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Indie scene rocks
Bringing music to all corners of S'pore
By Dylan Tan
LOCAL collective The Diarists likes to take its music outside - so far, it has organised concerts on rooftops, under flyovers, in back alleyways and, most recently, in living rooms.
"We're very particular about making sure the venues that we organise our shows in are peculiar and unconventional," states founder and Chief Diarist, Jeremy Lee, who adds that music gigs should not be limited to just what the mind perceives as an ideal performance space.
The 35-year-old thought long and hard about how best to present a series of gigs after listening to The Observatory's frontman Leslie Low's latest solo album, No Such Thing As Ghosts; before the idea of playing in intimate personal spaces as a way of letting the audience connect with the emotional depth of Low's material struck him.
That led to 17 "brave souls" opening up their homes and work spaces to The Diarists and the tour - aptly named Leslie Low (In The Living Room) - was conceived with 13 shows played in Singapore and four upcoming ones in Malaysia.
But choosing an unusual venue to stage a concert is much more than just a novel concept and the reality is it can present different challenges. More often than not, these spaces are not designed for music so sound quality can be compromised, though Lee says it also gives the performance a certain "realness".
Citing the example of Low's recent Living Room Tour, he adds: "The spaces themselves shape the sound and the different types of audiences influence Leslie's song selection . . . The beauty of it is that every show is so different, you could go to every single one and still take away something new from it, as I have."
Another challenge faced during that tour was getting guests to acknowledge that they weren't coming to house parties and helping some of the hosts overcome their initial shyness in explaining that a donation was required for entry.
"We managed to explain to the hosts that the tour had to be self-sustaining (so) they understood where we were coming from and everyone was happy with the arrangement," says Lee, a musician himself who performs solo under the moniker Hell Low and who works as a photographer and senior sub-editor (Pictures) at Reuters.
He adds that The Diarists was formed to help folk-inspired singer- songwriters find gigs because their introspective and quieter material might otherwise struggle to be heard in noisy bar venues. The name of the collective was inspired by a close friend who told the group that what they were doing was akin to keeping a musical diary of Singapore.
Initially, The Diarists embarked on open mic projects where newbies could cut their teeth performing before an audience in a "warm, accepting environment".
That has since evolved into different programmes including Verses, for promoting singers-songwriters; quiet is the new loud, where the lower-case title is deliberate and in tune with the quieter types of music being played; Sunday Folke, for folk music; as well as tours like Low's living room gigs.
"We set out to do small shows for good people and I think that will always be what we believe in; we want to help out the music scene on our little island in whatever small way we can . . . and we hope that this is something we'll be able to do till we die," Lee states.
Asked if The Diarists has achieved any milestone so far, he says: "It's been three years and we're still around - that's a milestone in Singapore."
Archiving milestones for a brighter future in Singa-pop
By Lisa Fratini
UP a flight of stairs, in a quiet and unsuspecting street in the heart of Kampong Glam, Singapore's first Museum of Independent Music is being established by a passionate duo who seek to preserve the rich history of local music.
The pair in question are Tarmizee Taksen and Anvea Chieu, founders of The Lithe Paralogue Studio, a space for artists and musicians to record their music, rehearse or simply play music together.
Using their own funds, they plan to expand their studio to incorporate a museum to showcase the best of what the Singapore music scene offered from the Sixties onwards.
"We've had this museum idea for a few years already. See, we have "five pillars" at Lithe Paralogue: Practice, Rehearse, Record, Perform, Promote. The museum really completes these five pillars," explains Taksen.
Opening in January 2015, the space will be used to display memorabilia, posters and the music of local talents. The aim is to educate the public and music lovers about the history of the Singapore music scene by creating different sections, such as one dedicated to the rise and fall of the Golden Era of Singaporean music in the Sixties.
There will also be an area where people can listen to the music of the artists on display at the museum.
It's not just passion that fuels this project; the pair also have practical experience to ensure everything runs smoothly. Taksen worked for museums like the Science Centre, creating exhibit prototypes; and Chieu is a guitarist for local band Yumi and who also freelances in her spare time as a digital imaging artist.
They have been active in the music scene since the early Noughties, and combined, they have organised more than 100 events and exhibitions at The Lithe Paralogue Studios.
Despite their experience, the pair also decided to set up a "council" to aid them in curating content, sourcing materials and collecting music for their museum.
"That would be a truer reflection of the music scene in Singapore (and) we also wanted to make sure we would be representing music from different genres, even if we don't necessarily enjoy listening to a certain type of music," reveals Taksen.
Their council members include artists and musicians who have dedicated themselves to cultivating the arts in Singapore, like music veteran Suhaimi Subandi of the band Stompin Ground, and artist and musician Bani Haykal, who is known for his cross-discipline art which incorporates sound and art.
The diversity that these council members represent is at the heart of what the studio aims to do. Chieu explains that their purpose is to bring together the usually separate genres of music in Singapore, creating a one-stop space for people to learn about the diverse kinds of local music.
In fact, as much as the project is about preserving the past, it's also about representing the current scene, and constructing a future for local music. The museum plans to showcase local contemporary music by staging performances and events, allowing a new generation of musicians to flourish and step into the lime light.
For more information and updates, visit www.facebook.com/moimsg
Curating a stage for newcomers
By Rachel Loi
LOCAL music scene veteran Kevin Matthews has a dream - he hopes Rolling Stone magazine will one day run a story on Singapore as the "coolest indie music scene on the planet".
Because "why not?", says the 53-year-old, who first joined the scene as part of The Watchmen back in 1989. "We must dream big. And we have very creative people, very talented people, so I really don't see why not."
Naturally, getting to that point will take a lot of work, but Matthews is definitely not all talk and no action. In fact, he currently helps the owners of Artistry cafe run two music programmes that serve as a platform for local indie bands to showcase their original music in a public space.
Says Matthews: "It's one thing to sing and write your songs in your bedroom or put it on YouTube, but it's different to test it out in front of a 'live' audience. The more times you play your song 'live', the more you develop a sense of what works and what doesn't."
The first of his two events is called Originals Sing, which happens on the second Wednesday of every other month at Artistry cafe. It started in January last year and features the music of two local acts who are relatively established in Singapore. Entry to the show costs $10, and this is split between the two acts - which for this month's upcoming show are singer-songwriters The Little Giant, and Jaime Wong.
The second event is Stagefright, which takes place at the same venue every alternate month. Unlike Originals Sing, this free-entry show is targeted at aspiring songwriters who want a chance to get used to performing on stage.
"My agenda is promoting and developing original music in Singapore. I think there's not enough emphasis on songwriting as a craft here," explains Matthews.
"I think we need more local original songs. I don't just mean National Day songs, which are good of course, but songs about what it's like to live in Singapore."
According to him, one of the key things bands must learn to master is the Internet - namely social media as an avenue for marketing, promotion and distribution. This is because while their predecessors had to rely on record labels to get their music out there, bands todays can gain a following on their own by being proactive on sites like YouTube or Bandcamp.
But it's also a double-edged sword, he warns, because that means the industry is now more competitive, and the pool of fans needs to grow in order for more artists to sustain a career in music. Which is why he believes that "the artist lives or dies on their ability to bring people in", he says.
Still, Matthews remains positive and notes that while a lot more has to be done for local indie music to become mainstream, the scene is heading in the right direction for his dream to come true, as more young artists are demonstrating their ability to build their own fan bases.
"I feel that sometimes the approach is cart before horse - you can't think of things like money first, it doesn't work that way," says Matthews. "You've got to think of building the fan base, building the music, building the distribution channels, and once you have all those things then hopefully the money comes in."