Widely regarded as one of the most influential female artists of all time in Indonesia, Isyana Sarasvati came to SXSW Sydney last week to show Australian industry insiders and music fans what all the fuss is about in her home country.
And she didn’t disappoint. A packed crowd filled Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour to see her play (unsurprising given she has almost 13 million followers on Instagram alone) alongside a diverse collection of other talented Asian artists.
The Royal Music College graduate has released several well-received albums, penned international event theme songs and original film soundtracks, started her own record label, and was recently named on Forbes Asia‘s 30 Under 30 list, all while experimenting across impressively varied genres, from pop to prog-rock, opera to R&B.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ caught up with the Indonesian singer-songwriter last week to discuss SXSW Sydney, her favourite Australian artists, the strength of her home country’s music scene, and much more.
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Rolling Stone AU/NZ: Was it a proud moment for you representing Indonesia in Australia?
Isyana Sarasvati: It was definitely a proud moment for me and I believe all the other musicians who are travelling to SXSW with me are so excited and proud to represent Indonesia. For many of us, it is the first time that we’re performing here.
Are there any other artists performing at SXSW Sydney you hope to see?
SXSW is such a big festival and I’m sure there will be great acts for various genres from all over the world who would be playing there. But I’m excited to see So!YoON!, who is one of the members of Se So Neon who I’ve previously connected [with] in Korea early this year to shoot a documentary and will be performing at ROUND Festival soon.
Other than that, I think the nature of SXSW is to discover new music too, so I’m really looking forward to connecting with fellow musicians who will be there.
How would you describe the Indonesian music scene to someone not familiar with it?
The Indonesian music scene is incredibly diverse and dynamic. It blends traditional Indonesian sounds with modern influences, resulting in a rich tapestry of genres. It’s a vibrant and rapidly evolving scene that reflects the cultural diversity of our country. It’s definitely not to be missed!
What other female Indonesian artists other than yourself should Australians be listening to?
So many! But top ones Australians should listen to would be Raisa, Anggun, Eva Celia, Rinni Wulandari, and Indahkus. They all are such incredible Indonesian female artists.
You have such a strong following on social media. How do you deal with having millions of fans on Instagram etc?
It’s truly humbling to have ‘Isyanation’ always support my ever-evolving journey. I try to stay engaged with my fans and use social media as a platform to connect with them, share my music, and have them involved in my musical journey. Their support and trust are what drives me to keep creating and sharing my art.
Have you been to Australia many times before? And are there any Australian music artists you really like?
I’ve been to Australia a few times before, and it’s a beautiful country with such a vibrant music scene. Some Australian artists I listen to include Tame Impala, Hiatus Kayote, and Temper Trap..
How would you describe your music to a new fan?
My music is a fusion of various genres, often blending pop, progressive rock, and classical music that I grew up listening to. It’s emotional, raw, and explores a wide range of themes and personal experiences. I believe I’m most honest when I express myself through music.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
At the moment it would be Queen and New Jeans, BTS, Polyphia.
From K-Pop groups to Japanese metal bands, Asian music is now truly global. Are you happy to see Asian artists doing so well around the world?
Absolutely, I’m thrilled to see Asian artists achieving global recognition and success in the music industry. We’ve got such diverse and rich sound and culture, for them to be accepted and reach a global audience has been such an incredible experience to be part of. It’s an exciting time for Asian music, and we’re so excited to see what the future holds.
Tell us about your own label REDROSE Records. Why did you decide to start it? What artists does do you work with?
I created REDROSE Records with my partner and manager Sarah. We built it as a platform for emerging and talented artists to share their music and stories. We work with a diverse roster of artists, helping them grow and reach a broader audience, to be a safe space for these emerging and established artists to flourish in the industry.
What else do you have coming up after SXSW Sydney?
I’m nearly done with my tour this year. After New York, London, Singapore, 10 cities in Indonesia, and a few shows in Japan, SXSW Sydney is one of the last stops, as we’ll end this year’s tour with a headline show at LUC Fest in Taiwan. Planning to have a little rest and recharge before a bigger and better year in 2024.