“Chicks. The main driver for any kind of endeavor in music," mutters Karaeng Adjie, vocalist and guitarist of Polka Wars, the Jakarta-based darling of the Indonesian music scene. High school hardcore group-turned polished indie band, the quartet is busy nonchalantly strumming their way into ears across continents.
The four twenty-somethings don’t actually have similar musical influences. Karaeng Adjie (vocals, guitar) is the rocker of the band, Billy Aulia Saleh (guitar) eats up blends of the Beatles and Brazilian music for breakfast. Xandega Tahajuansya (bass) has deep indie roots (Leonard Cohen and just about everything else), leaving Giovanni Rahmadeva (vocals, drums) to the realm of Indonesian pop. Despite the differences, their sound stays simple and unified, as it did on their last album, Axis Mundi. They manage to weave those disparate tastes and histories into a sort of clean, nostalgic indie rock, sometimes echoing electric.
Having started out as a hardcore metal band, they switched genres because they didn’t end up attracting the right… crowd. Lounging in a casual office space over lunch, they reflect. “There tends to be a lot more sweaty guys than chicks in that particular area,” they chuckled. Nowadays, the group can often be spotted at warmly lit, free-for-all mini gigs in their weekend t-shirts and Superga-ed feet (with Saleh’s head owning the pork pie).
Why does it work? Tahajuansya explains that they just threw it all in, and the end result was something they liked. Friendship is also a major factor in keeping the flow clean. “If we weren’t friends before, we wouldn’t bother working through this.” So the ship is strong? Most definitely. Although they playfully claimed to only still be intact because of the nonexistent Tinder for bandmates. We promise, they’re brothers.
As a rebound from their well-received debut album Axis Mundi, Polka Wars have released an evil step-brother of an EP early September: EP/NY. After the balanced setlist that was their debut, the band says they ached to present a less cohesive, not-so-level mini album. Early 2015, on a Converse-sponsored trip to New York, the guys recorded songs that later became the birth of EP/NY. Keeping in touch with the familiarity of their signature sentimental chord progressions, EP/NY features the raw sounds of the band’s diverse influences like never before. “It’s not very cohesive, but it’s kind of like what we sound like when we’re having fun,” Tahajuansya says.
“It’s a statement,” says Adjie, in reference to Rangkum, the first single off EP/NY, and the first Indonesian-language track from Polka Wars. They released a music video for it on July 26th, a little shy of a month ago. The day the band knew they were going to record in New York, they wanted the song to be in Indonesian. “It’s hard to write a song in Indonesian that's aesthetically pleasing,” adds Adjie. With the help of Sore’s Ade Paloh, Rahmadeva interlaced lyrical poise with the story of that wistful affection one holds for an end resort. Paired with chords that sound like a sentimental yesterday - and a safe tomorrow - Rangkum lingers with you even after it ends.
The four-tracked-EP itself is a form of the band’s unfiltered creativity. “To put it intellectually, we were fucking around,” giggled Tahajuansya. Three of the songs were recorded in New York with Converse Rubber Tracks, and one in Jakarta (albeit produced together with a New Yorker, still).
The EP travels. We're greeted by noises of a train railway - inspired by the subway the guys rode whilst in the States - welcoming us to the seams of Rangkum. Next up, Seek is an ethereal hymn to put on through a late-night highway drive. With a sleep-heavy beat, Yucon reminds us of a singular longing memory of a heartbreak you’ve never had. Lastly, EP/NY ties the knot with a triumphant, Silverchair-esque circa Diorama ending in Obese Elves, circus-reminiscent with the brass section going zoo.
Whether their album's finished playing or it’s their last song of the night in a sepia-lit space, the air always stops after the last Polka Wars note busts out the door. That’s when you realize that their songs have accompanied you for the last 20 minutes or so. They’re like friends you grow comfortable with and don’t realize you can’t live without - until you do. Before you know it you’re replaying their sounds, again and again.
Keep your seat belts buckled - these guys are just getting started.