Indonesian Indie Lessons, part 1: Swing it, Mocca!

Hello! My name is Widhi. I will be the guest contributor in this blog with a very interesting topic that came out in a small discussion between me and Anna via email. As an Indonesian who is currently living in Korea and have been listening to indie music from both countries, I would like to bring to the table how I view Indonesian and Korean indie music scenes, with a special focus on some Indonesian indie musicians and how I compare them to Korean indie music that I listen to. This will be my introductory post and I will begin with a band that has been enjoying popularity in Korea: Mocca.


I first listened to Mocca about eight years ago, when I was still in high-school. Back then, Indonesian music scene was packed with alternative pop/rock bands and most young people were hooked up with that kind of music. Mainstream music in Indonesia for so many years was filled mostly with bands, even until now. Some singers enjoyed popularity but still only a few of them who could survive so far.

The story began when Arina (vocalist and flute) and Riko (guitar) who happened to be college buddies wanted to break free from playing other people’s music. They decided to leave their group and began writing their own songs in 1997. In the late 1999, Indra (drum) and Toma (bass) were asked to join the two and Mocca was born.

In 2002, Mocca came out with a bang with their debut single Me & My Boyfriend amidst the trend of pop alternative bands, with their catchy swing jazz tunes with English lyrics. A new generation of indie musicians was born! At that time jazz tunes were never that popular. The lyrics from their song was almost mistaken them as a foreign artist. That single became the pathway to their success and become widely known throughout Indonesia. After being signed by Fast Forward Record (FFDR), they immediately reached their stardom when releasing their first debut album My Diary.

Their debut album, which came out with a very solid concept, contains 13 songs written from a girl’s point of view in her diary entries. The album starts with Once upon a time and is followed by a song telling of a first encounter with her Secret Admirer. Then after much hesitation in Twist Me Around, she decides to go steady with the boy in Me & My Boyfriend. In Telephone they break up, understanding that When The Moonlight Shines, they just weren’t meant for each other And Rain Will Fall, Life Keeps on Turning. This story might have just happened in any ordinary girl’s life.

A band is just ordinary in Indonesia, but a band which has an independent spirit of producing and distributing new sound and good concept in their music will somehow qualify them as indie. Mocca proved that with their waltz and bossa nova to ’70s disco and rock, with a twist of Frank Sinatra, they had been able to bring their music to a different level with their own touch. I would have to say that they were the ones who revived the jazz tune for a wider audience. No wonder that they were able to grab the Best Video at MTV Indonesia Music Awards and Best Album on Indonesia Music Awards (AMI) in 2003.

Having released a very successful debut album, it was surely seen as a pressure for Mocca. However, they didn’t stop there. In 2004, they released their second album Mocca & Friends under the same label. What makes this album special is that they collaborated with one of the senior Indonesian jazz musician, Bob Tutopoli in This Conversation and presented a song for him in Swing it Bob, and had a duet with Club 8 from Sweden in I Would Never.

To be signed under FFDR helped Mocca go international. As a distributor for international indie pop labels from Japan and Singapore to Sweden, they teamed up with their partner labels, such as Fruit Records in Singapore, Small Room in Thailand, Apple Crumble in Japan, Beatball from Korea, and My Honey from Italy. With their simple and beautiful songs, all in English, and with a good backup support from the record label, they gained popularity firstly in neighboring countries, like in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Then, they began to perform in other countries like Japan and Korea.

Does Mocca have a song in Indonesian? Since they come from Indonesia, right? Yes, surely they do. They have been involved in making songs for OSTs for two Indonesian movies, Untuk Rena (For Rena) and Catatan Akhir Sekolah (High School Last Notes). They made other hits such as Happy from the former and two other songs I Remember and Friend from the latter.

In 2007, Mocca released their third album Colours which consists of their new materials including two cover songs – Hyperballad (Björk) and Sing (The Carpenters) – and a collaboration with Pelle Carlberg (Edson). One of the songs, Do What You Wanna Do was selected as the OST for a Korean Movie, Bandhobi (반두비).

Mocca in Korea

As mentioned earlier, the partnership between FFDR and Beatball Records brought Mocca’s music to Korea. Since 2005, 4 albums have been released under the titles Friends, My Diary, Colours and Untuk Rena.

Mocca became more popular in Korea after six of their songs – I Remember, Happy, The Best Thing, Me & My Boyfriend, Sing, and Buddy Zeus were used in Korean TV commercials and shows. A collaboration was also made between Peppertones and Mocca’s vocalist Arina for the compilation album 남과여 그리고 이야기 with the title ABC.

In 2008, they were invited to perform at the Grand Mint Festival. They proved that they have been marking their part in Korean music since they had fans that came to see their performance. They also recorded gigs in Street Sound Take 1 and EBS Space. Mocca proved to swing fans in Korea even more by having a solo concert in June 2009 in Mapo Art Hall and got invited to perform in SBS Kim Jung Eun Chocolate.

An Analysis

Mocca works very hard to achieve what they have been right now. As their compatriots, I am more than happy to have them known by as many people as possible. I was thrilled when I once heard their music played in the campus cafeteria. Yet, what makes Mocca successful? The most important thing is, why does their music matter?

I have to say that in my opinion, they came out with one word, “simplicity”. They try to define their music as swing jazz. But have you ever realized that every time we hear the word jazz, it always leads to a heavy and exclusive music? If you share the same belief with me about jazz, then Mocca breaks that boundary. They recreate the what-so-called waltz and bossa nova to ’70s disco and rock, with a twist of Frank Sinatra to their own Mocca tunes.

Their English lyrics also became their strength instead of their weakness, as some people smirked at when they first debuted. Their lyrics fit perfectly to the type of the music they play. They do not try to grab the attention of the listeners by something that is too complicated to listen to, they try to pursue them by telling stories to them. Personal feelings and experiences, which may have just happen to anybody, are transformed into the story that they are trying to share to their listeners.

Not to mention that by using English, they will definitely reach more listeners who are not familiar with Indonesian. Music does have to be universal and some people might say that whatever language it is, it does not matter (and that is what I also believe). However, people listen to music with different objectives and perspectives. Good packaging of music and lyrics that can be both understood can reach more listeners and have deeper effects to them.

Korea does have many great indie musicians. It is great to see that even in the era of the idol manufacturing industry, there are still so many people who are idealistic enough to make their own music and grow a strong fan base. However, most of the popular music that comes out from the indie music scene is still dominated by pop or alternative. Therefore, Mocca still can have a spot to fill in the jazz genre, even though there are Urban Zakapa and Prelude.

As a Korean indie music listener myself, I somehow feel that easy-listening and uniqueness criteria become the main reason why I stick to this kind of music, back home and even here in Korea. When the mainstream industry offers abundant resources, they become more and more monotone and it keeps me from growing my musical experience. I always believe that by listening more music will give me more opportunity to appreciate music even more.

Good marketing strategy also plays a great role besides music. By putting Mocca’s songs in advertisement and TV shows people will hear their songs more. This issue will of course difficult when the type of music does not fit the concept but some Korean indie musicians prove that it works very well. We have to mention some of them like Loveholic, Yozoh, Lucid Fall, and Peppertones. Besides, there are also musicians who have been featured in OSTs for movies such as My Aunt Mary, Clazziquai, and 2nd Moon. Here, indie music becomes more reachable for people because many people still need to be informed rather than finding good music by themselves.

I have to say that Mocca’s success in Indonesia must be a combination of their good musicality, both in concept and packaging which is supported by a good marketing strategy. Their solid concept of bringing their own swing jazz tune along as they matured throughout their three albums shows that they always try to keep their stance without losing their creativity. In my opinion, if musicality goes on by itself then the music will only be enjoyed by some people and it will only grow in a limited basis. On the contrary, a good marketing strategy without a good backup from the musicality of the artists will just make them short-lived.

Furthermore, I see the popularity which Mocca gained abroad is also a result of the two aforementioned factors. The partnership between FFDR and the foreign record labels surely plays an important part in their success. The potentiality of the easy-listening jazz tune and English lyrics which is combined with some marketing acts like putting the songs in TV shows and commercials, like in Korea, paved the way for Mocca to reach more listeners.

Collaborations with other foreign musicians later happened as a result of the network. When musicians are collaborating, it will indeed give a possibility of gaining more fan base from the listeners of both musicians. A collaboration, in my opinion, happens because of the urge of interest between musicians and it is a way to enrich both the musicians and listeners. It can be also viewed as another way to make the musicians get more well-known. In Mocca’s case, I see that with their niche in the Indonesian indie music scene in particular, collaboration with them will open the door to more listeners in Indonesia, while the collaboration that Mocca had with some foreign musicians gives a reversed effect for them in the countries of the musicians with whom they collaborated. Nevertheless, I still believe that the popularity matter does not count that much when musicality comes forward at the first place.

Mocca is the fastest rising indie band in Indonesia which has sophisticated and mature audience compared to other bands. With five things that they consider to be important in their music – soul, lyrics, melody, arrangement, prosody – Mocca came out and stay strong with what they try to offer.

What’s next then? Stay tuned for part 2: Annemarie, The SIGIT.

More on Mocca

Sources: Indonesian Tunes, Indonesian Heartthrob, Equinox DMD, Deathrockstar

5 Comments Indonesian Indie Lessons, part 1: Swing it, Mocca!

  1. helikoppter

    First of all: many thank yous to Widhi for taking the time to write all of the above!

    Her analysis opens up for a few topics I hope some of you will find interesting enough to discuss here in the comments – I’m still a bit too busy (my Easter has been all about moving, and I’m soon to head off to carry another bunch of furniture and moving boxes into another apartment) but I’ll make sure to return with my own thoughts later on.

    Is a good song structure enough, or is English the key to international success?

    What is the actual impact (as far as recruiting new listeners go) of having music used in commercials and TV shows?

    How should two artists team up for a good collaboration?
    (Although somewhat unrelated I’m kinda curious: which collaboration between a Korean and a non-Korean artist would you like to hear the most?)

    Does popularity matter?

    Of course there is also the issue with label connections, but since annemarie a particularly interesting example of how that can work out so if you don’t mind let’s save that for part 2 ^^

    Feel free to also share your thoughts on anything else you come to think of!

  2. janet

    You can have success in the Western world without English, but not likely in the US.

    Popularity only matters in so much that it helps build the fanbase of the band, which would mean better financial support, which would make it easier for the artist to make more albums.

    The thing about ‘Why does their music matter?’ This is actually something many artists don’t worry about, most indie artists are just making music to make music.

    I really liked Mocca’s sound, they are fun. But I wouldn’t consider this jazz, it’s closer to rag-time I think.

    I agree that it takes marketing + a sense of uniqueness to keep a band or artist around for a long time.

    good post Widhi!

  3. Jaime

    I must admit I know next to nothing about Korean or Indonesian indie music. But your analysis was brilliant. Interesting scene. Bookmarked.

    You spend more than most of us on crafting your text. Thanks for the info.

    We’re building a blog about Japanese indie in Spanish. You’re more than welcome to visit us:


  4. placidian

    Love the new feature, and Widhi you did a beautiful job describing Mocca!
    They have such a unique sound– the jazzy side of pop, the twee side of jazz, and Arina’s mastery of English. Easy to see why they have gained popularity abroad.
    I look forward to the next installment!

  5. refresh_daemon

    I think it’s important to define what “international success” means. If it merely means success outside of the artist’s home country, then local language adequacy is not necessary as many nations are receptive to music with lyrics in other languages; inter-Asian musical acts prove this. However, some countries (like the US) are very resistant to non-English pop music (with the exception of Spanish language music in some markets).

    Ultimately, composition and arrangement are more important than lyrics. If a musical act can produce music that happens to have wide appeal or particular appeal to a market outside of their home country (like Mocca’s pop-jazz combo), then gaining traction in that country is less a matter of talent and more a matter of marketing. Getting your music heard in a market that had a large glut of music is more difficult than one that has relatively less competition.

    I think that’s where thinks like soundtracks come into play. I think I’ve discovered a lot of music via soundtracks and commercials, so I do think it’s an effective way of disseminating music. Also, gaining exposure via internet (Youtube!) has also worked for a number of musicians (Malaysian Zee Avi got a US recording deal thanks to her Youtube work and Oh Ji Eun appears to have used it to increase her fanbase in Korea and Japan). And then there’s Clazziquai whose demos released online also helped promote the group prior to their official debut. I imagine that non-Korean groups could also use the power of the internet to break into Korea, especially with as strong an internet culture as there is in Korea.


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