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Be­neath the sac­cha­rine pop and poor man’s al­ter­na­tive rock that per­me­ates the In­done­sian mu­sic scene lies a sub­sec­tion of artists whose minds stretch be­yond the usual tried-and-tested mu­sic route, cre­at­ing sound art that is in­tim­i­dat­ing and ap­peal­ing.

Though the his­tory of In­done­sian ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic is rel­a­tively young, there are a host of groups and mu­si­cians that, united-in-mind­set, pos­sess ex­pan­sive sound and, while the artists them­selves may scoff at the thought of a “scene”, there’s no deny­ing the ba­sic idea shared by all – to de­mol­ish any pre­con­ceived ideas about how mu­sic should sound. For all in­tents and pur­poses, these acts have been dubbed as “ex­per­i­men­tal”, “noise”, or “avant garde” artists – a blan­ket de­scrip­tion of their out­put.

“In the way it’s pre­sented, ‘noise’ mu­sic serves up some­thing atonal, or even some­thing that can be con­sid­ered ‘anti mu­sic’. Peo­ple need to know that, in In­done­sia, there are those who ex­per­i­ment with mu­sic and do so with a pe­cu­liar mind­set,” says Adythia Utama, a film­maker whom di­rected a doc­u­men­tary on the sub­ject and who him­self has re­leased noise mu­sic un­der the moniker “In­di­vid­ual Dis­tor­tion”.

A de­scrip­tion of these acts could be end­less, con­sid­er­ing the vast ar­ray of groups. Yet, it would be fair to at least try and paint a gen­eral idea of the var­ied sounds.

Out­side the con­ven­tional song­writ­ing sys­tem, from the harsh elec­tronic feed­back and ear-pierc­ing hiss of acts such as Aneka Dig­i­tal Sa­fari, Theo Nu­graha and Berge­gas Mati; the tra­di­tional-spir­i­tual ghost­li­ness of Senyawa and Zoo; the men­ac­ing-beauty of drone groups Win­ternight and Delusi; the high-brow sound art of Hus­naan and Sawi Lieu; the chaotic ex­per­i­men­tal punk of Sangsaka Wor­ship; to the nostalgia-drenched low-fi­delity of Duck­dive – there is clearly a lim­it­less pool of sound to draw from.

For these dis­parate artists, in­spi­ra­tion and ap­proach also casts as wide a net; from Senyawa’s use of chants to evoke the old gods, to Duck­dive’s na­ture-cen­tered ob­ses­sion.

“I used loop­ing ped­als to cre­ate lay­ers upon lay­ers of melodies and tex­tures to re­cap­ture the mood, to cre­ate new at­mos­phere in­spired by nau­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ences,” says Muhammad “Gonzo” Fahri, the one-man band Duck­dive, who feels that his mu­sic works best for peo­ple that share his oceanic and na­ture-cen­tered pas­sions.

“I think peo­ple who have ex­pe­ri­ence in un­der­wa­ter ac­tiv­i­ties might be able to re­late more to the mu­sic I make, yet I don’t think that oth­ers who haven’t had those kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences won’t

There is no ves­sel here for this kind of mu­sic, un­like abroad. You hardly even run into any­one who would want to play this type of mu­sic.

un­der­stand it. I just hope that my mu­sic can help them de­velop some sort of fas­ci­na­tion or cu­rios­ity about na­ture. Maybe along the way they’ll un­der­stand how sig­nif­i­cant na­ture can be. Duck­dive’s mu­sic is ba­si­cally a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of na­ture inside our heads.”

The best thing about ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic is how evenly spread out it is. Un­like other sub-gen­res of un­der­ground mu­sic which stem mostly from Jakarta and Ban­dung, the most ac­tive ex­per­i­men­tal acts come from “smaller” cities, in­clud­ing Yo­gyakarta, Malang and Surabaya.

Rizki Au­lia — who re­leases hyp­notic elec­tron­ica un­der the moniker Sawi Lieu and has played with Sangsaka Wor­ship — con­sid­ers even­ness to be a part of the strength of ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic. With­out evok­ing any of the usual knowhow needed to play con­ven­tional mu­sic, ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic en­cour­ages pretty much any­one to cre­ate.

“Noise mu­sic has re­ally grown in In­done­sia,” he said, point­ing out like­minded events such as the guer­rilla con­cert se­ries Jogja Noise Bomb­ing.


Mor­gan McKeller, an Aus­tralian who re­cently moved to Jakarta to run tapela­bel Tan­dem Tapes, said he had been taken aback by the sheer amount of ex­per­i­men­tal mu­si­cians here.

“The first thing about the In­done­sian ex­per­i­men­tal scene that stood out to me, when I be­gan to scratch the sur­face, was the sheer amount and diver­sity of tal­ent here. Be­fore com­ing to In­done­sia I was only aware of maybe two or three In­done­sian ex­per­i­men­tal acts. After liv­ing here for less than a year, I’m strug­gling to keep up with all the great ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic out there,” he says.

McKeller par­tic­u­larly ad­mires Logic Lost which, ac­cord­ing to McKeller “skill­fully drifts be­tween beat-ori­ented elec­tron­ica and more am­bi­ent sounds” and Senyawa whom he said “has some­thing very raw, bru­tal and pow­er­ful about their sound but also a beauty and pu­rity to it”.

These lo­cal ex­per­i­men­tal acts tend to re­lease lim­ited edi­tion al­bums in the form of CD-Rs and tapes on small la­bels or by them­selves, sell­ing them at shows, on web­sites and through in­de­pen­dent distribution.

Lo­cal ex­per­i­men­tal acts are also re­leased by for­eign la­bels. Sawi Lieu’s worth-pur­chas­ing Pasaraya was re­leased on US tape la­bel Con­stel­la­tion Tatsu and Duck­dive’s In­ter­po­lar­ity through Canada’s Hobo Cult records.

There has also been a bar­rage of com­pi­la­tions re­leased lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, such as “Pekak! In­done­sian Noise Mu­sic 1995-2015: 20 Years of Ex­per­i­men­tal Mu­sic from In­done­sia”, re­leased by New Zealand in­de­pen­dent la­bel End of The Al­fa­bet.

“There is no ves­sel here for this kind of mu­sic, un­like abroad. You hardly even run into any­one who would want to play this type of mu­sic,” said Ad­hythia, whose mu­sic has also been re­leased abroad by for­eign la­bels.

The big­gest global push has thus far come in the form of doc­u­men­taries.

In 2014, noise mu­si­cian Danif Pradana teamed up Adythia Utama and Riar Rizaldi to pro­duce Bis­ing (Noise) — a doc­u­men­tary that was screened at pres­ti­gious film fes­ti­vals across the coun­try. Last year, Vice pro­duced a doc­u­men­tary on In­done­sian ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic — prompt­ing fur­ther in­ter­est in the scene.

Of course there is the rap­tur­ous suc­cess of Senyawa, who has toured abroad, play­ing ma­jor fes­ti­vals. Their al­bums have been re­leased by pres­ti­gious for­eign in­die la­bels.

“With­out belit­tling our own mar­ket, the ‘global com­mu­nity’ tend to be more open-minded, cu­ri­ous and sup­port­ive with what we are do­ing here,” says Duto Har­dono, who runs the ex­per­i­men­tal la­bel Has­sana Press and re­leases mu­sic as Hus­naan.

Yet, for these mu­si­cians, the lim­it­less free­dom that comes with cre­at­ing ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic is con­sid­ered to be “suc­cess” in its purest form.

“Ul­ti­mately this kind of mu­sic gives me the to­tal free­dom to record sounds the way I want, with­out bound­aries,” Gonzo said. “There is only the thought of mys­ter­ies, thoughts that bring a sense of peace­ful­ness. The meet­ing of sub­tlety and chaos on the al­bum clearly projects the mes­sage. I hope it does.”

Cour­tesy of Duto Nu­groho

IN THE LOOP: Loop Stud­ies by Duto Nu­groho.

Cour­tesy of Theo Nu­graha

CUT­TING EDGE: Theo Nu­graha in per­for­mance. In­done­sia’s ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic has grown in diver­sity and unique­ness.

Cour­tesy of Adi­asa

HEAR HERE: A per­for­mance by Aneka Dig­i­tal Sa­fari.

Dr.Noise by Theo Nu­graha, re­leased by Tan­dem Tapes

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