I recently stumbled upon a sonic experiment in cross-cultural collaboration that made me rethink the role traditional art forms can play in new music. On the last day of Playfreely, an annual festival of avant-garde music in Singapore, a two-hour collaboration took place between the indie duo .gif and a five-piece ensemble of gamelan musicians.
Pairing dark beats with the gamelan’s bell-like reverberations, the performance explored various genres such as ambient and shoegaze. But it was the combination of frenetic drum and bass against the gamelan’s rhythmic percussion and chimes that really blew my mind. As .gif let loose a storm of hard-hitting jungle behind the controllers, the gamelan players responded with a harmonious chorus of metallophones, hand drums, xylophones, bamboo flutes, and gongs—standard instruments in the centuries-old Indonesian orchestra.
You can hear a bit of the collaboration here:
Originally from Bali and Java, gamelan sometimes features a singer (or sindhèn), which in this case was the Beth Gibbons-esque vocals of .gif’s Weish. It was the perfect balance of ancient traditions and contemporary electronica.
It’s not the first time moody basslines have merged with the gamelan’s ethereal tinkling. Aphex Twin, Kode9, Squarepusher, and Four Tet have all been influenced by the spiritual sound but I’ve yet to hear a drum and bass producer incorporate it.
Singapore’s Playfreely festival, curated by local art rock pioneers The Observatory, has become a meaningful study on free improvisation over the years by bringing together musicians from different backgrounds to jam. For its most recent edition, it urged performers to reach a point “where boundaries coalesce and the present itself becomes the invisible"— a statement that pretty much sums up gamelan drum and bass.
Sadly, .gif hasn't posted a full video of their performance online, but you can still check out the duo's haunting brand of moody, pop-oriented electronic music below.