Home Club: This is the end, beautiful friend

Jim Morrison sings, “this is the end, beautiful friend” on the classic track ‘The End’, and these are the words that Home Club owner Roy Ng has left us with, following the announcement that after nearly 10 years, the venue will  be closing its Doors (ha).

The song pretty much encapsulates the whole situation perfectly, as the venue has been a labour of love right from the start, “our elaborate plans, the end“.

Arguably standing ground as one of the few and longest-standing venues in Singapore to bring live music to  us, the venue has played host to a number of our most memorable shows over the years, including controversial Canadian electronic musician Peaches, Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke, experimental glitch artist Baths, and all-round weirdo Mac DeMarco to name a few, and more recently, the Blue Hour Sessions in collaboration with longstanding local music programme Identite.

The announcement of the club’s closure however, doesn’t come as a total surprise, given that Home Club’s in-house programming has been relatively sparse in recent months (and some may even say “uninspired” for years). It’s hard to tell whether this stems from punters’ lack of interest in supporting live music, or the fact that it may just be easier to simply settle for the catering of external events — a catch-22 either way you look at it, really. External factors have surely not made it easy either, considering the difficulties we face in the current state of our music scene.

Home Club will now be transformed into yet another ’boutique’ dance spot, resulting in the blaring of overplayed drivel, muffled beats, and D-grade cover bands that can be heard on an evening stroll along Clarke Quay. Shame.

The sad reality is that we have almost come to expect these closures. The Pigeonhole on Duxton Road, despite persistent crowd-funding efforts, was forced to shut down in December 2012; just last July, probably the city’s only truly underground (i.e. perfectly scungy) bar and sometimes-venue, Night & Day, also closed its doors for good.

Most recently, Broadcast HQ in Little India was another piece to fall in this looming domino effect. Although short-lived, the venue showed great potential, however, they were never even given a chance to find their feet due to preposterous licensing restrictions — a massive hinderance to the progression of our music scene.

The closure of Home Club may leave many misty-eyed, but even more so, we are curious to see how things pan out without it: what does this loss mean in the grand scheme of things? Where do promoters put on shows? How about local bands, where do they perform?

Having said that, not all is lost.  With the opening of Pink Noize on North Bridge Road in March, and with recent renovations at BluJaz’s third floor, we see that there are still people dedicated to fighting it out.

RIP Home Club.

by Ale Launech

Passport #1: Amadou and Mariam – Dimanche à Bamako

Passport is a new series on Other Sounds that scours far-away places for records of note. We start off with Amadou and Mariam’s Dimanche à Bamako from landlocked Mali, a former French colony in West Africa that since 2012 has once more been embroiled in conflict.

Malian music, like many of its African counterparts, is deeply political. Given the country’s long tradition of oral history passed down through griots, it is not hard to see why music is both a source of aesthetic pleasure and a tool of mass communication for Malians. Nowhere is this more evident than in the nationalistic desert blues of the Tuareg group Tinariwen and the charged lyrics of Mali’s hip hop scene.

Where do the soulful husband-and-wife duo of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia fit in this milieu, then? Many of the tracks they have recorded on earlier albums have often explored the love that they share (‘Je Pense à Toi’ and ‘Mon Amour, Ma Chérie’ are classic examples) and they have only occasionally delved into commentary on socio-economic issues (‘Pauvre Type’). The territory that this blind couple from Mali seems to be most comfortable in is mostly defined by the light-hearted and danceable.

On Dimanche à Bamako, however, Amadou and Mariam’s honest blues-inspired tunes meet the activist fusions of Franco-Iberian singer Manu Chao. Chao, who produced and performed on the album, has lent much to the energetic vibe it possesses in comparison to Amadou and Mariam’s older work. You will hear lyrics about immigration and identity, African street soundscapes and a whole variety of synth touches from sirens to simulated audience roars – these are elements Chao is well-known for.

Chao’s fingerprints thankfully complement rather than drown out Amadou and Mariam’s soul on this record. The opener ‘M’bifé’ recaps the duo’s established form with delicate strumming backed by male harmonies, while its instrumental counterpart ‘M’bifé (Balafon)’ is a frenetic track by Chao that lays the groundwork for the jumpier ‘La Réalité’ and ‘Sénégal Fast Food’. This memorable pair of tracks is steeped in a sense of duality that spans both time and place, bridging Amadou and Mariam’s music directly to the francophone African diaspora.

Dimanche does not deliver body-blows with the politics it deals with, but ‘La Paix’ and ‘Politic Amagni’ are much more direct in their messages than past attempts. Where the album really shines in making a statement comes directly from its title, translated as Sunday in Bamako, which makes for the most satisfying reading of the entire record – a cross-section of urban life in Mali’s capital, a city torn between the modern and traditional. Bamako has much to be proud of in this portrayal, and in the starkness of its present troubles, Dimanche would undoubtedly serve as a comfort.


Listen to: ‘M’bifé’, ‘La Réalité’, ‘Sénégal Fast Food’

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uw3cy0C4NnM[/youtube]

By Manoj Harjani

Muthafucka I’m Ill: Hip-hop as a medium for mental disorders

You all know how it’s been; Ever since Kanye “…so the world could feel his pain!” West blew up the rap scene in 2004 with his debut record The College Dropout, the conscious rap that the likes of Aceyalone, Common and Talib Kweli have been rapping over the last decade took on a whole new look, feel and level: now, not just conscious but self-conscious, much of popular rap has flipped its script and went introspective and retrospective. It’s gone from self-appraisal to self-abasement, from Diddy “Bad Boy for Life” to Drake “What Am I Doing?”.

Bar a few exceptions (e.g. Lil Wayne), even the most pompous of rappers now remember to keep their self-awareness in view – who would imagine Black Album-era Jay-Z, notwithstanding the Nirvana reference, calling himself “stupid and contagious”?

But where Kanye West has dealt with the god complex, newer off-radar rappers have taken the self-conscious rap ideology to a whole new different level, not just identifying but even embodying mental issues and disorders within their sound and image.

Driven by the near-inevitable rapper’s drug addiction, Danny Brown personifies his ailments into his music, flipping his voice from the deliriously high-pitched peak-outs to the painfully sober down-lows, as he raps between (in the former voice) literally shitting all over recording booths and (in the latter) trying to smoke his depression away. And as much as Childish Gambino may deny it, his Instagram letter antics, coupled with his Because the Internet album cover .gif, paint a picture of a comedian’s tragically ironic depression.

And they’re not even the best examples. The still-marginally-controversial Odd Future ring leader Tyler, the Creator, despite all his current wild successes and fame, started off as a spitefully maniacal teenager murderously angry at the world for… what, exactly? The answer is explicit in Tyler’s Wolf cut ‘Answer’ – his dad “not being there fire-started [Tyler’s] damn career”. Like Eminem before him, Tyler’s depression and frustration was cultivated by a troubled childhood. But much unlike Eminem, Tyler’s rage-fuelled stories delved into rape and (right after that) cannibalism.

Despite all the grotesque imagery (or because of it), misunderstood, antisocial teenagers from around the world found, perhaps, or hopefully, not relation, but understand where he’s coming from, and understand they could very well, harbouring at the deepest recesses of their fucked up minds, have such dark thoughts themselves.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW2lDWAIcwc[/youtube]

[spacer height=”10px”]Actually, psychologically, depression tends to lead to extreme tiredness, or not wanting do anything at all just about forever. Modern hipster-hop has got that covered too, in the 16-year-old white Swedish rapper Yung Lean, who, with producers Yung Sherman and Yung Gud, form Sad Boys. They try to pit a Main Attrakionz-esque flow with cloud / trill / trap beats and end up sounding like a not-so-wild-for-the-night A$AP Rocky.

In fact, even though they usually rap about getting bitches / doing drugs, Yung Lean’s not-even-trying delivery and the accompanying clouded beats come across as more passive-aggressively… sad. Yung Lean even says it himself on ‘Lightsaber // Saviour’: “I’m on the floor crying, crying / Why do I gotta be alive / I ain’t about that life / I ain’t about that life”.

That’s not to say they’re all lame – along with their vaporwave-influenced image, Sad Boys are at the forefront of what’s cool in the post-swag landscape, the next big are-you-serious thing in rap after Das Racist’s ‘Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell’, where the medium is the message and not much else at all. And what’s the message? Beats me, but they’re definitely reflecting a group of fashionably depressed Tumblr-core hipsters who constantly nod back to their childhood with 90’s cartoon .gif’s and Windows 98 screen-savers.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stgrSjynPKs[/youtube]

[spacer height=”10px”]The most extreme and prominent example however, would be the Sacramento hip-hop (?) act Death Grips. While some claim that their brand of industrial-influenced rap has already been done by experimental hip-hoppers dälek, they miss the vital difference that really defines Death Grips, which is their schizophrenia-induced (or -inducing!) sound, cultivated mainly through, among the dissonant production, MC Ride’s mad pseudo-rap screams, which at times recall an unkempt homeless man’s incessant word salads.

In Death Grips’ lyrics (made accessible through the band’s uploading of accompanying lyrics in their YouTube video descriptions), we see lines like “Cobra spit over apocalyptic cult killer cauldron smoke”, or “World of dogs gone mad / Above the law in your ass / Fire trash meltdown I’m not here / I’m world of dogs infrared”.

Of course it could all be an act, and of course all those word mishmashes could provide some insight, but that doesn’t discount the image that Death Grips give off. It’s clearly disturbed music and a clear-cut case of mental disorders being channelled through the highly-malleable, highly-personalised medium of hip-hop.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2cQvZPX3OY[/youtube]

[spacer height=”10px”]Rap has always been the message of the masses, reflecting the social attitudes of the people themselves. So when personal issues become bigger, more worldly relatable problems than the political conflicts of Public Enemy or the oppressed rage of N.W.A., what more mental issues and debilitating sensations could we see becoming more prominent in the field? ADHD? Nausea? Insomnia? Or even, allegedly, Asperger’s syndrome?

Whatever way it is, these examples are evidence that hip-hop continues to evolve, even more so than other genres, into not just different sounds, but different psychological states of mind. That’s probably what makes hip-hop what it is today – relatable on all fronts, or, in Yung Lean’s words: “so real you can call me reality” – or perhaps, has it always been that way and not just today? Check out this list of rappers with mental disorders. Or this Wikipedia article on how mental disorders can lead to creativity. Even Lil Wayne insists, “Muthafucka I’m ill”. And in spite of the connotations of their lingo, maybe they all are indeed.

By BJ Lim

Beats from the East #10

On the 21st of every month Every now and then (sorry — I blame NS!), Other Sounds takes three quality underground/indie records from the East that deserve your attention and bring them to light.

I haven’t had much time to categorise my listening due to my current time in BMT at Pasir Ris Camp (they prohibit iPods!), so there isn’t much of a theme on here as there was in the previous BFTE’s. Instead, this month will feature three “odds and ends” records that I couldn’t exactly fit into previous features, but had been put on heavy rotation over the last year or so anyway. Jam out to some Japanese hi-fi experimental electropop, groove to some jazzed-out Korean beats, or bop your heads to some Kiwi punk rock.


salyu x salyu – s(o)un(d)beams
Released: 2011
Genre: Shibuya-kei, electropop
Last.fm | Website | Wikipedia

Easily the most enjoyable album I’ve listened to in a long while, salyu x salyu’s s(o)un(d)beams is J-pop star Salyu’s one-off collaborative record with shibuya-kei darling Cornelius (of solo and Flipper’s Guitar fame), where Salyu’s pleasingly diverse vocals are amalgamated with Cornelius’ signature cut-and-paste voice-as-instrument production to form eleven tracks where Salyu’s vocal hooks are more melodic cues and beats than anything else.

The result? A complete pop album more fully-realised than anything Salyu or Cornelius have released thus far (and that means a lot for Cornelius) that its rhythmic ups and downs, tempo highs and lows. There’s crunchy bits of melodic goodness at even its most playfully reckless moments, and when Salyu and Cornelius actually try to do something that could pass off as an Oricon-charting single, they work just as well without breaking the cohesive mould that so effectively binds s(o)un(d)beams together as a unit. This is exemplified right smack in the middle of the album, where (also highlights) glitch-ambient abandon ‘歌いましょう’ switches to the shamelessly upbeat ‘奴隷’ (think OORUTAICHI with a vocalist that can actually sing) before closing off with the delightfully contemporary singer-songwriter number ‘レインブーツで踊りましょう’. Any album that can pull off such a wide range of styles so flawlessly can’t possibly be a bad one.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DChoNWcIbLw[/youtube]


5mg – Sentimental Instrumental
Released: 2009
Genre: Electronic

My moonspeak may not be adequate enough to reveal more about this act beyond its mere existence, but the delectably succinct 7-track EP Sentimental Instrumental that the Korean new age act 5mg released in 2009 ought to be enough to finally prove to you that those Koreans really know how to work their hip-hop production, if Urban Romantic City and Octave 20 haven’t been examples enough.

Past the atmosphere-setting first track ‘Intro’ (or skip it if you haven’t got the patience for that unbearably sticky Asian musical sentimentality) and you’re immediately treated to the fantastic ‘Cakewalk’, a 2-minute post-jazz maximal-minimal blitz that immediately recalls both Fantastic Plastic Machine’s equally fantastic Louis Vuitton collaboration ‘Superflat Monogram’ and the Mii Channel ambience on Nintendo Wii. With its saccharine-sweet melody, uptempo hip-hop beat and electro-orchestral lead chirping their way through, I feel the insatiable urge to go and buy something.

The next track ‘Coffee House’ largely follows that same mood, but the remaining four tracks take on a more downtempo, sullen and ballad-esque approach, all the while taking cues from glitch, jazz-hop and other new age oddities. They’re not as ear-catching or wow-inducing as ‘Cakewalk’ or ‘Coffee House’, but given the different direction taken, I suppose they’re not meant to be.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chRQgTGmrHI[/youtube]


Popstrangers – Antipodes
Released: 2013
Genre: Rock, punk
Bandcamp | Facebook | Last.fm | Twitter | Website

If Popmatters’ largely-ignored glowing review of Antipodes or Pitchfork’s very-recent heads-up to Popstrangers haven’t alerted you to them yet (and by the looks of their Last.fm scrobble count, they haven’t exactly yet), here’s to hoping my words can: Popstrangers, a new rock band hailing from New Zealand, play some pretty groovy punk rock tunes that, despite their determinedly us-v-them debut album title Antipodes, recall a hazier, grungier time back in the 90’s, only this time in a rather different accent. Like Tame Impala, their antipodean buddies just across the sea, they base their sound upon a lo-fi, treble-upped, guitar-based kind of psychedelic rock, but so much unlike them (and a major plus point), Popstrangers veer far more into the dissonant, often playing with rhythms and melodies that don’t make much sense on paper, but work a delicious treat in practice (preview their mid-album highlight ‘What Else Could They Do’ below to hear what I mean).

Admittedly, these young rockers have still got some ways to go in the field of songwriting, but they’ve already shown from their debut Antipodes that they’ve got the dynamism (‘Witches Hand’), swagger (‘What Else Could They Do’) and, most importantly, a sweet, catchy, pop sensibility (‘Heaven’ – Antipodes’ first single and also a personal favourite). The record’s a little uneven otherwise, but that, too, shows that Popstrangers aren’t afraid of branching out beyond a fixated, surefire way of churning out their clanky, unorthodox noise pop-rock. Keep these guys on the lookout.

‘What Else Could They Do’
[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJXqq_EPIy8[/youtube]

By BJ Lim

The Caulfield Cult tour diary

#1: Saturday, 29 March

3:00pm, Nick
Arrived at Haneda Airport, Tokyo with Brian. Yuji, our driver and Waki, our booking agent, picked us up. We’re staying at a capsule hotel tonight at God knows where. The lady who works at the hotel said I had to cover up my tattoos, so I put on a jacket, but my wrists were still showing so she emphasised for me to pull my sleeves longer to cover them up and told me I couldn’t shower at the hotel as they have shared bathrooms. No biggie, I never liked showering anyway.

8:00pm, Nick
Found a super cool record shop called NAT RECORDS in Shinjuku, didn’t have much time to check everything out because Up and Atom finishes practice at 9:00pm. Found an Embrace LP and Neil Young’s Harvest at an insanely cheap price. A ton of second-hand punk/hardcore vinyl as well. I am in no way a record collector and I only own three records at home but something about finding my favourite records on wax turns me on. Will come back after our Shinjuku show on Friday if I still have any money left.

12.30am, Brian
Always been a dream to come to Japan and still can’t believe I’m finally here. Everything is weirdly familiar and somehow I’m getting by on broken Japanese I picked up from watching anime.

Staying in a capsule hotel has also been shockingly normal. It’s a really quiet country overall and I feel like I’m talking too loudly most of the time.

Been hanging out with our Japanese booking agent and his crew and the awesome dudes from Up And Atom around Shinjuku. The night ended at a restaurant with dollar beers and cheap sake and everyone got pretty drunk. Trying to take the train back was frustratingly fun. The train network is so insanely complicated, even the locals need to use apps to figure their way around. We managed to squeeze ourselves into a very crowded last train filled with drunk suit-wearing locals. Did I mention Nick and I were staying in a different area so we had to go back ourselves?

Food is awesome and people are awesome. We’ve been buying riceballs and microwave noodles from convenience stores all around and they taste so fucking awesome. The “feels” havent really set in yet because of the intense sensory overload. Things will only get more crazy once Skinny and Syahadi arrive. Can’t wait to play a show!


#2: Sunday, 30 March

4:30pm, Skinny
Everything is so beautiful, it’s like they put a good Instagram filter on everything.

4:30pm, Syahadi
Touched down Japan. First time in Japan. Met with the organiser. Met Nick and Brian. Getting used to the weather. Walked around a little.

6:12pm, Nick 
SYAHADI AND SKINNY HAVE ARRIVED, party is gonna be hard tonight.

11:43pm, Nick
Three bottles of sake down, ton of beers, this is where we stop being functional.

1:20am, Syahadi
Skinny is drunk. Zzzz

2:50am, Brian
I carried Skinny’s shivering drunk ass back to the hotel. He was drooling ’cause it was so cold. I’m such a good friend

4:12am, Nick
I think tonight is not safe to talk about.


Check back for more with The Caulfield Cult as their Japan tour continues until 6 April.

Five things we learned from the Future

It was a brief couple of days for KL’s Future Music Festival Asia.

Here is what we learned:

1. People will brave the elements for music

Three words: Haze rain zombies.[spacer height=”10px”]

2. Armin van Buuren loves Disney

It has been revealed that Armin will be doing a remix of ‘Let It Go’, the smash hit from the Disney movie Frozen sung by Adele Dazeem (also known as Idina Menzel). When asked about his thoughts on the whole experience, he had heaps of praise for the company that he says is “more than Mickey Mouse”. Now a father of two young children, Armin told us that it’s been great to be able to sit down and watch all the old Disney movies again.

The track will feature on Walt Disney Record’s Dconstructed, a remix album of classic Disney songs, which will also feature the likes of Avicii, Kaskade and many others.[spacer height=”10px”]

3. … he is also a lawyer and is set to become a wax statue

When asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t making trance music he quickly replied with, “I’ve finished my law degree, so a lawyer… so watch your words!”.

Along with accomplishing this great achievement, Armin van Burren will be cast in wax at Madame Tussauds (obviously the highest honour for any person in the entertainment industry… right?).[spacer height=”10px”]

Armin van Buuren Wax

4. Don’t be alarmed if you hear the same song twice (or more than twice)

To be honest, it didn’t seem like anybody cared.[spacer height=”10px”]

5. Don’t take drugs

It’s really simple, guys: have a good time, but go about it in the right way. Don’t ruin it for everyone else.

Unfortunately a few young people will not have a second chance to think about it, so let’s all learn from this.[spacer height=”10px”]

By Ale Launech

Singapore: No country for music?

Earlier this week, Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh called on the Singapore government to do three things to strengthen the local music industry:

(i) establish a broadcast quota for Singaporean music on local radio;
(ii) develop a strong export strategy for Singaporean music; and
(iii) develop a single vision for the music industry here, championed by a single agency which will work directly with industry professionals.

She was speaking at the Ministry of Communications and Information’s Committee of Supply (COS) debate. (For those unfamiliar with Singapore’s legislative process, COS is basically Parliament’s annual debate on each ministry’s proposed budget for the following financial year).

Naturally, her speech has been well-received by music practitioners here. The call for a broadcast quota is not new, but it is a sensible and feasible way of addressing the seemingly intractable problem of unreceptive local audiences.

The issue of an ‘export strategy’, however, is more debatable. Koh drew comparisons with South Korea’s government support for K-pop, and the UK government’s support for its creative industries. There’s no question that the interventions in those countries made a decisive difference. But they probably did because the products were highly exportable to begin with — K-pop is an assembly-line of identikit acts, primed for mass consumption; and UK music has a global brand name dating back to The Beatles. Singaporean music, however, is a hodgepodge of styles and identities, done mostly on the side by people who have day jobs.

Nick Chan (of MUON and Heizenberg) summed it up brilliantly when he once said in an interview that “this ‘music industry’ of ours isn’t an industry at all. It’s a scene, and that’s it”.

“It’s a vicious circle, because musicians will never level up without professional management and business opportunities.”

Of course, we can’t blame Koh for using the word “export”, or taking a business-centric perspective for the arts. She was after all standing in Parliament, speaking to the lawmakers of a country whose fortunes have been built on exports; the administrators of a country with the highest trade-to-GDP ratio in the world. She can’t tell a government assailed by demographic challenges and growing income disparity that more money needs to be spent on hobbyists — it just wouldn’t fly.

But ‘hobbyists’ is exactly what the scene here is comprised of, harsh as the assessment may be. The high cost of living in Singapore, and the lack of legitimation for music writing/production/performance as a profession, means that most musicians have day jobs in other fields. This in turn means that they don’t have the time to hone their craft to an international standard, whether as individuals or with bands. And ironically, their daytime income removes the drive for them to do so.

Even if they do hit that international benchmark — as some acts here have done — these musicians are unlikely to sustain it for the long haul. And those few who take the plunge and play music full time? Chances are, you’ll find them in a nightspot playing covers, because ‘that’s where the money is’.

This is why an industry hasn’t organically arisen to support original Singaporean music. It makes no commercial sense to invest in artists who can’t commit 24/7, and are likely to quit once the pressures of schooling, employment and/or raising a family take their toll. But it’s a vicious circle, because musicians will never level up without professional management and business opportunities.

“Is it inherently impossible for tiny Singapore to have a strong music industry, especially for music in English?”

Granted, many would recoil at the idea of their craft being reduced to dollars and cents, but the truth is that every international act that makes it to our shores for a gig, however ‘DIY’ their image, is being supported by a corporate machinery far more elaborate and well-oiled than anything available to local artists. This machinery encompasses recording, production, contracts, licensing, publishing, publicity, design, distribution, artist management, tour management, venue management, intellectual property management and more. This is the ‘industry’.

The industry can’t be built overnight, but this is where Koh’s third suggestion — a single agency working directly with stakeholders — comes in; the key is cooperation between both sides of the house.

Singaporean music won’t go far with the usual state-sponsored cultural exchanges (such as our agreement with France), or Singapore Day showcases overseas, or grants for bands to perform at South By Southwest (SXSW) and other festivals — these are isolated measures that look pretty on a CV and sound good in a speech, but have no lasting impact. The long-term goal should be to establish distribution channels.

Distribution is the reason why Singaporeans even know about obscure international acts, and distribution will be the reason why international audiences will know about Singaporean music. But distribution is something that needs to be led by the private sector, not the public. This is why cooperation is so important.

“Musicians, producers and promoters need to get organised and mobilised, draw up a roadmap detailing what they can do, and identify the tipping points where targeted government intervention is needed.”

So where do we go from here? Musicians, producers and promoters need to get organised and mobilised, draw up a roadmap detailing what they can do, and identify the tipping points where targeted government intervention is needed. A vision needs to be proposed — a comprehensive one that speaks not only of our homegrown talent, but also addresses Singapore’s burgeoning reputation as a destination for international acts. This can be ammunition for Koh to take Parliament, and guarantee that what she says achieves more than a few hundred Facebook ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, and a “thank you” from the Minister in charge.

At this juncture, one could reasonably ask the question: if the problem with local music is that the musicianship isn’t ‘good enough’, the production isn’t ‘good enough’, and the distribution non-existent, why bother? Are we barking up the wrong tree? Is it inherently impossible for tiny Singapore to have a strong music industry, especially for music in English?

To answer this, we need look no further than places like Ireland and Scotland, which have smaller populations than Singapore’s, but also strong distribution channels to the UK and beyond. Or Sweden, which is slightly bigger, and Iceland, which is much smaller.

We don’t even have to look beyond our own shores. In 1964, The Quests’ ‘Shanty‘ knocked The Beatles’ ‘I Should Have Known Better’ off the top spot in Singapore’s charts, and the band had a successful tour in the region. This was, of course, before a series of government policies effectively neutered the local music industry (and yes, there was an industry back then).

Fifty years on, in 2014, there is no less talent or interest among our musicians. There are only fewer big opportunities, and less validation. So let’s do something about this. Because the last thing any of us want is to have a foreign friend ask us why a Singaporean band they like gave up, and for us to reply, “Because they were born in the wrong country”.

By Don Shiau

Click here to read NMP Janice Koh’s full speech titled ‘Developing a Strong Singapore Music Industry’.

Top 5 bands to watch out for at Baybeats Auditions Round 2

Since 2007, Esplanade has been organising the Baybeats Auditions, through which many Singapore bands have been discovered and showcased. With the second round of auditions just around the corner, sixteen quality bands will gather at the Outdoor Theatre and duke it out for a coveted spot in the 2014 line-up.

Under the watchful eyes of judges Bani Hidir (53A, B-Quartet), Daniel Sassoon (In Each Hand A Cutlass), and producer Leonard Soosay (Snakeweed Studios), the bands will go through a five-month mentorship programme and eventually take the stage alongside a bevy of reputed local, regional, and international acts.

This year, there were about 150 applications but only 30 were shortlisted to audition in Round 1, which was then narrowed down again to sixteen in Round 2.

We list our five most promising bands you should check out during the auditions, whether or not they make it to the next round. (Our money is on them.)

Top 5 bands to watch out for:

[spacer height=”10px”]wyd:syd
wyd:syd’s (pronounced as wide side) vocalist Marcus Tan gives an impression of shadowed ambiguity; his wide-ranging, enigmatic voice is reminiscent of frontmen such as Brian Molko or Jonsi. wyd:syd impresses throughout, with a backdrop of faded synths, sliding guitars and rumbling drums rounding up the band’s otherworldly music.

Read our full interview with the band here.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtube.com/watch?v=94_1yNCM-nA[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]Stopgap
Stopgap brings to mind the flavours of a good road trip — one that’s fun, winding, and ultimately delivers the chop of a hell-of-a-fun riveting experience. Powered by the sounds of post-revival greats such as Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Foals and Vampire Weekend, you can’t miss these boys’ impactful, feel-good, guitar-fueled music.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtu.be/NGuvCQCRuGI[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]Vessel
Vessel is a five-piece post-rock/alternative band driven by the unholy sounds of Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age and Mogwai. Flashes of aural brilliance precede the band, with their titular track ‘The Sky Ends Here, Part 1‘ standing out in particular. Angry beats displace their music, before paving the way for mellow, dramatically driven choruses. A class act to catch for post-rock lovers.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbfU2t4HlKs[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]The Cave
Comprising four international students, The Cave takes no prisoners with their hard-hitting, fast-action, hard rock. Frontman Harry Darling sounds uncannily like Eagles of Death Metal’s Josh Homme, while some might reckon that at times he carries the gruff of Metallica’s James Hetfield. With a new music video out, these teenagers might have a good thing coming for them.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtube.com/watch?v=3MsLMlwdbDs[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]Lost Weekend
Indie pop quartet Lost Weekend produces tunes so sweet that listening to them might just give you a hole in your tooth. Sugary pop, entwined with jangly guitars and steady beats, lead singer Rachel Tan charms thoroughly and gives the consistency of Best Coast’s Bethany Constantino and Obedient Wives Club’s Yinqi Lee.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YENSP2g6VhM[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]Special mentions

This award goes to bands who, in our books, should have made it to Round 2, but unfortunately didn’t make the cut. Digging in deeper, here are two bands that gave us a serious case of earworms.

I Left A Monarchy
I Left A Monarchy is as silent, as it is soul-wrenching. Describing their music aptly as “movie rock”, frontman Shaun Paul belts his heart out, and it’s difficult to look away from the poignant genuineness of the band.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtu.be/53UrSBxAZEo[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

[spacer height=”10px”]Villes
Post-hardcore quintet Villes is undoubtedly the most successful of the lot, having released their single ‘The Levy’ in 2012 with close to 28,000 YouTube views to date. The band has also recently released a music video, titled ‘City of Gold‘, showcasing their penchant for high quality, intensely-produced music videos. With their blistering track record so far, we’ll miss their presence in the upcoming Baybeats 2014.

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://youtu.be/qxSpi7eF5ww[/youtube][spacer height=”10px”]

Baybeats Auditions Round 2 schedule

[spacer height=”10px”]Saturday, 8 Feburary 2014
9.30am – 4pm
Esplanade Outdoor Theatre

0930 – 0950 Attention! The New Portsdown
0950 – 1010 Purple Tiger
1010 – 1030 Paint The Sky Red
1030 – 1050 Sphaeras
1050 – 1110 Vessel
1110 – 1130 ORANGECOVE
1130 – 1150 Before The Tempest
1150 – 1210 The Livid Sun
1310 – 1330 Stopgap
1330 – 1350 arson
1350 – 1410 False Plaintiff
1410 – 1430 SparkleDrivenFairytale
1430 – 1450 The Cave
1450 – 1510 Ellipsis
1510 – 1530 Lost Weekend
1530 – 1550 wyd:syd

By Evan Woon

First impressions: Lush 99.5 — ‘Your Indie Music Station’

On the first of January this year, Lush 99.5FM spontaneously rebranded themselves as ‘Your Indie Music Station’.

The announcement was made via Lush’s Facebook page where the station’s Creative Director, Georgina Chang, wrote, “from the feedback you gave us previously, the sound of Lush will be what you want. Starting next Monday 6th Jan, you will hear a discernible difference in the music, energy and elements.”

MediaCorp, self-declared leaders of media in Singapore and owners of Lush 99.5 (as well as 12 other radio stations), now describe Lush as “Singapore’s only indie music station, playing radio-friendly quality music for the discerning and sophisticated listeners in Singapore.”

The station’s insistence on indie-ness being pushed from all fronts has provoked cynicism: can a station owned by a company named MediaCorp really be ‘indie’? The whole thing is tinged with corporate insincerity. Does Lush care if they look disingenuous when they say “Indie is independent” and then play Nina Nesbitt‘s inane cover of ‘Don’t Stop‘ which was recorded for an ad for some British department store?

Part of their rebranding has included bringing in a number of new DJs including Rosalyn LeeLee has worked for MediaCorp-owned 987FM for the past eight years.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, Lee said: “We [Lush] represent the subculture, we represent the alternative… We’re going to play like music from The Roots’ era, going to hear Pearl Jam, The Strokes, like really good sh[it] that you won’t hear on any radio station in Singapore!”

If a veteran DJ like Lee genuinely considers bands like Pearl Jam part of some subculture of cool new music heretofore unheard of in Singapore, we should all be genuinely concerned. How could a music professional regard Pearl Jam as anything other than one of the biggest rock bands of all time?

Pearl Jam is not indie, not alternative and (my god) certainly not part of any contemporary subculture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: Pearl Jam is fine. Insanely popular and successful. But they’re not alternative. Dads have Pearl Jam on their iPods. Again, nothing wrong with that. But also, nothing alternative about that. They are literally one of the best-known and best-selling rock bands of all time. Same goes for The Strokes: they are a mainstream, platinum-selling rock band. And The Roots are on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon every damn weeknight! Lee’s examples of alternative bands is quite frankly, poor, because they are not alternative bands.

Perhaps though, we can look towards relativity as one of Lush’s reprieves — as the only station on the Singapore airwaves currently playing remotely non-mainstream music outside of the chart hits, it has shown that it is willing to take risks that none of its fellow corporate-run radio stations have dared to do.

Also, what does ‘indie’ even mean these days? It no longer represents its literal definition as “independent” in the modern context; certainly, it no longer represents the sound of bands simply independent of major labels. Today, the word has simply become a residual category used to describe anything beyond the Top 40. But should we be expecting more from Our Indie Music Station?

Ultimately, the majority of music being played on Lush is not really anyone’s idea of ‘indie’, but — and this might be Lush’s greatest reprieve — this indie version of Lush is still very new: it’s been less than a month. It’s easy for us to be critical and skeptical (yep, see above), but this thing has only just started and while it may not be great right now, it might eventually become good.

If Lush want to earn their title as our indie station, there is a lot they can do. In fact, there are some pretty good things they have done already which suggest there is some hope. Lush has started adding tracks by local artists to their playlists, and more recently, had Camp Symmetry‘s managing director, Tim Kek, co-host and share his favourite songs (including music by Slowdive and Broken Social Scene) as part of a regular segment called the Lushlist (billed as “an artist hosted and curated playlist of tunes”).

Similarly, their partnership with Laneway Festival is a step in the right direction. Lush can support the alternative music scene in Singapore with the continued support of these type of events, and by also getting behind smaller shows — the ones that really capture the indie spirit of our music scene on a whole ‘nother level. All it really needs to do now is actually play alternative music: take even bigger risks. There is nothing to stop it from creating a distinctive voice in Singaporean media and becoming a great platform: all they need to do is commit to what they’ve started.

Stream Lush 99.5FM here.

By Katherine Pollock

What do you think of the new Lush? Let us know in the comments below.

Top 5 post-noughties music docos you must see

Just like television is said to be in its golden age, the past few years have seen an impressive rush of documentaries that push new thought-provoking narratives for a contemporary audience.

These five music documentaries each brings its own unique perspective on how music, as both an artform and a trade, is continually changing for and by the artist, fan, genre, industry, and geography. 

A Band Called Death (2013)

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDPDm9_nX0o[/youtube] In a partial re-write of music history, A Band Called Death introduces three teenage brothers in Michigan whose bedroom leaps into rock-and-roll produced one of the world’s earliest, eerily-advanced flavour of punk rock.

With staccato vocals chasing the buzzsaw drone of chords and lightning-quick drums, the band, under the moniker Death, made an awkward fit in the Motown spirit of Detroit in the early 70s. They were then rejected, disbanded, and banished to record store oblivion with 500 self-released copies of their 7” single.

35 years on, a series of happy accidents forces the master tapes out from a dusty New England attic onto an official full-length record, ripe for a new generation of excited audience members. A Band Called Death traces a modern day fairytale of the travelling record and the unbending artistic vision that made it.

Sound City (2013)

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQoOfiLz1G4[/youtube] Dave Grohl’s directorial debut roots itself in the recording studio that mixed some of the greatest albums in popular music, including Nirvana’s Nevermind.

Sound City Studios also happened to be a veritable rat hole, with sunken, dubiously stained couches, littered floors, and a flood-prone parking lot. It was the Neve 8028 analog mixing console and an interior acoustic fluke which produced clean, crisp sounds that saved it.

When the eventual monolithic waves of digital technology hit, the outmoded studio became the symbolic bastion for analog. In this video thesis, Grohl argues for the human element in music–the flaws, synergy, and chance discoveries that are lost in practice when music becomes perfectible, leaving us with the question: “In the age of technology, where you can simulate anything, how do you retain that human element?”

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (2012)

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhwBUydknWI[/youtube] Ice T’s Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap takes a rare look into the art form, and the various methods, lyrical styles, and voices painstakingly sharpened and aimed for artistic excellence, from raw freestyle verses on the street to the studied inflections and vocal performance in the studio.

But what’s perhaps more valuable — and more entertaining — is watching the rapport between Ice T and his big-name interviewees (to wit: Chuck D, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Salt from Salt-N-Pepa, Grandmaster Caz, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dog, Kanye West, et al) and how they pay homage to their art. Every time Ice T asks an interviewee to recite another rapper’s work, we see something seldom seen in the inflated machismo on MTV or in the Twitterverse: a deep and honest respect for the craft. The film manages to bridge a whole community of artistes, without any of the East Coast-West Coast territory wars. And it is endlessly delightful to watch.

The Silk Road of Pop (2013)

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AC66_JDVIng[/youtube] The province of Xinjiang is widely known for its political ethnic strife in the face of a changing social landscape. But tucked away in the north westernmost corner of the Chinese border is a roaring, spirited underground music scene with clutches in hip-hop, rap, rock, heavy metal, and traditional Uyghur music.

Through a musical lens, Sameer Farooq’s The Silk Road of Pop promises to capture the delicate place of local music in a region in flux, offering an excitingly new narrative on a region rarely seen for its vitality.

Shut Up and Play The Hits (2012)

[youtube width=”457″ height=”343″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0-s1XkvWzM[/youtube] A concert documentary is exactly what it sounds like. At least, that is what we have come to expect: two-hours of relentless live performances with cuts to some behind-the-scenes, all access pass look at preparations, sound checks and the like, until the band waves goodbye.

Shut Up and Play The Hits achieves so much more — at once concert footage and an absorbing, disconcertingly close look at James Murphy, the man behind the music of LCD Soundsystem. Beyond a celebration of the band, the film’s cultural relevance hits home in its demystification of Murphy as a 41-year-old in his newly retired shoes. Murphy’s intellect and self-consciousness inform both the music and his stumbling ambivalence in regarding the end of his music career. It is precisely the kind of uncertain decision-making that is distinctive of a post-industrial risk society that LCD Soundsystem has always succeeded in negotiating. And precisely why they remain one of the most important bands of the noughties.

By Sylvia Koh