How does it feel to be a hip-hop cult icon? Heri 'Ucok' Sutresna aka Morgue Vanguard, the front man of the now-defunct underground hip-hop band Homicide, does not care for it.
'I don't like being made into an icon,' he said.
'There are many people who email me and they talk a lot through email but once they are in front of me, they shut down,' he said of some of his fans, while shaking his head. 'It's counterproductive,' he said. 'Personal contact is what's important. Having that moment when that person is in front of you,' he said recently in Bandung.
But Ucok can't escape it. Despite disbanding in 2007, Homicide's socially conscious tracks, which protest against dictatorship, military violence, hypocrisy, the capitalist agenda and consumerism, continue to spread through the web, creating a cult following in the Indonesian underground music scene.
Chief editor of Rolling Stone Indonesia online Wendi Putranto hailed the group as 'one of the most influential hip-hop bands of all time in Indonesia'.
Last month, Homicide's reissue of Homicide's first EP, Godzkilla Necronometry, in vinyl format sold out in five hours. Ucok's Bandung-based label, Grimloc, with Jakarta-based Grieve Records announced the release of a limited 300 copies on Twitter and Facebook.
The number of copies may sound meager compared to the million records sold by mainstream artists but, according to Grieve Records, it is a lot for independent bands.
For well-known independent bands that have a strong fan base, 300 copies would usually take around two weeks to sell, according to Uri Putra, Grieve Records' co-owner. The label planned to release two more Homicide EPs on vinyl, with the first due at the end of this year, Uri said.
In his office in Bandung, a design graphic company that he said he launched to earn his keep, Ucok sat while smoking a cigarette. He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the name, Eyefeelsix, an indie band that his label produces.
Ucok said that the proceeds of the vinyl sales would be used to build a community space with Bandung's Ultimus bookstore. The leftist bookstore, which has also expanded into a publishing house, has long been a place for people to share ideas and have debates. In 2006, a mob of religious hard-liners attacked the bookstore on Jl. Lengkong Besar, Bandung, during a discussion on Marxism. The bookstore is now in Cikutra.
'Social activists gather and have meetings there, film screenings and discussions; book discussions too, a bunch of things. Ultimus as a public space has its own history and we [Homicide] as part of the community have also used Ultimus,' Ucok said.
Ucok, who founded Homicide in 1994, sees himself as both a social activist and a musician. Homicide's music was overtly political from the beginning, and became even more so at the start of 1997 when the Asian crisis hit and thereafter when Soeharto was toppled in 1998. Ucok joined the People's Democratic Party (PRD) during those years, but eventually left.
'There was a rotting within [the party],' Ucok said of his decision to leave. Then in 2002, Homicide released Godzkilla Necronometry. 'It was an auto-critique for all of us in the movement. It was a critique of the status quo and a critique of the opposition. Everything is in there. It's the most restless album, the first album that speaks as Homicide,' he said.
'The core of the music is in social activism. Even our choice to be independent was a political statement by itself,' Ucok said.
'I can't play music if I'm not involved in my social activism. I can't just play music. I would die of boredom. With social activism, there's value, there's interaction with people, there's dialectics and all that. That's what makes it interesting,' he said.
After his experience with political parties, Ucok now rejects the parliamentary system. He does not vote because he doesn't believe in the system. 'However good the choice in the booth, it can't accommodate what we need today. It's better for us to make change ourselves rather than depending on one or two people,' he said. 'People might call it anarchism but for us...,' he trailed off.
'I am more concerned for politics to be useful at the grass roots, to build a community, and to find a way for a community to be autonomous in their culture, economy and so forth. On the ground, we cross paths with government policies and we have to resist these policies. In terms of strategy, we have to think of how we can resist these policies. But, we can't not care,' he said.
Ucok said he was currently focused on working with urban communities. 'For example, if an area is flooding, we have to come up with our own solution. Or in a place full of urban poor, they can have their own cooperative that they run independently. It's not easy. But it's becoming more popular, especially in the agrarian movement,' he said.
Ucok said that his left-leaning political nature was partly influenced by his father who was once a member of the CGMI, the student wing of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). 'My dad was put in a camp for students and was 'reeducated'. At the end, he became a lecturer on Pancasila,' he said. 'But what he believed in didn't go away,' he said.
He said that the other part that shaped him was being involved in the resistance movement leading to the toppling of Soeharto. 'I think that era shaped me into who I am,' he said.
Ucok said that after the release of the two other Homicide EPs, his work for Homicide will be done. Amid his social activism and music producing, he is currently working on a solo album.