Julian Banks Group Blends Indonesian Tradition with Modern Grooves

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Julian Banks Group (Image Source: Sabine Legrand)

Growing up in Canberra, Julian Banks began playing music in high school. It was here that he met band mate (and real life mate) James Hauptmann. With James on drums and Julian on tenor saxophone and writing the pieces, their friendship and musical connection grew. The duo joined with Christopher Hale, who plays 6-string semi-acoustic bass guitar to form the Julian Banks Trio and released their first, self-titled, album in 2014.

In 2015, Julian Banks Trio was invited to play at the Ubud Village Jazz Festival in Bali. It was here that Julian was introduced to Cepi Kusmiadi, a talented Indonesian percussionist who joined the band for their Bali gigs. Playing the Kendang Sunda, a set of two-headed drums that is traditionally played within Sundanese gamelan orchestra, Cepi brought a new sound to the group. “I immediately fell in love with the sound of these drums and I was blown away by Cepi’s sense of musicianship”, says Julian. Soon after this gig Cepi officially joined the band, which grew from a trio to a quartet and became the Julian Banks Group.

Julian was so inspired by the sounds of Cepi and his Kendang Sunda that on his return home he began to write music that incorporated guitars, saxophone and drums to highlight the traditional Indonesian percussion. Shying away from any rigid labels, the Julian strives to “write tunes that have an almost ‘song’ like feel to them”. Comprising of strong melodies and groove as well as some folky sounds, their eclectic and unique ‘Indie-Jazz’ sound is certainly unique to the group.  The Julian Banks Group has expanded again to include James Gilligan on bass guitar, who brings even more depth to the band’s sound.

Although the purpose of Julian Banks Groups wasn’t to create cross-cultural exchange or become an emblem of successful bilateral relationships, the friendships they have formed and their collective passion for music is undeniably that. Despite their different mother countries and cultural backgrounds, Julian says “Cepi and I are basically doing exactly the same thing with our lives”. He attributes their successful collaborations as a result of genuine friendship and the band’s strong musical partnerships.

Last year Julian Banks Group returned to Ubud Village Jazz Festival, where they also recorded their current album. Julian describes the album as a “beautiful blend of all the instruments and Cepi’s bubbling magic on this beautiful traditional Indonesian instrument creates the perfect bed for the modern grooves and melodic sensibility of the compositions”. Recording the album the day after completing a grueling hike up Gunung Agung in East Bali. The boys decided to name their album AGUNG, in “tribute to our adventure on the great volcano”.

With support from the Australia Council for the Arts, Julian Banks Group is returning to Ubud Village Jazz Festival and playing a number of gigs in Ubud and Candidasa in Bali this month. The band is excited to be back and playing for the diverse and multicultural audience that is drawn to Bali. Along with these appearances, Julian Banks Group will be hitting the road for a number of gigs in Australia as well as recording new music.

If you didn’t think the band was working hard enough, on top of these gigs and recording, the band will be giving workshops at Yayasan Pendidikan Dria-Raba, a not-for-profit school for blind children in Bali. The Australian Consulate in Bali set up YPDR and has provided instruments to the students to learn and practice playing music. Julian hopes that the band can soon expand their interaction with Indonesian audiences, especially with festivals in Sumatra, Lombok and Java.

If you want to see the boys performing live, you can check out their full tour details on Julian Banks Group’s Facebook or their website: www.julianbanksmusic.com.

You can also check out Julian Banks Group’s latest album at: https://julianbanksmusic.bandcamp.com/album/agung-2

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Art & Decks

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Okta Samid

Born and raised in Madiun, East Java, Okta Samid moved to Yogyakarta after finishing high school to enrol in art school at Institut Seni Indonesia. Best known for his clean illustration work and his use of pastel tones, Okta continues to gain acclaim in Indonesian and Australian art scenes alike. His clever use of cute, catchy phrases coupled with simple line work is characteristic of Okta’s distinctive style.

Okta is a professional artist and skateboarder who last year opened his own studio and boutique skate and art-supply store, Mendaftar Studio in Yogyakarta. He has been drawing and skating since he was a child, but it wasn’t until 2008 that he began to participate regularly in art shows and his work began to explore youth culture some of the issues he and his peers faced.

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Artist impression of famous Melbourne Library Wallride skate spot (Okta Samid)

In 2014 Okta was invited to Melbourne for a one-month residency. During his time Samid lived and hung out with local artists and skaters. This experience allowed Okta to explore Australian culture, visit a couple of famous skate spots and galleries as well as work on his pieces. At the end of his residency, Okta displayed at an exhibition and painted a mural at Conduit Arts in Melbourne. Since this first trip, Okta’s relationship within the Australian art scene has steadily continued to grow.

Okta continues to collaborate and freelance with a number of Australian brands and artists. His work has been printed on products for Australian brand Salty Shoes, he has exhibited works at Kubu Studio in Geelong and Lowbrow gallery in Zombie Queen in Adelaide to name just a few. Despite his relative prominence within the Australia-Indonesia art world, Okta is hoping to be able to further develop his skills and reach and hopefully return to Australia for more collaborations.

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“No Future” (silk screen print) – Part of Okta’s work displayed at YKK–>ADL art show at The MILL gallery, Adelaide 2015.

A big fan of Australian artists such as Marcus Dixon, Okta stocks the skate brand PASS~PORT, which Dixon’s work features on, in his store. “I really want to collaborate with Marcus”, says Okta. Given Okta’s talent, creativity and passion I’m sure this isn’t an unlikely dream. For now though, Okta plans to continue to produce art and grow Mendaftar Studio in order to develop “good relationships and collaborations with galleries and stores [in Australia] that share the same vision”.

If you want to check out Okta’s latest work, you can see it at Paperu exhibition as part of the Jogjakarta Art Festival from 31 July – 13 August. But if you’re not in Jogjakarta, Okta’s Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sketceria/ and Tumblr http://sketceria.tumblr.com are excellent ways to keep up-to-date with his art and collaborations.

The Gameladies

Combining traditional Indonesian musical instruments with contemporary Western songs, The Gameladies are encompassing transculturalism to the fullest. The Gameladies is a 6-lady (though they are known to “occasionally rope in David Kotlowy, our guest ‘Gamelad’” says Abby, one of the ladies) Gamelan band that has ‘organically’ formed through their connections to the Indonesian community and another community gamelan group, Sekar Laras. The core members are Simone Bignall, an Indigenous Studies academic and avid piano player; Emily Collins, an ethnomusicologist who studied gamelan in Indonesia; Margret Eusope, an Indonesian teacher; Trina Lucas, a film maker who has long family involvement in gamelan and Indonesian Studies in South Australia; Hannah Tunstill, a classically trained bassoonist whose family is strongly involved in gamelan; and Abby Witts, a languages specialist who has studied jazz drumming. The Gameladies are taking the Adelaide multicultural community by storm with their ingenious and unique Gamelan style. I got in touch with one of the Gameladies, Abby, to discuss this unique collective.

 

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Some of the Gameladies in action, from left to right; Trina Lucas (saron barung), Emily Collins (kendhang), Abby Witts (saron demung) and Simone Bignall (gong) (Image Source: John Nieddu)

 

Gamelan is a traditional form of music originating from Java and Bali, though it is now played throughout Indonesia. It is comprised predominately of percussive style instruments, such as the kendang, gong and saron, however the exact instruments in any single ensemble are generally regionally specific. The Gameladies play on a bronze set originating from Surakarta that is, incredibly, more than 100-years old.

The Gameladies have a wide-ranging level of experience playing gamelan, from Hannah who has played since a child to Simone who has only recently become involved in the scene. Despite all their variety of professions, the Gameladies all share a common interest in and passion for music and Indonesia and met through the Indonesian community in Adelaide. Abby says it’s their love for “challenging musical idioms, and just the enjoyment of playing music together” that motivates them to keep playing. The Gameladies draw on their individual skills and different experiences playing other instruments and music genres, to allow them to alternate between instruments depending on the song.

Traditional gamelan music uses complex cross rhythms, time signatures and interlocking parts that are rarely heard in contemporary pop music that can be quite confusing and difficult to master. However, The Gameladies further challenge themselves by playing contemporary and pop music poses a number of challenges. The Gameladies have a wide repertoire, ranging from traditional pieces from across the Archipelago through to contemporary songs, from the likes of David Bowe to Lady Gaga. The ladies use their musical skills to collaborate and adapt contemporary songs into music that can be played on the gamelan. This is quite challenging as the gamelan is constricted to a five-note scale, which necessitates the Gameladies to adapt the chromatic scale of pop songs to conform to the limitations of the Gamelan. Fortunately the Gameladies strong and diverse musical background allows them to overcome these challenges to create great fusion pieces. However, in the words of Abby, “sometimes the audience will be able to place the tune, but for others, hearing a pop song played on gamelan is so out of context that it is assumed that we are playing obscure traditionals.” After watching a number of videos of the Gameladies, I have no doubt the audience is suitably enamoured by the Gameladeis skills and music, regardless of whether or not they were savvy enough to pick up on the contemporary renditions.

You can catch the Gameladies performing across Adelaide at a number of cultural festivals, such as OzAsia and Indofest, as well as at functions in the Indonesian community and also at weddings. Although the Gamelaides currently almost exclusively perform at cultural events and for the Indonesian community in Adelaide, they believe that their unique and progressive style will allow them to expand their reach to more mainstream venues and audiences.

To keep up-to-date with The Gameladies (or to even book them for your wedding) check out their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thegameladies/

Indonesian Artist Carves up Australian Surf and Skate Scene

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Born in Surakarta, central Java, in 1990, Arswandaru is a talented illustrator who is rapidly gaining recognition in the surf and skateboarding art scenes in Australia, Bali and beyond.  Arswandaru attributes his lowbrow style to his surfing, skate boarding and music lifestyle he now leads in Bali, but don’t be fooled, Arswandaru is anything but your typical beach bum.  Not only is he continuing to develop his unique style and build a promising career, Arswandaru is currently establishing a charity for underprivileged children with his friends at the Australian surfing brand, Salty Shoes.

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Arswandaru’s work has progressed from abstract styles during his university days to its more conceptual style today.  His work is heavily “influenced by vintage tattoo flash, especially the simple depictions of pinups and skulls.”  However he feels that his current style has been most heavily influenced by the job he held during university.  Whilst studying art philosophy at the University of Indonesia, Arswandaru was a pencil artist for a comic publishing company. There he learnt many illustration techniques that have been extremely useful in finding his own unique style. It’s this style, and Arswandaru’s continued efforts in refining and developing his skills, that has caught the eye of a number of prominent Australian surf and skate brands.

Arswandaru has been working and collaborating with Australian brands for the last 4 or so years. After entering a surfboard design competition in around 2013, which although he didn’t win, Arswandaru’s artwork was appreciated by Australian surf magazine, Delirium, who then featured his work.  This exposure helped to accelerate Arswandaru’s career and popularity in the Indonesia and Australia surf-art scenes.  This has lead to commissions and collaborations with a number of prominent Australian surf,

skateboarding and music brands.  It is his surfing culture that has drawn him to continue to collaborate with Australian artists and brands, as he feels that their themes are relevant and relatable to his daily life.  Most recently, Arswandaru has just completed the art for the lookbook and video campaign for Australian brand, The Critical Slide Society.

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Alongside these commercial endeavours, Arswandaru is currently working on a number of pieces that will be displayed in a collective art exhibition at The Culprit Club Gallery in Brisbane this month.  He’s also working on a solo exhibition at the same gallery in September this year, which will explore his own perspectives on technology, social interaction and daily life.

If you didn’t think Arswandaru was busy enough, his collaborations now also extend beyond art galleries and brand merchandise. Now in the process of establishing a new charity organisation, Arswandaru feels that it is important to give back to the community.  He comments that he sees a number of Indonesian artists who have become very successful on an international scale, but aren’t giving much back to their communities.  Arswandaru hopes that those who have been fortunate enough to gain some success can share a little bit of their luck to those less fortunate.  Arswandaru is collaborating with the guys at Salty Shoes to create a children’s book as well as a video campaign.  All proceeds of the book will be donated to underprivileged children in Indonesian and Australia so that they can receive adequate education.

Arswandaru’s altruism extends beyond generating funds for the underprivileged.  He is passionate about giving back to his community in more ways than one and “hopes to teach young artists, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or who are unable to receive adequate formal education, to be more interested about social issues, in order to improve their futures.”  This passion to make a difference coupled with his talent and drive, I have no doubt Arswandaru will be able to greatly help those in need.

You can check out more of Arswandaru’s work at his Instagram @arswandaru

Story by: Freya Gaunt