More like Balinese demons than DJs – that’s how the secretive duo behind Los Angeles-based electronic music project Indradevi see themselves.
Speaking with their faces masked by colourful Balinese dance costumes inspired by the Indonesian island’s pre-Hindu animist traditions and given a neon paint job, the description seems less far-fetched than it sounds.
“We’re not even human, bro,” said Barong in an American accent two days ahead of the release of the pair’s debut album, A Thousand Tomorrows.
His otherworldly mask with catlike fangs and ears gave as much – or little – of a hint of his true identity as the narrower but similarly sinister mask that shielded his music partner, Rangda. He also refuses to reveal his name.
Their signature masks correspond with traditional representations of the two godlike figures from which the duo draw inspiration: the heroic, lion-like Barong and the evil witch Rangda.
“They are two demons, good and evil, like ying and yang, locked in an eternal battle.”
The only thing stranger than Indradevi’s assumed personas is the music itself, which combines Western drum and bass, Khmer rock and traditional Cambodian and Indonesian instrumentation.
With high-octane techno beats coupled with the soothing chimes of gamelan and the rock tunes of sixties’ singer Sinn Sisamouth, their sounds are as polarised as the demons they portray. The surreal compositions that result are almost frighteningly psychedelic.
Interlaced with the Balinese drums and electronic bass are samples of ceremonial chanting, recorded in temples throughout Southeast Asia.
“I call our music jangala,” said Rangda, using the Sanskrit root word for jungle. “It speaks through the Asian influence behind the music.”
If A Thousand Tomorrows, which is set for a YouTube release tomorrow, follows the pattern of their pre-released singles, it promises to be unique package.
Their recent single "Step Away", released on August 9, features Cambodian-American actress Sophea Pel singing lyrics by sixties’ songstress Ros Sereysothea to the intermingled sounds of drum and bass and Indonesian gamelan.
In the music video, Pel is painted green, brandishing long metallic finger nails and dreaded hair, giving her a Medusa-like appearance.
The duo’s attraction to female vocals prompted them to name the band after a woman – Angkorian female royalty, to be precise, said Barong.
Indradevi was one of the wives of Jayavarman VII, who oversaw the construction of Angkor Thom in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is also the name of a world-renowned yoga instructor – but that had nothing to do with the choice, according to Barong.
The project itself was born in Cambodia, after listening to classic Cambodian rock music during a visit to Cambodia two years ago.
They decided to give the classics a modern twist, after noticing a passion for dance music among the country’s youth.
“One of the things that struck is me is that lot of [the old songs] are covered as it was originally played,” Barong said.
After some experimentation, the duo decided to reshape the music with more modern sounds. They enlisted the help of four Khmer rappers to produce additional material: Lisha, Prach, Khmer Kid and RJ Sin.
“Their lyrics cover diverse terrain, but a lot of the subject matter involves building a bright future,” said Barong.
The album also features vocals provided by Shikhee, the sole member of the US-based industrial rock project Android Lust.
“It worked out surprising well, and from there it mushroomed into a two year project where we created an 11 track album,” said Rangda.
Indradevi tested out their sound on a tour of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in 2012, including a concert at Equinox in Phnom Penh and Laundry Bar in Siem Reap.
“The reaction was amazing,” Barong said. “These 16- and 18-year-old girls who were born after the Khmer Rouge knew the words to all the songs we were playing.”
In addition to appealing to Cambodia’s youth, Barong said that the sound proved popular among young American partygoers at clubs in the Los Angeles area.
“I can also play to people who can’t even find Cambodia on the map.”
Judging by their pre-released video on YouTube, which has gained almost 5,000 views in 10 days, the pair predict success.
“Most of our views are from people who are probably high school kids and college kids in Phnom Penh who are pretty mystified to what we are doing,” speculated Rangda, adding most of the views have been from Cambodia and the US.
“The machine is up and rolling. The hard part is over.”