Thursday, May 30, 2024
HomeFeatureIndie Across East Asia

Indie Across East Asia

-

When I was between jobs and semesters in 2019, I picked up a hobby of looking through each and every new album released that year, trying to find whatever diamonds in the rough there were (and man was 2019 rough.) I stopped once I got a new job, but with the idea for this article pressing on my mind I decided: why not dust off my music metal detector once more?

Using websites such as Discogs, Bandcamp, and Explr.fm, I’ve managed to compile sixteen music acts from across East / Southeast Asia which I believe deserve your attention. Each country, with the exception of North Korea, is represented here, and the list as a whole contains a wide variety of genres under the greater “independent music” spectrum; metal, folk, indie pop – it’s likely you’ll find at least one sound you enjoy here. And so, without any further ado, let’s begin:

 

Brunei: Kod22

Genre: Punk Rock

Starting in alphabetical order, we have the least populated country on our list. Brunei, while home to less than 500,000 people, turned out to have one of the most vibrant indie scenes on this list, and at the forefront of their punk scene is a group named Kod22. They’re a three-piece band from Bandar Seri Bagawan, with vocals and instrumentation that are about as dynamic as you’ll find in punk. Just give this MV a look for a sense of how in-your-face they are:

 

Cambodia: Atakheat

Genre: Black Metal / Dungeon Synth

Moving onto the mainland, Atakheat is an exciting and menacing black metal act from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They have that fuzz that lo-fi metal fanatics adore, but also a surprisingly vibrant set of dungeon synth melodies underneath, which adds a whole other dimension to the music. For anyone especially interested in synths, definitely check out their latest record, which is perfect dungeon crawling music.

 

China: Zoo Gazer

Genre: Indie Rock

In Xuzhou, China, Zoo Gazer is (according to their bandcamp bio) “abusing 7th chords and spring reverb” to make their music. I have no idea what either of those terms mean, but clearly they’re doing something right, because good lord is this stuff nice. I’ve been a fan for a few years now, and their latest album is such a welcome evolution of their near-shoegaze sound, implementing elements of funk and punk to make what is undeniably their best release yet. Check out “Zoo Gazer II” and their latest single.

 

East Timor: Klak

Genre: Death Metal

Definitely the hardest country on the list to find new music from. East Timor (or Timor Leste) declared independence from Indonesia just twenty years ago. This makes Klak the country’s first metal band, and they hold that title with strength. If you’re like me and don’t normally listen to death metal, be sure to give at least one of these songs a shot; Klak does an excellent job of keeping them dynamic and exciting.

 

Indonesia: Vvachrri

Genre: Emo

Within Indonesia’s extremely popular music scene I found a uniquely vibrant emo / punk culture, best captured by Haum Entertainment’s catalog. Among the dozens of bands I could have picked from there, Vvachrri stood out as the most creative and exciting of the bunch. Every song has a concept that’s built towards, both sonically and thematically, and the vocals often shift between poignant spoken word and depressive emo shouting. Check out their album, “Kitten Empire,” and their latest single, “Claret and Blue / Declan.”

 

Japan: Xinlisupreme

Genre: Noise Rock

Fans of the Japanese underground may recognize this band. Xinlisupreme is a noise(y) rock band that’s been around since 2002, and they’re known for two absolute cult classics of experimental rock. The latter, “I Am Not Shinzo Abe”, actually led to them getting dropped from their label, due to an unfortunately common stigma against politically charged music; it is also regarded as one of the loudest rock records out there, such that I must warn you: this band is amazing, but please, lower your volume before playing this.

Laos: Maa Vue

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Although Laos ended up being the second hardest country to find indie music for, I am glad to have discovered this artist (even if it meant like an hour of creepily perusing random Spotify playlists before coming across them.) Maa Vue is a Hmong singer-songwriter who, although currently based in Wisconsin, performs entirely in the language of her culture, often blending traditional Hmong instruments with modern pop production. Her latest release, “Tu Moo”, is so consistently good that you’ll wish it was longer.


Malaysia: Milo Dinosaur

Genre: Emo

Here we have the band for which I basically created this list. Milo Dinosaur is an incredible math rock / emo band from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with vocals so emotional that you can almost understand what’s being said without knowing the language. Combined with some truly standout guitarwork, you’ll be shocked to see that they’ve only released one album in the past six years. Thankfully, they’re still active, so one can expect a new release to be in the works. That’s what I’m praying for, anyway.

Mongolia: The Colors

Genre: Electronic Rock

The Colors (or The Colors Mongolia, as they’re called on Spotify) is the most sonically entrancing band on this list by far. Their refusal to stick to one sound, be it across albums or between songs, creates a listening experience akin to waking up from a fever dream at 2 AM and turning on the TV to an episode of “Xavier: Renegade Angel.” They sound great in each style, but good lord is it strange.

Myanmar: Big Bag

Genre: Pop Punk

One of the longest-running bands on this list, Big Bag is a punk rock group that sounds just as fresh now as they did twenty years ago. Alternating between bar-destroying punk anthems, sing-along rock ballads, and power metal (literally just now hearing this) among various other sounds, their discography is a crane machine with almost everything a rock fan could wish for. Don’t miss them!

 

Philippines: Shockpoint

Genre: Hardcore

I will admit I know next to nothing about what constitutes great metal / hardcore; I’ve barely dipped my toes into that side of music. However, trusting both my own ears and those of the metalheads that have reviewed this group on Bandcamp, I feel confident putting Shockpoint out there as a great band. Their debut EP was released just last year, but they already sound so clean and cool, you can just tell this band has it. Listen now before they blow up:

Singapore: Woes

Genre: Math Rock

Another relatively new band, Woes is a five-strong math rock group that initially began as a solo project by their bassist. Thus, the first thing you’ll notice about them is how strong their basslines are, which nets them an immediate 100 points from me (don’t ask what my scoring system is.) In addition to this, Woes is one of the few math rock bands I’ve seen with a female vocalist; usually you just hear nasally dudes. The band isn’t perfect yet, but you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on them.


South Korea: Mid-Air Thief / Bird’s Eyes Batang

Genre: Psychedelic Folk

While they’re not the most popular band on this list, Mid-Air Thief is likely the most recognizable to those of us in the West. Their 2019 album “Crumbling” is an indie rock cult classic that sounds like absolutely nothing else before it, with strings and electronics so sparkly you can almost see their light. In 2022 they actually returned with a new album as Bird’s Eyes Batang, which I just now heard, but definitely start with Mid-Air Thief.

 

Taiwan: Elephant Gym 

Genre: Jazz Rock

I came across Elephant Gym during my Discogs dumpster diving days, being attracted to their Audiotree release solely because the band name looked promising. “Elephant Gym.” Tell me you don’t wanna listen to them going off that name alone, I’ll wait… Anyway, their music is incredibly creative and energetic, blending math rock and jazz into something that could warm the heart of even the most jaded band instructor. Their latest album, “World”, came out just last December, and they are set to play at our own Club Dada on March 1st. Check ‘em out!

 

 

Thailand: Safeplanet

Genre: Indie Pop

How huge can a band get before it stops being considered “indie”? Well, regardless of the fact that Safeplanet has nearly a million monthly listeners, as well as a song with 120 million views, the group of three has self-released all of their music so far, which is as impressive as it is definitively indie. Their sound is incredibly smooth and poppy, but with the looseness you often only hear in indie rock. If you want something to chill out to, look no further than them:

Vietnam: Quyech

Genre: Progressive Folk

At the end of our list, we have possibly the most intriguing band of all. Quyech is a self-described “music & art project,” fronted by producer Duc Nguyen and often joined by various vocalists, backup vocalists, instrumentalists, etc. They have two main releases – an album and an EP – both with completely different vibes. The album, “Quyen Troi”, is an experimental folk opus that will literally confound you with how creative it is, and the recently released EP, “To the Many Years”, is a solo piano piece that is similarly confounding. I could talk at length about them, but in a word: if there is any band here that you should keep an eye on, due solely to their sheer potential, Quyech is it.

 

Thus, sixteen music acts across sixteen countries in East / Southeast Asia have been covered. If you listened to all of them, I seriously respect it. If you listened to some of them, I also respect that. If you listened to just one of them, I really hope you liked ‘em. This was a really fun project for me, and I hope it spotlighted some of the talents blooming in an oft underrepresented part of the world.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here