Ah, Sunda Kelapa. Batavia. Jakarta. On the outskirts of the city the smells of exotic fruits and dung fill the air. Old elephant tracks are preserved in the dried mud of the jungle path that leads towards the old temple. It is there I am to meet with Unkle Ho, member of The Herd and Elefant Traks, to discuss the missing link that is his latest release.
“The EP is quite diverse, I find it hard to stick to one particular style. Lime Juice, Kindergarten and Subterranea are the instrumental hip hop songs that I’m still enjoying writing immensely. Sarsaparilla is a venture into dancehall type territory, while Joy and Luck is a 3/4 ‘movie soundtrack’ song. I’m hoping my next release will be more consistent, perhaps another EP in only 3/4 style or a dub-styled bass excursion. I’m not that married to releasing full albums either, it is too much work for one person and people’s listening habits are changing.
”This EP is kinda like the missing link between my old work and the new work I’m about to embark on. Most of the songs include a lot of live playing, such as violins, guitars, bass and piano. I’ve a got few people now that I want to use again for recording, I’ll take them along my ride, time travelling through dusty crates of samples.”
The sound of music has been getting closer and now the source finally bursts round a leafy corner and into colourful view. A parade of people – children and adults – play music and dance their way past us and around the next corner. We wait until they have past.
“For Indonesians, music is a part of life as much as food, religion and family. Everyday in Jakarta there is some sort of festival going on in a park somewhere. Every young Indonesian I know is involved in a band or some creative pursuit. As well as Gamelan music which many people are aware of, I’m really enjoying Dangdut music. It is kind of Indonesian pop mixed in with Bollywood influences, it is quite unique.
”I haven’t written much Unkle Ho music lately, but there is a local hip hop scene which I’ve begun to tap into and I’ve started a project with a rapper and turntablist, both Indonesian. It is a challenge in itself to write music, let alone doing it in another language. Somehow we manage to communicate via high fives, hand signals and speaking some weird Indo-English dialect.”
Hopefully some nifty new beats will be coming out of that collaboration. Unkle Ho makes extensive use of samples and is militant when it comes to the debate over sampling as a legitimate art form.
“For those who say that sampling isn’t music, I’ll say that people have been sampling ever since music started, borrowing bits that they liked from other music. Elvis Presley, Jimmy Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and umm, Jet.
”I do believe sampling is an art as there is a very tangible creative process. Firstly, you have to listen out for the right sample, it might be a 3 second piano line or a trumpet riff, but it has to have something that you can foresee working with an imaginary beat. Then you gotta cut the sample up, time it correctly, stretch it, fade it, layer it and make sure it is in key with other samples, then to progress the song, try creating a different pattern using the same samples, or find new ones altogether. After doing this for many days and nights, making it sound as seamless as possible, some punk will listen to it and ask why aren’t there any vocals in it!”
We stroll through the temple grounds, nodding to the groundskeepers. They chuckle and smile knowingly. Smug bastards. Unkle Ho had to assemble a crack team of musicians to help with his live show, but as they never showed up Senator Jim now provide instrumentation.
“With instruments, both live and in recorded music, the results can sometimes be very unpredictable and spontaneous. There is an immediacy you just don’t get with electronic music. During the live shows, I provide the backbone to the music, while Senator Jim can cut loose on the trumpet, melodica or theramin. We try to not make the songs too rigid, that way the songs always sound a bit different.”
Unfortunately we won’t be having the pleasure of an extended visit from Unkle Ho. “My wife got a job working for a company in Jakarta, so we had a big conversation… actually it was more like five, then decided to move here for a few years. Luckily I haven’t missed any Herd gigs because flying back is quick and relatively cheap.
I’m still able to work for Elefant Traks through the internet, in fact it is probably a good thing I work remotely because there aren’t enough desks now at the Elefant headquarters. An Unkle Ho tour will not be possible, however I will be playing at the Garden Music Festival in Sydney on