Sound Check, vol. 2 with Diskoria Selekta

By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |

My first exposure to Diskoria comes after seeing Lorde at 2018’s We the Fest. After sitting down in a circle with my friends, tired after dancing our hearts out, we fell into silence. One of my friends shortly broke that silence while saying, “Eh, Diskoria lagi main nih, nonton yuk!” (“Diskoria is playing right now, let’s check them out!”). I just followed him blindly, not knowing what Diskoria is or where he’s bringing me.

He brought me to Another Stage (the smallest stage of We the Fest in 2018). The crowd at that time was something I’ve never seen before. I saw men and women, young and old. When I say young and old, these were people I don’t usually see in a festival like We the Fest—these were people as young as their early teens and as old as their mid-40s. The song that was playing from the stage is an endless mix of classic Indonesian songs, some as old as from the 1970s and some as new as from the 2000s. However, these are not just simple Indonesian songs; these songs are the ones that hit deeply in the lives of the audience. I haven’t listened to the songs played by Diskoria since a long, long time ago—maybe years ago—but when the songs played, I instantly opened my mouth to sing along. All the lyrics came to me like I just played the song yesterday. And I was not the only one singing along—everyone in the audience was. The set garnered such a strong energy from both the audience and the performers, and I could feel that we were united in our love and relatability towards classic Indonesian music.

A year later, I finally have the chance to talk to Diskoria about their craft. This DJ duo came to inception four years ago and since then has been making Indonesian disco and classic Indonesian music an option to dance to in clubs, bars, festivals, and even prom nights. They have been credited by music critics and music lovers alike to be resuscitators of Indonesian disco, and have brought a diverse array of audiences and fans to the dancefloor. Diskoria shows us that disco isn’t dead in Indonesia—it’s alive and thriving.

I talked to Diskoria’s Merdi Simanjuntak and Fadli Aat about nostalgia as a commodity, Indonesian music for the international market, future classics, subcultures, and the #IzinkanAkuChallenge.

Hello from Speed of Sound! Are there any songs stuck in your heads right now? If so, what are the songs?

Merdi: Hello, Speed of Sound! I have two songs currently stuck in my head: “Di Antara Mega-Mega Biru” by Grace Simon and Elfa’s Singers’ version of “Cinta Pertama.”

Aat: For these few days, the songs stuck in my head are the sketch for our second single, and Oto Gelb’s disco-edited version of Bach’s classic composition piece, “Air on the G String.”

You’ve performed as Diskoria for four years. What’s the difference in your gigs since then?

Aat: Our setlist differs now, and we’ve been getting requests to play for high school prom nights in the past couple of years.

Merdi: A lot of our stages have increased in size and we’ve been getting a lot of audiences way younger than before. To be honest, I didn’t expect Diskoria to be playing middle school prom nights.

While performing as Diskoria, do you feel like the age range of your crowd matches your expectations? Or, conversely, is there anything surprising there?

Merdi: For me, the age range is beyond my expectations. Initially, I thought the crowd will bring out people from our music’s generation, or maybe older; in reality, there are younger generations in our crowd, which means that the trend/hype reaches out to younger generations, especially those who follow current trends.

Aat: There’s always a surprise element almost every time we perform; one of these is our crowd’s generational diversity. What makes us happy is that we can push through the possible generational barriers in our crowd, and we can say that these generational barriers are nonexistent—this is noticeable especially when we’re playing in clubs.

With the emergence of karaoke DJs and karaoke events bringing together specific subcultures such as K-pop, emo, et cetera, do you feel like Diskoria brings together a certain subculture as well? Or is your crowd more universal?

Merdi: We’ve never recognized ourselves as karaoke disco performers; our focus is purely making Indonesian music an option to dance to in clubs, bars, or other venues. To make this concept more deliverable, we like to incorporate popular singalong Indonesian songs, gathering crowd response along the way; we didn’t expect the rising trend of karaoke DJs and events. For the type of crowd we gather, we can say that it’s a little bit more diverse—we also have older men and women finding nostalgia in Diskoria’s sets.

Aat: In my opinion, our crowd is more universal and since our inception, I believe that our crowd is united by the same Indonesian language of our songs. It’s a very special and authentic thing for me since I became part of Diskoria.

From The Lion King to Gundala, a lot of film studios are currently making/remaking films from its past. It seems like nostalgia is a popular commodity for the film industry. Do you also feel that nostalgia is a popular commodity in Indonesian music?

Aat: Yes, I think so.

Merdi: I think it’s all a matter of timing—maybe a lot of people are tired with current trends, and now with the ease of finding information, it’s easier for people to find a wide array of options for their entertainment. What matters is how to repackage entertainment with the right consistency and concept, and you can make it a current trend. Nostalgia is one of these forms of entertainment.

Speaking of nostalgia, what’s your opinion on the viral #IzinkanAkuChallenge this year? What did you feel when you saw that hashtag/meme for the first time?

Aat: I feel pretty happy and I think that “Berharap Tak Berpisah” is a great song—the fact that one of the songs we reintroduced to the current generation can garner a great response like this makes me happy.

Merdi: For me it’s pretty fun—at least this challenge becomes viral with a great Indonesian song. If it becomes viral with, say, an Indian song, it’ll be harder to sing for us Indonesians. [laughs] It was pretty fun the first time, since there’s always a great energy every time we play that song in our shows—so I don’t think that it’s strange that the song becomes a viral social media hit.

Last year, you performed at a handful number of venues in Tokyo. How did the crowd in Tokyo respond to your music? From your experiences in Tokyo, how do you think Indonesian disco music can be rebranded for the international market?

Merdi: The crowd in Tokyo are generally open-minded towards music originating anywhere. Before we performed at Tokyo, there’s already a Japanese DJ playing shows incorporating Indonesian music. They’re super receptive, and additionally, there’s a few Europeans and Americans attending and dancing to our music in our sets there.

Aat: It needs to be acknowledged that Tokyo’s level of appreciation towards music is pretty high. I truly believe that Indonesian songs can be accepted in the international market—the Internet can truly help expand the reach of Indonesian music.

With the likes of Rich Brian and NIKI from 88rising—a label focusing on packaging Asian musicians for a Western audience while preserving their Asian identity—there’s a wave of Indonesian musicians working in the international music industry. Do you think there’s a potential for Indonesian disco to reach out to the diaspora? If so, how do you think that potential can be reached?

Merdi: I think Indonesian music can reach the international market through a combination of cultural events with something fun after, so maybe after making a performance of traditional musicians, we can proceed with a performance of pop musicians. What’s important is that we have to make sure that Indonesian music is represented by Indonesian artists/musicians as well. A concrete example of this is the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band from Thailand, who has performed in numerous international festivals, including Japan’s 2019 Fuji Rock Festival just recently.

Aat: There’s a great possibility for classic Indonesian pop to be repackaged into Indonesian disco—we do this to join into the international market. The original material of Indonesian music is already very groundbreaking, they’re just waiting to be rediscovered and rebranded. The Internet is our first step in introducing these material, but above all that, consistency is key.

You released your first single—“Balada Insan Muda”—this year. How is your creative process different in “Balada Insan Muda” compared to your usual process of curating/remixing Indonesian songs?

Aat: It’s definitely different, since “Balada Insan Muda” is a new song we sketched from scratch together with Laleilmanino.

Merdi: In this single we’re playing tandem with—in my opinion—one of the best pop music producers working today. Our creative process is more towards how to create a pop melody that can be packaged with a groovy beat. We trust our chord progression and song melodies towards Laleilmanino, who’s more of an expert in this area.

In “Balada Insan Muda,” you collaborated with Laleilmanino; you’ve also collaborated with Fariz RM. Who do you want to collaborate with the most, next time?

Merdi: So far there’s no concrete plans yet about our next collaborator, but personally I’d really like to collaborate with Groove Bandit.

Aat: We still can’t mention who the next collaborator is, right now, since they’re a phenomenal name as a generational icon.

Lastly, what’s the aspect that makes you the most excited towards current Indonesian music? And what do you think are the kinds of Indonesian songs that can be our future classics?

Aat: What makes me the most excited is when more of our musicians start to create their original work with a distinct style. I believe those kinds of work will become future classics.

Merdi: I’m excited towards local musicians who are incorporating traditional Indonesian sounds to their music and managed to bring their music out internationally for performances or even releases—sadly they’re not too well-exposed by the media. For me, future classics are songs that can make a breakthrough; these doesn’t have to chart well in Top of the Pops, but these songs have an impact towards a scene’s movements.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity and translated from Indonesian. Claudia Siregar contributed to some of the questions.

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