The Best Indonesian Indie Labels Out Right Now

Our guide to the freshest sounds of the archipelago.

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Jul 28 2017, 11:04am

The Indonesian indie scene is heating up. Need proof? Look at the number of record labels releasing stuff these days. A lot of this has to do with how cheap it is to be a record label. Back in the day, you needed enough money to write CDs or press vinyl as well as pay for all the marketing and tour support. Today, you can just run a net label on Bandcamp, or release everything on cassette, and still be considered a successful label.

There's so many options out there now that it's easy to get lost. Should you follow this label from Malang, or that label from Bandung? Are labels even regional anymore? Do these questions make me sound really old? Does anyone have the answers?

Here's my (totally subjective) guide to the best Indonesian indie labels out there right now.

1) Leeds Records

This Jakarta-based label is named after the football club. Leeds doesn't really focus on one specific genre. Since the label started two years ago by Zaka Sandra Novian, its released everything from the fuzz rock of Zuff to the wildly experimental jams of Strange Fruit. If you're in a sorta distorted indie rock band with a growing following from somewhere in Indonesia, you might just feel at home on Leeds.

Sure, some people complain about Leeds' lack of a central theme, laissez-faire approach, and aversion to "traditional" promotions, but Leeds is still such a big part of the game today, that it's here, for better or worse.

Important releases:

Strange Fruit - The Dolphin Leap EP

Fuzzy, I - Neonato

Morscode -"Calm Down" Single

2) Nanaba Records

Nanaba Records is one of Indonesia's first cassette revival labels. When Jodi Setiawan, of the dream pop band Peonies, started the label back in 2014 it immediately made waves, partly because of the sheer volume of releases. Nanaba Records is the kind of label that's releasing so much stuff that it's nuts they're still able to keep up the quality. Today, the label releases everything from Japanese city-pop like Ikkubaru to punk rock like The Kuda. It's also gained a lot of notoriety by releasing limited, cassette-only versions of popular indie bands you could previously only find on CD or vinyl. Its cassette releases by Sigmun, Mocca and Kaveh Kanes, are still some of the best-packaged, and most sought after releases on record store day.

Important Releases:

Peonies - Landscape

Sphere - Raging Pop Regime

Circarama - Limustaqqarin Laha

3) Kolibri Rekords

Kolibri Rekords is the closest thing Indonesia's has to the archetypical "hipster" label. But don't let that put you off. Kolibri almost exclusively releases local bands that hew close to the jangle-pop sound of the old C86 compilation tapes NME used to release back in the mid-80s. So in a world of labels with almost schizophrenic tastes Kolibri scores points for having a clear aesthetic and sound. Another huge plus is that Kolibri releases CDs, not limited-run cassettes, so it's not totally impossible to find their records.

It's easy at first listen to brush the label off as being overly obsessed with a sound that's super Western. But dig a bit deeper and you'll find bands with serious songwriting chops like Bedchamber and Kaveh Kanes.

Important Releases:

Bedchamber - Perennial EP

Kaveh Kanes - Capital

4) Tandem Tapes

Tandem Tapes is sort of an expat label. It was founded by Australian Morgan McKellar after he moved to Jakarta two years ago. He initially set up Tandem as a way to keep busy and make some friends in a new country. The idea here is that McKellar pairs two artists from two countries together for a split. Each band gets their own side of the tape.

But what truly sets Tandem apart from other labels is McKellar's dedication to experimental music. The label's releases aren't always the easiest to listen to, but they are some of the most-rewarding albums out there. There's also a strong modern-noir aesthetic running throughout Tandem's catalogue, which makes each cassette a beautiful thing for collectors.

Important Releases:

Derek Piotr / Samsara Portal Holistik

Henokh Setiawan / Prìson

5) Tromagnon Records

This label is still very young, but it shows a lot of promise with its mix of lo-fi and conventional indie rock. There's some strong bands on this label, like the Pavement-worship of Texpack, the sleepy sounds of Swellow, or the Brit-pop of My Secret Identity. If you're noticing a serious 90s nostalgia bent here, you're on the right track. Tromagnon heavy into the whole 90s revival movement going on right now. But while the bands' influences are pretty obvious, they more than make up for it with a youthful excitement that bleeds through.

Important Releases:

The Kuda - Satu Aku Sejuta Kalian

6) Elevation Records

Elevation Records is the brainchild of Jakarta-based journalist M. Taufiqrahman, of Jakarta Beat and the Jakarta Post. This is what I would call academia indie. It's a label that has as much interest in the historical and cerebral context of its releases as it does the actual music. Elevation is where you find Bandung's socio-political rapper Homicide, the neo-religious worldliness of Semak Belukar, and the knowing humor of Bandempo.

The typical Elevation release is also jam-packed with liner notes and short essays. The label also releases books, some written by musicians on its roster, that offer an in-depth look at local and international music.

Important Releases:

Homicide - Illsurrekshun

Semak Belukar - S/T

7) Yesnowave

Yesnowave is a legend. This net label offers everything for free, offering fans a succinct and expertly curated summary of Yogyakarta's music scene. Yesnowave illustrates the city's far reach, showcasing its experimental and avant-garde bands alongside more conventional acts. This was the original home of Jogja's Senyawa, but its catalogue goes so much deeper.

Important Releases

Kekal - Autonomy

Zoo - Kebun Bintang

Dialita - Dunia Milik Kita

Let's Kiss and Be Friends - Denda Omnivora and the White Liars

8) Grimloc

Grimloc is the world of Ucok—the founding member socio-political rappers Homicide. Grimloc's fanbase is fanatical. They worship Ucok and the label, but it isn't blind hero worship. It's more of a deep sense of respect for his political awareness and passionate delivery. Grimloc's releases are either hardcore rap or heavy-as-hell hardcore. The releases are all heavy with a sense of weary desperation that's familiar to many Indonesians. It's rarely an easy listening experience, but that's part of what makes Grimloc so compelling.

Important Releases

Doyz - Oblivion

Jagal Sangkakala - Mantra Pandawa

9) Orange Cliff

Orange Cliff is another young, super hip label. This Bandung label got its start as a psych outfit, making waves with the first album by Sigmun, whose singer-guitarist Haikal Azizi is one the label runners. Sigmun's sound is actually a good touchstone for what the label has to offer. A lot of Orange Cliff bands lean on the 70s psych-rock sound, but they are often able to do it without sounding retro for retro's sake. Most of the label's relatively young crop of bands use psych as a starting point to develop their own versions of modern rock.

Important Releases

Bin Idris - S/T

Jirapah - "Sol" Single

Gaung - Opus Contra Naturam

10) Hema Records

Hema Records feels like a label that knows how to curate itself. There's not much of a back catalogue here yet, but something about Hema still feels unified, like they started the label off with a clear vision of where it was heading. The label has a unified visual aesthetic across its releases, and it's also working on its own publishing division. The release by the band Annie Hall included below is the standout, but if the label can find other stuff just as good as this, it has a strong future ahead of it.

Important Releases

Annie Hall - Saudade EP

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