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 | 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.

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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.

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Popstrangers – Antipodes
Released: 2013
Genre: Rock, punk
Bandcamp | Facebook | | 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 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’
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By BJ Lim

Introducing Whitaker: This bromance will never surrender

Ryan Meeking, Brett Scapin, and Simon Rabl are the charming trio, Whitaker.

After launching their self-titled debut EP in 2012 with producer Nick Didia (famous for his work with Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen and Powderfinger), Whitaker took a transitional journey outside the studio. The result of this wandering was the five-track EP, Wichita. Sincere and drenched with soul, the EP spans from rock to folk, blending the genres without forfeiting the charm of either. Onstage, Whitaker are charismatic with a degree of comfort that comes with being true performers.

We caught up for a beer with the boys from Whitaker to talk about their second album, using the site Pozible and finding the vibe.

OS: You have been described as an acoustic pop-rock band, which is a bit of a mouthful. How would you describe your sound?
R: You could throw so many terms out there that we would agree with. Except heavy metal. Any kind of melodic-based genre will suit us. We have gotten our folky roots back with this EP.

It is quite an emotional album. ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Wichita’ are standout songs — it feels like you have opened a door for your audience into your memories. Where did you draw the inspiration for this EP?
R: Lyrically, the previous work we’ve done and the vibe of songs have been very intense emotionally. This EP was looking at the same emotional content but in a nostalgic way. It was observing what has been processed. It was more of, “this is what has happened and this is me making sense of it,” rather than raw emotion.

“We decided to embrace the vibe instead of worry about imperfections, because they add personality to the songs.”

Can you give me a run-down of the creative process for Wichita?
R: With the songs — I kept them secret and slightly unfinished so that each song itself could grow in the studio with everyone there, in a new environment. Doing it that way meant that we were not locked into traditional roles and the songs got what they needed and what they deserved.

S: Everything before this EP had been worked on until we thought it was perfected. This time around, we would rock up thinking “I don’t know how this will sound today.”

R: It was reactionary. We decided to embrace the vibe instead of worry about imperfections, because they add personality to the songs.

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What was it like parting ways with the studio to record in public spaces?
R: We wanted to move forward from the previous sounds we had achieved.

B: Abbotsford Convent was an experiment. We didn’t know what we would get done there. We used it for vocals and horns. We didn’t want the EP to come together in a sterile recording environment.

R: It would rain and be so loud we couldn’t record. In the studio, you can put on ‘reverb’ to make it sound like you are in a different place. We wanted this to be a natural sound. One of the spaces was a church hall that is now a ballet studio and we did all the drums and bass there.

The energy of the creative process translates to your live performances. Your onstage banter allows the audience to experience the ‘bromance’ of Whitaker. What vibe do you want your shows to achieve?
B: We don’t plan what we say onstage. The songs are serious but we’re not. We’re shallow and stupid and silly.

R: We have always been sensitive to wankiness. We have never wanted to appear as anything other than who we are. You come out with a sad song, but that’s not completely us.

“Crowd funding is not crowd charity. We were not looking for handouts. For everything that people pledged, they were rewarded in tangible ways.”

What was working on your first EP with legendary producer Nick DiDia like?
S: It was mind-blowing. He was the number one guy on our dream producer list. He taught us a lot. He brought us into his family. The sound we achieved there was blockbuster. It sounded enormous. He knew how to put everything together.

R: It was a musician’s dream. When it came to doing this EP, we really had the desire to do something local and grassroots, something that came from where we do.

Your name comes from the book, To War with Whitaker. After almost a decade of creating music together under various titles, how does this one represent where you are now?
R: We’ve been together under a lot of different guises. Part of how we got this far is from turning a page into a new chapter. Whitaker is the unlikely hero of the book. He is just a fat butler. There is a quote where he says, “We shall win this war for the likes of you and I shall never surrender.” He is just so persistent. That is how we feel about us.

B: We are the fat butler.

S: I thought we should be the Fran Dreschers, but there were copyright issues.

Wichita was funded by your fans using the site Pozible. How was the reaction to your project?
R: Massive. We were pretty much at our target in ten days. Crowd funding is not crowd charity. We were not looking for handouts. For everything that people pledged, they were rewarded in tangible ways.

S: Mostly, people received presale tickets for our shows.

Finally, what can your fans expect from you in 2014?
B: Inappropriate banter.

R: A new EP. Hopefully an EP that has pushed our sound somewhere new again and evolved us further.

By Lucy McPherson

Listen to Whitaker’s debut EP Wichita here.

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.

Going international: It’s a Big Scary world

This month marks the worldwide release of Not Art, Big Scary’s second full-length album. With it’s Australian release last year, Not Art has seen Big Scary receive wide recognition for their music, with nominations including triple j Australian Album of the Year, AIR Awards Best Independent Album and Best Independent Release at the ARIAs.

This all culminated in the announcement earlier this month that they’d won the prestigious Australian Music Prize (AMP), beating competition from more than three hundred entries and boasting previous winners like Hermitude, The Jezabels, Cloud Control and The Drones. “We were all so shocked… it’s cool,” says Jo Symes, drummer and one half of the Melbourne-based duo. “We’ve had a bottle of really nice champagne on ice for months. A fan gave it to us as a gift ages ago, and we’ve never had the opportunity to drink it together after something exciting.”

The other half is vocalist Tom Iansek, known for his ‘evocative falsetto’. The pair run their own label, Pieater, along with their manager Tom Fraser and this has been the platform through which they’ve released their two albums, Not Art and 2011’s Vacation. The label also houses Iansek’s side project, Dads, and new recruit Airling.

“The finished product is all ready and it’s just about giving it its best shot overseas…”

It’s not all smooth sailing for the band however – in Australia, they could be regarded a big fish in a small pond. Taking it international is a whole different ball game, with logistics that need to be considered. “We play with four people on stage these days, but we don’t have the dollar bills to bring them to America for this tour,” says Symes. “So we’ve got to do some rehearsal, Tom and I, rearranging the songs again… and then we’ll be rehearsing with a local guy for a week in Seattle before the tour.”

Luckily, the duo have done most of the leg-work for the release already. With their Australian release out of the way, Big Scary get to skip the frantic lead-up. “Its all there,” Symes says. “The finished product is all ready and it’s just about giving it its best shot overseas. We wanted to make sure we would be there to actually play some shows and promote it properly.”

This time round, they’re focusing on the touring aspect – making a priority of the US. “Because we’re independent, we don’t have a million dollars so we’re focusing our resources [there] and we kind of figure if we do have some success in the US, it really pours out to the rest of the world,” says Symes.

“It was a long, long process, and we had no external kind of influence.”

The tour in question kicks off 4 April, with a hardcore schedule entailing 32 shows over 35 days. Unfortunately, this means the trip will be somewhat of a whirlwind, with the band staying in most cities only one night. “We’ve never toured like that so it’s going to be a quick learning curve I think,” Symes explains. They’ve also never explored the US to such an extent, having only briefly visited the US for South by SouthWest back in 2012. “They were really good shows – there were people at shows which we were shocked about. But this will be our first proper American ‘roadtrip’ – you know, we’ve never driven from city to city. I just can’t wait to stop at cheesy roadside diners and get bottomless coffees.”

Not Art itself explores relatively new territory for the band, in terms of inspiration and the process behind it. The recording of Vacation was an efficient affair, Symes says, with little studio time to play around with the tracks. “There wasn’t much room for listening back and stuff and that was quite stressful,” she explains. On the other hand, Not Art was a more gradual project; more “chipping away” at a sound, according to Symes. “It was a long, long process, and we had no external kind of influence.”

The production on the album was taken on by Iansek and mixed by Tom Elmhirst (who has previously worked with artists including Amy Winehouse, Haim & Mark Ronson) all the way from New York. “We were literally sending him the finished songs, recording during the day (his night), and he’d wake up and we’d finally send the next song,” says Symes. “But we needed that deadline to be like, ‘Alright, this is the decision, it has to be this’.”

“All of these facets have nothing really to do with writing a song and shouldn’t have anything to do with writing a song.”

Not Art was influenced heavily by the hip hop genre, and it’s clear when you take a listen. The title itself is a bit less obvious – seeming to take a dig at the hype around music and the industry.  “It means different things to both Tom and I,” Symes explains. “For me, I guess the bottom line is that you know people are going to judge the purpose behind the song, people will just make up a purpose behind the song, and you know it’s going to get reviewed. All of these facets have nothing really to do with writing a song and shouldn’t have anything to do with writing a song, so its trying to forget any of the repercussions of making it, and just making it.”

2014 holds many possibilities for the band, and they’ve got two big priorities for the near future. “Definitely more writing, that’s a huge priority,” says Symes. “I think we’ll try and start getting some songs pieced together and even start recording more material by the end of the year.” They’ve now also got some extra resources thanks to the Australian Music Prize, and they’re already brainstorming ways to put it to good use.

Big Scary are yet to hit our shores as a band, having only visited the continent for a four-city tour of India as part of the Aussie BBQ series in 2012 (though Symes did visit Singapore briefly as a twelve-year-old).  “I hope that winning the AMP means we can do more overseas touring, and hopefully include other regions – Asia and Europe – as opposed to just the USA,” says Symes. I’ll speak for everyone when I say that we hope so too.

By Eleanor Turnbull


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

Telling tales backwards: Outerhope tells their story

Micaela and Michael Benedicto (also known as Mick and Mike) are the siblings behind one of Manila’s more established indie pop acts, Outerhope. They were the first Filipino band to play at Popfest New York and San Francisco in 2012 and their label Number Line Records, which they founded with their brother Bobby in 2010, has gained a significant following worldwide for releasing often intriguing contributions from independent Filipino musicians.

Other Sounds spoke with the duo last week before they played to a packed crowd at Route 196 for the sixth anniversary of another staple of Manila’s fast-growing music scene, Attraction! Reaction!.

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It was in 2004 when Outerhope started. “I’d just quit my job and then I had this idea of putting up a band,” Mick says, “so I asked my brother if we could make an album.” She remembers getting a phone call from Toti Dalmacion of Terno Recordings asking them to perform at one of his monthly events, and it was after this show in October 2005 — their first public gig — that it was decided that their debut, self-released record, Strangely Paired, would be distributed on his label.

Outerhope joined a line-up that included Radioactive Sago Project, then the label’s biggest band (both figuratively and figuratively), and an up-and-coming band called Up Dharma Down, which formed roughly around the same time that they did. “It was an interesting experience,” Mick says of Outerhope’s time at Terno, “we definitely gained more exposure, because before that we were playing just to our friends and a small part of the indie pop scene.” But soon, the band started looking for more independence.

“The bands were great and we got along really well,” Mick tells us, but they left Terno in 2008 just before releasing their second self-produced record, A Day for the Absent. Mike says of that departure, “We’ve always had a strong inclination to do things independently where the only consideration would be what either of us puts on the table, as a duo. We’re extremely grateful for all the love we received from and through Terno but eventually, we just decided to craft a future on our own.”

When asked as to what changed in their songwriting between their first two albums, Mike says, “We really took our time. We thought it out more. He adds that “The songwriting process for the first album was really quick. For the second album, we were more conscious of being pleased with it.” Their third record, the 2012 EP No End In Sight, was also “kinda rushed,” as Mike puts it, as they were about to fly off to play at Popfest. “It always has to sort of be this way,” Mick notes, “we give ourselves a deadline or else we’ll take forever.” Most of the time, each of the siblings composes lyrics on his or her own, but a rare exception was their collaboration on the opening track from No End In Sight, ‘Lost Year’.

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Just after their departure from Terno, the band came over to Singapore to play at Rockin’ the Region at the Esplanade in 2009. “Joff [Cruz], frontman for the Dorques, invited us to play alongside Ciudad,” Mike recalls, and it is one of several shows they would jump straight on the plane for. “There’s so much music scattered across the ether that filtering through it involves a significant amount of chance. In that regard, grabbing opportunities to venture out and play for new audiences can’t require much thought.”

Their biggest foreign gig to date was in 2012, when they were invited to play at the New York Popfest after a friend recommended their music to the festival’s organizers. “It was really fun,” Mick recalls, “but we were a little nervous.” They usually had friends in a room when they were playing here, but this was the first time they played to a roomful of strangers. “There were a couple of people who would come up to us after the show,” says Mike of some of the reactions, “and tell us that our set was their favorite of the whole night.”

“We’re extremely grateful for all the love we received from and through Terno but eventually, we just decided to craft a future on our own.”

As for the duo’s plans to do in the near future, Mike tells us, “It’s a bit overwhelming to project all our ambitions into concrete plans but certainly, there’s a more active and hopefully more informed effort now to reach more people. In the past, we weren’t that great at following through with promotion after releasing new material. Hopefully, this time around, we can do a better job at spreading the word both here and overseas. We would definitely want to shoot videos for a few tracks and try to play more shows.”

By Ren Aguila

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’.

It’s a long road to Austin for Myanmar’s indie rockers Side Effect

Yangon, Myanmar and Austin, Texas. Half a world away geographically and universes apart in terms of musical opportunities. Yet one band from Myanmar is hoping to not just make it to Austin in 2014 but to play at the US’s biggest music festival. Meet Side Effect, four Myanmar-born and raised musicians bringing first-rate Indie music to the worldwide stage.

The year promises to be a big one: a new album and an appearance at South By Southwest are all on the schedule for the first half of the year. It’s fair to say that given the circumstances Side Effect has made leaps and bounds since its founding in 2002, when two passionate music-loving brothers decided to pick up guitars and see what happened.

Rewind to 2002. Although Internet speed was ridiculously low and censorship ridiculously high, Darko managed to find a compilation CD on the streets of Yangon. “It was imported from China and we had no idea what we were buying. In that CD we saw The Strokes, Spiritualised and other similar bands.” At the time, Myanmar was getting a taste of Western music in the form of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Hoobastank which were making their way onto the CD players of the younger generation. But when listening to this new CD Darko was “blown away by the freshness of their songs and the tone of the bands. I liked seeing them being different (from all of the hard rock that was popular amongst the locals at that time).”

“We were blown away by the freshness of their songs and the tone of the bands.”

Their interest piqued, Darko and Tser Htoo began to seek out other bands such as The White Stripes, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie, and began to experiment with sounds of their own. Jozeff, Darko’s brother,  joined in as the second guitarist (a position now filled by Eaiddhi) and Hein Lwin eventually joined up on bass. Practice venues were limited and live shows consisted mainly of playing in a few living rooms around town.

Their first album began to emerge with each jam. Songs were a blend of Western-influenced instrumentals and Burmese-centred lyrics, lyrics which reflected life in Myanmar — from the mundane to more socio-political topics. Rarely had Myanmar heard such honest, forthright songs. But the actual recording of the album was yet another hurdle for the band — studios are few and far between in Myanmar and good-quality production is not cheap.

Side Effect launched a campaign on Indiegogo to raise funds to properly lay down the tracks they had been so intensely practicing and perfecting. And surprisingly, the funds came in — almost. They got to Indiegogo. What happened next is one of those ‘only in Myanmar’ situations — due to sanctions on the country’s military-run government, Side Effect was prohibited from accessing the funds.

“We are really glad to reach out to some other countries to introduce that we DO have Burmese indie rock.”

But presently, the band is on another fund-raising kick: this time for South by Southwest. For those unfamiliar with SXSW, as it’s known in music circles, this Austin-based festival is the ultimate show ground for up-and-coming bands and singer-songwriters as well as cinematography and an increasing number of performance arts.  It will not be the band’s first time abroad — two years back they had the chance to play in Malaysia at the Alban State Festival. Seeing the tightness of the Malay indie scene, the band was simply blown away. “Not just the bands were good, but the fans were awesome. It was incredible to see all of the support from these loyal indie fans. It’s something we do not have in Myanmar.”

Now they have the chance to represent Myanmar in the US, and they plan to make the most of it.  “We are really glad to reach out to some other countries to introduce that we DO have Burmese indie rock. Burmese rock-and-roll has been established but that’s the way we were taught to know music. What we are doing is a different story from the (other) bands.”

A different story twelve years in the making. Despite the obstacles, despite the challenges, Side Effect has emerged as one of the region’s most promising indie bands. And with a bit of fund-raising luck, these lads will be bringing Burmese indie music to the stages of Austin.

By Anne Cruickshanks

Make a pledge for Side Effect’s SXSW trip here, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

It all feels right for Washed Out’s Ernest Greene

Ernest Greene, the man behind Washed Out, has recently taken some bold steps with his music: the warmer, more organic tones of his latest release Paracosm reveal a marked shift in creative process from the one-man, bedroom recording project that he started out with.

Getting some time off with his wife to retreat from the concrete jungle, Greene explains more about how his experience in the countryside and domestic delight have influenced Paracosm, among other interesting thoughts that might give us a better understanding of the man’s musical genius.

Lately, the sub-genre ‘chillwave’ has been said to have evolved tremendously into something more defined. It’s often represented by musicians such as Toro Y Moi, Memory Tapes, Teen Daze, and yourself – what do you think of this categorisation, and does it bother you?
I think there is definitely a “chillwave” sound — so I’m OK with the genre tag. But I never want to make the same album twice, so I’ve made a conscious effort to move on and try new things. However, I’m not even sure if my new record is chillwave or not!

I definitely try to come up with something new with each record while having it connected to my past work in some way. I guess that’s the challenge that I face.

How consciously did the shoeboxing of your previous releases effect the new direction you took with Paracosm?
A little bit. But it’s also a reflection of how my project has been changing. Washed Out live performances involves a band — not a solo, beat-driven studio project. We play shows probably eight months out of the year. So I wanted the album to be more of a reflection of that togetherness as a band.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes sense for me so that it feels inspiring enough to spend three months working on.”

We have also read that making the album “playable” live was something you considered when writing Paracosm. Are there any other external factors that affected the creative process?
I set out at the beginning of the process to make an optimistic-sounding album, which is quite hard to achieve without it sounding clichéd or melodramatic. Wanting the album to sound warm and inviting, I had to make the choice of deciding on the album’s instrumentation. This meant I had to resort to using a lot of string instruments and other elements of an orchestra.

How much do you allow external influences to affect your output? Do you see it as a compromise?
I try to balance audience’s expectations with my own. At the end of the day, it’s all about what makes sense for me so that it feels inspiring enough to spend three months working on.

What is your #1 favourite concept album? What do you think of the “death of the album”?
I think YouTube and iPod culture have changed the way that people listen to music and it’s much easier to consume a catchy single than an entire album. Nevertheless, I think albums are still relevant. I enjoy telling a story over the course of the 40 minute record and my favorite albums do the same. OK Computer still pops into my head now and then as one of my favorites.

“I try to constantly remind myself to see the beauty and poetry in the world.”

“Paracosm” very literally describes the sound of the album. How closely does your music link to your real/personal life? Or is it something much more abstract to you?
The album felt very close to my personal life actually. My wife and I live out in the countryside and we sort of retreated away during the making of the album. The house felt like our own little paracosm so a lot of the songs have to do with that. Domestic bliss I guess!

If there is a Washed Out song that best described your current position in life, what would it be and why?
The song ‘Paracosm’ comes to mind. It follows the same idea as what I described above. Mainly the joy of being alone and being free to do the things you love (which for me is creating art and music). It’s a really special period in my life that I’m able to make music for a living.

Do you have a life philosophy that you live and create by?
I try to constantly remind myself to see the beauty and poetry in the world. It’s easy to become too carried away with a single aspect of life. I try to keep my mind open and do what comes naturally.

Lastly, name three artists that you think we should all know about!
A JUS TED: ‘A Brighter Light’ is a really amazing song.

Henry Darger: An incredible visual artist and story teller — he was a big inspiration for the artwork for Paracosm.

Eadweard Muybridge: Discovered his wonderful photographs the other day.

By Shawn Ng

Washed Out will perform as part of the Mosaic Music Festival on Saturday, 8 March 2014 at 7.30pm at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

The feisty few: Jake Pitts of the Black Veil Brides talks

The Black Veil Brides are no strangers to criticism, given their image and outspoken nature.

In anticipation of their upcoming debut concert here for Singapore Rock Festival, we felt there was so much more to the band than their reputation warranted.

We spoke to guitarist Jake Pitts and discovered along the way a human element to the rocker juggernauts: it turns out that they aren’t so different from me and you — just a bunch of kids who love their music.

Coming from your hometowns all over America, did you ever think you’d ever make it this big, let alone be playing co-headlining shows in Asia?
Absolutely. It takes someone with a dream, and the drive to make that dream come true. Why does anyone form a band? They want to “make it”. The difference between them and us is that we all wanted it more. We worked harder, longer, and had something special to offer.

I told everyone when I was in high school who asked me, “what college are you going to go to?” or “what do you want to do with your life?” that “I’m going to be a rock star” and I would just get laughed at. But I would just give them an evil stare and say, “Watch me fucking do it.”

After touring extensively for the past few years, do you guys still prefer the intimate club shows that you started out playing, compared to the huge festival stages you mostly dominate nowadays?
Both have amazing qualities. Obviously the intimate club shows are cool because you can be up close and connect with the fans, and it’s crazy just making eye contact with someone and then watching them freak out. I remember being that kid in the crowd. However, bigger shows mean bigger success. And we like fire, we like to blow shit up on stage, so I would have to say we definitely like the bigger shows just as much.

Also, the festivals are cool, because we get to see so many of our favourite bands/friends play and hang out with them, and play for a whole diverse crowd, some of whom may not even know who we are. It’s always important to gain new fans.

“Why does anyone form a band? They want to “make it”. The difference between them and us is that we all wanted it more. We worked harder, longer, and had something special to offer.”

What is your favourite city to play in outside of America so far?
Hands down, London. That city just absolutely throws down every time we play there. Also we have a pretty big following in the UK, so we get to play some of the bigger venues and have pyro and whatnot. So it’s always a fiery, good old hot time.

Have you shared stages with any of the bands that have been an influence on you musically growing up? What was it like meeting your heroes, and who were they?
Well, Metallica, being the band that made me pick up a guitar. I haven’t personally met them, but I’ve been real close to them. We played Download Fest 2012 main stage, the same day Metallica was headlining. So was pretty cool to be able to say I’ve shared the same stage as fucking Metallica!

Other than that, there’s probably way too many to name, but one that sticks out to me most was in November 2011 when we toured with Avenged Sevenfold on the Buried Alive tour, and I’ve always liked that band. I just remember hearing the ripping solos and duel leads, and was instantly like, “fuck yeah, this is awesome!” So not to only mention that, but those guys are so down to earth, and the nicest guys ever. We got to become friends and hang out. It was such an honour and just made me a bigger fan seeing what great dudes they are.

You’ve professed your love for AFI before – what is your favourite album of theirs?
That’s an Andy question, I can’t answer that. I never really got into AFI too much. I’m a metal-head. But don’t get me wrong, they are a great band.

And your top 5 KISS songs?

1. Detroit Rock City
2. Rock ‘n Roll All Night
3. Love Gun
4. Crazy Crazy Nights
5. Unholy

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[spacer height=”10px”]Do you hope to have as prolific a career and identity as bands like AFI and KISS have had over the years?
I want to be the next Avenged Sevenfold; the next Metallica; the next KISS; the next Mötley Crüe. I want to still be a band doing what we love 20 years down the road, you know. I’m getting into producing, and have been engineering for a long time, but mixing now. And if I’m not on tour, I’m doing something with music. So that’s my calling, and I won’t ever stop.

What do you make of all these new bands breaking out, and what the ‘scene’ and audience have evolved into nowadays?
I think a lot of it is complete bullshit to be honest. I can’t say we’ve nailed it quite yet, but we’re working on getting that number one record. It’s always striving to be better than the previous. I have lots of friends who I really respect and some really amazingly talented players, for example, Falling In Reverse. Jacky Vincent can shred like no other. That dude puts me to shame. I’m not saying they are part of the bullshit, I think they are doing really, really well, and it’s awesome to see!

Rather, the thing I hate the most is these “hardcore”/”screamo” bands putting “dubstep” into their shit. I don’t even know what you call it, but I think it’s horrible. I can’t even name a band that does it, but I know I’ve heard it, and it makes me think: “Fuck man, go listen to Aerosmith or something, they know how to write a good-ass song.” Or go listen to some fucking Dream Theater and Metallica. For you ‘metal elitists’, I’m a huge fan of Within The Ruins, and Joshua Wickman’s production. It’s just insanity!

“I want to be the next Avenged Sevenfold; the next Metallica; the next KISS; the next Mötley Crüe. I want to still be a band doing what we love 20 years down the road… that’s my calling, and I won’t ever stop.”

Is there any new material being written on the road at the moment? It must be hard to find creative space on tour.
Well on tour, it can be tough when our bus is crammed to the max with the band and our crew. Space isn’t something easy to come by. Jinxx has turned his bunk into a bunk studio; I’ve mounted my external drive and Xbox to then walls of my bunk, and I can just do simple stuff in Pro Tools.

One of the best things to have is an iPhone with the voice recorder app qhen you have an idea — and I’m talking guitar part, vocal melody, lyrics, drum beat, anything. It’s what I like to call music talk, or drum language. Not everyone gets it. But the vocal chords are the most dynamic instrument, so being able to record a quick idea just humming it out is great. I can always pull that up and develop that idea into a song later.

My mind is always spinning and music is constantly going in my head, so I have to be ready at any moment to record that idea when it comes to me.

Anything you would like to say to your fans in Singapore?
Can’t wait to see you guys and meet as many of you as we can! It’s our first time coming to Singapore and I cannot wait!

By Louis Foo

Black Veil Brides will be performing at Singapore Rock Festival on 5 March 2014.