Trends come and go, but only some can have a long-lasting impact, such as experienced by Indonesian electronic music group Weird Genius. In June 2020, Weird Genius saw their single Lathi become a sensation across social media—only three months after releasing it on various streaming platforms. Lathi is a catchy and unique song, presenting a balance of electronic dance music (EDM) and traditional Javanese elements, combined with English verses and bridges of Javanese sinden, sung by Surabayaborn singer and rapper Sara Fajira. The trend began from #LathiChallenge on TikTok and spread like wildfire to other social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Nowadays, with massive social media consumption, a song is as easy to be viral as its hype to be quickly replaced— but Lathi has proven otherwise. In Indonesia, it topped the charts across various music streaming platforms, such as Spotify Indonesia (and placed second on Spotify Viral Top 50 Global), iTunes, Deezer, JOOX, Resso, Shazam, and TikTok. Furthermore, it broke a new record as a local song that topped the Spotify Indonesia Top 50 chart for six consecutive weeks. In July, the poster of Weird Genius handsomely decorated the New York City Times Square for reaching 100 million streams. In November, they snatched three awards for Lathi at the prestigious 23rd Anugerah Musik Indonesia. By January, the song had recorded over 300 million plays across various music streaming platforms and nearly 103 million views on YouTube, with more than 321 million views of #LathiChallenge on TikTok alone.
Weird Genius consists of three well-known members among the Indonesian public: producer and songwriter Eka Gustiwana, internet celebrity and avid gamer Reza "Arap" Oktovian, and DJ Gerald Liu. Arap and Eka first formed Weird Genius in 2016 with Billy Taner, until Billy left, and the group welcomed Gerald Liu in October 2019. In the group, Arap comes up with the song's concept and lyrics. He also directs music videos, while Eka and Gerald specialize in producing music.
"We formed this EDM group as a future project… We want to show people that a group coming from a developing country can produce EDM too, and we did it," says Arap.
One distinct characteristic of Weird Genius is using traditional Indonesian instruments in their songs as they want to introduce them to foreign audiences as well, which they have showcased since their debut single DPS in 2016. They have various singers whose characters they see fit with each new song.
The trio has established their presence and grew their discography and fanbase independently, as they never joined any music labels. Gerald says that it is rare for music labels to be interested in a niche genre like EDM instead of more mainstream genres like pop, rock, or dangdut in Indonesia. On top of that, signing in a group of three would seem too big a gamble for a company.
Regardless, EDM still has a big pool of enthusiasts in Indonesia, and there are multiple electronic music festivals held in a year. For instance, ISMAYA Group's annual Djakarta Warehouse Project is one of the largest in Asia, with a total of around 80,000 audiences from various countries in 2018. Weird Genius themselves have participated in many events, such as Viral Fest Asia Festival Bangkok 2017, Soundrenaline Bali 2018, SHVR 2018 & 2019, and performed as the Local Act for Yellow Claw and The Chainsmokers concert in Indonesia— both in 2018.
Hence it is not surprising for Weird Genius to have a large and diverse fan base in Indonesia since their early days, and in the past two years, they have seen more listeners coming from neighboring countries in Asia. Moreover, contrary to how EDM is associated with urban lifestyle, parties, and clubs where there are strict age restrictions, Weird Genius finds that their songs are played a lot in public places and is also popular among teenagers who usually come to music festivals. They also see it as a hint that the genre can be appreciated and enjoyed by a wide age range.
Weird Genius has proven their potential, showing Lathi's success as anything but a common short-lived virality. Nearly a year after its release, Weird Genius is still feeling the impact and enthusiasm shown for Lathi. It's still being used for commercial purposes, and its success led them to produce a soundtrack for the game League of Legends: Wild Rift.
Most importantly, it became a stepping stone for Weird Genius in getting solid recognition on the international stage. In August 2020, Weird Genius officially became the first Asian act to sign with American record label Astralwerks. Still a part of Universal Music Group, Astralwerks focuses on electronic music and houses a notable roster—to name a few The Chemical Brothers, Halsey, Marshmello. Currently, they are working on several songs for Astralwerks, and the contract opens up more opportunities to attract a wider American audience, collaborate with top singers and DJs, and encourage the EDM scene back in Indonesia.
"If we could compare, other viral songs wouldn't have this length of an impact if it's merely riding the wave (of social media consumption). We were able to achieve this because (on top of it) we have a quality song and thorough preparation, and we released it at the right timing," says Eka.
Like other artists and musicians, Weird Genius hasn't been performing live since the pandemic hit. They were supposed to fly to Malaysia on the day of the large-scale social restrictions announcement. The group scheduled tours in China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the States were also canceled. Despite live stream or virtual events have become the alternative to music festivals— including DWP 2020, which Weird Genius also participated in—they still pale in comparison in terms of making the group's revenue. According to Arap, they never focus on digital revenue, which allows them to be free to make music that everyone enjoys. Their principle is not to charge royalty from other creators covering their songs, as long as they're for non-profit purposes.
Thus the three have been relying on their own projects for income, in addition to brand deals and endorsement. Arap, while staying active with his gaming live stream, is managing his own esports team, MORPH, and music label Pluus Record. Eka has his own music production house that makes pop music for companies and collaborates with other labels and musicians. Gerald, whose passion resides with hip hop and R&B, also produces music for Indonesian rappers and teaches music production classes—which have fetched increasing interest amid the pandemic.
With hopes rising for the pandemic to cease, Weird Genius is looking forward to performing again as soon as possible. And as new ground is set with Astralwerks, they are excited to create the next Lathi effect for the broader audience outside Indonesia.
"We are always open for collaboration as long as we have the same creative vision. Recently we have been working on many collaborations with foreign DJs as well," says Gerald.