Batavia Collective might well be one of the most exciting up and coming bands of the year – cited by Mixmag Asia as one of six bands to watch in 2021 – but if it wasn’t for one live gig, they might still be playing as individuals rather than a trio.
The Jakarta-based band – Doni Joesran on keys, Elfa Zulham on drums and Kenny Gabriel on synth bass – all have day jobs, but after a few sessions jamming together, realised that they could produce a great blend of jazz and hard-hitting bass.
It is, they say, the perfect combination of synths and acoustic instrumentation. And they are not alone in thinking that. After a couple of small debut live performances, word spread and now they are releasing music on R&S Records. “It’s quite a trip,” they tell us…
Tell us how you got into music.
“All of us grew up around music basically. Doni studied Improvisation Stream at Victorian College of The Arts in Melbourne-Australia, Zulham at Prins Claus Conservatorium in the Netherlands, and Kenny at SMM Jakarta. We are known as jazz musicians in the Indonesian music community.
"Zulham is the music director for Java Jazz, the biggest jazz festival in South East Asia. We’re all based in Jakarta, Indonesia, hence the name Batavia. It was the name given by the Dutch when they occupied the city back in the day.”
When did you get successful?
“That’s a hard question, all of us here basically live off music. We are all session players/producers, but in this pandemic time we don’t think anyone who’s making a living out of live events would feel like they are successful. We just hope things can get to normal again, but to be positive, we want to do an Asian or European tour soon – maybe next year.”
What is your production philosophy?
“We usually just hit record and start jamming together in the studio, and afterwards we listen to the recording together and choose parts we like. But sometimes, if one of us gets an idea, they make a rough guide and we work on it together in the studio.
"We don’t think too much when making a track. If it feels good then we go for it. In the end we’re just having fun, but for Affirmation, the drum part specifically is inspired by JD Beck and Marcus Gilmore.”
Who were your production influences?
“For Doni, it was Joe Meek that really got him hooked on sound design. Meek is considered one of the most influential sound engineers of all time, being one of the first to develop ideas such as the recording studio as an instrument, and becoming one of the first producers to be recognised for his individual identity as an artist.
"Doni’s also into Mehliana – Brad Mehldau and Mark Guiliana’s group. As a jazz trained musician that project really changed his mind set about the term ‘jazz’. For Zulham, it’s Deantoni Parks. That’s the way he wants to explore drums sonically for Batavia Collective.
"And last but not least, Kenny first took an interest in electronic music when he joined the talent competition for an Indonesian TV show. That was 2016; he was more of a jazz/soul/r&b fan before that. He had to learn to produce electronic music from scratch, so that really opened up his ears to sound design.”
Tell us about the gear in your studio.
“We use Logic Pro, plus we have a Nord Electro, Nord Rack, Behringer DeepMind, Akai MPC, Behringer Model D, and Korg MicroKorg. To tell you the truth, we have stayed away from expensive vintage equipment; it’s just common knowledge here in Indonesia that we have poor electrical routing, especially if it’s a dodgy venue.
"Back then, we had a vintage Korg PolySix and Moog Prodigy but they kept having trouble so we ditched them and just got something reliable and heavy duty.”
What are your favourite plugins?
“Vulf Compressor by Goodhertz. We call this our secret weapon. It gives you that classic compressor feel, plus it has a wow/flutter feature to add that pitchy tape effect.
"Valhalla Reverb. It’s really easy to use and has a good reverb dimension, but the most important thing is it doesn’t eat up your processor.
"FabFilter Pro-Q 3. To tell you the truth, it’s just an ordinary equaliser, but to our ears it tends to give you that analogue feel.
"XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color. We usually use this plugin to add a modulation effect to some instruments, or sometimes a distortion effect for percussion.
"FabFilter Saturn. We’re pretty sure that a lot of producers are using this. It’s reliable and offers you guaranteed quality.”
How do you tend to start a track?
“We usually work on the hook first and the rest will follow while jamming in the studio.”
How do you know when a track’s done?
“We usually take a vote on this or just delegate one of us to take the lead on a track.
"Our advice is: don’t overproduce! Ask a good friend or your manager (if you have one); if they say it’s good then trust them. Sometimes producers just want to add stuff that no one else will notice. In the end we play music for other people, not ourselves.”
Do you have any production tricks?
“We always try to balance our productions between an electronic and analogue sound. But there’s an easy trick for this one: every track always starts with a jam session made of purely deep sub bass and energetic grooves.”
What would you like to see developed in terms of studio technology?
“An unlimited amount of hard disk space and a cheap high-performance computer.”
What’s on your gear wish list?
Any advice for playing live?
“Just go for it. Be confident in what you want. People will pick up from your energy. And if you have to go down, then go down in style!”
What about studio advice?
“Get a good sound engineer. Equipment doesn’t really matter, skills come first. And always have a backup for your files, as you never know when you will spill your drinks.”
Any other more general advice?
“Don’t take it personally and have fun.”
What have you got planned?
“We’re working on an EP with Kamga (who is on our first single) and hopefully it will come out this year (2021). It was one of those jamming sessions that really hits the spot.
“Afterwards we were asked to play a small festival and were amazed with the crowd reaction. Balls started rolling from there. At first this was just a side project but then the universe revealed something else. It’s quite a trip!”