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Homegrown acts in the spotlight
Changing musical direction pays off for budding R&B diva
SAM Rui doesn't want to be on the main stage of Laneway.
"I'm way too rookie for that," protests the up-and-coming homegrown R&B-soul-pop diva, whose single Better recently shot to the top of music-streaming service Spotify's Singapore Viral 50 charts.
Rui is being slightly modest, to be honest, considering how quickly her star is rising - just four years ago, Laneway was the first music festival she ever attended; next weekend, she'll be sharing the stage with the likes of Nick Murphy (ex-Chet Faker), NAO, Aurora, Tycho and more.
But the reality also is that the spunky 21-year-old has worked hard to re-invent herself.
Gone is the 16-year-old covering indie pop tunes on YouTube; in its place is a confident and sultry young R&B siren who is getting ready to put out her debut EP of self-written material soon.
"I was hoping to release it next month but pushed it back slightly ... It's my first record so I don't want to rush it," she explains.
Expect a preview at the upcoming Laneway gig but a taster can also be heard from the first single Better, which incidentally comes accompanied with a slick and slightly risque music video - the one with the "brothel lighting" - which Rui also stars in and has raked up over 27,000 views and counting so far on her YouTube channel.
Her father wasn't happy about it when her grandmother, of all people, stumbled upon it.
"(My family) sat down in my grandmother's living room and streamed it; they didn't know what hit them because nobody knew about it," Rui laughs, before adding in a more serious tone: "But they also know I'm not like that in real life."
She adds that the song was written during a low point in her life when she was very heart-broken and the video wasn't exposing skin for the sake of it: "I didn't deliberately make it raunchy - (it's about) the darker side of relationships - I'm not trying to stir controversy."
Instead, Rui adds that her brand of R&B comes straight from her heart: "I'm a very emotional writer and a young adult (so my feelings can be) quite volatile ... I'm not just writing songs that are trendy."
The past year has been a whirlwind one for her. She played her biggest gig to date (then) when she opened for The Sam Willows in front of a crowd of 2,500 last July, before the offer for the Laneway slot came along. Her songs have also had airplay both locally and overseas.
2017 is set to be as busy with the upcoming show, followed by the EP release and then Rui's first overseas performance - so much so that the psychology undergraduate is putting her studies on hold. "I just love music and didn't expect to turn it into a career," adds the determined singer-songwriter. "But with all this happening now, I'm going to try and make the most out of it."
Veterans make a timely comeback
BANDS that get a spot on the Laneway bill are typically up-and-coming acts but Astreal is an exception.
Formed in 1992, there is a chance some of the younger punters at the festival next weekend probably weren't even born yet when the shoegaze dream-pop band, originally named Breed, first got together.
But given the recent revival of the genre - and pioneering acts like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver all mounting comebacks - Astreal's inclusion this year is definitely more than relevant.
There have been several line-up changes through the decades and guitarist Muhammad Alkhatib is the only founding member left.
Acknowledging its veteran status on this year's line-up, singer-bassist Ginette Chittick says the band was "surprised and flattered" when offered the chance to play Laneway.
Keyboardist Jason Ang and drummer Joseph Chian are the other current members of Astreal.
The timing couldn't be any better as the group is also releasing its first album in 10 years, Light, at the same time - vinyl copies will specially go on sale next Saturday at the festival.
Asked what prompted the return to the studio, Chittick replies: "I guess we had all these songs we wrote and if they aren't recorded, do they exist? So we thought it'd be such a waste (not to put it on tape)."
Fans might be surprised by the new material though, as she adds they are "happier and more uplifting" and not as dark, menacing and unsettling as their first two albums OuijaBlush (1997) and Fragments Of The Same Dead Star (2006).
The 40-year-old explains that the change in mood comes from the members now being at a different stage of life.
"It's hard to write about miserable love songs when we're happy," points out Chittick, whose Instagram account paints a picture of rocker-mum chic and bliss.
Originally planned as a four-track EP, Light grew into a full album as the band found its songwriting mojo quickly after heading into the studio last year.
All this despite their busy schedules and day jobs - Chittick, for instance, is a lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts, a tapestry weaving artist and "sometimes a fashion-and-bag designer".
"We think if you want to do something, you just have to make time for it but I've been lucky because I have a really supportive family.The band has been cool and understanding towards my situation (as a mum) so they will come over and record at my place," quips Chittick.
Despite playing in many festivals both in Singapore and overseas over the years, Astreal is not taking the upcoming Laneway show for granted.
"We're jamming a lot - more than ever in our lives - and practising our rock poses ... by gazing at our shoes," chuckles Chittick.
When asked what has kept the band together for so long, she suggests half-jokingly: "We're not ambitious - ambition drives people apart!"
Accidental superband with unique sound
OVER the past year, T-Rex has caused a bit of a stir on the local music scene with its impressive "live" act.
It's not just how the four members switch from one instrument to another effortlessly on stage but their genre-defying mix of prog-rock, metal, post-rock, psychedelia, funk, stoner rock and jazz is also not something one hears every day.
To think their formation two years ago was purely accidental. "Our drummer (Junaidi Kusnong) was in Lasalle doing a music degree and for his final recital, he had to put a band together to be graded," shares bassist Axel Serik. "So he got (guitarist Ahmad Khaliq) and me to play; and after that, we thought that would be it."
Instead, offers to play more gigs came along and the group - then a trio but now officially a quartet with saxophonist Bryan De Rozario - closed last year's local music festival Baybeats to critical acclaim.
The rest is history.
"We really didn't plan to go anywhere with this project (beyond the recital) but everything just started happening," quips Axel.
T-Rex, incidentally, is a superband with its members hailing from local post-rock groups Anechois, Sphaeras and Amateur Takes Control.
But Axel says T-Rex is anything but a side-project - especially since the members of their individual bands are currently tied up with other commitments like studies.
This has allowed the four of them to jam together at least once a week.
"If we're not playing shows, we're writing," adds the 25-year-old who works as an administrator in a music school at which he also teaches in. "T-Rex is going to be permanent because (the music) is really growing on us."
The group's upcoming Laneway gig will coincide with the release of its debut four-track EP titled Volume 1, which is currently being pressed on vinyl format.
But don't expect them to faithfully replicate the studio versions "live" because T-Rex loves nothing more than experimenting and going with the flow.
"It will be different from the vinyl," says Axel, when asked about the band's Laneway set. "We tend to follow the jazz (tradition of improvising) because of our drummer."
When asked if they have plans to recruit a vocalist, Axel replies that they will consider it if the right candidate comes along.
Referring to De Rozario joining the band, he explains: "That's where the saxophone actually comes in - in a way our saxophonist is the vocalist!"