Lair are a six-piece Indonesian psych rock/funk outfit hailing from Jatiwangi, West Java. Their name is pronounced Lah-eer (useful information for requesting their often-startling album in your local independent record store) and is a local dialect version of the word ‘lahir’ meaning birth. They take inspiration from classical/traditional Panturan Tarling which is a form of music and performance art popular among the people of West and Central Java. The album’s title, ‘Ngélar’ is based on the locals’ culture of going around in celebration of something. In their village, it would mean a travelling performance.

They are the latest band to join the impressive roster of the Guruguru Brain label, run by Go Kurusawa, formerly of Japanese subtle psychedelia titans Kikagaku Moyo, who also produces this album. The record has a sad context which is mainly apparent through the translated titles but has a cheerful countenance. Lair’s home, Jatiwangi, is the country’s largest producer of clay/terracotta-based products. They sing of the rituals of harvest, sending off prayers towards their once prosperous land and the ruins of what was once a dense forest which they are trying to reclaim against a backdrop of industrialisation. The album conjures salt in the humid air, posters for the coming elections, the lingering smell of burnt fuel, rundown public transport braving potholes with its rickety wheels (at this final point, we could be discussing England rather than West Java!)

‘Tatalu’ (which translates as the prelude or offering) is an invigorating opening and a must-listen representation of what ‘Ngélar’ has to offer. Percussionist Tamyiz Noor’s rebana, the local equivalent of a tambourine, draws rhythmic influence from the Indo-Chinese roadside performance of the Barongsai / Lion Dance or Sar Ping commonly held in the Pantura regions while guitarist, Tedi Nurmanto, sets out riffs that he can imagine being part of the soundtrack to a Chinese action movie. The expressive singing and chants add to the drama.

The worldwide range of influences makes the album appealing with ‘Pesta Rakyat Pabrik Gula’ (People’s Revelry for the Sugar Factory) taking the geographically distant echo of Tinariwen’s Tuareg delta blues and mixing it with a ragga while ‘Tanah Bertuah’ (⁠Prospers of the Land) adds an atmosphere of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks to the blend.

‘Hareeng’ (⁠In Delirium) with its mournful pace has the quality of a lament with the sound of cement mixers or drilling in the background. In contrast, ‘Boa-Boa’ (⁠Perhaps) utilises rumbling guitar riffs and crashing percussion to great effect, creating a psych rock sound.

Singer-songwriter Monica Hapsari provides some of the album’s highlights with the three songs she co-wrote and performed. Her vocals are prominent and lend an emotive tone to ‘Bangkai Belantara’ (⁠The Ruins of the Forest), the only track that marginally steps over the five-minute mark and which also benefits from a stomping great circling guitar line.  Hapsari’s next contribution, ‘Kawin Tebu’ (⁠Mingling of the Noble Cane) starts sparsely with clanging bells developing from what could be a wake to a buoyant, guitar-led knees up. ‘Setan Dolbon’ (⁠The Demon, Dolbon) is her final offering bubbling with synths and itching, twisting guitar lines.

While ‘Gelombang Pemecah Malam’ (⁠Ripples of the Night) maintains the distinctive guitar style, it does so with more deliberate pacing before the finale, ‘Mencari Selamat’ (⁠Seeking for Land of Salvation), offers a combination of guitar and percussion that inspires a desire to cavort wildly. It completes a 10-song, 34-minute sprint through a joyous range of sounds, a unique sonic journey.

Lair: Ngélar – Out 23rd February 2024 (Guruguru Brain)

– Tatalu (

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.