I have no clue what band competitions/auditions are like overseas but in Singapore’s indie music scene, ‘emo’ has been the genre of choice for many of our young musicians in the last five years. However, unlike musicians in other countries, Singapore’s young musicians are rather sheltered, with a very limited range of musical influences. This is not their fault, as social engineering and an education system that rewards rote-learning over critical thinking have made our young people apathetic towards an appreciation of the history of the arts and music. (That and silly youtube videos!)
The annual Baybeats Festival has been a barometer of what’s hip and cool within the Singapore indie music scene for the last decade or so and has introduced many promising young bands to the music scene through its auditions process, which presents eight young bands to opportunity to play at the Festival on equal footing. I was privileged to have been a judge and mentor for Baybeats 2009 and Baybeats 2010 (together with Daniel Sassoon, Jon Chan and Amanda Ling). In those two years, ‘emo’ bands would perhaps account for the majority of the hopefuls at the auditions and my own personal take on this saturated ‘genre’ is that unless you are better than West Grand Boulevard and Caracal – two of the top ‘emo’ bands in Singapore – then you are not going to go very far.
This year, I spent the day with my Esplanade Youth Budding Music Writers as we covered the Baybeats Auditions 2012 together. At the end of the Auditions, I felt overall that the standard of the performances was generally very good but in terms of songwriting and arrangements, much work still needed to be done. Also, the ‘genres’ were more spread out evenly and I think this would be the case when the results are finally announced.
There were only two recognizable ‘emo’ bands at the Auditions viz. Summerstate and Andrew Sane. Whilst I felt that the efforts were honest and heartfelt, the ‘emo’ style is fast becoming jaded and the bands were not able to make the crucial connection. Pop-punk is the other popular ‘genre’ with the kids and on this count, we had Attention! The New Portsdown, Godzilla and Dropbeat Heartbeat. All three were very tight and dynamic although tunes were formulaic (my chief beef with pop-punk) and again, the risk of sounding ‘like every else’ always prominent. Two of my RP students (Matin and Ro) are part of Dropbeat Heartbeat and I personally thought the band did a good job within the context of what they were trying to achieve – sharpen the songwriting/arrangements and the band will be much stronger.
For me, the standout bands were the ones who did just that – stand out from the crowd. So the likes of Cashew Chemists, Obedient Wives Club, Pep Talk and Anechois had in their own way, delivered different takes of the pop-rock spectrum – with greater emphasis on songwriting than their peers managed to achieve – which makes all the difference. So I am sure you can guess where I am going with this. It is important to master your instrument and to rehearse regularly but without good songwriting (which includes arranging skills), it’s tougher to make an impression. Now, with respect to the metalcore/screamo ‘genres’ where vocals are hard to discern and music is presented in a dense block of sound, and it’s difficult to tell the difference between songs, the bands often depend on showmanship to win over their audiences. In this category, we had Monsters in Living Flesh, Embrace These Ghosts and A Town in Fear. Watching these bands perform, one can admire the enthusiasm and gusto in which their ‘attack’ their music but songwriting can be shallow and needs to be adequately addressed if they do not want to written off as a ‘one trick pony’.
The remaining three bands – The Auditory Effect, Atlas and Black Diamond Folds – possess a similar post-punk art-rock vibe amongst them and again while they have the sound and look down pat, the songwriting again is patently lacking. I know I am sounding like a broken record now but that’s where the key issues reside. For all the bands who participated (whether selected or not) my sincere plea to them is to continue to hone their craft with special focus on songwriting. Only then, can the Singapore indie music scene earn the respect it craves…