I will be giving a 90 mins talk on the late great David Bowie on February 11th. In this talk, I will be covering three main areas viz. A summary of the highlights of Bowie’s musical career with emphasis on the 70s, a quick look into Bowie’s work in movies and TV & Bowie’s legacy.
Since the late 80s, there have been numerous pronouncements of the death of rock ’n’ roll. Each time, the prophets of doom have been proven wrong – the 1990s with the rise of Nirvana and the 2000s with the Strokes and the post-punk revival. But I sincerely fear that 2016 might be the year that time is called on the former institution known as rock ’n’ roll.
Perhaps it is the death of David Bowie that has depressed me to such an extent that this doomsday scenario now becomes a reality. But just look at the Billboard Top 20 singles and you will realise that rock ’n’ roll is completely absent. I have also been analysing the acts on Laneway Singapore 2016 and bar the rare exception (like Cashew Chemists), again there are no bands playing rock ’n’ roll!
This realisation has also aided in my decision to quit as a solo performer, whether live or in the studio – and focus on other aspects in my life. My main pre-occupation in music will be as a journalist and hopefully, as a curator and mentor. That is the only way I can see myself making a contribution. My music as a solo artist has no fucking significance whatsoever. Time to move on then.
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Every year is an opportunity to learn more, to do more good work and to help more people. Personally, every year also provides circumstances designed to mould me into the person that I should be & to deny the impulses that years of genetic and social conditioning have brought about.
In that respect, 2015 was a very good year. No, I am not quite a success yet – not in the eyes of the world anyways but I am content that I managed to connect with the ‘right’ people & forged meaningful relationships.
The only constant is change and I am thankful for the learned ability to adapt to the twists and turns that life will inevitably throw my way. What is crucial are the thoughts and behaviour that I am able to muster.
I have come to terms with who I am and my place in the world and the freedom that affords is priceless. I see 2016 as a unique challenge to push myself further outside of my comfort zone, overcoming my fears, acknowledging my flaws and being the best person I can be, for the benefit of others.
Happy new year, everyone!
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Emotions. It’s part of being human.
We urge the Organisers of Countdown 2016 to recognize and respect the values of the majority of Singapore that has voiced its desire to preserve our nation’s moral fibre.
The above is from a petition to stop American singer Adam Lambert from performing at Countdown 2016. Amongst the objections, are the fact that Lambert is gay and his shows are sexually charged.
Sorry but I am not in a good mood. A few days ago I tried to get feedback about whether people saw me as a singer-songwriter or music journalist first. It was clear that most of the responses were very much based on the age of the responder. The older the person, the more they thought of me as a singer-songwriter first. That’s the problem. In the last year or so, the folks in charge of the media and venues are generally younger – maybe 18 to 35 – and in their book, I am a music journalist full stop. Thus, in the entire year, I have not been invited to perform ANYWHERE! The only shows I have done I have had to organise myself – the Present Sense launches. Is my creative life over at 55? Do these people think of me as an irrelevance? Sad to think that this is true. Fact is the only time folks contact me is to get me to publicise something they are doing – so yeah, I guess that’s the way folks look at me – as a writer, a journalist. Not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but I’d like to think that my life as a singer-songwriter is not over! Is it???
BigO (Before I Get Old) was a self-styled indie magazine that existed in print form from about 1985 to 2003 (give or take). Founded by Michael and Philip Cheah (with Stephen Tan) from the ashes of the Singapore Monitor, the magazine would be a major pop culture force in Singapore in the 1990s. Though it still exists online, its influence in local culture has been deliberately curtailed for reasons unknown.
Having been a recording artist for over 20 years, it’s interesting to observe the changes especially in the area of marketing and promotion of a new release. Signed to Odyssey Records for my first two releases with Watchmen, the label took care of all the marketing and to their credit, did manage to get good press for both Democracy and Love. No internet back then of course, so everything was in print – newspapers & magazines, or over the air – radio & TV. Fair to say, I was featured all over the place back then – not young by any means but still, someone in their early 30s was acceptable to the media.
It was not till the two Popland albums viz. Groovy (1998) and Action! (2001) that one began to see the influence of the internet. Still there were no streaming music or videos, so it was very much text & image based. But this at least allowed me to get media coverage from overseas, in fact, Action! was released by a San Francisco indie label and had US distribution and ads were placed in various indie rock publications of the time, with attendant reviews as well. The good ol’ days.
Ever since I started releasing music in my own name (2013), getting media attention has been really difficult. It doesn’t help that most media (local or otherwise) see you as irrelevant. These journalists tend to be very very young (late teens even) and for them, someone in their 40s/50s making music is difficult for them to comprehend – it’s like asking them to visualise their own parents acting in a ‘childish’ way. This tension and discomfort results in these journalists either (1) totally ignoring someone like me or (2) write reviews that reference my age constantly as evidence of my obsolescence.
But that’s to be expected, I guess and I accept that as part of the deal. After all, it’s entirely my choice to release music at my age and worse, send them to music blogs (etc) for their assessment.
Despite all this, I feel even more challenged to keep making music to the best of my ability and will continue to do so, no matter what. It’s more about the music and less about what people think.
Of course, it is always nice to have people appreciate your music but I am not going to change the way I do things, just because certain people don’t…
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It has been a long & winding road to reach this point in my life.
22 years since I released my first album with Watchmen back in August 1993 and numerous albums later, I believe that Present Sense is probably my best ever. Why do I make that assessment? Mainly because this has probably been the most hands-off I have ever been about the making of an album. And I was blessed to be working with amazingly talented artists, who poured out their immense creativity to grant vitality to my humble songs.
Back in the early 90s, I was deeply envious of Pat – he seemed to have everything I wanted in terms of a music life. A number one single, a great debut LP and a breakthrough into the public consciousness of Singaporeans – The Oddfellows were the first Singapore band to accomplish that in 30 years! But when I got to know him, I realised that he was much more than his accomplishments – his humility, grace & generosity touched me immensely. Pat was never far away from being a part of the music since then – whether it be working on “Orchard Road” for New School Rock III, on the Love EP or playing second guitar in Popland on numerous gigs. Some of you might already know this but two to three years ago, Pat pushed me to record again – after a hiatus of about four years – and so we did, in his home studio (and the now defunct Thom’s Loft) and the ultimate result was Emo FASCISM (September 2013) – and that got the juices going again with #alpacablues barely six months later. With Present Sense, I wanted to keep my arrangement ideas to a bare minimum – with Pat not only recording but co-producing this time out, especially with his rhythmic contributions. But where Pat is now truly deadly is his mixing and mastering – which in my opinion is second to none. I am always amazed by how he puts everything together post-recording and I never fail to be impressed.
I have to thank ex-head honcho of Pony Canyon Singapore, Jimmy Wee, for introducing me to Ray. I was looking for a drummer in the mid-90s and Ray turned out to be a perfect fit! Like Pat, Ray is a veritable local music legend – having played with numerous top local bands. Ray played drums on the three Popland releases viz. Groovy, Action! and the Camouflage EP. But it’s his infectious enthusiasm that is always a joy – it is impossible not to be buoyed by his seemingly boundless energy, even after all these years. For Present Sense, Ray came in for a day’s session at Leonard Soosay’s Snakeweed Studios (thanks to Daniel Sassoon) and finished 8 songs in 4 hours! Listening to the album, one would be unable to tell for sure! I feel privileged that twenty years later, we are still making groovy music together!
Nelson is a pure talent – he can do anything related to music. Music is his life and again, he plays in numerous bands and excels in each and every one. Nelson is a constant reminder to me that my music is not about sales or recognition but about the potential impact on people. When I finally sat down to have a serious chat with him, Nelson confessed to being a fan and shared that listening to the Democracy album as a 12 year old was one of the reasons he become a musician. Mind blown. How was that even possible? Far beyond anything I could have expected or imagined! It is an honour to be working with Nelson – apart from his wondrous bass playing – his passion and commitment to his craft and even to my songs – is an encouragement to keep going!
I first met Josh in 2007, when I interviewed his band The Fire Fight as part of Power of Pop’s Baybeats Festival coverage that year. Suffice to say, I have been a big fan of Josh and the band for its short lifetime and it was a memorable moment for me to share the stage with them on their farewell show in 2010 on “Train Song” (my favourite FF track). Present Sense was the first time collaborating together on the music and it was a revelation. Josh spent hours working on the guitar parts and his blood, sweat and tears are clearly evident on every track! Especially with “Magic” and “I walked away”, he made these songs his own, somehow tapping into the essence of my own artistic vision and painting in new vibrant colours! He is the soul of Present Sense – without Josh, Present Sense would not be what it is – my best album thus far!
Honourable mentions must also go to Eileen Chai for her stellar violin work on “Nothing Else” and “I walked away” and of course the voiceovers provided by Esther Low, James Khoo and X’ho.
Tonight, I will play the main bulk of Present Sense together with The Groovy People at The Barber Shop by Timbre in what might be my final show with the band for 2015. So I hope if you are free this Public Holiday eve you will make your way down and share this special occasion with us. The wonderfully talented melodic pop-rock band SUASION will be our guests, so please get there by 8pm.
Present Sense is out now at iTunes & streaming at rdio.com. I would greatly appreciate your support.
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Present Sense started life as a germ of an idea earlier this year. I put together a rough lineup of songs written in the last couple of years and as I did so, I noticed that there was a story unfolding before my eyes. Which is why Present Sense ended up being a loose concept album of sorts. I don’t want to explain the story too much but it is imperative that you listen to the album in its entirety to get the full impact. Suffice to say that there are certain auto-biographical aspects but at its core it’s fiction.
I was very fortunate to be able to benefit from the contributions of Joshua Tan (The Fire Fight, A Vacant Affair) on electric guitars, Nelson Tan (In Each Hand a Cutlass) on bass and my old friend Ray Aziz (too many bands to mention!) on drums. In addition, Eileen Chai also provided gorgeous violins on two songs. To embellish the storytelling, I also managed to add voiceovers from Esther Low, James Khoo and X’Ho to the mix as well. But the biggest credit must go to my partner-in-crime Patrick Chng (That Locked Door studio) who co-produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the album brilliantly. In addition, special thanks must go out to Daniel Sassoon and Leonard Soosay (Snakeweed Studios) for making the drums recording possible. Last but not least, an appreciation to film maker Tzang Merwyn Tong for his assistance with the lettering design seen on the album cover.
So we are here. Present Sense is now available for pre-orders at iTunes with a download of “Vancouver Gurls”. The album itself will be released digitally worldwide by KAMCO Music on 11th September. I will support the release (with The Groovy People) with two shows in September viz. at Artistry Cafe on 18th September (tickets available from Peatix) and at Barbershop by Timbre on 23rd September (free admission).
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What is this thing we call “Singapore”?
Is it the government? Is it the natural aristocracy? Or is it the people that live within its boundaries, whether citizens or not? I don’t really know, to be honest. And I don’t really care. Singapore (or Singapura) is a country that has existed for centuries – named and founded by Sang Nila Utama in 1299! Yes boys and girls, more than 50 years ago. Well, of course, Singapore is more than 50 years old, I will be 55 next February and my birth certificate clearly states my birthplace as Singapore….
Well, we are often told during National Day Parades that Singapore is ‘home’ as that simplistic Dick Lee propaganda piece goes and 50 years of social engineering has basically made us believe that Singapore is whatever the ruling party wants us to believe. AND those of us who do our utmost best to keep our minds clean from this indoctrination year in year out are fully aware of the implications of not towing the line – the paranoia ingrained in every fibre of our being to shy away from any enterprise that involves a modicum of risk.
Even in conversations with my dear late Dad, he would admonish me whenever I started ranting about politics – “be careful what you say in public” – he would always warn. Of course, my father – part of the so-called pioneer generation – could never understand the relative freedom of the internet and could only respond based on his observations of the 60s and the 70s, when the ruling party tightened their grip on every aspect of Singaporean life.
But it’s not the 60s or 70s anymore is it? Surely, the passing of 50 years should mean that it is time for Singapore to change – and not just superficially, in terms of infrastructure and buildings – but the very social contract that has been obediently complied with. It’s a vastly different world in 2015 from that in which Singapore split from Malaysia, and as a people, Singapore must rise up to the ideals stated in our pledge – “one united people”, “democratic society”, “justice and equality” and “happiness, prosperity and
progress” – not mere aspirations but concrete reality.
That to me, is what Singapore must become. Time for a change, my brothers and sisters…
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Why a course on writing about rock music? Can’t folks simply find out online? Well, by the same token, why go to school then? Might as well learn everything online! Well, of course, I am being facetious but believe me, I have heard these arguments before… To be honest, apart from wanting to act entrepreneurial-like (and hopefully make some money), I really wanted to be able to share the knowledge and experience I have amassed from almost 40 years of listening to music (and over 20 years of writing about it!). Cuz the fact is that most music writers in Singapore don’t really know that much about what they are writing about so, I have felt the pressing need to do this. The challenge, of course, is to convince folks that they need to spend $300 to improve their writing when most of their readers might not have any clue about what good and effective music writing even looks like! In any case, I think ultimately it will be a fun time for everyone involved and so why not spend 4 Saturday afternoons with yours truly? Write in to email@example.com to sign up!
Definitely something I’ve wanted to do for a long long time! This is my dream – to get remunerated for talking about rock music!! It’s going to be a blast.
Although targeted at music writers/bloggers, I believe that much of the content of this course will be relevant for anyone working or aspiring to work in the music industry.
So please write in to kamcomusic AT gmail DOT com to sign up. I will be waiting for you! Thanks in advance.
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Just realised that I haven’t done one of these for some time now.
So where am I? Caught between life’s necessities and the ‘luxuries’ of following your own dreams. And even in the latter case, trying hard to be true to myself.
Over half of the year has gone by and I am putting together a brand new album of songs that conceptualise somewhat the lessons I have learned in the past five years.
I say somewhat because the concept behind Present Sense is not really autobiographical but definitely my own life experiences have inspired the story that will unfold when one listens to the new music.
As always, I keep my expectations as low as possible. Even if the local music scene begins to build higher expectations, I remind myself that my relative advance age will always be a prejudicial factor in the scheme of things. Hard to swallow perhaps, but a hard truth nonetheless. Coupled with utter lack of appreciation for the arts that continues to plague our society, it’s a constant battle against the odds.
I still hear flattering things about my so-called status within the music scene but the reality hardly bears that out. Mostly, what I find is disrespect and even worse, a flat-out cold shouldering. I try not to dwell on these things – these are facts – but that doesn’t lessen the hurt.
For the brave few true friends I am thankful and comfort myself with their support – you know who you are. Present Sense is a tribute to you all.
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My continuing misadventures as a failed musician in art-adverse Singapore where cover bands rule the music landscape.
Against all common sense, I am recording a new album to be released in September. Look, I will be a senior citizen very soon and my name isn’t Dick Lee or Jeremy Monteiro, so who the fuck in this recovering cultural desert would want to listen to my music?
It gets worse when one tries to talk to venues about playing gigs to promote the new album. Most of the venues here exclusively feature cover bands and if you want to ‘use’ their venue to launch your album then expect an exorbitant charge!
To be fair, there are venues that do (on a regular consistent basis) support a Singapore artist playing his own music but you can probably count them on one hand – Artistry Cafe, Hood Bar & Cafe, Timbre outlets, the Esplanade and the Hard Rock Cafe!
For most of these venues, there is no payment involved for playing – simply because there is no grassroots support for music made in Singapore. That unfortunately is still a fact. I can appreciate the venue owners’ dilemma, I really do. It’s already amazing that these platforms even exist!
Thus, I do not perform regularly. For my ‘layman’ friends, this is hard to understand. The usual query is ‘where do you play?’ but the reality is ‘NOWHERE’. Unless it’s an annual string of dates for an EP/album launch, it is impossible for me to get a gig!
Which is why I cringe whenever people describe me as a ‘legend’ – what a fucking joke!?!? More like a ‘failed musician’ is the stark reality. Is this your musical legacy, Singapore? Don’t be mistaken, I am not griping for the sake of it, I accept the way things are and do my best (which isn’t much) to change things.
But what I will continue to do is to make music. So, I will release my new album – Present Sense – in September and will play a couple of gigs in support (with The Groovy People). I really wish I could play my music all year round but that, dear readers, is just not possible, unless something changes.
And that is up to you. Not the Government, not SGMUSO, not The Musicians Guild, but YOU, the music fan. The scene is what you make of it – if all you want are singing contests & cookie cutter cover bands, then good luck to you all….
*thanks to Keith Tan (Obedient Wives Club) for the phrase.
How seriously should we take what a person posts on social media? Well, if it’s something interpreted as seditious in the eyes of the law, very seriously but what about something short of that measure? I have been guilty myself of posting irrational emotional rants on social media when I allowed heart to rule over head but I am not talking about that. I am talking about the offensive Facebook comment or Tweet that is coldly calculated to offend.
Most recent examples of course, are the online reactions to a video of the controversial Youtuber Amos Yee being slapped by an unidentified stranger. The fact that there are ‘keyboard warriors’ who are cheering on this assault as some form of vigilante justice is bewildering no doubt but is there more to this that meets the eye? Do these commentators wilfully commit these indecent acts as a means of rebellion – a way to transcend their pathetic, mundane existence and get public attention well beyond their normal means?
Surely, in a face-to-face situation, most of these ‘trolls’ would probably not dare to fire a verbal shot in anger but emboldened by the apparent lack of accountability for a social media comment, take the plunge without any thought of the consequences. It just comes too easy. I sometimes think that responding with some kind of admonishment of this kind of anti-social behaviour serves no other purpose than to egg these ‘trolls’ on. I believe the best medicine is to cut off the attention the ‘trolls’ craved, deny them the glare of the public spotlight and they might simply wither away.
Hey yeah, it’s me again. So how are you enjoying the all-new, all-different Power of Pop? What’s that? You didn’t notice anything new or different about the site?
Well, yes and no. As promised, I have taken the writing onto a more personal level – so superficially you’re going to see more ‘I’s instead of ‘we’s – but also moving on I intend to express more of an opinion about things that matter to me. No more sitting on the fence and being politically correct. I mean, it’s not as if I have a huge audience to potentially offend and lose! 🙂
But seriously folks, at the start of this new week, I am feeling excited about this new direction and I hope that you will give me the feedback necessary to make whatever adjustments needed to improve things around here.
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Now, some of you dear faithful readers are aware that Power of Pop is a labour of love for me. Coming out from more than five years writing for BigO (Before I Get Old) magazine and attempting to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the internet, I launched my own reviews webzine in the late 90s. I was fortunate enough to get support from a couple of independent record labels from the USA(viz. Not Lame, Jam), which specialised in the melodic rock genre, called ‘power pop’. Thus was born Power of Pop! Geddit?
Ever since BigO stopped publication in the early 2000s, I had tried to figure out the best way to present the webzine and it was always been difficult to keep things consistent in order to get any commercial traction. Along the way, I wrote for many other magazines – both online and print – before revamping completely in 2008. This coincided with a renewed commitment to cover the Singapore indie music scene – I both the domain name powerofpop.com and engaged a web designer to arrange Power of Pop into a WordPress ‘blog’ of sorts. I had entertained certain notions that I should consider Power of Pop a commercial entity, took on external writers and tried to increase web traffic. But I lacked the stamina or the will to feature pop music entertainers that I felt were not making artistic music worthy of my time and effort. In recent times, Singapore blogs and webzines have emerged to fill in the gap in music coverage that once was too evident. This blogs/webzines have even started giving more attention to local music as well! Which brings me more or less to 2015.
Where does Power of Pop now stand in the scheme of things? Purely for my self-amusement, I think. One of the rules of music journalism is to be objective and to write in the third person. I believe that in order to move forward, Power of Pop is going to be more personal, more idiosyncratic, presenting my individual taste in music, film, comics, books etc. Musings about pop culture from my unique perspective. So yet another re-invention of my almost two decades old vanity project is on the cards. Hope some of you will stick around! Thanks for your support, always!
By the time I really got into rock music (at age 13), the Beatles were over. It was 1974 and though live rock music was banned in Singapore, it didn’t stop us delinquent youth from discovering the music that would keep me alive & kicking for the rest of my life. Abbey Road – the band’s final opus – was the first Beatles LP I ever owned. I believe it was a gift from my sister Melinda. To this date, Abbey Road is my 2nd favourite Beatles LP, after the White Album. The medley from Side Two is unforgettable – I remember jamming the songs constantly with my first band – it was magical. From “You Never Give Me Your Money” to “The End”, it encapsulated the wonder of the Fab Four even as they were making plans beyond the group. There will never be another pop group like The Beatles ever again. Amen.
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It’s a bit surreal to be writing about these KAMCO Music re-issues. Simply because both releases came out more than 20 years ago! It’s seems unreal to think that two decades later, I am able to make them available to the world in a manner that was impossible in 1993/1994. Does the world really need these re-issues, probably not but it’s not about that. Rather it’s more about the historical significance of these releases in the context of my life and that of the Singapore music scene.
For me personally, as a musician who grew up in 70s Singapore when rock ‘n’ roll was suppressed by the authorities, it was difficult to conceive of a local music scene that would accept my original music but thankfully that happened in the early 90s (in my early thirties) with Democracy and Love. That scene now appears to be light years away from where we stand now – and thank GOD for that too! Listening to the music now brings upon me waves of nostalgia and if any of this resonates with you then you can head on down to the various links below and I appreciate your support for all these years.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the kind souls who helped to make Democracy and Love whatever they might mean to folks now – Tony Makarome, Patrick Chng, Ben Harrison, BOSS Studios, Odyssey Records and of course, Eric Khoo.
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