MEDLEY EP. 02 – KOLIBRI REKORDS
A Series of Talks and Conversations With Musicians, Producers and Record Labels, – Especially on the Other Side of the Untold and See How They Managed to Doing What They Love.
Medley is a monthly podcast run by Hijack Sandals in collaboration with Norrm Radio dedicated to discussions on Indonesian and/or international indie music with prominent figures, from label heads to producers to musicians themselves, as a way to provide an insight towards how significant labels, events and other musical milestones came to be.
In this episode, Mirza Pahlevi Wardhana of Soft Blood talks with the founders of influential Jakarta indie pop label Kolibri Records: Daffa Andika and Ratta Bill, to discuss about the label’s origins, challenges and triumphs throughout their now 6 year existence.
Kolibri Records are known for their roster of young indie pop bands and a distinctively colourful visual identity. They are known for being the home of such bands as Bedchamber, Atsea, Gizpel and Grrl Gang to name a few: bands that have risen significantly over the decade due to a combination of momentum, accessibility, clear identities and most importantly, a fun and lively sound. Co-founder Ratta is also a member of Bedchamber.
Mirza: Welcome to the 2nd episode of the Medley podcast. We are here today with the founders of indie pop label Kolibri Records, Daffa and Ratta, who have come all the way from Jakarta to join us here in Bandung. And I mean *all* the way from Jakarta… they’ve come here biking the entire way! How long did it the entire trip take?
Ratta: Our friend Suryo, who came with us, initially said it would take only 12 hours to bike from Jakarta to Bandung. Turns out… it took us 17 hours!
Mirza: Nice, but anyway let’s get into the music talk. So my first question is, how did you guys first get exposed to music?
Daffa: Well, I’ve been exposed to music since I was very little. At home, mostly. My folks have a lot of tapes and CDs and whenever they played them at home, I’d be listening. I remember when I was in primary school (SD), my parents would try and wake me up by just playing a song that I like so that I would wake up for school! [laughs] and I’d wake up along to the tune. Looking back, I think that it’s an interesting way to wake a child up. It makes you in a better mood when you wake up!
Ratta: I first got exposed to music through playing it. My dad is a musician too. So from a young age I was already exposed to all these different instruments lying around at home. We also had a studio in the house, so I tried my hand in playing everything that was there: drums, guitars, piano, which I also took lessons for. In the end, I stuck with the guitar.
Mirza: How far did that childhood experience shape your musical tastes today?
Daffa: Well you can say that there’s a part of me now that is shaped by those moments.
I admit that I’m more inclined to listening to pop songs the most. My musical taste is shaped around music that is melodious and easy to be listened to and any music that I want to work with should always have those pop tendencies.
Mirza: You guys grew up in what’s known as the “transitional” era, the era in the 2000s where we saw a shift in music from physical to digital. Did you eventually realize growing up that music does not always have to be in physical form, or do you stand by the notion that music should always be physical?
Ratta: Well, if you ask me, I’m still a very “physical” guy, meaning that I still collect physical releases and I try my best to always buy tapes or CDs. I like the sensation of holding, looking at and feeling a release in my arms. For me, it’s the best form of appreciation for a piece of music that you love, and it makes me happy that this thing “exists” in real life. The value of that feeling is still strong.
Mirza: Did that feeling contribute to the ethos of Kolibri Records? Meaning that all releases you put out should always have a physical form?
Daffa: Back then, I had a massive collection of tapes and CDs, so the love for physical releases were there. Do you remember those flimsy pirated CDs that were sold in stalls by the road? I got a lot of my music from those CDs. So from that experience, I concluded that physical releases still have importance.
But with the advance of technology, I realized that I’m able to adapt just fine with the shift to digital. I have no problem with it and I don’t feel like something is missing when I listen to something digitally. I mean, we can’t really be too closed minded on that, because we want our music to be heard and be accessed by as many people as possible.
Anyway, I told Ratta one day that I had an idea to start a netlabel. I realized that all this time, I’ve been getting music for free on the internet and I thought that that’s how it worked. I thought it made sense to get music for free and therefore give music for free as well. [laughs] But after that I thought, why not start a real label instead?
Mirza: Do you have any concerns that anyone online could misappropriate or pirate your releases? Is that the reason why Kolibri now uses the Creative Commons license in all digital releases?
Ratta: Funny story about that. We recently found out that some rando on the internet reuploaded Bedchamber’s Geography album in full… on Bandcamp, under a different artist name. Some Indonesian dude. We had to take care of it because they were selling the thing.
Daffa: About the CC license, I found out of the importance of that through YesNoWave. So when you download any YNW release, you’ll receive a PDF file that lists all the usage terms and conditions for that release. After reading that file, I realized that it was indeed possible to legally distribute and obtain that music for free, and have it be protected by law. It doesn’t make your fans feel like criminals!
I think that license is important because it protects our artists’ work, especially because most of our bands are still young and not really that big yet.
Mirza: Do you feel that Kolibri has benefitted heavily from the hype around the “indie pop” sound played by DIIV and Beach Fossils that became popular around 2013 to 2014? Bedchamber emerged around that era and became very successful very quick.
Ratta: I think so. It’s inevitable that a release will always be judged by the standards of that time. Peter Savile of Factory Records said that. They saw bands like Joy Division rise dramatically in the span of only one year, when their unique sound began to emerge. But all the Factory bands that were released after that year did not sell as well. The bands that started the trend of that new wave sound have now become classics, the ones after did not. It’s all about momentum, and I think that we came out at the right time.
Mirza: Now I want to ask about Bedchamber. When the band first emerged, Kolibri also had Gizpel and Atsea on the roster. But from those 3 bands, Bedchamber rose the quickest. Did you put more priority in promoting Bedchamber at the time? Or did you promote each band equally?
Ratta: At Kolibri, we give all bands the same treatment and the same level of attention. We give them the chance to make videos, to go on tours, and be promoted with the same intensity. But the thing is, bands rise when all the factors align in their favor. Different outcomes can happen because of varying factors. From the bands side themselves, there’s a lot of factors to consider, such as the members focusing on their dayjobs or the members being separated geographically.
Daffa: A label’s job is to merely help promote and support the bands. Whatever happens to a band depends on the bands themselves. Whatever they want to do after they release something, it’s up to them.
Mirza: Do you give complete creative control to your bands and let them make any kind of music that they wish?
Daffa: The answer to that can be seen on the playlist I made for Medley which acts as a map of Kolibri’s history, which also acts as a reflection of me and Ratta’s shifting musical tastes along those years. What we were listening to at a certain time will be shown through what we decide to release on Kolibri that year.
But the way we choose which artists to sign is that we must find bands that click with us. We never tell a band how to create their art.
Mirza: With the power of your current roster, I feel that your audience tend to have big expectations for Kolibri. Have you ever felt worried that your audience will not like a band that you release? Or do you feel that the audience are the ones that should follow whatever you put out?
Ratta: We’re never afraid of what the audience think. I think it’s because we’re very confident as people [laughs]. But usually we do our research first.
Mirza: Would you say that Kolibri are tastemakers?
Ratta: Not really… We’re merely giving them options. It’s not like we’re giving them something and asking them to like it. But maybe they missed out on this band, and we merely remind them.
Mirza: Ratta, you are the brains behind Kolibri’s visual identity. Do you have total control over forming a band’s visual aesthetic or do you usually discuss it with them beforehand?
Ratta: What’s certain is that I’m always involved in the discussion, regardless what decision the band makes. I always let the band decide how they want their visual aspect to be like. So far I’m happy that many of them have placed their complete trust in me to formulate it for them. I believe that if they have faith in what you do, and vice versa, then that’s the best kind of partnership.
Mirza: Have you guys ever opened demo submissions? I think you guys have done so one before.
Ratta: When we posted that one submissions flyer, we got a lot of demos, yeah.
Mirza: Did you end up signing any of the bands that sent demos to you?
Daffa: Here’s the thing. As of 2020, we’ve been going on for 6 years and I guess we now get around 1 or 2 demos almost every day. But in the span of those 6 years, I remember only liking only about 10 that are sent to us.
Ratta: There are some that we almost took a chance on. I initially felt weird that we never decided to sign a band based on a demo submission all this time. I thought maybe we needed to check our standards because it was too high or something.
But then I read an interview from Hardly Art, a Sub Pop sub-label, which said that they have never signed a band through a demo submission in the past 10 years. After that I realized that it’s just part of the business, if something doesn’t click with us then we don’t have to force it.
Mirza: Do you fear that people will associate Kolibri as a label that’s out of reach?
Daffa: See, it kind of pains me that this assumption could happen. I started to question whether there’s something wrong with us because the ones that sent us demos worked really hard to match our aesthetics and what we like.
On one hand, I like to be surprised. I like to hear things that are new to me, that I don’t expect but I can still enjoy. But at the same time, I also want to hear sounds that are familiar! So there’s a kind of contradiction that I have [laughs]. It’s a shame though, because so far most demos we received aren’t really worth the time because many of them were just trying to imitate another bands.
Mirza: On the other hand, are you guys proud that there are many bands out there that put that much effort to get into Kolibri?
Ratta: One thing I realized is that you must maintain a clear standard when selecting your roster. There are many bands who have a great musical character and have incredible potential, but we feel that we are not the right platform for them.
Daffa: Haha, there’s a funny story regarding a pretty big band that contacted us once, from Australia.
Ratta: Oh yeah! [laughs]. Last Dinosaurs contacted us once about releasing on Kolibri.
Daffa: They were interested to work with us, and we’ve discussed it with them through emails and videocalls. But at the time we decided to not go through with it. I guess it’s because we aren’t ready to tackle a market of that size.
Mirza: Speaking of big bands, how did you manage to get Jirapah to release with Kolibri?
Ratta: We’re really big fans of Jirapah and as a musician I look up to them very much. When I first saw Jirapah live, I felt like they sounded unlike any other band here. It was eye-opening. They’re pretty avant garde, but I can still enjoy them because they still had pop sensibilities. Their catalogue is amazing as well.
Eventually I got to know Ken Jenie and Mar Galo because we worked at the same office. But at work, we would never discuss Jirapah nor Kolibri until one day, their manager Hilmi asked us if we were willing to release Jirapah’s album [Planetarium] on Kolibri. I was like, “are you serious?”
Initially we felt a bit anxious. We thought that our egos were getting the best of us because we merely wanted to tackle on this project simply because we were big fans of Jirapah, regardless of whether we could manage it or not. In the end, we realized that at that point we already have the experience as a label to handle it, so I felt this project was a chance to step up our game. It went well, fortunately.
Daffa: And what struck me the most was that they were very chill about everything! We thought that they would be very strict in outlining their vision but it turns out they left most of the ideas to us.
Mirza: It seems that the theme of “friendship” is a strong aspect of Kolibri’s identity. You’ve also held the Internet Fwends showcase almost 10 times now. I once read that part of why Kolibri was born was because you felt alienated whenever you went to gigs because you didn’t know anyone there but it seemed that everyone else there knew each other, especially the bands.
Ratta: I remember a story Daffa told me about Studiorama. After coming back from one of their gigs, he told me that he felt like a stranger because he only knew 1 or 2 people there. But it seemed that all the people there knew each other very well and enjoyed the gig together. It was more about wanting to make a gig where we can enjoy it with the friends in our circle.
Daffa: We realized we can hold gigs ourselves without necessarily being helped by more senior figures of the scene. Everyone can hold gigs. Every gig that you enjoyed or went to are made by the same people in the end, and we felt that we could do it too.
But there’s an interesting observation about Kolibri gigs that I feel has become a trait of our shows.
Daffa: Maybe I’m tooting my own horn saying this, but I believe that we were the ones who started the trend of moshing and crowdsurfing at indie pop shows in this era. I’ve been going to gigs since 2009 and all I knew was that crowdsurfing and moshing were things that happened at punk or hardcore shows. When they started happening at our gigs, we realized it was a thing that can happen in any gig.
When we toured Singapore in 2018 with Gizpel, Bedchamber and Grrl Gang, we were playing with local bands such as Subsonic Eye and SOBS. The first band that played I think was Gizpel, then Subsonic Eye. For the first 2 bands, the crowd were pretty motionless and it looked like they weren’t getting into it, even though the place was packed. I’d heard before that crowds in Singapore tend to be more reserved.
When Bedchamber took the stage, the Indonesian entourage felt that it was time to liven up the place. So we did. 15 people that. We danced, moshed, crowdsurfed like we would usually do here. After that, the Singaporeans started to join in. SOBS was the final band that took the stage, and by that time, everyone was moshing.
The Singapore kids said to me: “This is the first time I’ve been to a gig in Singapore where the crowd went as crazy as that!” After that, I heard that at all of Subsonic Eye and SOBS gigs afterward would always have people moshing.
Ratta: I think that’s the biggest impact we’ve ever done, making Singapore crowds mosh! [laughs].
Mirza: I agree, I think moshing and all that have become staples of Kolibri gigs. I remember being at a show in Malang’s Houtenhand where Grrl Gang was playing. Everybody was moving, crowdsurfing took place. And I talked with the guy that ran the venue, he said it was the first time they’d seen moshing at such a show.
Daffa: I remember that show. People were flying! It was really fun. I think it’s one of the best we’ve put on so far.
Mirza: I remember also that there were a lot of girls taking part in the moshing too, during Grrl Gang. It’s amazing that you guys are able to create a new habit.
Daffa: A lot of girls had the courage to take part in the moshing as well because maybe they felt it was a safe environment to do so. It becomes part of the experience. That’s what I’m very happy about.
Ratta: We want our shows to always be a safe space for all girls and boys. It pains me whenever a girl friend of mine says she doesn’t want to go to gigs because she feels she wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as much as the boys would. But I understand where those concerns come from.
Mirza: With Kolibri now in its 6th year, do you feel that the label has experienced its peak?
Daffa: I think we’re at the point where we’ve past the peak and concerns on how long can we sustain this label are starting to come. You can’t avoid adulthood. Everyone at Kolibri is roughly the same age and have gone through the same things at certain ages. Six years ago, maybe our problems simply revolved around UTS or college assignments but now we’re facing problems that are different and far more complex.
Six years ago, there weren’t as many players in this game. Maybe it’s because of this factor that Bedchamber and Kolibri rose so quickly, because nobody was doing what we were doing. After Kolibri, a lot of labels and netlabels started to pop up, there was a small boom for awhile. But now the label boom has largely died down, replaced by pseudo labels that are more business oriented. We’re at that crossroads now. Where else can we bring Kolibri? It’s like we’ve achieved all the things we wanted in the beginning.
Ratta: A US tour would be nice, man….
Daffa: [laughs] Yeah, but the point is that we’ve already done international tours! Maybe now the sensible move is to step up our game. Ok, back then we toured 20 cities. Next time, we’ll tour 40. We’ve toured Asia. Next plan, Europe. It makes sense. Maybe we need a period where everything slows down to recalibrate ourselves.
Because if we were to chase a second peak, we must ask ourselves, what caused the first one? Oh maybe because age was a factor, we had more time on our hands. The true question is, when chasing that second peak, how can regeneration take place at Kolibri?
Mirza: So last question. What else will Kolibri do to step up its game?
Daffa: Honestly, I’m still figuring that out. Those born in the 2000s, they will be our audience in the future and there lies a question I am asking myself. Should Kolibri stay focused on that demographic? Or start to cater to a more mature audience? Right now, Kolibri is something like an “entry point” for 18 to 19 year olds to get to know the local indie scene. But then their tastes would eventually shift. You’ll probably be into Kolibri for the first 2 years of college then move on to something more challenging like the Grimloc catalogue or something. That’s the pattern that I see with most of our listeners now.
But to be honest, I don’t really know what we’re going to do ahead. For now we just focus on releasing stuff that are on the pipeline. The ethos now is “keep going”.