By Ella Clair
“I used to force myself to produce. With my mum’s old Toshiba. I used to have it set up on this chair,” Melbourne based producer and artist Agung Mango points down to where he’s sitting, behind a desk in his garage-turned-bedroom. “When I woke up, it would be prepared and I’d just, like, produce straight away. Just to learn, you know?” Agung tells me if he hadn’t forced himself to produce 3 days at time, he would be way further behind now. His drive is palpable.
Before the audio connects on our Zoom call, Agung Mango appears, sipping a pale yellow smoothie through a straw. I sip my coffee. His smile flashes across the screen and then we greet each other as if the interview was taking place at an actual cafe. If only.
“Agung is my family name. It’s basically my last name in Indonesian. Mango means to keep moving forward. It’s kind of a reminder,” he shrugs. I get the sense this is a big part of his ethos. His voice is low and croaky. At 22, Agung Mango has made a name for himself in the local scene. Winning a Triple J Unearthed comp in last summer, Mango landed a slot at Laneway in January, before life in Melbourne consisted of rules, regulations and press conferences.
He told his girlfriend first. “When you tell someone, you’re forcing it to sink in, you know?” Mango explains humbly that he didn’t want it to. “It was sick. Very high intensity. Sweaty. It was fun as shit.” He admits that Golden Plains was even crazier. More spontaneous. “It was just on go. That’s the shit I like. I always wanna be prepared but when you’re feeling that stress, you know something crazy is gonna come out of it,” he grins, swivelling on his chair, reliving the peak of his summer.
Agung Mango’s live shows are pretty hectic. I didn’t get to one before the pandemic but I’ve seen footage. “We’re all homies, all brothers,” he lists the full lineup and is seemingly distressed at the idea of leaving anyone out. “It’s dope,” he reminisces, “we always try to make it a new experience for everyone in the crowd and even within the band. I fuckin’ miss shows.”
We start the interview in the yard outside his parents house. His brother is floating around. The sky is blue and Agung squints at the sun. “My crib?” He smirks, “Man, I’d show you my room right now but it’s fuckin’ messy.” Agung tries to convince me he’s not a messy person and that he just had a lot of stuff to do this morning. He says he vacuums and wipes down everything every morning, “Shit like that,” he explains.
Eventually the sun becomes overpowering and he moves the interview inside. Agung lives in the garage at his family home. His bed is on one side and his studio is on the other. The back wall is lined with a chockablock clothes rack. “It’s a pretty chill crib.” One wall is deep red, and the other yellow. Warm. He’s currently trying to get his own place. And his own cat.
Agung grew up in Deer Park, in the west of Melbourne with his brother and parents. He has one brother but doesn’t tell me much about him, instead asking me about my own siblings. He asks almost as many questions of me as I ask of him. I wonder if he’s trying to deflect attention, or if he’s just genuinely curious.
“The west is dope. Very multicultural. It’s gritty, creative,” his vocal fry drags as he considers the different facts of the area he’s grown up in. He insists that comparing sounds from Melbourne’s west to that of the south, east or north, that they have a different feel. Agung considers the influence the area might have had on his music, “I don’t know if it’s the west or just the people I have around me. Just, fuckin’, shit that sounds weird. I don’t know if that’s the west but if it is… fuckin’ oath.”
Agung’s mum is from Italy and his dad’s from Bali, “It’s an interesting, interesting household. Good food,” he jokes. As a kid, he only really ate mie goreng for fuel. Now his comfort food is pizza from down the street. Wood fire. His favourite as a kid was fried rice. “I was actually a really naughty kid,” he admits. Energetic. He cringes, describing himself as attention seeking.
“If I wasn’t going to Bali every year, seeing my family and being exposed to all that culture, I’d probably be making like, normal, really mediocre music,” Agung explains. Growing up with these cultures have been a huge influence on his artistry. He seems eager to connect more with his Italian culture but admits Bali has been a bigger presence in his life because it’s so easy to get to from Australia.
“Every time I’m in the studio I’m like… yo, let’s chuck some Balinese shit on! Just to make it, Agung-ish,” Mango gets excited, throwing his hands about. He tells me he often samples the Gamalen; a traditional Balinese instrument; and is looking to get a live player once gigs start up again. He even shot a music video for his song ‘Rodent’ while visiting Bali.
Agung has also been pretty influenced by film soundtracks as of late. In particular, the work of Italian composer Franco Micalizzi. Perhaps this is how he’s trying to connect with his Italian heritage? Another huge influence for Mango is Pharrell. This is one he didn’t have to tell me. “He’s a g!” In fact, Mango’s latest single ‘Little Bum’ is basically an ode to N.E.R.D, “My favourite song is ‘Laser Gun’” he exclaims. Apparently, it’s not even on Spotify.
“Unique, wild and a little big goofy.” Agung Mango sums up his music in three words for me and unconsciously paints a pretty accurate picture of himself. “Sometimes my music is quirky as fuck. Yeah, I’m like, damn. That’s cheesy as shit.”
While his artistic processes vary, the main goal for Agung is to keep a flow of creation. Sometimes that means picking three records from his collection to base a sound off for a project, sometimes it’s listening to trap music for a month straight, to learn the genre inside and out. Other times, it’s jazz, “It’s always changing to be honest.” Mango tells me he’s even been bumping Tame Impala and Arctic Monkey’s in prep for a cover challenge he’s set for himself. Often, he’s inspired by listening to other local producers and will study their techniques. Listening is a learning game for Agung.
“I just like to spice it up! I try to make it fun so I can stay motivated to keep creating. I just want to be in this state of flow. I don’t wanna make it too hard that I’ll get anxiety and give up. But I don’t wanna make shit too easy where I get bored.” This is Agung’s life philosophy. “Facts.” Before smoking up, politely and humbly off camera, he tells me he applies this state of flow to everything.
Coming off the high of the summer, Agung admits COVID’s slowed his process, “We’ve just been kicking it. You know? We’re still making music.” For Agung, iso has been fairly productive, releasing projects here and there, but he admits it’s been toxic too. When people come to his studio set up to make music, they always know they’ll come out of it with something weird that pushes some kind of boundaries. He admits that sometimes weed goes hand in hand with that process. “It just makes us more comfy to be more experimental.” I remind him that it's such a historic part of music making, but we agree it’s easy to go too far with it all. He shrugs and admits he usually gets off track when he stops working out.
The other day, Agung ran into all his basketball mates at a park. “They still ball to this day!” They invited him to play and now he’s sore all over, “I can’t even sit down properly bro,” he agonises. As a teenager, Agung landed a basketball scholarship that had him switching high school to one based in Maribyrnong. “That was interesting. It was very different coming from Creekside.” He explains the overwhelming newness of that shift. The people. The area. “It’s just more rough. There’d be fights after school… shit you didn’t see in the high school I was at before,” he remembers.
After getting kicked out, Mango headed to TAFE to learn a trade. Again, adapting to a new environment. The oldest guy in his class was middle-aged, “I was like, 17. It made me very retrospective.” Agung experienced two opposing worlds of sports and trades before returning to school to repeat year 11, “I felt like an outcast. I felt too mature. I left that year and got a job in health insurance. That gave me the courage to talk to random people on the phone.” He also learnt about manipulation. He explains it was a toxic field, and so he left. The dude’s lived a thousand lives it seems, and he’s only 22.
Learning how to adapt to new challenges is a quality that seems drilled into Agung. We talk about the challenges that this pandemic has presented to our music community, especially here in Melbourne, as strict lockdowns have continued throughout the year. “We should hold more shows. Also, people should just release music. We shouldn’t give a fuck. We have the ability to make a song in our bedrooms. It’s a hard time but we just have to adapt,” he insists. Agung also reckons that local, independent musicians need support from radio stations, “Now we’re in iso, we need more. More people holding virtual shows and shit.”
Admittedly, Agung keeps to himself, avoiding any kinds of obstacles he thinks he could possibly face, “I just go to my shows, then I bounce.” The view from Mango’s mind is pretty tunnel vision at the moment. The only thing he seems concerned with is working on his craft and putting out music.
“This is not talent. This is everyday tryna make a song. Reading books on how to improve my lyric writing. As I get older, my success will gradually improve so I’ll have less stress. In ten years making beats will take 10 minutes, not an hour, so I’ll have more time to think about other things,” Agung shares, vulnerably and honestly.
Putting out music every Wednesday under his alias, Coughman Neptune, Agung explains he’s sick of the songs stacking up. He tells me there’s no point if no one’s gonna hear it. In the end, Agung would be super happy if he just had heaps of projects under his belt.
Last time someone wrote a profile on Agung Mango, he had archived. He didn’t like having all that much about himself online. This is surprising, as he is so transparent with what he is all about. “I just have one goal... fuckin’ make music.” That little kid who set up his mum’s Toshiba and forced himself to practice for days at a time persists. He has so clearly embodied a grown up version. Not only is his drive palpable, but it’s inspiring.
Speaking with Agung reminds me of the age old dilemma of success; does it come from hard work, talent or luck? It’s clear he’s got the first two down. I always thought it must be a magic combination of the three. In Agung’s case, I can’t imagine luck is too far round the corner.
Keep up to date with Agung Mango here
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.