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Kuok Meng Ru wants to buy 51% of Rolling Stone he doesn't own

[SINGAPORE] The 29-year-old founder of Singapore's BandLab Technologies Ltd said he wants to buy the 51 per cent of Rolling Stone he doesn't own, adding the world-famous brand to his growing global music business.

Kuok Meng Ru, a member of one of Asia's richest families, said he's in talks to take over the magazine after Jann Wenner put his controlling stake up for sale two months ago, relinquishing his hold on the publication he co-founded in San Francisco in 1967.

"We really believe in building on the legacy and making sure we continue the vision that Jann started," Mr Kuok said in an interview in Singapore. "That's why we got involved in the first place. We have a great relationship with the Wenners."

Like other consumer magazines, Rolling Stone has struggled with declining newsstand sales and an online advertising market dominated by Facebook and Google. Wenner Media, one of the last family owned American media companies, said in September it had hired Methuselah Advisors to explore a sale of the publication. US media has reported that three other bidders are also interested in buying Wenner's controlling stake.

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Mr Kuok acquired his 49 per cent holding last year after striking a deal with Gus Wenner, two years his junior and the heir apparent to a business built around his father's pop magazine. Mr Kuok then established Rolling Stone International to expand the brand abroad, including signing a license agreement with Japan's CCC Group to publish Rolling Stone in Japan.

Rolling Stone made its mark in the 1970s and 80s with cutting-edge music and political coverage. Gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson wrote for Mr Wenner for decades. The magazine's exposes included an 11,000-word story in 1974 on the transformation of heiress Patty Hearst from kidnapping victim to radicalised guerrilla.

Mr Kuok, the third child of Kuok Khoon Hong, co-founder of Wilmar International, the world's biggest palm-oil company, launched BandLab in 2016 as a social network for musicians and fans after graduating from Cambridge University with a mathematics degree.

Since then, the company has doubled its payroll to 80 and its BandLab app now has 2 million registered users making about 10 songs a minute, according to Mr Kuok.

BandLab has made a series of acquisitions, including Chew.tv, a London-based video streaming service for DJs, and Mono Creators Inc, a San Francisco-based company that makes high-end instrument cases. It has also developed products in Singapore to help people make and play music more easily using their mobile phones.

Mr Kuok said he wants to build a global music business. In 2012, he acquired Swee Lee, a 71-year-old distributor of guitars in Singapore, and added revamped stores, online merchandising and music lessons, turning it into the biggest distributor of instruments and audio equipment in Southeast Asia. He plans to launch a flagship Swee Lee store in Singapore on Monday that combines instruments, fashion, a music academy and a coffee shop.

"Music is our world," said Mr Kuok. "Everything we do is anchored around music."

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