As Gabber Modus Operandi, vocalist Ican Harem and DJ Kasimyn have spent the past couple of years raising hell across their native Bali and beyond. The duo connected over their shared love of disparate musics, including metal, grindcore and noise from the local punk scene, regional sounds like dangdut, koplo and gamelan plus footwork, happy hardcore and experimental styles – though they’ll tell you they don’t differentiate genres so distinctly. These influences all seeped into the two albums they have under their belt quite naturally, with the two full releases coming out on Yes No Wave Music and SVBKVLT respectively. The group took the sounds of 2018’s Puxxximaxxx and 2019 follow-up HOXXXYA to the global circuit last year. As a live act, they thrive: Kasimyn handles deck duties while Ican Harem’s MCing goes beyond rapped hooks to involve exhilarating screeches and guttural bellows, all the while brandishing chains and bringing a crucial sense of physicality to the stage. The pair deliver a seismic, hour-long barrage of a mix for Truancy Volume 262, only letting up to leave you properly winded.
Hi! How are you doing? Can you describe your current environment?
Ican: “Living in Denpasar, close to a public park and a 10-minute scooter-ride from the beach.”
Kasimyn: “In the Canggu area of Bali – pretty chill area with rice fields and a lot of stray dogs.”
How is COVID-19 affecting your lives and locales right now?
Ican: “Bali is 80% dependent on tourism, everyone lost their job including me. It’s affecting the rhythm, I don’t even know what the weekend is?”
Kasimyn: “Yup, it’s my 28th day indoors. This cuts my residency after five years’ work, Pretty depressing but I’m lucky I have cats. I mean it doesn’t solve anything but it’s a good distraction.”
What are your musical backgrounds, and how did GMO come together?
Ican: “I grew up with dangdut music since my father was a fan of megastar Rhoma Irama when I was in primary school. In high school I was digging more extreme music (punk, metal etc.), and in university I got in touch with experimental music and electronic music.”
Kasimyn: “Kinda the same, mix of everything. But my dad was kind of a retired listener in the age when I became curious about music – found his cassette collection around the same time when he started to introduce me to his cultural background: shadow puppets, gamelan etc. And time at university changed everything with pirate CDs and bootlegs. It was hard to find records here in Indonesia in the early 2000s unless you had a lot of friends or rich ones that collected them, then you copied them haha.”
Where does the lineage of DIY music and the underground stem from in Bali and how did you both fall into it?
Ican: “Bali scene can be described as only two things: tourist music or local scene music, and underground music showcases are held mostly by locals.”
Kasimyn: “Total Uyut, early ‘90s black metal & punk gigs in Denpasar and Igor Tamerlan pioneering electronic music here give the DNA. We arrive here kinda late, where the tourism has already killed the genuine ones.”
What can you tell us about the punk scene and the rave scene where you are? You seem to sit somewhere between them – are the connected or quite separate?
“Every gig from our fam in Denpasar Collective is always a pleasure – a DIY punk show that leans to healthy activism, that was also our first debut ever hahah! It’s connected to Chaos Non Musica, another collective that presents experimental, noise and basically anything, and is our home forever. There’s no rave scene in Bali, unless you’re talking about beach clubs / tourist clubs that are so obsessed with underground music in their marketing flyers. The fact we never really play in Bali clubs (except one, that belongs to our friend) really doesn’t bother us. We are happy with all the fam we have, 30-50 people alongside us with noise kids, kids that start to deliver hardcore sets or whatever is great for us.”
There are so many musical reference points to your sound – from gabber and happy hardcore, noise and hardcore punk to dangdut koplo and gamelan. How do you go about combining all of these?
Ican: “Always in the positioning we didn’t want to relate any subgenres, but we can tell we got influenced by the genres naturally.”
Kasimyn: “It’s just organic for us haha. We kinda love everything. Most of the time after clubs we end up in some warung (local restaurant) blasting koplo or on weekends having fun watching punk shows or just hanging out with noise kids. Something like: ‘woaah this Osheyack tune is so good’ and there’s a dangdut (always) on TV and Ican might call me: ‘Do you listen to Dead Cross whoa!’ Seriously the bar to impress us is so easy. So there’s no idea to combine it, it’s just the arrangements of sounds that are familiar and we like.”
Do you have a process when it comes to making music? Where do you tend to produce?
Kasimyn: “I think laying up melody is the thing that I’m pretty familiar with, that actually pelog and slendro (old scales of South-East Asian music) even though I mostly strip down that melody – even upto 70% if I’ve finally found the vibe – but yeah melody. Then the beats will come along, but I love to drop that melody line in the drum too haha.
“Oh and overtones. I love overtones hits (I think it comes from listening to gamelan a lot and hanging out with my senpai Dewa Alit & Gamelan Salukat): two or more different percussive things that have tonal quality hit together and make one weird sound that sometimes gives stuff a human quality like chants.”
Can you talk us through your live show? It’s so intense and energetic – how has it changed as the project has developed, and as you’ve taken it to different places?
Ican: “The live show is always about how you interact with the audience, feeling the energy and the sound and delivering to an audience with many improvisations. On this particular structure we want the audience to feel how the vibes are at our home.”
You’ve started performing and touring at a few different spots around the world. Where have you been or played at that’s stood out the most?
“One gig in Berlin – was so intimidating! Hahah we love all of them! But if we need to choose, China + Taiwan with Asian Dope Boys was amazing. Running away from a typhoon and discovering how vast China is, world’s best food in Shenzhen (shout out to OIL Club) and karaoke in Taipei hahha. And Uganda (Nyege-Nyege)! The complex fun of this. It’s the best festival in the world now! Ask everyone that went there.”
So HOXXXYA was released last summer but it’s just come out on vinyl – how did that come about? It’s the first time your music’s been available on the format right?
“Yeah! To be honest none of us have turntables lol but we are super grateful. Released on amazing labels like Svbkvlt [at first] and printed by Boomkat [later on vinyl] – still doesn’t make sense to us.”
The amazing artwork for that speaks to internet subcultures. What role has the online world played in your lives growing up and your music now?
“I don’t think we ever existed without the internet. It’s the foundation. Especially since the 2014 election, it’s not a privileged thing anymore and that makes the mid-low class start to take over and pour in the ghetto love content where most of our influences come from, captured in our first video “Dosa Besar”.
“It’s all fun! Like memes, Europe and US already try to go to do “meta” memes that give confusing, absurd references but in the end (mostly) still centralized with the same language, issues that become so boring after a while and you know, elite. We see huge East Asian content, laughing: ‘Yo, hold our rice!’ And now we join the conversation.”
I loved the video for “Genderuwo” – it’s so entrancing, eerie and ritualistic. What can you tell us about its creation? What about the concept behind it and its nature-based visuals?
Kathleen Malay (director): “When Kas asked me to direct this video for “Genderuwo”, his only brief was to make it sad. I don’t think it turned out that way but it’s uncomfortable for sure. I listened to the track with my eyes closed and it sounds like mystery, closely followed by madness, with a breath of grace. But what do these sounds look like? I keep my eyes closed and listen again, but now with visions. I leave the city. Next thing I know, I’m in a dried out creek bed, sitting in silence on a rock somewhere in central Java. The details get thicker in my mind. A few nights later, there’s a dead tree dangling with raw chicken feet. There’s the cast and a camera and an amazing crew around too. For a minute, it doesn’t feel like a set at all, more like an alternate reality. I shake this thought off and get back to work. Somebody asks me how I came up with the story, if this is what happened to me as a kid, and I just laugh and say it was all whispered into my ear, I don’t know by who.
“Now, the shoot is over and we all go home. Not long after that, I’m depressed, and have lost enough weight to annoy my mom. Everything seems cursed, something bigger than me is stopping this film from coming to life. I try to edit but I can’t. I make a rare phone call and ask for advice. And then I found myself cross-legged in my bedroom, in the dark, with a candle lit and a piece of chocolate on a makeshift altar. Traveling back to that snake-filled dry river bed and apologizing for my mistakes. After that the depression cleared up, I finished editing, and there you go. In my memory, that’s how this video happened. Do you remember what it’s like to be a child, walking a blurry line between fantasy and reality?”
Who’ve you been listening to recently?
Kasimyn: “Fire-Toolz, Loraine James, Metal Preyers, and a lot of keroncong.”
What do you have planned for the future to look forward to?
“Make up the tour, and maybe solo shows. Releasing a split with our favorite band from Kenya and doing some remix.”
When was the last time you danced, and what was the last thing to make you laugh?
“Last gig with Wahono & Nakibembe Xylophone troupe from Uganda for CTM Berlin was fun, extending to Ican’s wedding where Net Gala played an amazing set yeah!”
You can download Truancy Volume 262: Gabber Modus Operandi in 320 kbps and view the tracklist by supporting Truants on Patreon here. Your support allows Truants to continue running as a non-profit and ad-free platform. Members will receive exclusive access to mixes, tracklistings, and merchandise. We urge you to support the future of independent music journalism – a little support would go a long way.
This interview was edited for clarity. Photo by Oktavian Adhiek Putra.