In the spring of 2017 Belgian musician Dijf Sanders went exploring. Armed with some field recording equipment and an inquisitive spirit, he headed to Indonesia. His new album, Java, is a patchwork of sounds that were harvested from every rural and urban corner of the country.
Fans of Sanders, who know him from his work with The Violent Husbands and Teddiedrum, will be familiar with his taste, and the psychedelic attention to detail that builds sediments through his music. His most recent solo album, 2016’s (critically adored) Moonlit Planetarium, was a collection of tunes that explored the other-worldliness which has informed so much of his career so far. However, there’s no way it could have prepared the ear for the flat-out exotica that arrives with the new tunes.
Sanders clearly made a number of genuine discoveries during his Indonesian odyssey. A man that likes to stand on the edge, facing further towards the unknown, has processed the experience well. The sense of surprise that the artist experienced in such a contrasting culture to his own is captured with a clear affection for the place.
These tracks spin like kaleidoscopes constructed of fragmented details. A glimpse of organic exotica sprouts through an urban tempo. A flash of structure is wrapped in a trance, and high-end sounds bring insects, heat, beads of sweat. At times, the head spins with almost too much information pouring in around the beats.
Sanders knows better than to try and make Indonesian-sounding music, or to embark on a jaunt into cultural-appropriation. This music is still within the artist’s natural register, which of course, has long been beyond normal cultural references. Sort of.
A tune like “Jaipong” stands like a totem to the full album. This track relies heavily on beat, and a trippy key-phrase manages a bizarre effect. Hypnotically spinning, this is the kind of song that no one has heard before, but that everyone knows. The Jaipongan is a dance of the Sundanese people from west Java. Based on older traditions the dance was born in 1961 as a response to Indonesian President Sukarno’s prohibition of western themes and styles of music. Drum-heavy and drawing inspiration from the roots of the country, the dance went some way in strengthening the identity of a people, but also of a kind of defiance (Local artists snuck in hints of classic topics like ‘sex’ and ‘drugs’) Sanders toys with the weight of the story, and he insinuates the history of the beat into a modern, western piece – and so invents a new kind of currency. The track itself has the same effect as the kind of thing that leaders often seek to prohibit.
Gathering the sounds of indigenous instruments like the Angklung, Calung, Gamelan, and Kacapi, Sanders built something rare in his studio, back home in Belgium. Yes, this is digital stuff, but the analog sounds, and the earthy influence of traditional instruments, produce an incredible cross-pollination.
Again, Dijf Sanders has produced an album that goes beyond expectation. Java, on the surface, is named after a specific place, and the sounds of the album are tied to a very particular climate, and a very certain landscape. However, what is actually achieved is an album that travels off the map – folding over coordinates to reveal a new and special place. This is the kind of target that only reveals itself when you’ve walked through a door that you never knew was there.
For his album, Java, we award Dijf Sanders sixteen out of seventeen twists of the kaleidoscope bong in the back seat of our bajay.
HURRY – LISTEN – DIJF SANDERS