Man at His Best

Opinion: Made-In-Singapore Music Is Enjoying A Heyday At This Moment

Earnst Moodi reminds us to celebrate what's great about the Singapore music scene.

BY Earnst Moodi | Apr 4, 2016 | Music

“Everything we do is music.”—John Cage


I’m not preaching from the mount when I say that Made in Singapore music is enjoying a heyday at this moment in time. No, I’m not singing of a new Rome. That would be exhausting—and lazily hyperbolic. Neither is this a dew-drenched account of the collision between locally produced music and my own—allegedly—tender susceptibility. What I’m talking about is that we’ve finally reached a point in the still-underway journey of local music where we can say, “Making music here is no longer a Sisyphean undertaking. Things are good now and they’ll get better”. Here’s why.


What a time to be alive

One of the most tangible reflections of local music’s pink health is the significant increase in the number of homegrown musicians releasing their work into the ether. This is symptomatic of the ease that technology has afforded to every aspect of modern life. Streaming services have democratised the landscape, and as Hyder Albar, co-founder of Invasion SG, a market research and development house dedicated to making the consumption of local music the norm, opines, Singapore, “being one of the most hyper-connected and hyper-networked countries in the world”, has ample resources for musicians to make and release music.

And musicians fully concur. “There’s no problem if you want to make music. These days, the barrier of entry is pretty low”, says Wang Wei Yang, frontman of the excellent rock ’n’ roll band Monster Cat, who also makes leftfield electronic music under the solo guise YLLIS. It’s not a stretch to say that you can now announce yourself to the world via a SoundCloud account, as much as you can make an album in your bedroom if you’re so inclined.

Also, for younger musicians, help is readily available. SG50 means our local arts scene has had some years to develop; veterans are now in a position to lend their expertise and experience to the field’s new entrants. As local producer Isa Foong aka blankverse will tell you, “The OGs are more than willing to give advice and hear you out.” Foong, also the soundscapist for genre-clashing experimental outfit sub:shaman, cites Kiat and Cherry Chan, founders of seminal local label and audiovisual collective Syndicate, as luminaries who are guiding the next wave of local artists.


A local mainstream

We actually have one now: a facet of local music that is indisputably mass market and ubiquitous. Folk sensations The Sam Willows and Gentle Bones, and rapper ShiGGa Shay belong to a class of musician-celebrities that inhabit a space in local pop culture that did not exist before. Besides product endorsements, some of these A-listers have enjoyed exposure in feature films, testifying to their high value as cultural exponents. To Albar, this phenomenon has been a long time coming, and is deeply encouraging. “Each time a local band peaks, enough interest is aroused such that the next rising star peaks higher,” he says. Whether or not they will attain the breakout status of Pharrell-certified Malaysian chanteuse Yuna isn’t the point here. What matters is that, on the homefront, the extent of their visibility and appeal is path lighting.

Better yet, beyond their pin-up worthiness, their music is gaining a foothold with local audiences. Consider this: in June, Gentle Bones will play a sold-out show at the 1,800-seat Esplanade Concert Hall. Demand is so great that there’s now a second show the day after. Singer-songwriter Inch Chua proffers, “We are experiencing a renaissance now. I do believe it. We’re part of an industry that’s going to write the folk songs of the future.”


The next next-level

Apropos of local music, there is one historical trope that persists till today. So much of the musical output here has been patently leftfield, decidedly unconventional, boundary-torching stuff, and this continues to hold true. The confluence of connectivity, technology and a heightened exposure to more revolutionary sounds and approaches has made it that much easier for more alt-minded musicians to surface. Like many, Foong is impressed with what he is hearing and seeing: “There’s this dynamic in our scene where there’s constantly new things coming out, new faces making their mark.” Creation begets creation; there’s a lot that’s being brought to the table, and there’s much to be excited about.

There’s one feat in local music that blew me away recently: the Huh F**k Another Beat Tape EP by one of the not-so-little-anymore red dot’s most exciting beat-makers, Faxue. Together with rap trio Mediocre Haircut Crew, he repurposed tunes by ’60s Singaporean musicians into boom bapping rap gold, all in the span of 24 hours. This is an unprecedented addition to our trove of national treasures.


Big Brother cares

Local music is a multi-faceted enterprise where government and the media weigh in heavily. Today, the involvement of those two interlinked forces is refreshingly collaborative. Once under the purview of the Media Development Authority, music is now a portfolio of the National Arts Council, which has a slew of grants to help musicians get their work out. A cursory look at their website reveals nine grants open to artists of various needs and disciplines. 

Beyond more dollars and cents, local music also finds support in media outlets whose interest in the various scenes are palpable. With Lush 99.5FM, local music is now assured a deserving place in the airwaves. This means that if you’re a local musician, wanting to hear your song on the radio is no longer a pipedream. You don’t even have to pick up indie publications to read about underground local acts. They can now be found in the pages of The Straits Times along with whatever else the powers that be want you to be clued in on.

In a broad sense, this is the lay of the land. There’s no one place in the world where artists have it easy. It’s the same in Singapore. But we must remember to celebrate what’s great about what we’ve got. The rest will follow.

From Esquire Singapore's April 2016 issue.