Disco is making a comeback in Indonesia. A few months ago, I was hanging out at a bar in Senopati, South Jakarta, trying to catch a set by legendary Indonesian disco musician Fariz RM.
Less than 15 minutes into the set, the room was packed with sweaty dancing bodies. When I stepped outside for a much-needed breath of fresh air, I walked past a long line of Jakarta hipsters trying to get in. Who knew disco was still so popular?
Diskoria did. This Jakarta-based DJ duo specializes in spinning old Indonesian disco, pop, and funk hits to enthusiastic crowds of millennials looking to lose their shit to songs that came out before they were even born. The duo's roaming "Suara Disko" nights are almost always a full house.
Merdi Simanjuntak and Fadli Aat, the two men behind Diskoria, first cut their teeth in hardcore and indie bands. Aat used to play bass for the 90s hardcore act Step Forward, while Merdi was in Sweaters, a jangly pop band, and Sugarstar, a shoegaze act. But they pair quickly expanded into other genres, eventually discovering a mutual appreciation for old disco songs.
"Aat started digging through records when he was in primary school," Merdi said. "He never limited himself. He would listen to anything."
For Merdi, indie pop and shoegaze were windows into a wider world. He started to dig deeper into local music scenes of past once his bands went on hiatus in 2005.
"I started exploring music in all directions when I was playing in an indie band," he told me. "From dream pop to post-punk, until, eventually, I found disco and dance music and learned how these songs were played in clubs."
So which songs are their favorites? Here's a list of the best Indonesian disco had to offer.
1) "Acuh," by Nada & Improvisasi
"This track is from a compilation of all-star jazz musicians and features Nunung Wardiman on vocals. This is the most upbeat song on the album and a mainstay in any Diskoria set."
2) "Rinai Hujan," by Bornok Hutauruk
"The first time I heard this song was from my friend Riko (DJ name "Darkbark") from Panorasuna. The song, written by Guruh Soekarno Putra, had this Latin tango flavor while still maintaining a strong pop vibe. It's glorious and groovy at the same time."
3) "Disco Cangkeling," by Iwan Fals
"This song is a spin-off of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" that's been filtered through Iwan Fals' swanky attitude and sung in Sundanese. It still retains that 70s disco synth sound though."
4) "Khayal," by Ekhsa Bhama
"This is a remake of a Purnama Sultan song and, personally, I think this version is funkier thanks to Chris Kayhatu's touch. It's classic Indonesian disco at its best!"
1) "Sakura," by Fariz RM
"The composition of this song has all the elements of a timeless song. It also has some groovy and spacey breaks and features the voice of a Japanese woman. In my opinion, it was way ahead of its time. I can only guess what was Fariz RM's inspiration when he was writing such a beautiful song."
2) "Damai," by Guruh Soekarno Putra
"This poetic, beautifully written Guruh Soekarno Putra song has a special place in my heart because of a few reasons. The sophisticated music, complete with Barry White's The Love Unlimited Orchestra like strings section, and the majestic choreography that accompanies it every time the song is performed by Swara Mahardhika makes it a timeless track. Love is the message."
3) "Serasa," by Chrisye
"This is one of the tracks on the soundtrack of the classic 80s Indonesian movie Badai Pasti Berlalu. It's performed by all-star musicians and no doubt it's considered a classic. This upbeat song is arranged in such a way that it will always be remembered as a love song without being too sappy. Check out Yockie Suryoprayogo's wistful and yet dancey keyboard solo on this one."
4) "Gelora Asmara," by Groove Bandit
"This song is by a relatively humble band from the 90s who, in my opinion, represents the era well. The groovy bass line over a House music beat was elevated to perfection by its female vocals. This song manages to set the crowd into a euphoria at every one of our shows and it definitely deserves a spot in our list of timeless disco songs."
Want more classic Indonesian music? This article is part of a series.