Five Minutes with Animistic Beliefs: The Rotterdam duo bringing traditional Southeast Asian sonics to the rave

HUNGER catches up with the group ahead of their appearance at Houghton festival this week.

Rotterdam-based duo Animistic Beliefs are transforming what club music is and can be through an eclectic formula of soundscapes doused in spirituality and pure, boundaryless self-expression. Comprised of Linh Luu and Marvin Lalihatu – who both use they/them pronouns – the group are reshaping the world of rave with a sound that holds strong connections to their Southeast Asian heritage (Luu’s family are Chinese-Vietnamese, whilst Lalihatu’s is Moluccan). The pair had long held an affinity for music, both exploring Rotterdam’s club scene whilst underage before they would sell their instruments and hardware, making for a highly personable relationship with their tools of choice.

Animistic Beliefs have become known for their heart-pounding, hair-raising live shows, where they inherit punk sensibilities alongside a variety of genres, including abrasive techno, gabba and electro. The evolution of their shows has led them from the club circuit to festivals worldwide, and their most recent project, 2022’s MERDEKA, is undoubtedly built for those huge intercontinental occasions. The record acts as an intense yet beautifully detailed and intricately produced ride through the minds of Animistic Beliefs, leaving you in a trance of wonder as you delve further into enlightening cultural exploration. 

The group are also venturing into artistic realms beyond just music. They are exploring new media art and alternative fashion as part of their expanding creative pursuits, with their latest endeavour, CACHE/SPIRIT, acting as a remarkable audiovisual project created in collaboration with Jeisson Drenth. The project represents their current artistic direction, which has already led to remarkable achievements, such as performing at the Dekmantel Festival in Amsterdam and Traumabar und Kino in Berlin with their AV presentation. And as their musical ascension continues in 2023, the group are set to make a highly anticipated appearance at the UK’s Houghton festival this week for a must-not-miss set. Here, Animistic Beliefs sit down with HUNGER to discuss producing their own instruments, performing at the upcoming Houghton festival in the UK, and their heritage’s crucial role in their music.

Music aside, how are you both feeling currently?

We are feeling pretty good in general! I’d say we are also a bit overwhelmed with everything that’s happening right now, we are working on a new audiovisual show that will have its premiere at Muziekgebouw in January, and besides that, we are playing at least one show every weekend. It’s hard to disconnect how we feel from our work – unfortunately haha. We’re very happy with our romantic relationships and are happily working on self-development, growth etc.

How long has the idea of animism resonated with you, and what led you to its discovery?

Lalihatu: Animism has always been a part of our cultures, my Moluccan family’s belief system is syncretic, as they embrace both Christianity and indigenous rituals in their daily spiritual practices. I have rejected Christianity, but I still resonate with the indigenous aspect of my family’s religion.

How big of a role does your Southeast Asian heritage play in your music?

Our cultural heritage is playing an increasingly bigger role in our music, I think the first radical change in our sound, in general, happened at the end of 2019. We’ve always been experimenting with different dance music genres but were gravitating towards music from the global south more and more.

How do you feel the queer nightlife scene has progressed in the Netherlands since you were growing up?

I can only speak for Rotterdam and the west coast, but when I was younger, I wasn’t very familiar with the queer scenes, all I knew were the gay clubs, but that was never really something I felt part of. Nowadays, it’s very vibrant. There are a lot of cute queer people and initiatives that are popping up. Even though some of the scene have created spaces where we’d feel more at home in, the majority is still very white and male-dominated.

I read that you’ve made your own instruments and soldered hardware from scratch. Do you feel a stronger connection to the music knowing these have been built by your own hands?

Yes, making music with instruments we’ve built ourselves feels very rewarding and affirming. That being said, I think how you make music doesn’t matter, it’s more about what you do with what is available to you. We think it’s really nice to be resourceful and experiment with different materials. Right now, we’re very obsessed with flutes, drums and gongs!

It’s almost been a year since the release of your last project, MERDEKA. Do you have any thoughts on the direction you’d like to take musically on your next release?

There are so many directions we would like to go that it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes! We would like to continue re-discovering and merging different parts of ourselves and have our music reflect that journey. We’d love to release a ‘club’ EP, do more collaborations and do another more conceptual album as well!

What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learnt from your time in the music industry so far?

That it is very important to stay true to yourself, but this doesn’t mean you can not change direction or try out new things. To us, it actually means to listen to your heart and not conform to the projections and expectations of others. Don’t try to find an audience. Find yourself first, and the audience will find you!

How do you think your younger selves would feel about the position you’re in now?

Linh and I always talk about how we never had any role models who were South East Asian, queer and doing experimental electronic music in our lives, and I think our younger selves would feel very affirmed to see us do what we do now. We’re travelling the world and doing what we love. Baby Marvin and Linh would definitely be proud and in awe.

You’ll be playing at Houghton festival this week here in the UK; how do you feel the UK compares to the Netherlands both culturally and musically?

We love the UK and its many scenes. They have always been a huge influence! There are also a lot of parallels. Due to colonial history, Rotterdam has got a really big and influential Caribbean community. I know a lot of bubbling artists were into jungle and working with tracker software as well back in the day. Both countries are also very culturally diverse, which is nice to see a reflection of on the dance floors.

For anyone who’s never seen a set or performance from you, what can they expect?

Our DJ sets are very fierce and diverse – and we like to have FUN! We play 15 micro-genres in one hour, ranging from very serious nerdy dance music to club music from Asia, Africa, and the Americas to very silly edits of Y2K music. It’s very us, very ADD – we feel uncomfortable about restricting ourselves to rigid ideas of what can and cannot be done. We also love to introduce people to new sounds and ideas! Our live sets are intense and pretty punk! It’s more raw and simplistic in nature, as we basically use a sampler/drum computer, a modular synth and Linh on the mic. It’s fully improvised too.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Yes, we always try to take a nap before the show. We kind of need this to reset our brains from all the stimuli we’ve come across throughout the day haha. Then we freshen up, dress up and do our makeup together. When we play the live show, we light up some incense just before starting.

What would you say has been the most fulfilling moment of your career so far?

Playing in Vietnam and Indonesia! It’s a very special feeling when you recognise yourself in the audience. It is very rare to find all these different parts of yourself come together at this intersection. The queer, the alternative, the Southeast Asian, the music, all of it. It’s a very warm and proud feeling, a feeling of unity and finally belonging. I think, in general, what’s very fulfilling is meeting like-minded people and having the opportunity to develop your creative ideas into something tangible. So not really moments per se.

You both have an incredibly unique and expressive fashion sense – can you talk to us a bit about your personal styles and what role they play in your self-expression?

Thank you! I think our styles are similar to our DJ sets, mixing a lot of subcultures that we resonate with or grew up with. Punk, gothic, Bratz, Mad Max, The Lord of the Rings, Y2K era hip-hop styles, The Matrix, the list goes on. We also love to play with gender roles and traditional clothing from South East Asia and Indonesia especially. Basically, just have fun with anything we love and find beautiful.

What can we expect from you both for the rest of the year?

We recently started to work on a new AV show, ‘Thức Tỉnh’, alongside Jeisson Drenth. Similar to our previous work CACHE/SPIRIT, it is informed by our Vietnamese, Moluccan and Colombian roots. It features stories inspired by social issues, colonialism and our personal lives in the form of a biomythography. It’s an ambitious project involving music, visuals, live instrumentation, choreography, traditional clothing, masks and set design. We just came back from a two-week residency where the three of us created scenes, crafted masks and costumes and composed music. A whole opera that is set to have its premiere at Muziekgebouw [Amsterdam] in January 2024! Besides that, we are playing all over Europe almost every weekend and playing in the Americas for the first time! We also hope to do a little Asia-Pacific tour around the end of the year. Maybe a small holiday would be cute too.

Catch Animistic Beliefs at Houghton 2023 in Norfolk this weekend (August 10th – 13th) – tickets are available here

WriterChris Saunders