The Jakarta Post
‘World of Magic’ by Iyam (SRM/File)
Barely in his twenties, Bandung-born musician Iyam wasn’t alive to experience the glorious 1980s, but his music is laden with flourishes of the era’s alternative-pop: wallowing melodies, goth-pop instrumentations, dramatic dreamy vocalizations, and a whole lot of reverb.
World of Magic, his four-song EP and debut release, is filled with such elements. Released only on cassette tape, which is the wont of the hip underground, the release works better digitally, at least as an aural experience. The mastering, done by Brian Lucey — who has done mastering work for popular bands such Marilyn Manson, Liam Gallagher, Arctic Monkeys and The Black Keys — thickens up the low-fidelity nature of the basic tracks.
However, the songs would have stood out no matter the mixing. While the influences are obviously the United States underground, Iyam’s sense of melodies is strong regardless of how they would have been presented. A melancholia nuance permeates throughout, wistfully pointing to the musician’s wanting of writing songs that sounded, in his words, “Sad and happy at once.”
Iyam grew up in Bengkulu and Jakarta before moving to Bandung in West Java a few years ago. He began playing guitar in his elementary school years before trying to write his own music at 17 (his first was the one titled “Pretty Pretty”, which is on this EP).
His confidence growing, the teenager then started taking part in music festivals and competitions. With a growing number of original songs at his disposal, he began entertaining the idea of starting a band, ambitiously looking for members to complete the line-up.
But nothing happened. Iyam could not find anyone that he could work with, prompting him to instead go the one-man band route — playing all the instruments himself.
The eventual recordings that would become World of Magic faced another, more obvious, obstacle. No label, independent or major, wanted to release it. But Iyam didn’t fret, and eventually self-released it, with the help of local booking agency SRM Bands as online distributors and cassette-only label 99 Tapes as physical distributors.
He felt compelled to put these songs out to the world, Iyam says.
“During production, I had no friends or acquaintances to share ideas or learn from — whether it was digital stuff, recordings or learning synthesizers,” he says.
“With my lack of knowledge about those things, the only thing I could rely on were my ears and taste.”
Utilizing some very basic “cheap recording tools”, Iyam worked for a year, practically in isolation. He then began adding overdubs in Jakarta, working in far more proper studios, where he used more practical (and popular) equipment.
“I used things like a Jazzmaster US electric guitar, Martin acoustic guitar and Jazz bass guitar, and worked with great engineers like Sutan Antonius.”
Eventually, with the recording and mixing done, Iyam contacted Brian Lucey on a whim and eventually securing the approval from the latter to master his record.
“This albums speaks of my perception of life, times, love and most of all, the loss of naivety in people. These somewhat-depressing plights were something I wanted to explore on the record. There are a variety of emotions, because the songs were all written in different time frames.”
Though the 80s influence is obvious, Iyam says his biggest influences weren’t from the era. Instead, they were more obvious ones: The Beatles and 90s-era Radiohead. He does cop to having delved into The Smiths during recording.
“I definitely tried to package the songs with current music like Mac Demarco and Men I trust, whose music harkens back to the 80s,” Iyam says. “For people like me — in their 20s — this is how modern music sounds like.”
All the lyrics are written in English, which Iyam says is him wanting the songs to be heard abroad, in English-speaking countries also.
“In it [the title track], I’m singing about what people in the past would have thought of these modern times — somehow trying to give them an answer. While ‘Chosen Star’ is about losing a friend of mine, who had sung in a band I was in. ‘Oh Neverland’ is taking the role of a girl who lives inside her imaginative mind. ‘Pretty Pretty’ is myself singing about a female friend of mine who lost her naivety to the world.”
With the recording done, Iyam finds it easier to form an actual band with more than himself as a member. Nowadays, his five-person band is practicing for upcoming live shows to promote the album.
“It’ll be different sounding from the studio version, and the emotions will be very different live. Wait for us onstage!” he said.
Listen to World of Magic on gabegabetapes.bandcamp.com