As I watched Hanging Up the Moon (Sean Lam) deliver his beautifully crafted acoustic works in a little record store in the slick cold environs of the Esplanade Mall, I could not help but notice the curious onlooking shoppers wondering what the hell was going on.
When it comes to the Singapore music scene, it does appear that its marginalisation in the 70s and 80s has ultimately caused the scene irreparable harm.
Since the introduction of social media over a decade ago, human beings have taken to the concept of sharing their own opinions and responding to another’s opinion like ducks to water!
I like to say that there are two kinds of music – the music that I like and the music other people like. Music is subjective so it is only an opinion and I cannot definitely say that the music another person likes is bad. All I can say is that I don’t like that music.
“Opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one.”
You have an opinion and you are entitled to it. BUT do you have the right to shove it down my throat? No, you don’t.
Eight years ago, I left the rat race as I completed the final day of my last full-time job as a legal advisor of a boutique law firm.
This is the 5,000th post of this Power of Pop website that was revamped on WordPress in 2008.
There is always a lot to be thankful for. I have learned never to pre-judge a situation – and boy do I have a problem with that – but instead, I have trained myself to cultivate positive thoughts about that particular situation. It’s never easy but usually I find that things do work out in the end, one way or another.
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I have begun to define myself almost exclusively as a ‘teacher’. After all, that’s what I spend most time gainfully employed, with six classes over 5 days over three polytechnics for the next few months. Till end August in fact.
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.
Even as there is online discussion fermenting on whether Singapore artists should stop applying for grants from the National Arts Council (as a protest against censorship), there has been some soul-searching amongst the so-called Singapore indie music scene as well.
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???
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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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 firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
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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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!
Someone recently asked me why I do what I do in music when the tangible rewards are … non-existent. My answer – when I finished – caught me by surprise. It was an out-of-body experience almost – I spoke the words with such conviction and persuasion and whilst it might not have completely convinced my listener, it certainly enhanced my self-belief in everything that I am doing.
What did I say? I can’t remember…
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Been a surreal last few days after the launch of the KAMCO Music digital re-issue programme. I found myself checking up expectedly on the Youtube views when normally I don’t really care. And of course, the view numbers are pathetic but expected. When you’re 54 years old and totally unknown, nobody’s gonna be paying attention. So I am going to keep my expectations low for the rest of the programme and not give a fuck about the rest. The re-issue programme is really for me so …. just enjoy the ride, I guess. Well, not just me but for every other artist the KAMCO Music digital distribution is going to help. Also it is worth remembering that there is also exciting news on the horizon for S-ROCK fans with a project I am closely involved in, which I hope will be the starting point for whole new paradigm. Can’t say too much, at the moment but fingers crossed … and see you on the other side!
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At the beginning of a semester, I will tell my students that the most important lesson they can learn is RESPECT. I expect my students to respect me even as I respect them and I expect them to respect each other. There can be no deviation from this. No matter how intelligent you think you are, or good looking, or hip, or cool or entitled, there is no excuse for being disrespectful to a fellow human being. Sure, I can appreciate that people go through different situations in their lives and at times, they make mistakes and lash out in ignorance but that is no justification for disrespect. Period.