Without the support of record labels, plenty of artists would have a sense of homelessness. Some artists prefer to have many homes, some prefer to have a home they share with their family. Most importantly, that home exists to give an artist a space of comfort and belonging so they can thrive.
Despite the pandemic, Southeast Asia’s electronic diaspora continues to evolve and mature. Clubs and festivals may be struck off your calendar, but creative minds have been coming together in the region to shape up new and distinctive platforms that keep the scene fuelled with fresh music, art and critical messages.
So we’ve picked out four record labels that have recently surfaced with plenty of attitude from Mumbai, Karachi, Bangkok and Bali. They all have a unique story about how and why they've come together. Speaking to the creative minds behind each of the imprints, we find out how they got here, where they’re going and why they should be on your listening radar in 2021.
Since the end of Summer 2020, the evolved Mumbai-based platform Krunk Kulture has already released three impressive compilations under a series titled ‘Flavours of the East’. Each release has been spectacular in its mission to unearth electronic gems of India, while exposing the plethora of South Asian artists in India and around the world. ‘Ganga Jamuna’, ‘Kaala Khatta’ and ‘Thandai’ are all distinct local beverages drunk around India, and they are also the musical directives created for each of the Krunk Kulture compilations we’ve heard so far. What we enjoy most about their releases is how much we’ve learned and discovered — the vibrant and eye-catching artwork emanates culinary and cultural insights, giving us a sensory taste of the South Asian music community through uber-fresh music.
Sohail Arora, founder of Krunk (the platform’s original carnation as an agency before turning into a label), tells us about his A&R approach to discovering original talent, “I feel it's very important to bring your hood's flavour into whatever you do. It feels genuine when people get it right.”
The familiar inclusion of flute, sitar or tabla sounds has not added any credibility to that fusion sound since Timbaland’s ‘Indian Flute’ days, and rightly so — there are so many other ways to express the cultural evolution of Indian youth around the world. The way Sohail ses it, “Our goal is to also challenge the norm that people expect from an Indian producer which is your standard tabla or sitar in every song. I think there is a way to find the right balance between the traditional and the modern. We aim to establish this balance through our releases. We are looking for such traits in an artist while releasing on our label.”
So what’s Krunk Kulture got in store for us in 2021? No doubt, they will continue pushing forward by means of trial and error for the simple reason that what they do goes against the grain of the norm in India, and in most places outside of it too. Sohail tells us that we should expect at least 12 EPs and singles in the next 6 months from established producers like Oceantied, Fopchu, Malfnktion, Kreon, FILM, Func, as well as from fresh names like Inspector Maal, Baalti and morèno (who all feature on ‘Thandai’). The brand is also stoked to drop some impressive merchandise this year, as well as a year-end compilation to round up 2021. One release that he’s got us excited about is an EP from Nikki Nair who recently released on Dirtybird and Worst Behaviour Recs, as well as on the label’s debut compilation ‘Kaala Khatta’.
Heritage and roots aside, the label likes to keep things sonically consistent, and if there’s one reigning rule through their releases, it has to be the natural inclination towards the left field side of things. “Be it breaks, techno, jungle, drum 'n' bass, it would not be straightforward at all. As a brand doing events for over eleven years, we have always set trends and not followed what works. While this has made our journey a lot more challenging over the years, it has also made it a very rewarding experience. We aim to continue that with the label and its philosophy.”‘
Thandai - Flavours of the East’ is out on Krunk Kulture exclusively on Bandcamp, and on all other major platforms on 26 January.
Siamese Twins Records
An insatiable meeting of the minds is probably the easiest way to describe the 4-man unit that is Siamese Twins Records. Birthed by close friends who are connected by the power of rave and the art of distinction, Taychin Dunnvatanachit, Johan Vandebeek, Yoshi Nori from 禁 JIN and Sunju Hargun (one of half of Mogambo) make up the new label from Asia that’s winning the appraise of leftfield taste buds around the world.
Their sound is avant garde, with a truly Asian-rooted philosophy in terms of art and ethos. Individually, they come from wildly different backgrounds, but they all meet at the back of a dance floor (at least when we could) every now and then to talk about how to evolve their love for music into meaningful and tangible projects. The record label is devoted to distinctive music that resonates through traditional and tribal rooted sounds. Siamese Twins launched as a label with a limited blue cassette release for ‘Vinyan’ (which means soul or the intangible essence in Thai) featuring Que Sakamoto, Sunju Hargun, Awkward Corners and Yantra Mandir amongst others, as a perfect introduction to the lateral philosophy the four gatekeepers of the label had intended for.
‘Cobra EP’ was their second release from Mogambo, a duo composed of Sunju Harun and Jerome Doudet (who also produces ethno-sampled based goodness under the monikers Yantra Mandir and Dude of Stratosphear) — the follow up to the outstanding original productions came by way of obscure remixes from Benedikt Frey and Yu Su. Telling us about how the label was overwhelmed by remixes, Sunju said, “Yu Su’s remix of ‘Jeena’ is such a unique interpretation. She’s an Asian artists with a global focus, and her peculiar style is what struck us — it’s hard to define her style let alone a genre of her remix.” Adding to our pleasant surprise, he continued to tell us, “her remix was inspired by Andrew Weatherall, and she based her inspiration on the passing of his legacy.”
With a strong start to launching their label last year, it undoubtedly got us incredibly curious about what was to come next — and not to our surprise, they’re keeping their cards close to their chest and for fair reason too. Who doesn’t love a good audio delight of a surprise? What we do know they will be doing is just as as important as the releases that they have been clandestinely working on — their principals and goals are to be highly admired for running an independent label in Asia. Success to them comes in the quality of the release in its entirety, from the meticulous detail to the visual direction to the creative support they give to the artists they collaborate with. Following their journey. there is plenty to be desired as their presentation, communication and voice are effortlessly flawless.
They trust, share and commit to a unified goal — a beyond basic mantra for nurturing strong community values. The Siamese Twins Records mantra, plus the wild music they’re conjuring up, is what keeps us on our toes in Asia, even when the dance floor is closed.
A refreshing dovetail of Asia’s Eastern and Southern electronic music domains, Jugaar Records جگاڑ launched this year as an underground label based that’s rooted in Asia, and with origins in Pakistan.
Headquartered in Bangkok, Jugaar Records is just about to drop it’s first release in February ‘Vinland in Space EP’ with Pakistani producer and DJ, Rudoh. Right off the bat, the first thing you sense is it’s intent on lack of definition, and label co-founder Sameer Arshad explains it best, “We’re not really pigeon-holing the label into a certain sound. There’s definitely a certain spirit to it…on Rudoh’s tracks, you’ll hear South Asian influences, Japanese influences and definite UK influences. At first it sounds like a breaks or electro record but on another listen you’ll realise there’s actually a lot of other stuff going on. Our next record has jungle influences but after that it’s something quite groovy.”
Sameer is based in Bangkok and promotes intimate parties under the well established underground movement Soundistan, which focuses mainly on collaborations with alternative music scenes from around Asia, whether it be folk artists from Indonesia and indie acts from the Philippines or warehouse parties in Pakistan. Sameer’s taste and outlook has always been there, and Jugaar is his new playpen together with Karachi-based label partner, Rudoh.
Even without an official release officially published yet, we’re quite comfortable in putting a wager on Jugaar for this year for two reasons — we love their parties and the music they’ve always stood for via sister-platform Soundistan. Secondly, we’ve had a good taste of the promo, and it’s on the money. A selfish third reason would be that we (and other audioheads head in Asia) are genuinely curious about Pakistan’s homegrown talent, and what Sameer and Rudoh are aiming for with Jugaar Records, is to fulfill that desire.
The visual direction for the debut EP also involved two young and talented Pakistani creators — Smax turned the music video for ‘Van Turbo’ into a 3D gaming concept using the Unity platform, adding a transfixing motion picture to the vibrant and futuristic breakbeat dramatics by Rudoh, and the inventive artwork for the EP was done by Haris Hidaya. Check out the music video for ‘Van Turbo’ below.
“The whole record is a nice little representation of the young creative community in Pakistan,” says Sameer, and “we’ll probably be aiming for such stuff in the future too, hoping to give light to exciting Asian designers and artists along with fresh music.” The label’s already pleased with the positive response during the promo period for ‘Vinland in Space EP’, “I think it's given lots of data to help pave our way for the future...a lot of learning has come with it, especially when it comes to pressing records, and artists like Josh Wink, Len Faki, DWIG, Addison Groove and Emerald have given us great feedback,” Rudoh excitedly adds. But they’re keeping their excitement contained about what lies ahead, and like Siamese Twins Records, they’re not letting too much out of the bag just yet.
We’re not allowed to reveal who you’re going to be hearing next, but you will be getting at least three EPs with exciting Asian producers, with a few global collaborations thrown in for wide measure and an exciting VA compilation after the summer.
Although Rudoh ‘Vinland in Space EP’ is set for release on February 5 on Jugaar Records, the global pandemic has caused delays to the vinyl pressing, but don’t let that stop you from making your pre-order of a vinyl or digital copy here.
It might sound cliche to some, but Bali has quickly evolved into the Ibiza of Asia — it’s equipped with an almost identical DNA as the Balearic paradise, boasting communities of local and foreign world class DJs, sunset-fuelled beach clubs and a thriving mix of revellers and spirituality-seekers.
Realising what was next door to him, and that Bali was a huge part of his life as an avid surfer and skater, DJ, Carsten Martens aka Chukku decided to pack up his studio after fourteen years in Hong Kong and embark on his mission to build a new mansion of a studio, and create a palatial home for his visionary label, Souta.
The label’s main output revolves around tasteful and vibrant afro-rooted vibes, with house and techno as it’s vehicle. Souta is a Japanese word that means ‘sudden sounds of the wind’, and the label’s art direction is inspired by the grace and elegance of the dragonfly. Carsten explains, “being a lover of nature, I was really drawn in by learning about the dragonfly’s iconic flight across water and how it represents an act of going beneath the surface and unearthing the deeper aspects of life. To Carsten and his label partner and wife, Annabat Martens, the Dragonfly means hope, change, and love. And that’s just a bit of what we need right now.
Originally from Cologne, Germany, Carsten’s approach to the label is both thrill-seeking and highly professional at the same time. “My wife and I come from corporate backgrounds, but we gave that up some time ago and dived into the music business, and faced a lot of trial and error. We’re all about being real, and getting better at what we do. We’ve built a lot along the way, and now it’s time to have fun with it and share it with the right people.”
Souta aims to establish itself as a hub for Asian artists, with an immediate focus on working with Indonesian musicians and creatives. Carsten has been a frequent visitor to the magic island and hopes to now integrate his musical ambitions with the local culture that he has immense admiration for. The Baliinese culture is a fitting environment for Souta’s label direction — “the releases are house and techno focused but with plenty of afro and percussive influence and lush, melodic compositions. Our music is straight up for dancing, with a very positive attitude.” Check out Chukku’s ‘Sounds from 2019 - 2020’ to get an idea of the Souta sound.
Giving us a hint at who will be appearing on the label’s early releases, and aside from his own releases as Chukku, Souta will be working closely with Asia based artists on their roster like Mars, Hara, Devlar (based in Bali), Oliver Osborne and Loud//Off, as well as with international collaborators like Ceej and Jepe who musically align with them. Beyond the label’s roster, they are intent on opening up to the thriving scene in Southeast Asia, “the opportunity is here,” says Carsten, “I see hungry artists eager to achieve and grow, and Souta is a well-structured platform to invite them into.”
“COVID-19 was both good and bad for us in the sense that it really delayed our plans over the last year with releases as we had plenty of gigs around the region planned (Wonderfruit was the last gig any of the label artists traveled for), but then we shifted our focus on moving ourselves and the music business to Bali, and rebuild our studio better than we already had it — what we had in Hong Kong was already a pretty successful studio business.”
The music business isn’t a joke to Carsten and Annabat — they just happen to be professionals who know how to have a really good time. Souta is the label which is accompanied by their publishing arm Aimi and their impressive recording studio Aya Studios. These three departments will be nested comfortably between their Hong Kong and Bali registered ASA Group companies.
The story of Souta in Bali actually started before they moved to the island — the label had already thrown two impressive parties in 2019, with the second being a New Year’s Eve showcase with Devlar, Hara and Loud//Off at the then-newly opened Neverland in Canggu. All the stars seemed to have aligned for Souta to build a home in Bali, and Carsten adds, “I used to be into punk music (in a band!) and am still into skateboarding and surfing, and Bali has also become such a magnet for house and techno music. How could I not move to Bali?” More importantly, Carsten has nurtured a family of artists who come from some deep backgrounds — Loud//Off was one of the key players behind New York's infamous Minimoo parties, and he recently shifted to Hong Kong to see what he can do out here. Check out the sounds of Loud/Off below.
Here are some core elements to Carsten’s vision for the label and Aya Studios that blew us away when speaking to him about his move to Bali — armed with at least thirty releases ready to go, Carsten has spent his time building his spacious studio to launch by spring this year. He breaks down the 600 square metre facility that includes “a spacious main studio, engineering room, live recording room, a small room for editing and composing, a video editing room, a comfy office space…and of course we don’t work without play. So we’ve included a 180 square-metre entertainment area that has a full bar, billiards table, kitchen, lounge areas and a swimming pool, and of course, a proper DJ booth and a club-style sound system.” There will also be a 250 sqm guest house for producers and artists to stay and work on their projects that will be ready by this summer.
Souta and Aya Studios will be ready by April this year, and the first release goes out around the same time. You can follow Souta here.