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Haru Nemuri
Photograph: Courtesy Haru Nemuri

8 indie musicians from Asia you need to know about

From deep house to noise rock, check out these acts from Asia’s thriving indie music scene

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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Despite the number of incredibly talented musicians coming out of our part of the world, it’s a challenge for artists to build fanbases beyond their own countries and cities. Indie artists in the region simply don’t get enough publicity and advertising – sometimes even locally – which is a shame because indie audiences are more than willing to explore sounds from all over the world. In our effort to help remedy this, we’ve assembled a list of some of our continent’s brightest modern indie musicians and bands. By Ethan Lam

RECOMMENDED: Hong Kong has a thriving music scene too, check out these underground artists in Hong Kong.   

Best Indie musicians from Asia you need to know about

Luna is a Bep (Hong Kong)

Rap is the most visible in Hong Kong’s underground music scene, and Luna is a Bep has quickly made a name for herself as one of its more eccentric and promising characters. She began releasing music in 2018 and went viral in the same year thanks to her song Malade (麻甩系), in which she cheekily deconstructed gender roles and our validation-based culture over a trap beat. Since then she has released a variety of singles each with a vastly different sound. She smoothly croons more than she raps on the spacey R&B-inspired tune, 25, and effortlessly switches from soft meandering flows to a more focused delivery style on the sentimental cloud rap single Moonwatching (望月), and on Boogie Baby – her recent collaboration with local band Charming Way – she even veers into disco and funk. 

Her music embodies the playful spirit of Hong Kong’s youth, something highlighted by her penchant for hyper-niche net culture – for example, her track I want to go away down (我想行開下) was inspired by a short viral video clip, and the accompanying music video is delightfully absurd and bizarre in all its low-budget glory. Her music isn’t just about style though, as her greatest talent is her ability to spin observations about the banality and frustrations of everyday local life into complex yet emotionally concise lyrics. Examine it, and you’ll begin to understand the underlying anxieties of life in this city.

Park Hye Jin (South Korea)

Formerly Seoul-based producer and DJ Park Hye Jin has been making waves in the world of house and club music. Her production on her 2018 debut EP If U Want It was dreamy, moody, subtle, and delicate, qualities boosted by her understated yet versatile voice. On the EP her voice moves between sung raps, spoken word, and hypnotic whispers, bouncing between moments of revealing introversion and bursts of self-assured confidence. Park rightfully began to attract international attention shortly after the EP’s release, prompting a move to London and then L.A. She has expanded her horizons on her recently released sophomore effort How can I, experimenting with trap, footwork, and techno. If you’re a dance music enthusiast, Park is certainly a name to keep your eye on. 

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Ruru (Philippines)

Ruru is the project of Manila’s Denice Quimbo, whose soulful and honeyed voice melds perfectly with her hazy and fuzzy productions. She is often lumped into the ever-popular bedroom pop genre, but she has described her own music as being closer to alternative R&B instead. Her jangly songwriting and chilled-out vocals are warm, comforting, and immediately familiar despite the undercurrent of melancholy in her songs, and has earned her fans such as Cosmo Pyke, King Krule, and fellow Filipino indie star Mellow Fellow (with whom she has often collaborated and toured with). Her recent releases prove that she is stepping beyond the confines of the lo-fi genre she is often associated with, and moving into slightly more energetic territory with the addition of lusher instrumentation and a more indie-rock sound.

Gong Gong Gong (Mainland China)

It might not be entirely accurate to say that Gong Gong Gong is a band from the mainland, as members Tom Ng – a former member of The Offset: Spectacles – and Joshua Frank come from Hong Kong and Canada respectively. Regardless, they formed in 2013 in Beijing and quickly made a name for themselves in the capital city’s underground scene. Armed with nothing more than one guitar and a bass – and a lot of effects pedals – the two draws from a truly eclectic range of inspirations such as Bo Diddley, the Monks, and West African psychedelic desert rock to create discordant, droning, and gritty music. 

There’s an underlying sense of urgency to Gong Gong Gong’s music, one that recalls the discomfort of bands like Xiu Xiu. Instrumentally, Ng’s electric guitar slowly chugs along, belying a constant sense of unease, while Frank’s bass is the instrument that pierces through the fog, placing the grotesque front and centre. Vocally, Ng’s delivers his Cantonese lyrics in a near-howl, his sentences fragmented and abstract to force the listener to conjure up images by themselves. Gong Gong Gong is probably the band on this list that best embody the DIY ethos, performing everywhere from underpass tunnels – as documented on 2017 recording Dìxià Chéng – to small and crowded rock clubs the world over.

Their music isn’t easy to define and has been called many things – post-punk, avant-rock, noise, etc. Listen to 2019’s Phantom Rhythm and decide for yourself.

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Elephant Gym (Taiwan)

Taiwan has a robust indie music scene, and math rockers Elephant Gym is one of the region’s leading bands. Formed in 2012 by siblings KT Chang and Tell Chang, along with Chia Chin-Tu, there are few words that don’t describe Elephant Gym. Their music, marked by odd time signatures and intervals, is unpredictable and diverse – moments of relaxed and breezy melodic bliss are often interspersed with bursts of chaotic, frenetic, and borderline punkish noise. It’s well worth it to try and keep up.

Elephant Gym set themselves apart from their peers in the math-rock world in their choice of lead instrument – rather than sticking with guitars, the genre’s staple, the band opted to build most of their work around KT’s bass playing abilities. She is adept at finger tapping, a highly complicated technique that yields beautiful, lulling, and rich polyphonic sounds. Tell and Chia support her on the guitar/keyboard and drums respectively. Their music is mostly instrumental, although they do sometimes feature guest vocalists – KT even pulls double duty as lead vocalist on some tracks but has said that she doesn’t like singing. The band has a handful of excellent releases under their belt, clearly laying out how their sound has matured and developed over the years. It doesn’t take much to see why Elephant Gym is one of the most exciting emerging math rock bands not just in Asia, but globally.

Haru Nemuri (Japan)

Haru Nemuri is an absolute wrecking ball, a blistering force whom you need to turn the volume all the way up for. She seamlessly blends an endless list of sounds – pop, rap, hardcore, spoken word, noise, art-rock, punk, chiptune and electronica, to name a few – to create some of the most thrilling music out there today.

On her versatile 2018 debut album Haru to Shura, she shifts between agitated spoken raps, frenzied shouts, and blood-curdling screams on a whim, creating aural pockets of intensely felt catharsis – emotions only enhanced by the loud, heavy, and occasionally dissonant instrumentals (MBV-esque walls of sour fuzz and distortion are aplenty here.) There are countless fascinating experimental decisions and textures in her work – for example, there’s a brilliant moment on harutosyura where the track speeds up to the point where it becomes nothing more than a single high-pitched tone – shattering the conventional rules of music. 2020’s Lovetheism EP is similarly jaw-dropping and only makes us more excited for Nemuri’s future releases.

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Parekh & Singh (India)

An indie folk/pop duo from Kolkata, Parekh & Singh formed in 2009 when vocalist and guitarist Nischay Parekh was still in high school. After a short stint at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Parekh returned to Kolkata and reunited with drummer Jivraj Singh, reviving the project after a brief hiatus. They released their debut album Ocean in 2013, which instantly established the duo as an exciting prospect to watch. Ever since then they’ve signed with British indie label Peacefrog Records, reissued Ocean in 2016, and released their sophomore record Science City in 2019, cementing their status at the forefront of Indian indie.

Parekh’s voice is reminiscent of popular indie-pop vocalists from the early to mid-2010s – think Two Door Cinema Club’s Alex Trimble, Dan Croll, and even Ben Gibbard – it’s soft and pleasant, but with just enough angularity to make it stand out. While Ocean was a folksy, twee, mostly acoustic record, their recent release Science City was more atmospheric, dabbling in neo-psychedelia and blues.

Phum Viphurit (Thailand)

Arguably the current prince of Asian indie, you likely know Phum Viphurit from his infectious bop Lover Boy, which has racked up over 63 million views on YouTube. Viphurit’s soulful voice, introspective lyrics, and swirling guitar hooks have made him a hit amongst indie listeners across the globe. 

Viphurit’s music is unabashedly youthful, exuberant, and bright – his mellow brand of indie rock will instantly transport you somewhere sun-kissed and shimmering. There are no moody or brooding theatrics here, just rock-solid, playful, joyous indie rock that’ll make you want to dance. Yes, he does reveal his own insecurities and worries through his music, but not in a manner that begets any sulking or rumination – rather, he does so in a comforting, soothing, and direct sort of way. By speaking his fears out loud, perhaps he’ll overcome them.

A word of advice – if you ever get the chance to see Viphurit live, grab it. His backing band is excellent, and they put on one hell of a show.

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