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Asia's Experimental Music Scene Is About to Explode

Some of the world's best experimental and noise acts recently converged in the Indonesian city of Jogja for Nusasonic, a massive eleven-day festival.

It's hard not to at least be aware of the local noise scene if you live in Yogyakarta. That's because, most of the time, the scene comes to you, whether you want it or not. Recently, we were on a Jogja city bus when a small crowd got on board with their arms full of speakers, cables, and DIY electronic noisemakers, and proceeded to blast out the bus, exposing the riders to a new soundtrack of discordant noise.


It was another performance by Jogja Noise Bombing, a collective that believes in staging secret, but very public, happenings throughout the city. They do this often enough, taking over parks, streets, and other public spaces. But there was something special about this performance because this time, they weren't alone.

The entire city was full of experimental artists, 57 in total, for an international music festival called Nusasonic. It was the biggest noise and experimental festival of its kind to be held in Jogja and, true to the scene's outsider status, it pulled of eleven days of music, discussions, and workshops without the kinds of corporate sponsorship (read: tobacco money) that usually seep into arts and music festivals in Southeast Asia.

"It's about time we have festivals that focus on things like this," said Rully Shabara, one half of the experimental duo Senyawa. "So many have forgotten their essential function and turned this into an industry. This is why we desperately need festivals with a clear vision like this."

Experimental music is having something of a moment in Indonesia, in no small part thanks to the international success of Senyawa. But they are far from the only noise artists making some noise in Southeast Asia.

Here are some other standout artists from Asia's experimental music scene.


In Ikhlas, the latest album by Fauxe, the Singaporean producer's brand of hip-hop and downbeat influenced electronic music mixes in samples of Hokkien and Tamil music, as well as dialogue from local films, to create a sound that's sonically—and culturally—rich. And how cool is that? You can dance and explore the deep history of the Malay archipelago at the same time.


Cheryl Ong

Cheryl Ong is something of a star in her own right. This Singaporean drummer plays in The Observatory, an avant-garde rock unit that just released a split with Japanese psych gods Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. She was also in SA, an ambient trio that used traditional Chinese instruments, but since going solo Cheryl has been able to truly cut loose and improvise.

Potro Joyo

Wukir Suryadi and Rully Shabara might be best known for Senyawa, but both noise artists help keep the Jogja scene weird with personal and side projects like Potro Joyo, a strangely spiritual act featuring Wukir and Eko Hadi Wijaya. Potro Joyo is an experimental duo that plays a mix of neo-tribal and traditional Javanese music. The two apparently came up with the idea at the foot of Mt. Semeru, in East Java, and together they made a modern Javanese folk-tribal masterpiece.


Not to be outdone, Rully brought yet another side project to Nusasonic—Setabuhan. With Setabuhan, Rully is reinterpreting tribal and trance music with the help of Ramberto Agozalie and Caesarking, two percussionists who previously performed in Rully's other noise act Zoo. The music is raw, primal, and live it's accompanies by a martial artist doing kicks and stuff (as if it wasn't already intense enough).


Sote stood out as one of the most eye—I mean ear—opening acts of Nusasonic. The performer, real name Ata Ebtekar, combined the sounds of his native Iran with glitchy computer clangs in ways that were minimalist, abrasive, and entirely unpredictable. The result sounds like the score to some still unmade Iranian apocalypse film and it's definitely worth your time.

This article was written as part of a collaboration between VICE and the Goethe-Institut.