This sonic mayhem assaulting your speakers is battle music – ancient folkloric resistance, exploding out of the Yogyakarta home base of YES NO WAVE MUSIC.
There are few things as frenetic as the music right now of Raja Kirik. The combination of J Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi and Yennu Ariendra, instruments and electronics, the act is pure fire. Rapid-fire, subdivided polyrhythms collide at a furious pace, so that the role of the machine is to provide endless computer-speed evasion. Rhythms take on stomp-the-dancefloor patterns, then twist to arcade cabinet game violence. But atop that comes mournful calls, interruptions from homemade springs – it’s never dehumanizing.
Rapid-fire, subdivided polyrhythms collide at a furious pace, so that the role of the machine is to provide endless computer-speed evasion. (There are elements of the “trash” pop culture form, dangdut koplo, but also ritualistic and dramatic elements, too.) Rhythms take on stomp-the-dancefloor patterns, then twist to arcade cabinet game violence. But atop that comes mournful calls, interruptions from homemade springs – it’s never dehumanizing.
Watch and you can see their process:
There’s all the drama and theater of the intermedia musical traditions of Indonesia. I think you could probably play this for anyone – children from anywhere, even – and they’d imagine giants and battles, deep-throated characters and action and narrative. This is not music as wallpaper or template.
Indonesian music has a long history of anti-colonialist genre destruction, so I think it’s fitting right now that they call this “techno” – Jajaran techno or new techno.
But this is a really vital release to go grab on Bandcamp today. 100% pure love. Oh… I literally just remembered I have neighbors, and I should seriously turn this down a notch.
The duo of Raja Kirik is right now split between Vilnius, Lithuania and Indonesia – really. But they’ve managed to finish this epic masterpiece.
Here’s the full text for that release, as yes, there’s a significant backstory:
Jaranan, appeared in 1041 during the short-lived era of the Hindu-Buddhist kingdom Kahuripan. According to one of the oral histories, there was a king who held a fight contest, the prize was to become the husband of his daughter. The knights and nobles enlist themselves, but there is an ordinary person among them, Pujangga Anom or Bujang Ganong. Bujang Ganong won the battles. He has not killed the knight he defeated, instead forced them to join his parade towards the palace. This triumphal parade was later adopted into the art of horse dance, Jaranan. Of course, this could not have happened, ordinary people could not have asked the king’s daughter, even in a fair competition. Jaranan rolled over the question of class differences, the relationship between the common people and the ruler.
In the dance, Bujang Ganong’s victory was his agility in evading, running and attacking from behind when the enemy was off guard. Bujang Ganong is a symbol of common people, using strategic ways to overcome the rulers or greater opponents.
For more than a millennium, Jaranan (also commonly called Jathilan) is still actively practicing until today. Although it has many variants and derivatives, in general, Jaranan tells the story of a horse troop or a group of knights that fight for the sake of justice; against the demon, bandit, to the corrupted regime. Besides dance, Jaranan encompasses various acts such as immune to weapons, immune to pain, acrobatic movements, and the most important is trance or possessed by the spirit of mythical creatures. While most of Javanese believe in supernatural things, this is the way to declare the local power, that their area is guarded by strong spiritual power.
Raja Kirik’s Album “Rampokan” is a transcendental journey that was driven by the history of cultural resistance in Java. Musically, this album is inspired by the trance chapter in the Jaranan performance, or the stage where the Jaranan players are getting possessed. This stage is an ancient design that was built through ritual procession, dance and music. It triggered a certain frequency that can connect a dancer or even an audience to their subconscious mind/condition, including their own body history to collective memory/trauma.
The term “rampokan” is taken from “Rampokan Macan”, a public spectacle or gladiator arena that presents a fight between Javanese tiger and buffalo, criminal, and a group of spear army. Lasting from the 17th to early 20th centuries, this brutality was intended to demonstrate the political power of the Javanese Royal Kingdoms, which in that time were overshadowed by the Dutch East Indies government.
The album proceeds remotely where J. Moong Santoso Pribadi in Vilnius, Lithuania and Yennu Ariendra in Yogyakarta, Indonesia during the coronavirus pandemic (March-June 2020).
Here in Berlin at CTM Festival, the duo spoke about the significance of all this imagery:
Raja Kirik in conversation with meLê yamomo Saturday 1 February 2020 CTM 2020 – Liminal Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin “Image of the Giant” is a long-term art and research project by Indonesian artists and musicians Yennu Ariendra and J. Mo’ong Santoso Pribadi, also known as Raja Kirik. It considers the histories of violence, oppression, and resistance in Java, Indonesia, ranging from pre-colonial times to the Dutch occupation and to contemporary exploitations by multinational mining companies. Ariendra and Pribadi examine how ritual and folklore practices evolve over time to respond to changing challenges, as well as the echo of such narratives and their aesthetic forms in contemporary pop culture. The popular music dangdut koplo, which is often considered pop cultural trash, is understood as a tool that provides the poorer part of the population with an important, raw language for articulating their experiences and needs. Across their practice, Raja Kirik shows how music, dance, and ritual still provide narrative means to assert oneself against foreign domination and violence. Supported by nusasonic.
Dig deep into the “techno is black music” argument, and part of what you may hear is that techno is the music of resistance to oppression. So while I think musically this won’t sound like Detroit techno to almost anyone, that desire to evoke resistance and to resist colonialization, dehumanization, and violence absolutely makes a connection. (Not to mention, it’s also relevant that there’s a technological through-line – gear makers currently design software and keyboards in ways informed by techno production, which then get used, abused, and warped by artists from Indonesia and influenced by an entirely different musical tradition. You get the idea.)
You definitely need to hear these cats live. But until that can happen, the next best thing. Here’s Nusasonic 2018 in Yogya (where I was also lucky enough to go – thanks to CTM Festival and the Goethe Institut):
And from their first album:
But I adore the new one. Pure sonic weaponry. I don’t know why I’m writing all these words, as generally, our reviews go like this. “Raja Kirik! Raja Kirik is playing! Raja Kirik played! YES!”
Go buy the album now, for the rare chance to simultaneously support an Indonesian duo half marooned in Lithuania and the NAACP in trying to make sure the US has any kind of justice in 2020, all at once. And then play it louddd— uh through headphones, again, sorry neighbors!
Photo at top:
Yennu Ariendra performing Raja Kirik. Venue: Societet Militer. Photo: Swandi Ranadila. Courtesy CTM Festival.