Lomba Sihir’s unabashed mix of quasi-funk, synth-pop and dance-infused soft-rock sounds so of the moment, it’s hard to believe the band wasn’t formed through some indie version of a talent competition. On their debut album ‘Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia’ (‘Welcome To The Edge Of The World’), the Indonesian sextet offer up one appealing tune after another, with winning production that delivers just the right amount of indie-crunch and studio-sheen.
Lomba Sihir means “Magic Contest” in Indonesian, and the band have the former in spades. Their easy chemistry likely has to do with their experiences as longtime players in other musical projects. And on the flip side, there’s little competition about Lomba Sihir: each band member seems to have quickly settled into roles that together combine as an organic whole.
“Throughout my history of playing music, this is the first time I’m in a band that doesn’t plan out or feels like it has an ‘assignment’ for what it will be like,” says guitar player Rayhan Noor. He also plays guitar and synth in the alternative rock band Glaskaca and Martials, his duo with Lomba Sihir drummer Enrico Octaviano.
He adds, “From the beginning, I was playing as if on auto-pilot, and each of us just knew what our roles were. This is truly a collaborative kind of band.”
Rayhan and Enrico aren’t the only experienced ones. Keyboard player Tristan Juliano has played with the electronic group Mantra Vutura (and is also the son of famed composer Addie MS), while vocalist and synth player Baskara Putra is famous for leading the rock band .Feast as well as his solo project under the moniker Hindia. In fact, the members of Lomba Sihir perform as Hindia’s backing band – but the band is not simply an extension of that solo project, rather an entity unto itself.
Baskara has always preferred being in a band to working solo, he tells NME. “I created Hindia because there was a lot of material that was [topically] personal, which didn’t feel right in a band format.” But as his solo project’s backing band became deeply involved in creating Hindia material in the studio and on stage, it became clear that they should make new, non-Hindia music.
“In the end, everyone thought, ‘Why don’t we make an album?’ With topics that were freer and less Baskara-centric,” he summarises.
“Lomba Sihir was more than about pleasing other people and more than us trying hard to be unique or to be superb in the music industry” – Natasha Udu
So Lomba Sihir used their time in lockdown to focus on writing and recording songs, the process becoming “serious” as 2021 began, Baskara says. Instead of the .Feast’s frontman’s personal life and musings, the theme that instead runs through Lomba Sihir’s debut is that of Jakarta, the Indonesian capital city that is home to each band member.
Bass player Wisnu Ikhsantama Wicaksana – a sound engineer who has co-produced Hindia and .Feast records – says that it was only natural that the city became their main lyrical focus. “For me, the Jakarta theme is something that we sing about to remember a time before the large-scale social restrictions took place,” he says.
“I really miss Jakarta and its hustle and bustle before this pandemic happened. What we want to express are the realities that exist in the city, whether it is the good or the bad,” he adds.
“Each of us just knew what our roles were. This is truly a collaborative kind of band” – Rayhan Noor
Lead vocalist Natasha Udu – whose voice complements Baskara’s nicely on ‘Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia’ – says that the Jakarta theme isn’t as monolithic as some may think. Each musician in Lomba Sihir, she says, has different ideas of what the songs mean.
“Personally, what I hope is for [the listener] to be able to imagine and to interpret each song with their own stories. Even between the six, we imagine different scenarios if you ask us to define [album songs like] ‘Hati Dan Paru-Paru’ (‘Heart And Liver’),” Natasha says.
So it stands to reason that the members of Lomba Sihir all have different favourites on the album. Tristan points to ‘Cameo’, which he says levels a slight criticism towards people who consider themselves eco-conscious but still frequent coffeeshops with their plastic cups – people like him, he admits. Natasha, meanwhile, likes ‘Nirrrlaba’ (Indonesian for ‘Non-Profit’) because of the unexpected vocal melodies Baskara infuses the song with.
For Baskara, it’s ‘Jalan Tikus’ – which literally translates to ‘rat streets’, an Indonesian term that refers to small roads which people use in cities as shortcuts. Rayhan concurs: “Now if someone asks me, ‘What is life like in Jakarta?’ I can just say ‘listen to ‘Jalan Tikus’’.”
“I don’t feel like this album wants to say or make certain statements for the listeners to get,” Baskara adds. “It’s just kind of a portrait of Jakarta and its people, from our perspective as people who come from middle-class circles. If it feels messy and jumbled, then that is what Jabodetabek [Greater Jakarta] is in our eyes,” Baskara says.
And how does the city look in his eyes?
“Awur-awuran,” he says, using an Indonesian term that describes something that is a chaotic, heated mishmash. “Exactly like the colour choices of the various tents, banners, billboards and urban-suburban graphic designs that we come across every day while struggling to make money in the city.”
Living in Jakarta can sometimes feel like sweating in a pressure cooker. In contrast, Lomba Sihir collectively strive for a more light-hearted existence.
“Some time ago, someone told us, ‘Wow, you guys know how to have fun. I can hear it in your music’,” recalls Rayhan. “And that is indeed our goal. We really didn’t want to be limited by anything when we started the process of writing this album – everyone wanted to have unlimited fun.”
“Maybe that’s what made our album relatively free from being tied to just one or two musical genres,” he suggests. “Borderless in many ways.”
“We started Lomba Sihir for fun, and the project was more than about pleasing other people and more than us trying hard to be unique or to be superb in the music industry,” Natasha adds. Because Lomba Sihir began as a low-stakes project, she admits that the comparisons to .Feast and Hindia do “irritate” her – even as she concedes that being described as a Hindia offshoot is “not wrong at all”.
For Baskara, the band has been an unadulterated blessing.
“I think I have a very rare privilege to work closely with people whom I am closest with to outside of music, and these guys are part of that very, very, very small inner circle and comfort bubble. It’s a very pleasing sight to see that each of them has grown close with each other too over the short time this band has started touring together under the Hindia banner in 2019,” he says.
“I think everyone in Lomba Sihir would agree that I am that tiny little slice in each of their own social circle’s Venn diagram,” he adds. “It’s been an honour to work with them on a lot of different projects over the years.”
Lomba Sihir’s ‘Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia’ is out now