When Indonesian all-girl group Dara Puspita were making a name for themselves as one of the country’s most badass rock acts throughout the ’60s and the ’70s, none of the members of FLEUR! had even been born yet.
But more than half a century later, Tanya Ditaputri, Yuyi Trirachma and Tika Pramesti are carrying on Dara Puspita’s legacy with fun, nostalgia-inducing rock’n’roll – best exemplified in their debut album, which was finally released last month after a two-year delay.
FLEUR! began as a quartet called Flower Girls, a Dara Puspita cover band assembled to perform at Europalia, an international arts festival that celebrates a particular country’s cultural heritage, hosted by Brussels in 2017.
It was a tricky proposition: Only two of the band’s four members had known each other previously, and they didn’t have much time to get acquainted with Dara Puspita’s extensive discography.
“Growing up, my father loved Dara Puspita and Koes Plus so I was aware of them,” Yuyi tells NME. “But like most kids, I didn’t necessarily love old music, and was kinda forced to listen to them.” Tika had only dived into the world of ’60s rock a few years earlier as a member of Jakarta retro indie band Indische Party, while Tanya – a child of the ’90s – only began exploring it upon joining Flower Girls.
Flower Girls only had a few weeks to get gig-fit – but their chemistry was apparently from the beginning, says David Tarigan, the Indonesian music archivist who assembled the group. “The result surpassed our expectations,” he recalls to NME. “They were magical, especially when performing in Brussels. Even I was surprised.”
That was supposed to be the end of Flower Girls. But after another successful performance back home in Jakarta, many friends encouraged them to keep going.
“That was the turning point. After that, we started jamming and writing our own songs,” Yuyi says.
“We’d love to experience Europe again, but not as a tribute band”
Just as Flower Girls were getting productive, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Rika Putrianjani left the band due to work commitments, leaving them as a trio. This, and the fact that the name ‘Flower Girls’ had already been claimed, prompted the band to change their name to FLEUR!, after the French word for flower, Yuyi says.
The band put out their debut single – ‘Muka Dua’, full of walking basslines and three-part vocal harmonies – in March 2020, only to have their momentum halted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a subsequent lockdown.
But FLEUR! didn’t go into hibernation. They opted to strategically put out one single after another and got invited to play at Bangkok Music City, Thailand’s first virtual international music festival, sharing the bill with other up-and-coming Asian artists. To top it off, they collaborated with Jakarta’s disco-revivalist DJ duo Diskoria and popular actress Tara Basro on ‘Suara Disko’, a track that the band wrote and arranged. All of this ensured FLEUR! didn’t just fade into obscurity as the world trudged through the pandemic.
Last month, FLEUR! finally released their debut album ‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’. Its 11 tracks perfectly document the band’s carefree attitude and growth as songwriters while also proudly embracing their roots in ’60s pop and rock music.
The opening track ‘Gadis Bunga’ – literally titled ‘Flower Girl’, it was the first original song the band ever wrote – is a catchy garage pop anthem that literally invites listeners to sing along and hit the dancefloor.
The band continue to have fun and keep things loose on ‘Break Sebat’. Its double entendre title plays on “Black Sabbath”, how the band referenced its heavy guitar and bass parts during jamming sessions, and roughly translates to ‘Cigarette Breaks’ – an in-joke embracing the band’s tendency to spend more time gossiping than actually practicing.
“During a two-hour jamming session, we’d waste about an hour and a half talking and doing nothing,” Yuyi says, cracking up with her bandmates over Zoom. “The lyrics were written by our friend [former music journalist] Hasief Ardiansyah, because we had no idea what to write. It’s a song about the art of doing nothing.”
FLEUR! don’t seem to limit themselves to any specific topic. Nothing is too trivial or too serious, as long as it’s honest.
“It usually starts as chit chat between us as women, but yeah, it can be anything,” Yuyi says of their lyrics. “It could be about being lied to by your crush (‘Jangan Harap’), or me being sick of the same old promises made by politicians on TV (‘Lagu Lama’).”
The band also don’t shy away from personal themes, as demonstrated by the album’s slower, softer numbers. Arguably the best track on the album, ‘Merona’ is a gorgeous wistful pop number that manages to sound melancholic and romantic at the same time. It was initially written as a love song but changed in meaning when Tika lost her mother during the recording sessions.
“If we get a chance [to make] a second album, we may create something that’s even more us, since our friendship bond will be stronger by then”
“Tika’s mother was sick, so every night Tika would tidy up her drum set before looking after her mother at the hospital,” Yuyi recalled. “After her mother passed away, we all saw how devastated she was, so the song ended up being written about Tika, how she had to keep up appearances (‘merona’) even though she was suffering (‘merana’).”
Clearly still affected by her mother’s passing, Tika finds it hard to talk about ‘Merona’, but is full of appreciation to her bandmates for their support. “Every time we played this song, I had to suppress all these yearning feelings. I’m still heartbroken,” she says between long pauses. “The song is special to me and I’m incredibly moved by it, so thank you girls!”
From the matching vintage outfits to music instruments to purposely dated vocabulary in their songs, FLEUR! are still leaning pretty hard into the retro aesthetic. And while it would be easy to dismiss that as a decision to cash in on nostalgia, ‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’ showcases a band who are aware of their beginnings but also confident in their own craft. They don’t downplay their influences but rather, choose to pay respect to those who came before them, as shown in their psychedelic rendition of Dara Puspita’s ‘Oh Kasih’ (itself a cover of Indonesia’s diva Titiek Puspa’s 1963 hit) and a cover of Ismail Marzuki’s celebrated masterpiece ‘Juwita Malam’.
“We have no problem being associated with ‘oldies’ music. Since that’s obviously where the band came from musically, that’s kind of the point,” Yuyi says firmly. “With this first album, we’re pretty chill about it, but if we get a chance [to make] a second album, we may create something that’s even more us, since our friendship bond will be stronger by then.”
The ultimate dream, she adds, is to go back to Europe where everything started for them.
“We’d love to experience Europe again, but not as a tribute band. We want to perform our original songs as FLEUR!”
‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’ is out now