I have to be honest. Indie music is a little bit difficult to get into, let alone Southeast Asian indie music. However, thanks to the wonderful thing that is the internet, it’s now easier than ever to discover musicians from all over the world.
Underground as it may be, the Southeast Asian indie music scene is, and has always been, vibrant and exciting with a dizzying range of genres. Here are 7 Southeast Asian indie musicians you should listen to right now that embody the incredible talent and diversity from the region.
1. IV of Spades
Hailing from Marikina in the Philippines, IV of Spades (stylised IV OF SPADES) was formed in 2014 by members Unique Salonga (guitars and vocals), Zildjian Benitez (bass and vocals), Blaster Silonga (guitar), and Badjao de Castro (drums). Their music, a nostalgic blend of funk, indie pop, disco, and 70s rock, feature slick guitars and smooth, throwback vocals (both in Tagalog and English) that accompany highly danceable and groovy beats.
The band just recently got a record deal with major record label Warner Music Group, and have thus been hitting Philippine airwaves since last year and are quickly shaping up to be a local favourite. Their latest single, ‘Mundo‘, was recently released in February 2018.
2. Grace Sahertian
From Bandung, Indonesia, singer-songwriter Grace Sahertian makes some of the most chill and inspiring jazz and soul music out there. With a soulful, husky and powerful voice reminiscent of Erkyah Badu, Sahertian sings about love, life, and everything in between. Her lyrics match the fun, lighthearted, and undeniably romantic spirit of soul and jazz music whilst injecting her own personal style that is uniquely her own.
Sahertian released her debut album, HELA, in 2016, and is currently working on a new single, ‘Beautiful’. A woman of many talents, Sahertian is also a Fashion Design lecturer and has had a master degree in Design according to her website.
3. Phum Viphurit
Phum Viphurit is a Thai-born, New Zealand-raised indie musician based in Bangkok. He started composing when he was only 18, and at 21 has released a new album, Manchild, which features beachy, jangly guitar-based indie pop paired with his incredibly soothing indie vocals. In the past couple of years, he has gained a lot of airplay in Thailand, and is quickly reaching a wider international audience online.
Viphurit sings in English, but according to a 2017 with the Bangkok Post, is aiming to also sing in Thai in the future, stating that “it’s one of [his] goals”. His most recent single, ‘Lover Boy‘, was released last week.
From Hanoi, Vietnam, indie pop musicians Ngọt (which means “sweet” in Vietnamese) have, over the past couple of years, attracted a bit of a cult youth following in Vietnam, especially in major cities Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Though they sing exclusively in Vietnamese, their music is universally appealing, featuring catchy melodies, experimental compositions which combine anything from acoustic guitars to accordions and even an occasional bit of rap, as well as upbeat, yet wistful tunes which define their growing and increasingly popular discography.
Ngọt’s self-titled debut album, released in 2016, is available in full and for purchase on SoundCloud.
5. Gym & Swim
Formed in 2013, Gym & Swim are from Bangkok, Thailand, and fittingly describe themselves as a ‘quintet tropical-inspired indie pop band’ on their Facebook page. Their music has elements of 80s new wave, especially given the lead vocalist’s Morrissey-esque vocals. Imagine Vampire Weekend’s guitars combined with New Order’s synths and Talking Heads’ dancey, catchy beats, and you get Gym & Swim, except they have their own unique sense of beachiness only they can achieve.
Their debut album ‘Seasick’ was released in 2015. The band have written on their Facebook page that ‘It all started with a Japanese movies.’
6. Pastel Lite
Pastel Lite are an experimental, indie electropop duo consisting of Eff Hakim and Mohd Faliq from Malaysia. They create simultaneously nostalgic and forward-looking music combining synths, satisfying bass lines and echoing electric guitars along with vocals that seem to have been lifted straight out of the 80s. Their lyrics are heart-wrenching, often revolving around themes of heartbreak and regret, thus creating an interesting juxtaposition against their otherwise charmingly upbeat and seemingly sweet musical compositions.
Pastel Lite are signed to Yuna Room Records and have released a full-length album, Balada, in 2017. They released the music video for ‘Damsel’, off Balada, in October 2017.
7. Bil Musa
Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Bil Musa (real name Nabilah Musa) hails from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and creates some gorgeous pop music. It is at times upbeat and energetic, other times chill and relaxing, but always well-crafted, smart, and with lyrics that seem to speak directly from the artist’s heart. She began by uploading acoustic guitar-based songs she wrote on her own to Soundcloud, and has now developed her style to become more digital and pop-based. She sings mainly in English and Malay, and, according to her Facebook page, even sings in French sometimes.
In 2014, Bil Musa was discovered by record label Yuna Room Music, and since then, her musical career has seen a steady upwards trajectory. Her newest single, ‘No More Excuses’, is an incredibly modern, slick pop banger with elements of R&B and electronica.
Based in Singapore, .gif (pronounced ‘dot jif’ and stylised [.gif]) are an electronic indie pop duo whose debut full-length album soma, released in 2015, received much critical acclaim upon its release. Slick, otherworldly beats and percussion, along with the occasional keyboard, provide accompaniment to dark, mesmerising vocals. Their music is almost ambient and meditative in nature, like a darker version of Little Dragon combined with just a smidgen of witch house elements, and has sombre, introspective lyrics that can pass on their own as poetry.
Enthralling, endlessly enigmatic and entrancing, .gif’s debut album soma is available for purchase on Bandcamp, along with their other work including their EP saudade and a single, ‘Juvenile’.