanpage saying:

“With the severity of the issue of smoking in Indonesia, I completely understand that bands playing with promo girls handing out cigarettes isn’t going to help kids stop smoking in Indonesia. So it is without hesitation I will now announce that we will be cancelling our headline show at Java Rockin’ Land on the 10th of October 2010. We are very regretful to miss this opportunity to play to our Indonesian fans, though hopefully in the not too distant future we can do more shows under different terms.”

Wolfmother’s name disappeared from the festival website yesterday. But overnight it’s back up and it seems its management has put Stockdale back in his box. “This one is for the fans in Indonesia who have parted with their very own cold hard cash to see Wolfmother. We realize their (sic) are sponsors and we neither support or condemn the sponsors affiliated with the festival,” says the new notice.

Had the band members been born, I doubt that they would have played in South Africa “for the fans” under the then totally legal apartheid. Nor would they have played “for the fans” if they’d have been born in the 19th century and a wealthy, then totally legal, slave trading company had stumped up the sponsorship. Nor would they be playing today if the sponsor was using child labour in a country where that was rampant. But playing to help a totally legal tobacco company promote smoking to a half-price admission for kids gig? Hey … it’s “for the fans”.

If you click on the festival website and select “international” the terms and conditions tab shows A-S conditions. The “S” was added this week when the troubles began. It reads: “One or some stages are sponsored by tobacco company and therefore audience below 18 years old or pregnant woman are not allowed to enter the show.” But if you click on the Indonesian entry portal, the “S” condition is missing (see screenshot). Western sensibilities about the tobacco-sponsored festival being adult entry are thus cynically catered for, but in reality, kids are welcome and get half-price tickets.


The new Wolfmother statement contrasts with the action taken by American singer Alicia Keys, who, in 2008  refused to play a Jakarta tobacco gig, unless all sponsorship and marketing by Philip Morris’ Sampoerna brand was stopped. She got her way, as did American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson this year when she sang there.

There are 171 nations that have now ratified the  World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention, which requires them to end all tobacco advertising and promotion. Indonesia has more than 73 million smokers, 95% men. About 66% of men smoke, a rate not seen in Australia since the 1950s. The country is one of a handful of mostly basket-case nations (such as Somalia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan and the US) which have yet to ratify the FCTC. Indonesia has virtually no tobacco control policies or significant education programs.

British American Tobacco (Bentoel) and Philip Morris (Sampoerna) are massively engaged in Indonesia, a kind of last frontier of Marlboro Country. Despite repeated unctuous statements from both companies about their corporate social responsibility and not wanting youth to smoke, they are frequent sponsors of youth-oriented music events.

Admission often includes free cigarettes.