At last year’s edition of CTM Festival, Ican Haram, the MC and hype man of Gabber Modus Operandi, was violently sick upon entering the stage. Given the extremity of the Indonesian duo’s music, many in the crowd presumed this was a rehearsed act — an attention-demanding shock tactic borrowed from the punk and heavy metal scenes that dominate their homeland. A year on, as they return to Berlin for a second consecutive CTM performance, Ican admits that this bout of bodily discharge was far more spontaneous. “The occasion got to me,” he confesses with a wry smile. “It was my first time in Europe and only our sixth time playing live — the festival and Berghain both felt very intimidating.” Comprised of Ican and DJ Kasimyn, Gabber Modus Operandi are very much a product of their surroundings.
The hard, fast, abrasive club sounds they have been making since 2018 owe a lot to both Indonesia’s aforementioned heavy metal obsession and gamelan — percussion-based, traditional ritualistic music that plays a similarly integral part in the country’s culture. “Indonesia definitely isn’t the kind of place where you can call the police if someone is being loud,” Kas laughs. “Metal, punk, noise — the tolerance of loudness is high, because gamelan has been such a big part of society for centuries.” Despite the name, the pair are quick to stress that their music isn’t actually gabber — certainly not in the traditional European sense.
Swapping nihilism for something altogether more optimistic, Kas summarises their sound as a “retranslation of gabber and hardcore culture” into music that Indonesian audiences can relate to. Rather than sampling gamelan, they make tracks using traditional gamelan scales, ending up with rhythms so fast that they “somehow flip you out”.
Last August’s debut album, ‘HOXXXYA’, an eight-track release that often surpasses the 200bpm mark, is a fine example of the way the duo marry high-speed Western club sounds with traditional Indonesian rhythms. That said, Gabber Modus Operandi are an act that need to be seen live to be fully appreciated. With Kas behind the decks cueing up impossibly fast track after impossibly fast track, Ican is given the freedom to inflict a barrage of throat-shredding, screamo wails on unsuspecting audiences.
Such is CTM’s penchant for continent-traversing cultural exchanges, this year Gabber Modus Operandi are paired with Nakibembe Xylophone Troupe, a Ugandan ensemble known for playing a rare, eight-person xylophone known as an embaire. “It sounds like the start of a joke,” Ican quips. “A xylophonic troupe from Uganda mixed with Balinese electronic musicians and then presenting this collaborative piece.”
Losing none of their intensity, Nakibembe’s complex, polyrhythmic percussion proves to be a surprisingly good match for Kas’ ominous, doomsday assault and Icam’s grindcore-reminiscent vocal bursts. This year is “a lot more relaxed and romantic,” Ican announces triumphantly in the aftermath of the set. Unbound by the often-suffocating lineage of Western club music, Gabber Modus Operandi are making hybridised, uncategorisable sounds largely incomparable to anything else in the scene. Their aims and objectives are far more modest, however. “The project is simply a medium for us to explore our Indonesian identity,” Ican insists. “If we become role models to other Indonesians, so be it, but it’s not our mission. Our aim is simply to present an identity of what being Indonesian means.”