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’.

Blue Hour Sessions: HEIZENBERG is here to stay

OS: Hi guys! Let’s start off with names. That’s a real interesting band name there, Heizenberg. Is it safe to say that you two are huge Breaking Bad fans?
HEIZENBERG: Not really. We just liked the ring to it and what it seemed to connote, from the scientific principle to the television character and more. That said, we have clocked in our hours watching the show, though not religiously.

Heizenberg is a relative newcomer to the music scene. Were both of you involved in any projects or bands before this?
H: We’ve been involved in various projects, notably Syai was in Monster Cat previously and Nick in MUON.

How would you compare the local electronic music scene to other countries? What would you like to see more of?
H: We can’t say we know much beyond the ideas of a tourist what it’s like elsewhere. The scene here has certainly come into its own but there’s always room for expansion. It’s great to have different people into the things they do, creating little pockets of interest and experience, whether it’s in the form of collectives or communities.

Beyond new stuff, we’d like to see more continuity within stuff that’s been around.

We’ve heard the mix presented for the Good Times party. It’s got a real edgy vibe to it — almost an ethereal version of Death Grips. Are the vocals sampled?
H: Yeah, certain bits of vocals were our own and some sampled. We try to fit in stuff that we’d want to hear more of ourselves.

There’s an album in the works at the moment. Can you tell us a little about it?
H: We’re currently in the final stages of mixing for the album. It’s a collection of songs from a certain period and reflects a particular sonic approach and style — electronic and beat-driven with a focus on very simple and tangible arrangements.

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By Evan Woon

Lomography Blue Hour Sessions
with HEIZENBERG, Intriguant, and Marcel Thee (ID)
Home Club
Friday, 24 January
8pm
$12 at the door

Blue Hour Sessions: MUON — Always pushing the boundaries which push back

OS: MUON has been around for about fourteen years, with a constantly changing line-up over time. Were these deliberate or unavoidable moves?
Nick Chan: Both/And, not Either/Or. They were as deliberate and unavoidable as the small ‘deliberate’ choices one makes in life only to realise later that they changed everything, like a fork in the road of fate (unavoidable). Only responsibility, not credit, can be claimed for such actions.

Fourteen years is a long time for a band, especially relative to the life experience of a teenager. MUON was always more of an idea and system of values than a band. The Blue Hour Sessions itself had its genesis through this system of values, of which I shan’t say more.

I have never made the distinction between being a producer, engineer, band member, whatever, it was all MUON. This has been the case regardless of whether I was producing/playing for I Am David SparkleAstreal. If you were to hear songs from those particular albums, you’d be able to identify that they are interchangeable and belong in any MUON album — but the inverse cannot be said, which has resulted in much confusion and stigma at times.

Have the changes been beneficial to the general creative process, allowing for a larger variety of experimentation of sounds?
All I can say is that works have been created and events crystalized and that they exist. The creative process itself is a participatory one of co-creation between artist and Other, rather than the traditional monotheistic notion of “Look Ma, I created something via a process! And it’s deep!”.

It wasn’t experimentation that resulted in the myriad textures our sound contains — plug-ins and gear were responsible for that. In MUON, ‘experimental’ has more to do with ‘unlearning’ than ‘reinvention’. I approximate ‘reinvention’ with throwing shit against the wall and hoping it will stick on the 7th throw, rather than the 10th. ‘Unlearning’ would be to ask, “Why am I throwing shit against the wall?”

Thus, much energy was put not towards unusual things, but rather towards really difficult stuff, such as, “Mr. Drummer, please do not crash on the 1, or after any roll,” or questions like, “Does laughter have an opposite?” Much easier said than done.

Too often, many try to push the boundaries, without realizing that the boundaries also push back. The less one is aware of this, the more likely the work ends up as experimental drivel that most people have to pretend to understand.

Collaborating with visual artists isn’t anything new to you, you’ve previously worked with Brandon Tay of Syndicate. Is it difficult balancing the two creative visions on two quite different mediums?
Not at all. If affinity is shared, then it’s ONE creative vision, involving TWO individuals from different milieus. Last I checked, Brandon and I weigh about the same.

What are your thoughts on collaborating with William Chan of TMRRW this time round?
William is a total ideas guy who has an impeccable sweet-spot between the special and mundane, the sacred and profane, the simple and the simpler. I feel that working with him this time round has been a well-rounded experience.

If you could compose or recreate the perfect film soundtrack, which film would you choose? Would you choose to collaborate with any other bands?
I would collaborate with Jordan Chia of Pixel Apartment and the film would be Cinema Paradiso.

Lastly, please describe what you hope the audience will feel after your show this weekend. Looking forward to it!
Well, I hope they feel great — that’d be enough. But on a more idealistic front, I hope they feel that in between the grind of daily life and the chasing of representations of things, that the usual BS we hear, that ‘life is beautiful’, ‘nature is alive’, ‘abundance trumps scarcity’, that all of that is true.

By Maria Clare Khoo

Lomography Blue Hour Sessions
with MUON and Dream State Vision
Home Club
Friday, 27 November
7pm
FREE

Lomography’s Blue Hour Sessions to put spotlight on Singapore music and art scene

Lomography Singapore has just announced the Blue Hour Sessions, a 6-part series featuring collaborations with local bands and graphic artists with an aim to document ground-breaking work in the local music scene.

Drawn from the French expression l’heure bleue, ‘The Blue Hour’ refers to the time before nightfall when the sun slips from sight and the sky falls into a deep blue – traditionally, this hour of day is seen to hold special significance because of the possibilities for unexpected collisions, liaisons and delirium.

From 13 November to 14 April, the Blue Hour Sessions will take place on the last Saturday of the month, with each session turning the spotlight on collaborative efforts between some of the most exciting bands and graphic artists of our generation.

Expect live sets with visual and audio installations, as well as the launch of special edition EPs (limited to a first-run of 36 copies) featuring rough cuts, unreleased demos, analogue prints, and zine artwork by the bands and graphic artists themselves.

Other Sounds is proud to be official online media partner of the the Blue Hour Sessions as it aims to put the spotlight back on local bands and graphic artists.

Blue Hour Sessions schedule

23 November
Tiramisu x fFurious
.gif x M-D-R-N
7nightsatsea x Heider of SSYSTM x Allison Marie Low

21 December
MUON x William Chan of TMRRW
Bani Haykal x Kristal Melson x SUSEJ

18 January
HEIZENBERG x Brandon Tay of Syndicate
Dream State Vision x StudioKALEIDO

22 February
sub:shaman x Marc Gabriel Loh
Space Days x Afiq Omar of Syndicate

29 March
Pleasantry x FROMPAMM
ANECHOIS x Izyanti Asa’ari x Wu Jun Han
Ellipsis x Ban-Fam

3 May
Astreal x MAKE
MONSTER CAT x DO NOT DESIGN x Afiq Omar of Syndicate
Chöd x Philipp Aldrup
Zirconia (feat. X’ho + Yeow of Zircon Lounge) x WHITELABEL x Lasse Marhaug

Update (17/12/13):

The Blue Hour Sessions exhibition and live showcases will now be held at Home Club:

27 December
MUON x William Chan of TMRRW
Dream State Vision x StudioKALEIDO

17 January
HEIZENBERG x Brandon Tay of Syndicate
Bani Haykal x  Kristal Melson

21 February
sub:shaman x Marc Gabriel Loh
Space Days x Afiq Omar of Syndicate

28 March
Pleasantry x FROMPAMM
ANECHOIS x Izyanti Asa’ari x Wu Jun Han
Ellipsis x Ban-Fam

2 May
Astreal x MAKE
MONSTER CAT x DO NOT DESIGN x Afiq Omar of Syndicate
Chöd x Philipp Aldrup

*Dates and line-ups are subject to change

By Katherine Pollock

Four bands to collaborate with legendary producer at Steve Lillywhite Production Week

The Singapore Music Society (SGMUSO) has just announced the four bands who will join five-time Grammy award-winning producer Steve Lillywhite in the studios next week for the Steve Lillywhite Production Week, an idea conceived by president of SGMUSO, Graham Perkins.

The four personally selected bands are folk rockers Monster Cat, pop group The Sam Willows, experimental band sub:shaman and newcomers Atlas; all of whom are relatively new but familiar names in the local music scene.

The bands will spend one day recording with Lillywhite before one of them is chosen to collaborate with and be mentored by the producer for the rest of the week. The three remaining bands will return to the studios with three additional producers who will also be mentored by Lillywhite, Roland LimDon Richmond and Jason Tan.

The Steve Lillywhite Production Week will conclude with SOUNDCHECK, another new initiative held by SGMUSO where Lillywhite’s selected band will perform.

Monster Cat
These five cats have quickly made a name for themselves shortly after their formation in 2010, playing several gigs in Singapore, touring Japan and the US, and performing at the Reeperbahn Festival in Berlin in 2012. Their debut release Mannequins is available on their website as a free download.

The Sam Willows
Formed in May 2012, The Sam Willows are one of the newest bands on the list. The soul-folk group have since released a self-titled EP and are supported by major record label Warner Music Singapore. The band has also appeared on national television with a performance at ‘Celebrate 2013’, Mediacorp Channel 5’s New Year’s Eve countdown event, and recently performed at a showcase at renowned music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas.

sub:shaman
sub:shaman may have only made themselves known in the past few months but they are not newcomers to the Singapore underground music scene. The band includes members of established local band Pleasantry; and singer-songwriter Weish, who has performed solo as well as with MUON.

Atlas
Formed in January 2011, indie-experimental band Atlas has just recently performed at the Mosaic Music Festival.

By Cindy Tan

MAAD Sounds presents: MUON @ Red Dot Design Museum (7.12.12)

Any modern instrumental band is still, undoubtedly a hit-or-miss to even the most discerning ear. Some might prefer the minimal, while others are drawn to the grand orchestration of post-rock outfits. MUON makes music that fits in this category and are not the least apologetic for it. Having heard them live only once before at the Fred Perry anniversary — and just as I had felt with the other bands — it felt necessary to hear them on their own for a more thorough representation of their music.

It was their second performance as a six-piece band with their newest addition, Weish at her keyboard, who was designated to act as frontwoman last Friday. The group had first teamed up in August and the shyness of Weish in-between songs was misleading — any semblance of doubt was not at alll audible in their performance.

The band played a solid one-hour set, performing older tracks like ‘Against the Grain’ and ‘The Failure of Plan B’ as well as their first collaboration with Weish titled ‘Snow Eyes’. The band also performed an emotive and stirring cover of Foals’ ‘Tron’, which really revved up the audience. Weish’s vocals, reminiscent of one of the CocoRosie ladies, adds a very distinct and personable element to the band’s instrumental sound.

“Alone rock” and “cerebral” are words that could best describe the music MUON conjures. It’s hard to imagine people moshing or doing something together to the music. The most social it can get is maybe if two people were to make-out while their music plays and even that would most definitely mean… a tongue-heavy battle (excuse my imagery). Their sound is just that intense. The combination of their instruments, the precise percussion under the electric elements including keyboards, guitar, bass and samples, add up to something that even in a social setting like MAAD, will cast you off in your own little island, in your own zone.

MUON’s new lineup is certainly effective. Their set seemed to end in suspense and felt strangely abrupt. You could tell that some in the audience would have kept glued on the fake grass or wherever it was they stood, and even that guy and girl dancing crazily up front would and could have kept at it if they had played longer, asserting that MUON is here to stay.

By Cat Cortes

Fred Perry 60th Anniversary party @ Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (2.12.12)

If you’ve never been invited to the well-dressed kid’s birthday party, we’ve got you covered. Last Sunday, we were at Fred Perry’s 60th birthday, where everyone was effortlessly dressed to the nines, living up to the clothing brand’s reputation for introducing the rest of the world to their sporty-but-street London gentleman and gentlewoman sensibilities.

Memories from the 90s, of travels to Malaysia by train were triggered when it was announced that the Tangong Pagar Railway Station (which Wikipedia adamantly warns: “not to be confused with Tanjong Pagar MRT Station”) was the venue for Fred Perry’s 60th Anniversary Party here in Singapore. It is every retrophile’s dream, a private birthday party at an abandoned railroad (albeit very recently abandoned) with rockstars walking about. Fortunately for heritage preservers, it was not a place we could trash.

The train station itself was not where the party was happening. Instead, the nostalgic interior was set-up for the film screening of The Don Letts Subculture Films, with a fully operating popcorn machine to ease hunger pangs and comfortable black cushions for your bums’ pleasure. The screening took place simultaneously while bands played outside. The stage, which was the focal point of the event with Fred Perry’s signature Laurel Wreath front and center, was erected in front of the Art Deco building facing an assortment of stalls, which lined the perimeter of the courtyard. There was ice-cream, cupcakes, burgers, booze, games, trinkets to be sold and dashing moustachioed barbers (of the acclaimed Hounds of the Baskervilles) ready to shave and, cut your hair ­– a hungry hairy hipfolk’s dream! If the party was cool, the weather was cooler. The threat of rain seemed to have discouraged many partygoers but lucky for us, we got to see some local talents bloom with breathing room.

Four local bands had been selected to play the event alongside British headliners, Citizens! Among these was Fast Colours feat. X’Ho, a band made up of old hands from the Singapore music scene who have played in Watchmen, AWOL, and The Oddfellows collectively. It almost felt as though your cool uncle – who is cool – crashed your party and DJ’d. Their courage to play their classic rock for kids that had probably never experienced the beauty of train travel, was admirable, and they played to a hushed audience, who were not quite ready to rock at 5 o’clock.

Also gracing center stage were the fresh faces of Obedient Wives Club, who played their best set we’ve seen to-date. Watching them on stage oh-so coolly breezing through their set of songs from the old EP as well as their upcoming EP Murder Kill Baby due out in January 2013, made any fan of theirs feel like a proud momma (or dada). This was perhaps the largest audience they had performed for since Baybeats — a far more discerning one at that — and the band stepped up to the challenge with ease.

MUON, who added a slightly more serious performance to the mix, ended their set with a new track that has a promising put-your-dancing-shoes-on vibe to it. Tip: If you find yourself stuck without parking tickets in the parking lot, look for a member of MUON — they will help you out (but don’t tell them we told you so)!

Our dancing shoes flew off when Great Spy Experiment took to the stage. Their set lacked punch as well as the sort of ‘come-hither come-dance-with-me’ vibe that Citizens! frontman, Tom Burke would later pull off so well. Where was the band that was so full of promise a few years ago? They played a set that targeted their old fans but not one that could engage any new ones. They should keep up with the times and learn to evolve. If you’re an upcoming band, take notes from newcomers, Obedient Wives Club, who have all the right ingredients for good band longevity, which includes the two most important ones: talent and self-belief.

We had high hopes for Citizens! Their studio release, Here We Are, exhalts the retro, particularly the 80s, except with bassier synth sounds interspersed with soft guitars. When they finally appeared (you did not have to have eyes like a hawk, you just had to keep your ears peeled for the screaming girls), the concrete space below the stage that had been empty most of the day, suddenly disappeared beneath the pretty and carefully coifed, girls and boys. Serenading Singapore in their Fred Perry apparel, Citizens! not only looked dapper, but surpassed our musical expectations. Tom’s voice sounds much better live and in the raw, while the rest of the band’s talent and love for music was apparent in the way they moved on stage.

Towards the end of their set, as the band played ‘True Romance’, we were transported from Tanjong Pagar’s train station to a secret paradise where good looking English blokes rocked out for us in the rain. It made us forget that cold and wet, we looked alike, our skin glistening with sweat and raindrops — or that most of us could not even afford Fred Perry clothing for that matter.

By Cat Cortes

WIN: Exclusive invites to Fred Perry 60th Anniversary party [CLOSED]

Wanna score a pair of invites to the Fred Perry 60th Anniversary party? We have five pairs to give away and winners will also receive a complimentary limited edition Heineken James Bond STR bottle!

All you have to do is answer this question:

What does 52’12 mean?

Send your answers to info@othersounds.sg with your full name and IC no.

Competition closes Sunday, 25 November, 3pm. Only winners will be notified via email on Monday, 26 November.

Fred Perry 60th Anniversary party
With Citizens!, Obedient Wives Club, The Great Spy Experiment, MUON, The Fast Colors feat. X’Ho, and DJ collective Poptart
Tanjong Pagar Railway Station
Sunday, 2 Dec 2012
4pm – 11pm
More details here
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Citizens! to lead Fred Perry 60th Anniversary celebrations

This December, Fred Perry will celebrate its 60th anniversary as an icon of fashion and a contemporary fashion and sports heritage brand with a unique place in British style history that is easily recognizable around the world.

The brand has grown with unparalleled closeness alongside British subcultures over the last six decades, and to celebrate its unique relationship with music and counterculture, Fred Perry will be throwing an all-day party that includes a selection of acclaimed musicians and artists and a host of activities with a British flair.

UK band Citizens! are set to kick off the party in Singapore, making their Asian debut with a series of Fred Perry 60th Anniversary celebrations around the region. The line-up also includes Singapore bands MUON, The Great Spy ExperimentThe Fast Colors feat. X’Ho, Obedient Wives Club, DJ collective Poptart, and more.

A series of six commissioned documentaries by legendary cult figure Don Letts will also be screened exclusively at the event to give context to the significant milestone. The film showcases Fred Perry’s 60 year association with underground subcultures which span from the Mods, Skinheads, Suedeheads, Rude Boy, Northern Soul, Two Tone to Brit Pop and Indie.

And if that’s not enough, more than 15 specially curated stalls will be set up in a street-style market selling eclectic vintage collectibles, home accesseries, artisinal crafts, and British grub and drinks, and classic carnival games will be reinvented with a twist.

Fred Perry 60th Anniversary Party
Sunday, 2 Dec 2012
4pm – 11pm

More details to be released on the official Fred Perry Singapore page.