Music That Feels Like Shelter in the Rain

By Marcel Thee on 09:00 pm Dec 13, 2012

Payung Teduh, whose melodic tunes and lead vocals evoke Indonesian pop of the 1950s and ’60s, released its debut album ‘Dunia Batas’ this year. (Photo courtesy of Ivy League Music)

Payung Teduh, whose melodic tunes and lead vocals evoke Indonesian pop of the 1950s and ’60s, released its debut album ‘Dunia Batas’ this year. (Photo courtesy of Ivy League Music)

Jakarta-based band Payung Teduh makes music that’s easy to fall for. Evoking the sense of old Batavia like an aural postcard, the group could easily be called a retro act if its songs didn’t feel so fresh.

Although the melodic turns and lead vocals are clearly reminiscent of Indonesian pop from the 1950s and ’60s, Payung Teduh (Shady Umbrella) offers original charm that relies little on gimmicky imagery or arrangements. It’s a singer-songwriter project with a distinctively Indonesian catch — easy listening without sounding cheap.

It is unclear how a band of progressive and alternative rock devotees developed such a particular hum, but leader Mohammad Istiqamah, or simply Is, suggests its current sound is merely part of a longer journey.

“We’re not retro. We just play music, that’s all,” he said. “No genres, no limitations, nothing that makes us feel we have to live up to certain imagery or style.”

Payung Teduh was formed in 2008 by students from the University of Indonesia’s humanities school, who came together through a theater collective on campus. It was there that Is met Comi, a bass player whose main musical diet consisted of death metal and heavy rock such as German band Rammstein. The pair immediately hit it off and decided to perform spontaneous covers at a campus canteen, with Is handling vocal and guitar duties.

The response was far better than they expected. Soon enough, other students began singing and bringing their acoustic guitars to lunch so they could strum along. This was a confidence boost for Is and Comi, who immediately began showing each other original tunes and arranging them together for their canteen repertoire.

The offers to perform elsewhere began rushing in, and the pair found themselves playing dozens of shows at the end of 2008. It was time to settle on catchier name than “Is and Comi.”

Is, who had a peculiar habit of nicknaming acquaintances after the feeling they gave him, says a friend “named” Warm Clothing came up with Payung Teduh as something of a good karmic “thank you.” Incidentally, many of the band’s gigs ever since have been met with light trickles to heavy rain, showing off their fans’ dedication in sticking around in the rough weather.

Though the band was drawing in crowds with new tunes such as “Kucari Kamu” (“I’m Looking for You”) and “Berdua Saja” (“Just the Two of Us”), Is thought it was unfair that the performers rarely gave the audience “something to dance and groove along to.”

The solution was to get a drummer, who ended up being Cito, Is’s former bandmate during his days playing in the Dream Theater cover act Mirror. Then they added another friend from university, Ivan, who provided some color with guitar and ukulele.

With enough original songs, all of which rely on the tropical Indonesian atmosphere and well-crafted lyrics, Payung Teduh finally released its debut, “Dunia Batas” (“Limit World”), this year.

For the band, the album’s experience is hopefully bigger than mere aural wallpaper. Says Is: “We’re always hoping that [through the songs on the album] we could become friends with the people who listen to it; as somewhere to sit, rest, or take shelter in during rain or shine.”