Raja Kirik
Photo: Swandi Ranadila / Courtesy of Worldwide Friendly Society

Experimental Duo Raja Kirik ‘Rampoken’

Indonesian experimental duo Raja Kirik force a scuffle between seemingly disparate entities, at once alarming, joyous, and defiant on Rampoken.

Rampoken
Raja Kirik
Nyege Nyege Tapes
22 October 2021

For 15 years now, the interdisciplinary arts organization Kadist has been hosting residencies, exhibitions, artist curations, and other programs as they make connections across five continents. And among the many artists the organization supports is Indonesian videographer and photographer Wibowo Woto (aka Wok the Rock), who is also active in Yogyakarta’s expansive experimental music scene where he runs Yes No Wave, a label devoted to free downloads of their artists’ music.

A quick dig through the label’s website exposes an otherworldly array of harsh noise, whacked-out dance grooves, folk sounds featuring the East Sumbese jungga, hyper-intense vocal and drum excursions, and the doom folk of Senyawa. That band has received much attention thanks to releases on Sublime Frequencies and collaborations with Stephen O’Malley.

The label is also home to releases by the duo Raja Kirik, including the original 2020 release of Rampoken, an album that seems to make a lethal potion out of all the above styles and then some. Now, with a reissue on Kampala, Uganda’s mighty experimental dance label Nyege Nyege Tapes, Rampoken, and Raja Kirik are set to gain a bit more deserved attention.  

Yennu Ariendra and J. Mo’ong Santoso, the two artists who comprise the group, are radical improvisers who derive their music from Hindu-Buddhist shamanic trance. However, the results are noisy, dizzying, and confounding by the time they jack their often homemade instruments through overloaded amplification. “Rampoken 2” is a perfect example of what they do. A consistent pulse grounds a combination of distorted PVC pipe and plastic bag woodwind overblowing and the sounds of howling winds, combined to create surrender-demanding dance music that fuses Indonesia’s centuries-old traditions with punk confrontation. It’s joyful and horrific in equal measure.

Darker still is the marshy down-tempo slog of “Kubro”. Here, the sounds of beasts frustrated at being woken up by intruders are interrupted by a cowbell clang, electronic crickets, a snake charmer’s reed, and unsettling groans to create a frenzied attack on the senses. All of this racket in concocted with the use of laptops, cheap keyboards, homemade xylophones, bent metal sculptures, and plastic woodwinds. But dig past the layers of muck and scree, and you’ll find a near-constant pulse.

To watch them is to witness modern technology fight it out with a string bass made with a metal barrel or to hear traditional hand drums pushed through a punishing bass throb. They force gabber to meet drone and toss gamelan percussion in the wrestling ring with minimal synth washes. Like the colonial-era Indonesian battles between criminals and wild animals from which this album derives its title, this is a forced scuffle between seemingly disparate entities, at once alarming, joyous, and defiant.

RATING 8 / 10
PopMatters