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Legends and more at music and arts fest
Clinton still in winning form
BEING the most sampled man has been both a blessing and a curse for George Clinton.
The music he made as the ringleader and creative force behind Parliament and Funkadelic during the 1970s has stood the test of time to keep his legacy alive, but his prolific output has also resulted in a lengthy legal battle to reclaim the copyright to his back catalogue.
Ironically enough, the 75-year-old, who is one of the headliners at Neon Lights, says the tussle has reinvigorated him: "That has renewed my energy for performing and creating new music ... It's like fighting a war but it's important."
Some of that ongoing legal wrangle, which has lasted decades, is recounted in his memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You? (2014), as well as an upcoming documentary.
But Clinton is enjoying his current renaissance way too much to let that get him down. "We've had a blast so far this year and we plan to play as long and as hard as we can," he declares, during a phone interview ahead of the show.
Besides the memoir, the funk legend also released the three-CD First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate - Funkadelic's first album in more than three decades - in 2014, and won a Grammy this year for appearing on Kendrick Lemar's To Pimp a Butterfly (2015).
It's hard to believe the award is a career-first despite the role Clinton has played in revolutionising black music and pioneering the funk genre.
Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1941, and the oldest of nine children, Clinton formed his first band The Parliaments, a doo-wop quintet, in 1955 out of a barbershop he worked at.
On the strength of that group, he landed a stint as a writer for the famous Motown label where he scored his first hit when he wrote and recorded (I Wanna) Testify in 1967.
But it wasn't until the 1970s when Clinton finally made a name for himself as the chief architect of two new bands he formed, Parliament and Funkadelic (P-Funk).
His unique brand of psychedelic funk had one philosophy - "Free your mind ... and your ass will follow", also the title of Funkadelic's 1970 album - and seminal records such as Mothership Connection (1975) and One Nation Under a Groove (1978) yielded classics such as Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker) and Flash Light respectively.
P-Funk's "live" shows were as theatrical as Clinton's outrageous fashion sense and one of its most famous stage props, a flying saucer christened the Mothership, is now exhibited at the Smithsonian.
If there is one thing about P-Funk's concerts that hasn't changed since the 1970s, it's the way the band would play non-stop for hours, jamming like there is no tomorrow.
"On stage, I no longer feel like I'm 75 because I'm up there with a bunch of kids," quips Clinton, who adds he is still determined to continue experimenting and making new music when not on the road.
But he no longer sports colourful dreadlocks and has swapped the bright costumes for dapper-looking three-piece suits.
"I did that after I turned 70 and it was weird for those who haven't seen me like that," he chuckles. "But who knows when you might see me looking like (late cosmic jazz artiste) Sun Ra again!"
González no longer just playing on his own
By Dylan Tan
WHETHER on stage or in the studio, José González is used to operating as a one-man-show. In fact, he recorded his latest album Vestiges & Claw (2015) without a producer, just to wield full artistic control.
But all that might change soon, especially on stage. The 38-year-old Argentinian-Swedish singer-songwriter will kick off 2017 by touring Europe and America with avant-garde ensemble The String Theory; and for his upcoming show at Neon Lights, he will be heading here with four other musicians.
"It can get lonely (when you play alone so) I'll be be playing with a band this time - but it's still going to be pretty acoustic though," he says over the phone, ahead of the Singapore gig in about a fortnight.
González last performed here in 2007, which he remembers well, right down to the name of the event: "It was for Mosaic (Music Festival) and was in a big theatre with a mature crowd."
The gig was in support of his sophomore release In Our Nature, released that same year.
Known for his warm, delicate vocals and quiet brand of finger-plucked guitar-folk-pop, González shot to fame with his cover of Heartbeats, originally performed by Swedish electronic duo The Knife.
That track, off his debut album Veneer (2003), has raked up over 150 million streams on Spotify.
A special edition of the record contains a bonus disc with his reworkings of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart and Kylie Minogue's Hand On Your Heart.
Incidentally, his follow up In Our Nature also features a haunting cover of Massive Attack's 1998 hit single Teardrop.
Just as he has covered other people's music, some of González's songs have also often taken on a second lease of life and have been used in commercials, television shows and films.
"In general I have an open attitude especially if they are used for TV series or movies because, many times, whoever has written the scene has an artistic intention to convey a particular emotion and it's nice to be able to compliment someone else's art," he explains.
Vestiges & Claw is González's first album where he has chosen to record entirely original material. The arrangement is also not as bare as his previous works and is inspired by 1970s Brazilian pop, American folk rock and West African desert blues.
The richer production finds him doing away with his previous habit of being constrained by how he can reproduce songs from his records faithfully on stage.
"I've focused more on the role of being a producer this time around," González shares. "I've spent more time thinking of what's best for the song and the recording."
Yuna gets more out of working in Los Angeles
By Avanti Nim
THERE are few people who are known and addressed by a mononym. Madonna, Adele, and Usher are some of them. So is Yuna - born Yunalis Mat Zara'ai - a Malaysian singer-songwriter who will be performing at Neon Lights.
In fact, her latest album Chapters features a collaboration titled Crushwith R&B icon Usher, whom the 29-year-old grew up listening to.
Other songs featured on the 10-track album which was released in May include Places to Go, Used to Love You, and Lanes.
"Lanes was actually my favourite song from the album," she reveals during a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I love how it sounds, musically, but it's more than that. I second-guessed that song the most because I felt it was perhaps a little brutally honest but I went with my gut and put it out there. It's about how sometimes relationships don't work because you have different lifestyles, and I don't think that's a commonly-explored topic."
Chapters, as a whole, was more revealing than Yuna is used to, though. She points out: "It's just more vulnerable than any of my other albums. I went through a lot in the past two years - there was a break-up, homesickness, feeling jaded about the music industry - it was a lot to talk about, and this was the only way I could express myself."
And, as a practising Muslim, there's more pressure on Yuna about how she chooses to express herself than most.
She notes: "I've always been open about my religion, and it's a big part of my life, as is my music. So it's difficult to separate the two. But I end up often being caught in the middle feeling like I don't fit anywhere because I'm neither overly liberal nor conservative."
When Yuna moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to further her musical ambitions, she was cautioned by people she knew because "they were worried about Islamophobia affecting me". But she decided to "just be myself" and has been encouraged by the audiences at her shows.
She says: "They all come from different walks of life. You get Asian-Americans, Muslims, Republicans, and Democrats. It's so great because they're coming together to enjoy my music and it's one thing they have in common. It reminds me that we're part of a bigger world which isn't supposed to be segregated or separated, no matter what people say."
While she does try to go back to see her family in Malaysia every few months and misses her home greatly, Yuna doesn't see herself leaving Los Angeles anytime soon.
She explains: "I think I could work from Malaysia but it would be difficult, even with the Internet. When I'm collaborating with people on songs, it just flows better in person because you can interact with them more naturally. I think I'm getting more out of working here because there are so many people working on their own craft like me, so I get to learn from them too."
Yuna's popularity in Malaysia ensured she was a big fish in a small pond, so now she's gotten accustomed to the opposite.
"You can feel a lot of pressure when you're looked at as a representative of your country," she muses. "And it's important not to give into that because it can take over the joy of making music. When you have people saying you're the best in Malaysia, it can go to your head, so I'm glad my parents have always reminded me that I have so much to learn and explore and it keeps me humble and focused on the real goal: making music."
Yuna also has some advice for all regional artists aspiring to a global career: "You can do it, as long as you can see yourself doing this 10 years down the road. Perform and use every available platform to promote yourself. Once your fans believe in you, it's them who'll get you to an international stage. It all starts from home."
The inaugural Neon Lights festival last year dazzled music and arts fans with its eclectic line-up that featured the likes of Damien Rice, Nile Rodgers, Daughter, Ride and more.
2016's edition is set to be a treat as well with Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros and English indie rockers Foals headlining alongside other established and upcoming acts such as Crystal Castles, Blood Orange, The Sugarhill Gang and more. Like last year, various home-grown talents including Gentle Bones, Cashew Chemists and Linying are in the line-up.
Neon Lights' festival director Declan Forde says: "We feel we are upping the ante with the range and quality of music acts in this year's festival, with a strong mix of international acts alongside the best new stars from the Singaporean indie scene."
- The two-day festival takes place at Fort Canning Park on Nov 26 and 27 from 2pm till late. For more ticketing details and full line-up, check www.neonlights.sg