The Jakarta Post
Electric duo: Bernardus Fritz "Koni" Adi Nugroho (left) and Jonathan "Jojo" Pardede founded Sunmantra in 2012 as university students. (Instagram.com/sunmantraofficial)
Sunmantra's beats are relentlessly original, their sounds modern and their ideas diverse, encapsulating literally any particular sound or style of music that comes to mind.
While the duo of Bernardus Fritz “Koni” Adi Nugroho and Jonathan “Jojo” Pardede don’t have many releases, they play live pretty often in Jakarta and Bali, and their “synths n’ samplers” live shows are energetic and mesmerizing to the point that a friend once commented on their set as being “post-Death Grips”, referring to the experimental Californian electronic noise trio.
Jojo sounds amused when he hears that term, saying with glee that the description is probably “the most far-out we’ve ever heard coming from someone else about [our] music”.
“Yeah, well, sound-wise we just simply try to mishmash everything that we like and everything that we feel is right to be mixed. It doesn’t have to be a specific style or whatever, I’m all for letting it all gel together,” he comments as he laughs.
Neither member is able to accurately describe what their music sounds like as both do not believe in the idea of being pigeonholed into one sound or style. But listeners will definitely identify Sunmantra’s sound as being heavily influenced by minimal techno, acid house and even a bit of drum n’ bass.
For Jojo and Koni, Sunmantra will always be beyond what people might think.
Sunmantra first started in 2012 when both were pursuing their college degrees in different parts of the world, starting out as email exchanges between two like-minded individuals who embraced all kinds of music. Both members knew each other since their middle school days.
Sunmantra the live band was born from the ashes of a previous, more guitar-driven band that both Jojo and Koni were a part of called Black Mustangs. The band had gone as far as releasing a debut album in 2014 under cult indie rock label Anoa Records, and had the transcendent vibe that would also be present in Sunmantra.
Both of them were guitarists in the band, and as the group came to a halt, they chose to pursue something different. In 2015, they put out their first song, “Silver Ray”, on Shinjitos Records, which for awhile was the only Sunmantra release available publically.
“Silver Ray” and its Daft Punkish house beats was also featured eventually on Pepaya Records’ Dentum Dansa Bawah Tanah (Rumble of Underground Dance) compilation in 2016, which aimed to showcase the newest Indonesian electronic talents in the underground. They have also done a bevy of remixes for other artists, such as Bali’s rockabilly unit The Hydrant, Jakarta electronic duo KimoKal and also Yogyakarta noise rock band Seek Sick Six.
Currently, Sunmantra’s newest release is an EP called Esoteric, which consists of four songs, two of which are original. The other two are remixes of the original songs, one by Italian DJ Fabrizio Mamarella and British DJ Timothy Clerkin. It is released under American label Roam Recordings.
Multicolor: Sunmantra's transcendent notes are present in the duo's earlier band Black Mustangs. (Instagram.com/sunmantraofficial)
Both songs, “When You Bite My Lips” and “Esoteric”, convey a distinctive acid house vibe, brought out by the analog synth sounds and deep, layered kicks.
While both Jojo and Koni actively listen to techno and acid house, both of them feel that the decision to write the EP this way was not an entirely conscious decision.
Describing the writing process, Jojo noted that it was far more efficient for him and Koni to already enter the studio with at least something to bring to the table, whatever the ideas might sound like. It is a process that they have kept since they first began to throw ideas around back in 2012.
“We always want the process to be organic, but also efficient. That’s why we rarely choose to jam out in the studio from scratch and prefer to just complete separate ideas at our homes and discuss it when we meet. What we use, we use; what we don’t use, we don’t. Even if it means one of us starting from the beginning again,” he added.
Esoteric also sees Sunmantra for the first time, being totally in control of everything from production to ideas. Koni notes that “Silver Ray” was done with a lot of help from their producer Joseph Saryuf, of dream-pop band Santamonica.
“We can’t really deny that ‘Silver Ray’ had a lot of Joseph’s touches in it, and as a result, you can hear it. For ‘Esoteric’, it was purely our own decisions that went in,” Koni said.
He said both of them like things that are simple and listen to artists that do simple things. The duo also has an open mind regarding possible changes of sound in the future.
“I think it’s natural for humans to change because we’re basically built that way,” commented Jojo relating to the band’s constant evolution of sound. “[Through Esoteric] we are evolving by embracing simplicity”.
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