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Celebrating past and present S'pore music
NO other music festival in Singapore can claim to be as adventurous as Esplanade's Mosaic.
One of Singapore's oldest and most-loved multi-genre fest, it is known for its diverse line-up and the rebooted version taking place this weekend is no different.
It was originally an annual 10-day event that ran for a decade from 2005 but is now presented in a more compact four-day format called Mosaic Music Weekend.
Despite being condensed, the line-up still packs a punch and fans of local indie music have plenty to look forward to with new and old faces gracing the various stages of the Esplanade.
The Observatory's frontman Leslie Low, a familiar face on the alternative scene, will play new material. He will be joined by special guests to play songs from his back catalogue which stretches back to the 90s when he fronted influential folk-rock band Humpback Oak.
The Analog Girl (Pamela Wong) also makes a comeback to debut tracks from her upcoming new album - almost five years in the making. She was named by Time magazine as one of five music acts to watch in 2008; and her brand of laptop rock started as a lo-fi bedroom project before it was used in ad campaigns for Nike and various film soundtracks.
Other familiar faces include neo-jazz group Riot !n Magenta, roots rockers Cheating Sons, ambient acoustic act Piblokto (Alexius Cai) and live looping master Randolf Arriola.
Mosaic Music Weekend will also showcase a new generation of homegrown talents dabbling in different genres.
Melodic rockers Deon, R&B funk pop star Dru Chen, acoustic folk troubadour Anise (Suhui Hee), and Hong Kong-raised Singaporean singer-songwriter Lew (Lewis Loh) are just some of the emerging acts to look out for.
The festival will also be marking a first when indie-pop darling Cherie Ko debuts her latest project Tomgirl "live", in celebration of the release of the band's self-titled full-length album.
By Dylan Tan
- For full line-up and playing times, check www.esplanade.com
Rock 'n' roll with a sensual twist
LIKE Leslie Low, you never know where Cherie Ko will pop up next.
In addition to playing lead guitar for retro-pop group Obedient Wives Club, she has dabbled in numerous side-projects over the years, including minimalist-rock trio Bored Spies and all-girl outfit Pastelpower.
"I'd like to think of myself as a Russian doll - there is a me within a me within a me - (and) each project is a manifestation of one version of myself," says the 25-year-old. "With each project, I delve deeper into my being; making music is a personal journey of self-expression and discovery."
Her latest is Tomgirl, a rock 'n' roll duo inspired by film noir, grindhouse films, motorcycle gangs, femme fatales and fuzzy guitar riffs, which she formed with 28-year-old Melbourne-based half-Singaporean musician Ted Dore.
"We are obsessed with cult movies; especially works in the vein of Quentin Tarantino, Russ Meyer, and Jim Jarmusch," Ko shares. "The progression from film to music was pretty much fluid; we appreciate mises-en-scene in films, and we found ourselves creating moody and cinematic soundscapes inspired by our favourite flicks."
Tomgirl is the only homegrown act playing a ticketed show at the Mosaic Music Weekend. Its self-titled full-length debut is out now on digital platforms and will be released on vinyl in October.
The pair met through mutual friends at a music festival two years ago and bonded immediately over their common love for shoegaze and garage rock.
"Naturally, we had a jamming session together and it turned out to be the best decision ever, because the night before Ted flew back to Melbourne, we wrote our first song together which materialised itself as a dark noir banger," recalls Ko.
That tune, Darker Now, is Tomgirl's debut single and is accompanied by a moody music video.
The duo says living in two different parts of the world was the biggest challenge to recording the album but thanks to the Internet, they made the best out of their tricky geographical situation.
"Over the past year, we constantly recorded demo clips of song ideas and sent them back and forth," Ko says. "Ted would send me a guitar riff, I would sing over it, pepper some guitar over it and send it back."
She also flew to Melbourne in March for a month to shoot the video for Darker Now and to put the finishing touches to the album. The experience was a like "a self-imposed songwriting bootcamp", Ko says. "We locked ourselves in Ted's basement for three days straight, and worked tirelessly around the clock."
Ko and Dore feel their different songwriting sensibilities is what makes the chemistry between them sizzle. "I just love the whole formula of how we operate as a duo - Cherie has this strong sensual femininity that tempers my more aggressive musical tendencies," notes Dore. "When it comes to music in general we are both very open-minded and I think that allows us to cross-pollinate our ideas quite easily and naturally."
Ko adds: "Ted leans towards the masculinity of abrasive rock 'n' roll, while I tend to embrace the sensuality and fluidity in femininity. It's interesting because we find ourselves constantly striving to strike a balance between the two, and that's basically how that Tomgirl sound came about - we'd like to think of it as rock 'n' roll with a sensual twist."
- Tomgirl plays the Esplanade Recital Studio on Sept 4 at 8pm. Tickets at S$30 available from Sistic and at the venue's box office. Its self-titled debut album is out on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify. Limited edition translucent blood red vinyls are available to pre-order from www.tomgirlband.com
Indie icon set to revisit his musical past
LESLIE Low is no stranger to fans of local indie music, having performed in various bands since the early 90s.
From folk rockers Humpback Oak to the electro-pop duo Twang Bar Kings - which reunited for a one-off performance last month - just to name a few, the versatile singer-songwriter-guitarist and current frontman of experimental rockers The Observatory has been at the forefront of the scene for over two decades now.
The homegrown indie music icon will play music, new and old, this Sunday at two special solo shows that are part of the Mosaic Music Weekend free line-up.
"The first set will be mostly new songs that I've been working on these past few months (while) the second will be with special guests Sean Lam (Hanging up the moon) and Alexius Cai (Piblokto)," he shares, adding the two will help him revisit tunes from the Humpback Oak catalogue.
It will not be the first time the three are lending each other a hand: they just played two shows in Kuala Lumpur as Hanging up the moon, and the trio will round off the evening after Low's sets by performing together as Piblokto.
As active as he is playing and touring with The Observatory in addition to dabbling in various side-projects and performing solo, Low observes that Singapore is still a long way from defining its own scene.
"As long as we still have pubs and bars playing cover material, you can pretty much decide for yourself how our music industry is from all that," he explains.
But Low, whose last solo album was No Such Thing as Ghosts (2014), admits he has been playing more regularly now in the last 10 years compared to his Humpback Oak days.
The pace can be punishing, though. "It is physically quite a feat to play The Observatory's music - one has to channel that energy and fury every night while on tour (because) every show matters," he says.
That strain is audible in Low's voice which has gradually transformed into a bit of a growl. "My vocals have taken quite a beating over the years - especially with The Observatory, I've had to really stretch myself to suit each new turn we make," he points out.
His songwriting remains the same, though: "I write whatever I'm feeling mostly all of the time. Always have been. They range from assembled fragments of a day's thoughts, to the stream-of-consciousness that I happen to tap into from time to time."
The years have also taught Low to be less-conscious when it comes to making music. "I used to second-guess myself a lot. These days, I try to let it out the way it is, and let the rough edges hang as well," he concludes.
- Leslie Low plays two free shows at the Esplanade Concourse on Sept 4 at 6pm and 7pm. To order a copy of No Such Thing As Ghosts and find out more about his music, check www.leslielow.com
Singing through her troubles
By Avanti Nim
LIKE the rest of us, singer-songwriter Suhui Hee frequently gets bogged down by the doldrums. But what sets her apart is that she channels that rage and frustration into her music.
The 25-year-old says: "When I write my songs, it's a way for me to seek out a world that isn't our own. There's an element of fantasy to them because there's so much about the world I would change."
Hee, who goes by the moniker Anise, started songwriting while studying graphic design at Central St Martin's in London.
She recalls: "I went there on my own, and those three years were just very lonely and boring for me. London's cold and gloomy climate didn't help either."
To combat the blues she was feeling, Hee went out and bought herself "the cheapest guitar (she) could find" and started tinkering around on it. It wasn't until she returned home in 2012 that she decided to delve into the music scene here.
Trained on the violin as a young girl and armed with her trusty guitar and a looper gadget gifted to her by a friend, Hee entered a Diarists' Open Mic session in 2013, held at the now-defunct The Pigeonhole café.
She says: "I played one song, a cover of a really old one which sounded totally different to me. I was so nervous, but when I approached one of the founders of the Diarists' to talk about a musical collaboration after my song, I was surprised to find that he wanted to jam with me!"
From then on, Hee had "friends in the industry" and it bolstered her confidence greatly. She released her first EP titled Inward, containing songs like Pulp Fiction, Bones, and Midnight Sweepers, in 2015.
"I'd been performing those songs for a couple of years by then, and I really should have released them sooner," she points out. "But everyone close to me had already heard them by that time, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to put so much of myself out into the world."
Her music is atypical of such a young person in that she delves into topics like politics.
Pulp Fiction, for example, was her take on the pulping of books by the National Library Board earlier that same year.
For her upcoming concert as part of the Mosaic Music Weekend at Esplanade, Hee will debut three new songs.
She explains: "I haven't been publicising my performances much lately because I've been trying to focus on writing again. I had a year-long creative block that cleared up recently, thanks in part to my anger at the war in Syria as well as a bad break-up."
She adds: "It's funny because my anger is a driving force. I find a lot of new material pops up when there's an issue I feel intrigued or indignant about."
The songs are titled Napalm, Grey, and Still Waters, the latter of which is about "letting (her) guard down and trying to be open to things because it's only natural to build up walls after experiencing tough times".
But the deep content of her music stands in stark contrast to her on-stage persona.
Hee explains, endearingly: "I still have stage fright, so even though I sing a lot of sad songs, in between the sets, I'm just sitting there giggling because I don't quite know what to say."
- Suhui Hee (Anise) will perform as part of the Mosaic Music Weekend at the Esplanade Concourse on Sept 2 at 8.15pm and 10.15pm. Admittance is free. For more information, please visit www.esplanade.com