The Jakarta Post
The outsider: Bagus Purwoko found his niche in the underground music scene. (Hema Records/File)
Solo’s Hema Records may be relatively young at 3 years old, but it has quickly established itself as a promising independent record label.
With a solid sense of aesthetics and a knack for picking up young acts with fully formed sounds, the label has quickly garnered hype among the underground crowd.
Hema Records founder Bagus Purwoko has no qualms about putting himself at the heart and center of the label.
“Record labels are very much influenced by the person behind it,” he pointed out.
A former punk rocker, Bagus always saw himself as an outsider. He rebelled in high school, sick of the environment and everyone around him.
Eventually, Bagus found his calling in the punk and hardcore scenes. It was here that Bagus began to branch out into his surroundings.
The interesting characters of the scenes were not only eye-opening, but also catalytic for him in sprouting a new kind of thinking. The “network” he gained then, Bagus explained, is at the root of where his label is today.
Initially, Bagus started a label that focused on releasing “noisy punk” records. Later, he started a more general independent label with a friend. Neither lasted long.
Hema came out of the idea of promoting bands from less-exposed areas in the country: essentially, cities where the underground scene was still in its infancy and promising bands faced the basic challenges that artists in bigger cities no longer did. This meant everything from getting gigs to making records, and finding promotional platforms.
Featured album: The Saudade EP by Annie Hall features a custom-design cover art by designer and musician Alfian Pramananta that reflects Hema's philosophy. (Hema Records/File)
Hema means “home,” a name that Bagus chose consciously, as he wanted the label to be a comfortable and trusted home for its artists. Everything the label did was “family business.”
“I think that there are many bands from areas here,” Bagus said, referring to Solo.
“But they aren’t talked about in the media as much as their big-city peers. So they have all these good songs but without the needed exposure.”
Bagus, who sees Hema as a “one-man project,” said that he often got help from friends in Surakarta’s underground scene to set up promotional shows for the label’s artists.
“I really respect and appreciate the people who help me with the label.” he said of the tight, niche group.
In order to promote the label’s roster, Bagus has also set up a publication division for Hema, though it is still very much in its early stages.
The label’s first and only publication so far has been in the form of a zine called Interside, which provides backgrounders on the individuals behind Hema’s bands.
“In the future, I hope to also publicize zines curated by individual Hema bands that includes some stories, some illustrations and some photos from the band’s recording sessions.”
These creative mediums are necessary means for Hema to truly represent Surakarta’s independent music scene, since it is literally the only active independent label there right now.
Fortunately, the internet has also helped Bagus promote Hema in ways that might have been far more challenging without it.
Through the internet, Bagus said that many music fans learned about the city’s uniqueness, including the revered studio Lokananta, where many bigger independent bands have recorded.
One big family: Indie label Hema Records aims to put Surakarta’s underground bands on the map in a big way. (Hema Records/File)
“Solo [Surakarta] is very fun, if a small, city. The people are nice and it’s relatively cheap to live here. And there are so many great culinary delights,” Bagus said.
“But the scene here, although there many great bands — like industrial metal group Matius III:II, Senja Dalam Prosa and The Scenesters, which we’re going to release —mostly come out only to disappear quickly,” he said.
Shows are held wherever allows them, including many rooftops and living rooms.
“Whatever needs to be done to infuse the bands here with energy,” Bagus said of the unusual venues.
So far, Bagus has only dealt with bands he knows personally. He wants bands with a “good attitude, because it’s not enough to make good-sounding music. People need more.”
“I want bands with similar emotions and aesthetics,” he explained. “A lot of them are guys who have put on their own shows or held an exhibition, or those with a variety of projects. There’s mutual respect there.”
Bagus tends to stay away from bands that simply send in their demos, seemingly at random, without understanding the label’s approach.
“A lot of them send in demos and just go, ‘Hey, we’ve got these materials but no labels to release them on.’ I don’t think that’s how it should be,” he said.
“I think labels and bands need to develop a relationship beforehand and discuss the materials together, with the label helping to give direction. This is why I think A&R [Artist and Repertoire] divisions in labels are important.”
This is indeed why Hema’s album covers tend to look good. Shoegaze band Annie Hall’s Saudade EP is one of Bagus’s favorite releases for that reason, as the label worked with designer and musician Alfian Pramananta on it.
“He’s talented and we share many similar tastes. So he’s going to work on a lot of our art in the future.”
Bagus hoped that in the near future, Hema would be able to break into the big-city markets, and eventually into international bounds, although this evolution seems to have taken root already: “We’ve got a Malaysian band on the roster.”
“Our friends there say that there is a lot of attention in the label from local underground music fans. We’re going to continue to study hard about what it takes to make a great label. We know we’re still learning, but Hema will get there eventually,” he said, hinting at greater things to come.