It’s like a fairy-tale come true. Form a band with your friends, make some music and see one of your tracks not only top Spotify’s global charts, but also become a viral hashtag. This is what Indonesian electronic dance music (EDM) trio Weird Genius have achieved with their track Lathi.
After its release in March, Lathi – which also features Surabaya-born rapper and singer Sara Fajira – soon shot to No 1 on every major streaming platform in Indonesia including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube and Joox, and eventually peaked at No 2 on Spotify’s Global Viral 50 chart, even beating out mainstays such as Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
What makes Weird Genius’ success even sweeter is that Lathi isn’t a cookie-cutter EDM track made for festivals. The song and its accompanying video drips with Javanese elements, paying tribute to the trio’s Indonesian heritage – as evident by the legion of shadow puppeteers, fire breathers and dancers in traditional garb that show up in the music video.
Lathi has even spawned its own TikTok challenge, which has racked up more than 169 million views and counting: the #lathichallenge sees women, sometimes in traditional Indonesian garb, preen coquettishly and innocuously for the camera. As the track peaks, they transform into demonic beings with the help of “insane make-up and costumes”, as member Reza Oktovian explains.
The challenge is based on the song’s equally viral music video, which has since racked up more than 46 million views on YouTube. Singer Fajira plays a wronged lover who has suffered emotional abuse at the hands of a cruel partner, but eventually breaks out of her timid shell, transforms into a frightful creature and takes her revenge. The song’s massive popularity has been a shock to the trio, not least because of its traditional elements.
“We never expected it, firstly because we’re an EDM group – which is a very niche genre, at least here in Indonesia,” says the group’s producer, Gerald Liu. “But it’s encouraging, and reinforces our belief that every song has an opportunity to gain recognition, as long as we create music from the heart.”
Weird Genius used a traditional Indonesian gamelan (an orchestra of mainly percussive instruments) to create Lathi’s distinctive instrumental hook. The song also makes use of the pelog musical scale – one of two essential scales of the gamelan music native to the island of Java. The seven-note scale has no direct counterpart in Western music, and is noted for its flexibility and uniqueness, allowing for a beat that sounds dynamic, but still recognisably rooted in tradition.
But that’s not to say that Lathi is an archaic track for old-timers. It’s still got all the hallmarks of a modern EDM track – that is, sharp synths, brash horns and huge drops aimed at the dance floor.
“Every sort of cultural sound and element can be mixed together to form good music – and that’s in the DNA of Weird Genius, in that we can utilise traditional sounds to create a modern, global track,” says member Eka Gustiwana.
Lathi isn’t just a token cultural song to score the Indonesian trio brownie points with fans back home. Weird Genius says that it has always been their aim to make music with traditional Asian elements; their 2016 debut track DPS also featured a lilting percussion beat sampled from a terompong, one of the instruments found in a gamelan, and a music video steeped in Balinese culture.
“When you see a kung fu movie, you know it’s based in Chinese traditions, and when you hear a koto or samisen, you know it’s a Japanese song,” Oktovian says. “So we believed we could make Indonesian music go viral as well.”
For now, the trio are content to see their culture gain the recognition they feel it deserves – but they aren’t stopping there. Weird Genius want to prove that they aren’t just “a one-hit wonder” and Gustiwana hints they have several big projects coming up this year with “big names in EDM”, including Dutch trap duo Yellow Claw.
“Now that we’ve proved the formula works, we won’t stop here. It comes down to finding a balance that keeps our music fresh, while honouring Asian music,” Gustiwana says. “That’s our secret recipe.”