James Yuill: On his own, immersed in electronic melancholia

A new genre: London-based electronic musician James Yuill plays at the Indoor Tennis complex in Senayan, last Friday.
A new genre: London-based electronic musician James Yuill plays at the Indoor Tennis complex in Senayan, last Friday.

There is something riveting about electronic music. The visceral beats, the layers of sound, the buildup to a stop and a shattering climax — to return the same cycle. A bit like real life.

London-based electronic musician James Yuill takes these hypnotizing sounds to a new level. He carries melancholia through subdued acoustic guitar and emotional lyrics. Blending folk and electronic music, the one-man-band has created a unique sound that will move one to both dance and cry.

The 29-year-old joined Melbourne band The Temper Trap last weekend on its Indonesian tour to Bali, Jakarta and Bandung.

Yuill tends to perform on his own, with his guitar, turntable, synthesizer and laptop, and sings about being alone in On Your Own. With his soft voice, he sings about sorrow: I stand there with nothing but blood in my veins/needlessly washing away the refrain again. His fingers go from gently strumming guitar chords to playing the synthesizer for samples of beats and blips.

Influenced by the indie-folk legend Nick Drake and techno virtuosos such as Aphex Twins and Chemical Brothers, Yuill has successfully combined different genres into something the London music scene dubs as “folktronica”.

His beats can do two things. They will either heighten the pain from the emotional words and
folksy tunes — burning your heart with melancholia — or mask it as something harmless, letting the
sorrow subconsciously seep into the back of your mind while dance takes over.

At a press briefing Friday, the blonde bespectacled man said he did not consciously decide to merge the two different styles of music. “It just felt natural at the time,” he said.

Yuill recorded his first album Vanilla Disc in 2005. “When I was recording I started to layer all of different things on top and kind of messed around with electronics.

“After touring for four years, as I learned to use the software and control things live, my music took on a harder dance edge,” he said. Yuill released his latest album Movement in A Storm this year under the Moshi Moshi record label.

Friday’s performance showed a tall Yuill lost in his music, bouncing his knees to the beat. He played tunes from his latest album, singing My Fears, a tender song that shows both strength and vulnerability.

Amidst looping beats, Yuill drawled the words: separate the me inside of you/my fears will get me through. The ballad Foreign Shore is dark and bittersweet, with Yuill warning a woman about a man that’s: “Known/known by law/to be a traitor from a foreign shore.”

Carrying his camera, Yuill took pictures and videotaped the audience saying hi to the camera. He mentioned he would be selling his merchandise and signing autographs in the next tent after his performance.

When a woman in the crowd gave an exulted cry, he cheerfully said: “Whoa! Extreme reaction over there!” then quickly added in a self-deprecating way: “I wish I got that [reaction] at home.”

— JP/Prodita Sabarini

The Jakarta Post | Entertainment | Fri, November 19 2010

Gugun Blues Shelter A phenomenal ascent


Two years ago, blues guitarist Muhammad “Gugun” Gunawan’s band, Gugun and The Bluesbug, was off the Indonesian music scene’s radar. Local jazz festival organizers deemed the band too insignificant to give it its own stage.

ump to 2010, the blues trio, now called Gugun Blues Shelter, drew significant crowds at the 2010 Java Jazz Festival that ended Sunday, with two shows of their own in the three-day festival.
Their expanding loyal fan base, who knew their songs by heart, begged the band members — Gugun, bass player John “Jono” Armstrong and drummer Aditya “Bowie” Wibowo — to play their favorite songs.

Asked about growing from an obscure band to finally being recognized as a phenomenal blues band, Gugun said: “That’s what struggling is all about”.

The shoulder-length tousled-hair guitarist was sitting behind the stage Saturday after giving an energetic performance.

“We keep trying and focusing on this type of music — and sticking to it. A lot of blues bands make one album, find that not many people are interested in that type of music and then change their style,” he said.

“I started in 1994, performing in blues festival, clubs, making albums and sticking to this type of music. Finally people are listening,” the 33-year-old said.

“It’s feasible for a blues band to make an album and to continue to exist in the music scene in Indonesia. You have to be focused and consistent,” he said.

The key, Gugun said, is to keep the gigs goings.

“You can’t just release an album and then not play your music, you have to perform,” he said.
Gugun Blues Shelter is doing just that. Aside from performing in local and international festivals as well as touring in the UK, they play in blues clubs, cafes, universities, art centers and also malls.
Gugun, who is said to remind blues aficionados of legend Stevie Ray Vaughan — when it comes to guitar playing, started Gugun and The Bluesbug as a solo project.

In 2004, he released debut album Get The Bug with Jono from the UK and Iskandar on drums. He recorded his second album Turn It On with Arditya on the bass and Agung on drums.

While the local scene hadn’t recognized Gugun’s genius guitar playing yet, the band received more attention outside Indonesia, especially when touring repeatedly in the UK.

In 2009, Gugun and his musicians were the only Asian band — out of a total of 30 — to perform at the Skegness Rock and Blues festival.

In 2008, Gugun teamed up with Bowie, a 25-year-old drummer prodigy whom Gugun dubbed as “the most wanted drummer in Indonesia”. Bowie has played with jazz singer Syaharani, jazz guitarist Tohpati and singer Alena.

In 2009, Gugun reunited with Jono, 30, and changed the name of the band to Gugun and the Blues Shelter.

Gugun said that since the Blues Shelter, the band was no longer his solo project, but real teamwork. “I really hope this [line up] will last.”

Jono, in fluent Indonesian, said he had met Gugun in 2003, jamming with him at BB’s blues bar in Menteng, Central Jakarta. He returned to the UK in 2006 to continue his studies.

After a little while, he decided to return to Indonesia in 2009. “I don’t like it in England and I really miss playing with the band,” he said.

“While I was in the UK, Gugun came three times and played there. And the audience reception was always very good. I see there’s a future for the band,” he said. “And for that I have to be in Indonesia for band practice and for it to be able to develop,” he said.

Meanwhile, Bowie said he had chosen to join Gugun because he felt he had found a family.
“I feel really comfortable with Gugun and Jono. Not only musically but also personally. The band is the family I have always dreamed of,” he said.

Gugun Blues Shelter has independently released a new self-titled album, which is a replacement of the planned Set My Soul on Fire album that failed to be released due to conflict with the band’s label.

Gugun said the new album was darker than previous Bluesbug’s albums. The new album is a means for the band to unload their emotional baggage from their fight with their label.

“It’s about the hurt and regret,” Gugun said.

The album also contains political songs criticizing officials appearing on large billboards in public spaces.

Bowie added the album had a gloomy song about the time they were recording in the UK. “It was minus 10 degrees there!” he said.

The band recorded the album in two months. Gugun described it as more spontaneous, rich in all instruments: Guitar, bass and drums.

They are scheduled to go on a summer tour in the UK this year, to perform at the Timbre Rock and Roots festival in Singapore late this month, which is making Gugun and his band members excited and nervous at the same time.

“The line up for the festival includes Buddy Guy, Gipsy King, George Holland, and Buena Vista. A lot are Grammy award winners. We’re quiet nervous but we’ll give it our best shot,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Mon, March 08 2010