Making music for the Malaysian masses isn’t a priority for most local artists in this age of globalisation we live in today. As cliched as it may sound, the internet has made it possible for artists from this part of the world to share their work with a wider audience beyond regional borders.
Experimental electro-pop singer songwriter, Takahara Suiko AKA The Venopian Solitude has churned out a plethora of tunes that have been published on Bandcamp and thesixtyone site since 2009. Videos of her performances, which are all over YouTube, have garnered a lot of fascination from locals, regionals and a number of international viewers.
Many have expressed their admiration for the artist who constantly garbs herself in traditional and conservative Malay fashion, especially when her music seems to be the total opposite of her physical demeanor. “Some people say I’m crazy and some say I’m sempoi (laidback). It doesn’t really bother me because it’s comfortable. I don’t want the focus to be on what I’m wearing, I want them to focus on what I’m doing,” Taka stresses.
The Venopian Solitude is in the business of breaking musical boundaries. From the extensive range of instruments, ranging from MIDI keyboards, the guitar and whatever she could grab her hands on, to the strong quirky lyrics in her tunes like the all-time favourite, “Tenangkan Bontot Anda” (Calm Your Ass Down).
Taka’s unique take on music isn’t her only artistic drawcard; her vocal prowess has the ability to send chills down your spine. Artists like Kimya Dawson, Regina Spektor, Kimbra, Laura Marling, Kawehi and Tune Yards have helped her shape her emotions through her vocals, and develop certain aspects of both songwriting and performance. “Kimbra uses her vocals very boldly and she doesn’t really care how she looks when singing because she’s embodying the song,” explains Taka of one of her influences.
Despite the evolution of artists in Malaysia, the local music scene hasn’t changed much over the years. To make an impact in the mainstream market often requires the artist to gain recognition abroad, like what Malaysian singer/songwriter Yuna has achieved since basing herself in the US.
The only difference for today’s artists is the immediate feedback they get from fans via social media when they used to rely on traditional media reviews to gauge the quality of their production and performances. It also helps them discover where their fans originate from.
“In the era of globalisation where more people can access our music, we don’t necessarily have to focus on marketing our production locally,” Taka says. “We’re so easily connected that you don’t feel that distance of having a listener in Brazil for instance.”
Having a lot of fun playing the kind of music she wants is top priority. “If people want to join us in the fun they can join us at our shows but I’m not going to implore people to buy our shit. If it’s not good enough for them then we won’t force it on them,” she stresses.
The main priority for Taka and her band is to complete that much anticipated second album, follow up to the highly acclaimed Hikayat Perawan Majnun, which was released in 2014. The second full-length is going to be a conceptual piece that combines the beauties of music and visual art. “Each song will have its own personalised artwork and we’re also thinking of organising an exhibition to go along with it. The game plan is to make people come back for live music,” she enthuses.
The 27-year old songwriter was given the rare opportunity to expand her musical horizons when she became the first Malaysian artist to be selected for the highly coveted Red Bull Music Academy, held in Montreal last year.
Her first application didn’t make the cut so she tried again - and this time around, it proved fruitful. “It was kind of fun answering the questions because you get to see the progress you’ve done throughout the year,” Taka recalls. “Answering questions like ‘what have you done in the last six months’ is sort of a track back of what I’ve done so that’s the only reason why I applied for the second time. For the ‘lols’ really,” she laughs.
Participants are also required to submit music material for consideration and Taka sent a concept EP to go along with her application. We’re pretty certain it was this stellar creative effort which nabbed her the exclusive invitation to Montreal but she also name dropped Berghain in her application, just for good measure. “That could have been one of the plus points. I was there for a festival called Pop Kultur and the whole venue was opened for public so it is kind of like cheating, but still, I have been to Berghain,” she laughs.
Being part of RBMA was more than she expected. Participants were given a list of lecturers presenting various topics on a daily basis, including Win Butler of Arcade Fire. Attending the lectures was an eye opening moment for Taka. Even more commercially focused lecturers like Mike WiLL Made-It - who has produced for Beyonce - turned out to be informative experiences for the underground artist.
Dancing up a storm with Just Blaze and heading over to Win Butler’s studio were highlights for the young artist and overall, the experience did change her perception on making music. “Throughout our two weeks there everyone was making music non-stop and because of our surroundings, you tend to feel that you have to do something,” she explains.
The two week stint helped her understand the background of other participants. It came to her realisation that most of them produced music on a full time basis unlike how she does it back home. Takahara is more than just a singer/songwriter: she’s a scriptwriter and has also had a hand in acting as well.
“I have other things to do here to make money. It’s a difference in environments that you would surround yourself with that enlightens me. I need to surround myself with people who have complete focus on their work rather than people who tend to complain about other people,” she explains. “It’s a simple notion but the mere two weeks gave me that change in pace when I work. But, I still like taking my time to get things done anyway.”
The Venopian Solitude has successfully gone against the grain from the very beginning. A good-natured refusal to conform to social norms is definitely the key to her achievements to date. If this is what Taka can achieve before hitting 30, we are definitely in for an exciting ride in the future.