Is punk rock making a comeback? Looks like it. Younger international artists such as Machine Gun Kelly, Olivia Rodrigo and Willow Smith have been making waves on the radio and streaming platforms with pop-infused punk rock music reminiscent of the glory days of Good Charlotte, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance in the 2000s. It seems the “punk revival” movement has started making waves in Indonesia as well, thanks to young punk rock artists such as Cellosux.
Born and raised in Jakarta, Cellosux, whose real name is Marcello Laksono, also lived in Scotland during his younger years, where he began writing and recording songs. Armed with his first guitar, an electric Ibanez GIO, these experiences empowered him to create a take on punk rock that his generation could connect with.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist said his introduction to music took place in his parents’ car. “My mom and dad used to take turns driving, and I noticed that the music being played on the car’s tape player was different depending on who was in the driver’s seat,” he recalled. “My mom loved playing music by [American rock band] Journey whereas my dad was a big fan of [British rock band] Queen. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. That was probably my earliest memory.”
Soon thereafter, Cellosux’s father bought him the video game Guitar Hero for PlayStation 2, in which players perform popular songs on a controller shaped like a guitar. This was powerful enough to cultivate his love for music. “When I played that game as a kid, there was this one song that really stuck with me, and that was ‘Fat Lip’ by [Canadian punk rock band] Sum 41. Back then, we didn’t have the internet or stuff like that, so I had to play Guitar Hero every time I wanted to hear that song,” he said.
Inspiration: Cellosux’s love for punk rock music blossomed after he listened to Sum 41. (Cellosux/Courtesy of Chelsea Pearl)
Afterward, he asked his parents for guitar lessons and started “carrying a guitar case everywhere, beginning when I was in the fifth grade.” Noticing their son’s enthusiasm, his parents bought him the Ibanez GIO as his first electric guitar.
During his formative years, Cellosux said, he was “more interested in being a guitarist in a band” as opposed to being a front man or solo artist. “Singing used to be very intimidating for me. My mom once offered me a singing lesson because she was a musician herself, but I wasn’t into it. However, I had always admired guys who could sing, who had that ‘front man’ kind of vibe and played the guitar at the same time,” Cellosux said.
One of his strongest influences was Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the American punk rock band Green Day. The band’s stadium rocker “Holiday” also happened to be the first song he mastered on guitar.
After graduating from high school, Cellosux decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s degree, at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, the United Kingdom. Even though his desire to pursue a professional music career had started brewing, exploring punk rock was not exactly what he had in mind.
“Back then [around the mid-2010s] R&B music was booming, like [Canadian R&B singer] Daniel Caesar and [American alternative R&B singer] Frank Ocean. At first, I wanted to tap into that market. I was honestly looking at it from the so-called business perspective and not, like, ‘Do I really like that kind of music?’ Gosh, I was such a sellout in the beginning!” he laughed. “As it turned out, I hated that [music].”
Once he came to his senses, he decided to work on what would eventually be his first record as Cellosux: a self-released punk rock EP titled Vulnerability. He cooked up his debut record in his dorm room, which forced him to think outside the box.
“I had to turn the closet into a sound booth,” he said.
Unfortunately, according to the budding punk rocker, Glasgow was “not exactly the hottest punk rock scene”. He was keen to find the place where his music belonged – perhaps the United States. He decided to submit his self-made EP to a program by BEKRAF X 88rising called Indonesia Creative Incorporated (ICINC). Out of hundreds of applicants, Cellosux was chosen as one of the 5 finalists and was given a plane ticket to Los Angeles, where one of the offices of the American music label 88rising is located.
“I felt very lucky, honestly,” he said. “I flew to LA around July 2019. We had four weeks there. We were asked to record an original song, shoot a music video, and then we got to perform at the label’s event [Head in the Clouds].”
Rocking America: Cellosux performs his song “SSSTUPID” at an 88rising mini-concert called Head in the Clouds in Los Angeles, the United States, in July 2019. (Cellosux/Courtesy of Outherevisuals)
The moody original punk rock song “SSSTUPID” was born of this brief stint in Los Angeles.
“Initially, during our stay there, we weren’t supposed to write our own music. But I asked the organizers if I could write [the song] myself. I knew I still had a long way to go, but I figured that at least a song that I wrote by myself would sound more genuine. They allowed it, but I only had one day to write it!” he said.
Even though he didn’t bring home a recording contract, his experience in Los Angeles gave him the strength and confidence to carve out his path as a professional musician.
Once he finished his education in Scotland, Cellosux returned to Indonesia and started working. “Initially I wanted to develop Vulnerability into a full-length album, but I decided to scrap it. I wanted to start a new project,” he said. Working with Rama Harto as his coproducer, he self-released a pair of punk-rock jams in 2020: “Alone Again” and “2010 Garage Band Days”. This year, he released “Guitar Hero Type Beat” in March and “LOSER” in May. His debut full-length album Down In The Dumps will be released later in the year.
For his latest music and upcoming album, Cellosux remains inspired by the bands he used to listen to growing up, particularly Green Day, Blink 182, Weezer and Simple Plan. “I grew up with that type of music, and at the same time, this album will be about me growing up,” he said. Lyrically, he is aiming for “honesty” based on his real-life struggles. For instance, his latest singles “Guitar Hero Type Beat” and “LOSER” were inspired by his anguish over “things that didn’t go well in life”.
“I sympathize with anyone who’s dealing with anxiety. I feel like I have missed a lot of opportunities because of either my anxiety or mental issues,” he continued. “At one point, I was just, like, ‘[To hell with] it!’ And I felt so tired. But then, something just clicked. This album ended up being a character study on myself.”
He has decided to release the album independently, saying “I don’t want to lose myself.”
If there is indeed a pop-punk revival, Cellosux is happy to be part of it. “Everybody has started playing guitar again, and I love it!”
As a noughties punk kid, I asked, which one would he go to bat for, My Chemical Romance or Green Day?
“My Chemical Romance,” he said. “Even after that whole era, they still sound so good! Green Day, I’m sorry!”