The Ladies of Indonesian Music

The Ladies of Indonesian Music

There are some very talented and inspiring women in the Indonesian music scene, both individual solo artists and groups, who are creating original and beautiful work while encouraging young women to take the spotlight in their wake. Here are just some examples of the hundreds women paving the road for others to follow in the Indonesian spotlight.

Dara Puspita - Probably Indonesia's first commercially successful all female pop-rock band Dara Puspita were active in the 1960's and 70's and still influence a lot of young and aspiring artists today. The band saw a lot of pressure as, at the time, the Sukarno regime saw rock music as an unwanted western influence, and after the imprisonment of another rock band called Koes Bersaudara, the band played in safer venues abroad in places like Bangkok to avoid a similar fate. They have taken their garage-rock music on tours all over the world, embarking on a European tour in 1968. Since the disbandment of the group, Titek Hamzah continued in the music industry, starting a solo career to some success.

Agnes Monica Muljoto - More commonly known as Agnez Mo (in photo), she is currently the richest celebrity of Indonesia with an estimated net worth of over $30 million USD and she deserves it, we love her! Agnes is a singer-songwriter as well as an actress, who started her music career early as a child singer at the age of six. Aside from succeeding as both a child and adult musician, she has worked as a music producer and a judge on the talent show Indonesian Idol, and has also worked with huge international names such as Timbaland and T.I. She is the most awarded Indonesian singer with 17 Anugerah Musik Indonesia awards, 8 Panasonic awards, 5 Nickolodeon Indonesia Kids' Choice awards and 4 MTV Indonesia awards to name just a few as of 2017.

Anggun Cipta Sasmi - Also starting her musical career as a child performer, Anggun started her music career in Indonesia before moving in 1994 to Europe to try to make an impression in more intentional markets in 1994, although, only after releasing three critically acclaimed albums back home. Her first international album, “Snow on the Sahara” created by French producer Erick Benzi became the best selling album by and Asian artist outside of Asia in 1997, reaching number one in several countries and charting on the Billboard charts in the USA. She has released five English language albums, six French language albums and a soundtrack for the Danish film “Open Hearts” since her international breakthrough. She has also worked as a judge for the talent shows X Factor Indonesia, Indonesia's Got Talent and Asia's Got Talent and is the highest paid judge in Indonesian television history. She has been certified as gold and platinum in several European countries and has even bee immortalised in wax by Madame Tussauds.

Mulan Jameela - Also known as ulan Kwok, this Indonesian solo singer has made a strong impression in Indonesia. She started as a cafe singer and subsequently joined several bands, most notably forming a duo with Maia Ahmad which they called Ratu. The first single from their debut album “Teman Tapi Mesra” was a smash hit and quickly elevated Mulan's name to a household status. The album peaked number one in Indonesia for several consecutive weeks and sold over 500 thousand copes. In 2008, she released her first solo album titled “Mulan Jameela”, the lead single of which titled “Makhluk Tuhan Paling Sexy” rose to number one in competition with her ex-parner Maia. Her second single also gained number one status has the album was certified as platinum just a few weeks after release.

Gita Gutawa - Gita is a soprano singer, actress and songwriter. Daughter of the famed Erwin Gutawa, she was discovered in 2004 while practicing her vocals, and was immediately booked to sing a duet with ADA band. The album “Heaven of Love” was released in 2005 and featured the duet, selling more than 800 thousand copies, which led to her being approached by Sony Music Indonesia to record a solo album. She quit her music career in 2011 to pursue a degree in economics in England, although not without leaving a lasting impression on the music of Indonesia.

dMasiv: Massive on the Indo music scene

dMasiv: Massive on the Indo music scene

Jakarta's d'Masiv are rightly regarded as being at the forefront of the Indonesian rock scene, along with bands such as Nidji and Noah. Formed in 2003, D'massiv consist of vocalist Rian Ekky Pradipta, guitarists Nurul Damar Ramadan and Aditya Marsall, drummer Wahyu Piadji and bassist Rayyi Kurniawan Iskandar Dinata. Their unassuming name comes from the English translation (which is almost identical) – massive. They are obviously setting their sights high.

d'Masiv are another Indonesian band who were given a step up the ladder thanks to that country's love of talent-spotting shows on national television. They won a contest in 2007 – A Music Live Wanted, leading to the release of their first album, 'Perubahan'. This album included the track 'Cinta Ini Membunuhku'.

Testament to this song's enduring popularity can be witness by navigating to the video hosted in YouTube. Here you will see that when you click on the action you are joining a line of viewers that is already standing at 1.38 million. Not bad for a young band that first got thrust into the public eye on a talent show!

The song is fairly anthemic, starting with a rousing chimed guitar intro that is not a million miles away from an early song called 'Yellow' by English global rock superstars Coldplay. As the plaintive vocal line comes in, two guitar tracks meander over one another in the background, eschewing power chords until the incredibly catchy chorus. As this comes in, the strident vocal rises and dips with passion.

A lot of bands attempt to do this contrast between a soft verse building into an anthemic chorus, but few pull it off with such aplomb. At 2:36 the music rises to a powerful guitar solo and a harmonising string accompaniment, while the rhythm guitar keeps the rest of the track guiding along. As the song heads towards its finale, the strings come in again, along with some subtle changes in the key.

For such a young band, d'Masiv are past masters at channelling heartfelt rock music with more laid-back balladry. This makes them come across as sincere commentators and musicians, with something that will connect with their audiences, as opposed to a lot of rock bands who are only interested in trying to impress their listeners with ear-shredding chords!

Another terrific example of their work can be seen online in their track 'Cinta Sampai Disini'. Here the narrative appears to be telling the story of a fragmenting relationship. Against a backdrop of an anguished female, and objects falling in slow motion, the band perform the song with gusto – leaping into the air and allowing the power chords to fairly rattle the speaker stacks. Predictably enough the music eventually subsides into basic notes on the guitar – but in creating a dramatic atmosphere that is just as poignant as ending the proceedings with a screeching guitar solo or a sudden stop.

Indonesian Jazz Festival

Indonesian Jazz Festival

When considering the name of the country featuring the globe's largest jazz festival, many people would most likely suggest America? Or somewhere in Western Europe? But the answer is somewhat more surprising. Believe it or not, the world's largest annual jazz festival actually takes place in Indonesia. And it's getting bigger every year.

The Bali Live International Jazz Festival has become the largest of its kind anywhere on the planet. This year marked the tenth anniversary since its inception, with the Java Jazz Festival expanding into the Bali Live International event, taking place between the 5th and 8th March 2014.

The festival is a truly cosmopolitan and international affair, featuring top jazz artists from many different countries. Indonesia's home-grown talent also has pride-of-place.

This year the festival got off to a toe-tapping start when several of the main acts performed in a series of 'pre events', designed to showcase some examples of the performers. Various venues on Java were utilised for these impromptu gigs, including the Hard Rock Café in Kuta, the Jazz Café and Uma Cucina in Ubud, the Mozaic Beach Club in Kerobokan, the Le Meridien Hotel in Jimbaran, and many others.

Saturday 8th March saw the main festival event, with an open-air concert running from two in the afternoon until eleven at night. This took place at Taman Bhagawan, the perfect location for hours of full-blooded jazz performers, set against the beautiful backdrop of the blue ocean beyond. The atmosphere of gently lapping waves created a visual feast as successive trombonists, trumpeters, double bassists and several other gifted performers ran through their paces.

Few jazz venues anywhere can compete with a 100-metre stretch of white sands, running by the idyllic village of Tanjung Benoa. Another plus for this location is the fact that the area where the musicians perform is so handy for amenities. This is particularly the case if you are stopping over at the Nusa Dua resorts – 20 minutes from the airport, and a mere 30-minutes from Kuta, Denpasar or Seminyak. For visitors coming into this part of the world, the fantastic array of jazz exponents on offer is simply one part of the overall experience. Fans who have made the trip on previous occasions enthusiastically describe the warm welcome they receive on the island, as well as the beautiful sights and sounds to behold in the Balinese setting.

As for the musicians who formed the main part of the festival entertainment this year, the line-up read like a who's who of the Far Eastern jazz world – the Earth, Wind and Fire Experience featuring Al Mckay, Kevin Briggs and Sandy Winarta, Nita Aartsen, Israel Varela and Yeppy Romero, the Rio Sidik Quarter, Nancy Ponto and the Soul Brothers, Massive Soul featuring Dee Rice, and many more.

The annual festival is also hugely popular with local audiences because it provides home-grown talent with an enviable opportunity to demonstrate their talents to a far wider audience than they are normally used to. The finest jazz musicians in Bali and Indonesia can hone their craft here, prior to performers from many different parts of the globe demonstrating why they have become so successful.

J Rocks – Rocking the Indo music scene

J Rocks – Rocking the Indo music scene

Since forming in Indonesia over a decade ago, J-Rocks have been wowing an army of devoted fans with their energetic brand of Japanese-influenced rock n roll. Lead vocalist Taufik Rachman, together with guitarist Sony Ismail Robbayani, bassist Swara Wima Yoga and drummer Anton Rudi Kelces, began their meteoric rise with an appearance at a music contest. Jakarta was playing host to the 'Nescafe Get Started' competition, aimed at uncovering new talent. Sponsored by the record label, Aquarius Musikindo, J-Rocks succeeded in coming top, winning the opportunity of a lifetime for any ambitious young band – the chance to take part in a compilation album.

Topeng Sahabat was the name of the band's debut album, released in 2005. As things started coming together for J-Rocks, they also contributed two songs for the Dealova soundtrack album – 'Into the Silent' and 'Serba Salah'.

With the release of their follow-up album, Spirit, two years later, the band really stared to attract a powerful fan base (known in the Indonesian media as J-Rockstars). This covered a variety of bases, including classical music and rock n roll, guaranteeing that it would have widespread appeal in Indonesia and beyond. A single that came from this album, 'Kau Curi Lagi' was notable for featuring the talented Japanese guitarist Prisa Rianzi as a guest musician. Sticking with that connection, around this time the band also made a video for their single 'Juwita Hati', filmed in Japan, and directed by Hedy Suryawan. With Japanese locations forming an eyecatching backdrop, the video was to considerably widen the young Indonesian band's audience – in Japan the young fans have really lapped up J-Rocks.

J-Rocks have one huge claim to fame. They are the first ever band from this Far Eastern nation to have recorded in the Abbey Road studios, most famously used by The Beatles for their album of that name, recorded in 1969. J-Rocks used the session in the London studio to record five songs, which made their way onto their Road to Abbey EP, released in 2009 – exactly forty years on from those Beatles recordings. The J-Rocks EP contains two versions of a song called 'Fallin in Love', one recorded with Indonesian vocals, the other with vocals translated into English. In addition, there ara three other songs – 'Road to Abbety', 'Hanya Aku' and 'Meraih Mimpi'. The EP is also notable for its picture sleeve, which features the young Indonesians aping the world-famous zebra crossing shot that was originally posed by The Beatles back in 1969.

While this may have been a cunning publicity stunt, J-Rocks are in no need of self-promotion – they have a huge number of followers in any case. Not only does their eclectic musical performances ensure maximum coverage, their individual styles are always guaranteed to put them at the centre of attention. J-Rocks are famous for their towering hairstyles and dramatic stage gear. But neither are they 'teenybopper' rock exponents. At the 2008 festival A Mild Live Soundrenaline, they were voted 'Best band to free their voice', pipping established rock bands such as Gigi and Nidji. (It was winning this accolade that led them to being booked into the Abbey Road studio).

Power Slaves – Rich Rock n Roll

Power Slaves – Rich Rock n Roll

Their website might state '100% rock n roll', and they might take their name from an album by English heavy metal giants Iron Maiden, but there is far more to this Indonesian band than just bombastic loud guitars. Indonesian music fans are known for their appreciation of energetic music, but they also like subtlety.

A classic example of what Power Slaves are capable of can be seen by tapping into YouTube, where there are many examples of their excellent songs. Impian has attracted almost a quarter of a million hits.

It commences with a drum intro, leading to a soft but insistent section of acoustic guitar, the output layered through effects pedals to give a soothing melodic introduction. As the verse unfolds, the video complements the soft rock background, introducing an attractive female who appears to be re-arranging a collection of Disney miniatures (or could a quirky game of chess be in progress?) The viewer's attention is captured by close-ups of this stunning model, filmed in soft focus and highlights. Shortly afterwards two females brandish fireworks. After a cut back to the 'toy chess', the chorus really kicks in, with keyboards and power chords colliding while the vocalist reaches his hands out imploringly towards the camera.

There is nothing original in this soft hard approach – it was pioneered by US proto-grunge rockers Pixies in the late 80s, and brought to the fore by Nirvana. Nevertheless the technique is just as effective now as it has ever been. Just as the verse lulls the listener into a false sense of security, along come the crunching guitar to rouse you from your state of relaxation! While the verse is all wistful shots of the singer and the model, playing chess, then holding hands seductively as they linger over their next tactical move, the chorus is more conventionally rock n roll, showing the Power Slaves on stage, plugged into their amplifier stacks.

By the second chorus the camera is panning over the model lying back, her beauty illuminated by flickering candles. The film cuts to a shot of the girl apparently involved in an argument while hunched over a pool table.

The song approaches a climax at 3:25, when a close-up of the pool balls breaking cuts to a guitar (and the sub-titles state 'Wow'!) The solo is layered with effects, so that a punchy rock n roll lead is tempered with melody. The guitars continue feeding over the vocals, propelling the song towards its finale. At 4:38 a minor chord change drops in, and the piece slowly unravels towards a majestic fade-out.

All in all, Impian is a triumphant example of how a rock band can alter tone, pace and volume, reaching a whole new audience in the process. This is a classic song that would work well in any setting where you were hoping to create am atmosphere – such as a romantic evening in, featuring candles and a sumptuous meal. But the song would work equally well in a live setting, with those powerful guitar lines erupting from speaker stacks.

The Djakarta Warehouse Project

The Djakarta Warehouse Project

Djakarta Warehouse Project is Ismaya Live's annual dance music festival. They accomplished to be the biggest dance music festival in Indonesia, and also one of the biggest in Asia. The festival has featured the best International acts and Indonesia's best electronic artists/djs. With the highest production quality of sound and music, it is a dance festival that you will not want to miss.

Djakarta Warehouse Project has presented special performances by International DJs and performers with different music genres, ranging from: electronic, house, progressive, techno, trance, drum and bass, to dubstep. They have featured the biggest EDM stars like Avicii, Calvin Harris, Paul Van Dyk, Markus Schulz, Martin Garrix, Bob Sinclair, Roger Sanchez, Kaskade, Ferry Corsten, Nervo, Matthew Koma and many more.

Located in Jakarta, Indonesia's capital city, is Indonesia's largest electronic dance music festival and one of the largest in all of Asia. It is now a two day event (after running for five years as a single day event) that turns the city's international exposition centre in Kemayoran into a huge music techno arena where the global superstars of dance and electronic music grace the stages and entertain a huge crowd of international spectators with bass pumping music, impressive pyrotechnics and lighting that makes it feel like the whole festival is from an entirely new dimension. The festival takes part towards the end of the year in December, and this is one party that you don't want to miss.

The majority of the artists pump EDM, house and techno music through the speakers, although there is a huge variety of electronic and dance music on show. Previous superstars have included the likes of Martin Garrix, Nicky Romero, Skrillex, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Bob Sinclair and Avicii performing over multiple stages, both sheltered and open air. The main stage is an open air place called Garudha Land with world class technics, impressive visuals, and huge aesthetic structures featuring a massive sculpture of the mythical bird Garudha, hence the name of the arena. The stage times for all the performances becomes available in early December on the official website, in the days leading up to the opening of the event.

It has become a favourite amongst performing artists due to the vibes and atmosphere, and also the energy from the crowd. What is often seen in Indonesia and not in other festivals heavy countries like Australia, is that the crowd, while enjoying a big party, will also sit down, relax and chill out between sets, and that the people are very polite and friendly, and often don't drink themselves into oblivion as is more customary at other international festivals.

The huge venue is packed full of spectators who sing and dance long into the night, dressed in neon paint, flashing lights and glowsticks. The event also prides itself on being visually spectacular, with massive firework displays, impressive lighting shows and lasers, professional dancers (sometimes suspended from the top of the stage) and pyrotechnics. The event annually attracts over 75,000 people, and although this is mostly a local audience, there is also a large attendance of international guests accounting for around 20% of the total figures.

Music tends to start around 4pm in the afternoon and continue until as late as 4am in the morning. For those who are not satisfied with ending the party so soon, there are usually a number of after parties happening all over town in venues such as the Colosseum night club where they tend to start at around 5am and continue until as late as 10am, often featuring DJs from the festival to continue the party vibes. The Colosseum can accomodate over 3000 people, and to see such a huge crowd enjoying a massive party at the usual time when people are commuting to work is completely surreal.

Travelling to Indonesia in December is quite interesting as it is the peak of the wet season, and being a tropical country, Indonesia can have a lot of rain. The festival features several outside stages, and when asked about this, the Djakarta Warehouse Project's “media guy” referred to only as Kevin in an interview, stated that they pay a black magic wizard to hold off the tropical storms, and that he only gets paid if it doesn't rain. Previous events have miraculously encountered relatively good weather, although the Jury is still out as to whether this is due to the efforts of a black magic wizard or just a coincidence.

The festival market in Asia is really just beginning to boom, whereas in other continents some of the larger, more established events have been traded in for smaller, more local, more boutique standings. More people are travelling to Southeast Asia for mega festivals and so they are attracting a lot of big names and more money is being spent on making them even more amazing, and compared to the prices of many international festivals, you get a lot of value for your money. DWP is quickly becoming a standout name for electronic music and a permanent standing in the lineup of mega festivals supporting this music, and we can expect many big names and changes in the future.

Power Slaves – Up The Tempo

Power Slaves – Up The Tempo

The statement on the Power Slaves website, that the band indulge in '100% rock n roll' is certainly no empty boast. Check out the clip of their track 'Indonesia'.

This bears all the hallmarks of a classic rock video, with close-ups of the various instruments are they are introduced to the track. There are jump cuts to a sea of youthful hands brandishing the national red and white halved flag, and at 0:30 this is expanded to silhouettes defiantly punching the air along with the rousing music. As enemy airplanes cruise past threateningly, the hands grasp larger flags to wave in defiance.

The intimacy of the video transforms at 0:49, as the cameras introduce a clip of Power Slaves performing before a crowd of adoring fans, hands (and Indonesian flags) thrust into the air. The song progresses, gaining in power, and the silhouettes seem to grow ever more prepared to defend their country, producing weapons which are waved menacingly.

While all this makes for an effective backdrop, it is the live clips that really bring home the band's latent power. The vocalist continually gestures to the adoring audience, imploring them to hang on to his words, with the band producing suitably strident chords. At one point there is an effective shot of a guitar, with the camera clipped to the head, focussing on the fretboard. The keyboard player, face masked by ubiquitous cool shades, layers the track with melodies, while the guitarist thrashes out his licks beneath a white stetson (managing to look far cooler than when U2's The Edge used to wear one!)

The vocals alternate dramatically between atmospheric crooning, rising to a powerful crescendo at 2:12. Heydie Ibrahim certainly has a full range, conveying all the atmosphere that is required. Guitarist Kolem kicks into a soaring solo, while the rhythm section of drummer Vidi, second guitarist Randy and bassist Anwar Fatahillah, together with keyboard player Mandy, ensure that each aspect of the song gathers momentum.

By 2:45 the thunderous crescendo has died down to a gentle verse, allowing the crowds to join in. Heydie is seen amongst the fans at the front, bravely continuing with the song as the adulating spectators clamour for the microphone.

The climax of the song occurs with the musicians taking theirfoot off the throttle for a moment, allowing the baying crowds to take the lead (which prompts Mandy to cup a palm to his left ear, goading them that they are not singing nearly loud enough). As the music faded, only the drums remain, tapping out a military tattoo.

This is a terrific example of how Power Slaves are able to whip up their fans by employing a mixture of melody and amplification. Unlike a lot of rock music, where volume seems to be the be all and end all, this Indonesian band can certainly rock, but they can also carry their fans along by producing excellent songs that are also atmospheric.

Shorthand Phonetics – Music and Film

Shorthand Phonetics – Music and Film

Most rock bands are content to live up to a certain set of expectations. This often follows a well-worn pattern: the first album is packed full of punchy material designed to gain maximum attention. By the second album, the emphasis might be on taking things down a gear, with many outfits displaying tendencies of getting introspective and moody. Indonesian band Shorthand Phonetics don't follow any of those rules. They simply focus on producing great, original rock music, whether that's for release through the usual channels, or as the atmospheric backdrop to a film.

Although Shorthand Phonetics are most known for their lo-fi indie guitar sound, they are no strangers to mainstream success. In fact, their film score album 'Score No. 1 (Dream Chase) in A major, Op. 17 for Three Electric Guitars, One Bass Guitar and One Drum Kit', made the number one spot in the 'Top Indonesian Albums of 09', produced by the influential Jakarta Globe newspaper. Never a band to scrimp on the somewhat poetic (indeed outlandish) album titles, this was followed two years later with 'Cantata No. 6 (Assistants of Assistants) in Varying Keys, Op. 25 for Three Electric Guitars, One Bass Guitar, One Drum Kit, One Tenor and Additional Voices Where Appropriate.

In fact, these highly literal descriptions of their album contents is one of Shorthand Phonetics' most instantly recognisable attributes. It conveys a quirky mix of serious intent coupled with a zany sense of humour. But when it comes to actually delivering the goods, the Bandung group is focussed on creating original music that will live on in their listeners' memories (long after most other indie bands have been superseded by the latest hyped-up indie bands).

The defining feature of Shorthand Phonetics is their instantly recognisable guitar sound – or should that be 'three guitars' sound? These are often played in a choppy or 'staccato' style that allows the guitar line to dictate a certain amount of rhythm for any song. This is frequently counterbalanced with a more gentle but insistent strumming, allowing layers of melody to be injected into the piece. As for the rhythm section, very often anything goes, with madcap drumming competing with nihilistic bass lines.

On top of all this, the vocal performances are often dead-pan, or deliberately understated. Shorthand Phonetics are not known for huge, anthemic choruses sung in cod-operatic style. Instead they paint little vignettes that describe the nuances and irritations of everyday life. The equipment used captures this lo-fi technique to perfection, with webcam microphones or a laptop taking the place of the arsenal of marshall stacks that have been the rock band staple for decades.

The band itself was formery a five-piece, consisting of bassist Alfonsus Tanoto, guitarists Kevin Yapsir and Daniel Sastro, drummer Alvin Lasmana and guitarist, vocalist and programmer Ababi Ashari. Established in 2003 or 2004 (the exact date has been open to debate for a while), they were eventually signed to Yes No Wave Music in 2007. Their debut album was another ditty that didn't exactly roll off the tongue – Fanfiction: From the Seriously Absurd to the Absurdly Serious.

Following the album's release, the bulk of the Shorthand Phonetics departed to pursue academic careers, leaving driving force Ababail Ashari to continue writing material under the band's name.