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.
It has been said so often now that it’s almost become a cliché – “the Singapore indie music scene is growing” or even “Singapore’s indie music scene is on the cusp of a new golden age”. But how true is that statement and what do we mean when we say that the scene is ‘growing’?
This weekend (July 10th – 12th) witnessed a slew of Singapore indie music events that seemed to suggest that if nothing else, the number of events being organised within the scene is increasing. But is this a result of funding from SG50 celebrations or a genuine improvement in the manner in which Singaporeans appreciate local music.
Well, let’s take the examples of two very recent album launches viz. DEON’s Oceans and The Steve McQueens’ Seamonster. Both events were sold out registering between 100 – 200 paying attendees, with good sales on CDs and merch as well. Both artists have excellent reputations with track records of performing at overseas festivals. Is this an indicator of success?
Late in June, Baybeats Festival 2015 once more delivered three days of mostly Singapore indie music, spotlighting a bunch of ‘budding’ bands that for some, meant a dream achievement. Is playing at Baybeats an indicator of success, as well?
To put things into context, I came across a poster for Baybeats 2008, which introduced 11 ‘budding’ bands to the festival. However, none of those 11 bands exist anymore, seven years later.
So is that all? Playing at Baybeats and selling out your album launch? If so, then these are mere baby steps still for our perpetually teething indie music scene.
What is the measure of true success for our indie music scene?
I have been reading about the origins of Nirvana and the Seattle music scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Before the Seattle music scene exploded with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains etc, the city had little to shout about in that respect. But of course, once it did, first amongst its own local audiences, the Seattle music scene became world famous, with record labels rushing down to sign anyone in a flannel shirt with greasy hair and Seattle became synonymous with ‘grunge’ (a meaningless label) that branded Seattle as the place to be for at least five years. Though ‘grunge’ eventually died out, many of the first wave of aforementioned Seattle bands managed to make a mark on rock history.
And at the end of the day, shouldn’t that be the ultimate indicator of success for our indie music scene? Music that is appreciated in Singapore first, before being appreciated overseas? Music that is written about in glowing terms by the popular indie music influencers online, invited by popular indie music festivals overseas and drawing international visitors to experience Singapore indie music firsthand?
Without a mindset shift within our own borders, it would not be possible for our indie artists to make a significant impact, regionally and internationally. So the key question, once again, is how can Singapore indie artists build a quality fan base (i.e. one that is willing to spend money on the artist and not merely clicking ‘like’ on social media) that will sustain said artist for a lifetime of music making?
There are many factors but I think the critical one is a partnership between indie artists and venue owners to push out original music content to build a solid fan base for Singapore indie music. In order to do this, venue owners must forgo the narcotic of cover music and go cold turkey with originals! Aspiring indie artists must see the value of writing and playing their own songs – whether live or via online videos. Therefore, the music scene must be dominated by original music content, with cover music being in the minority. Yes I know it’s the usual chicken and egg situation but that’s the radical step that must be taken!
In other words, we must nurture a culture of creativity and artistry in our indie music scene. Without this, our indie music scene will constantly be on the verge of something great but without sustainability or continuity, the artists will lose faith and stamina and fade into the normalcy and obscurity of adulthood and our indie music scene will find itself at square one again!
So here’s my TODAY interview with Jaime Wong. Now, I hope you figured out that that headline came from my editor! But to be fair, I chickened out from coming up with one, so….
Check out the article and don’t forget that Jaime launches her EP on May 15, 7.30pm at Lepark, People’s Park Complex rooftop. Tickets from http://jaimewongep.peatix.com. You can buy the EP on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/album/jaime-wong-ep/id979791050)
KAMCO Music started life as KAMCO Records in 1998 – a label through which I could self-release Popland’s Groovy album. 17 years later, KAMCO Music (physical releases are so passé) embarks on a new adventure with digital distributor Believe Digital with the re-issue of my three solo releases thus far.
Previously released only on Bandcamp, this EP is now available at iTunes, Amazon (etc) and the relevant streaming platforms for the first time. Contains the radio-friendly “I Want What I Can’t Have” and you can buy it for a reasonably low price.
Emo FASCISM (2013)
My first album since 2001, was released on the 20th anniversary of my first LP, Democracy (with Watchmen). Notably distinctive for containing mostly jazz-pop numbers (!) and also having a single rejected for radio play by Mediacorp Radio viz. “Beyond the Ashes”. Now you really need to pick this up!
Originally released under the Watchmen moniker (and also only on Bandcamp), I have decided to reclaim @midnight EP as a solo release. Significant for featuring a youthful incarnation of The Groovy People viz. Esther Low (keyboards), James Lye (guitars), Low Han Quan (drums) and Brian Leery (bass). Mid-priced as well! Enjoy…
Re-issues of Watchmen, The Crowd and Popland to come in the next two weeks.
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Finally! The lyric video for “I Want What I Can’t Have” is online. I want to thank film-maker Michael Lim for putting this together in a very short time.
This video release is the first one under KAMCO Music’s distribution deal with Believe Digital and I want to thank Syaheed and Dawn over at Believe Digital for assistance with this.
Look out for the re-issues of #alpacablues, Emo FASCISM and @midnight on 27th March on all digital distribution platforms.
Thanks also to Hood Bar and Cafe for the wonderful location!
Please share if you like.
From 2012, remembering articles about the Singapore indie music scene from TODAY.
You can find my articles at TODAY online here.
Day Two was spent recovering from my jet lag so I was only able to get out on Day Three. Basically spent the day with my good friend Chris, visiting EMP Museum. It’s really a pop culture buff’s dream to a certain extent. EMP expanded their scifi-fantasy section into separate scifi, horror and fantasy. In truth the latter two were boring whilst the scifi section was better, there wasn’t too much to get excited about.
The music exhibitions were what EMP was all about – with the focus on Hendrix in London and Nirvana. While both were also relatively small, the detail to attention put into the exhibitions was a wonder to behold and worth the price of admission. Viewing Kurt Cobain’s demo cassettes was interesting as well as the live-size props for the In Utero tour.
It was heart-warming to visit a museum that was dedicated to rock music with its due recognition of our beloved rock music as art in its own right. What a statement to make! I was particularly intrigued by a graphic that highlighted the various indie bands that came out of Seattle and Washington state in general. It put the idea of ‘support local’ into perspective. I am certain that the folks watching Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Death Cab for Cutie etc had no idea that their local bands would one day become superstars – but that’s how every band starts, as a local band.
More pics here.
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PERFECT LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR
Back in the 70s, the Government conducted a smear campaign against rock n roll and labeled it as ‘yellow culture’ meaning it was decadent and unsuitable for nation building blah blah fucking blah. But to be fair, many countries worldwide were unable to accept the hippie generation (including its originator, the USA) – it’s just that it was possible in Singapore to utterly destroy the thriving local music scene in order to stamp out this undesirable phenomenon. Which they duly did.
Regular visitors will be aware of my extremely low tolerance for trolls. My attitude is simple – if you have nothing good to say – SHUT THE FUCK UP! Is that so difficult to achieve? Seriously, sometimes the attention one gets from trolls seems totally incomprehensible – what did I ever do to you? – always seems to be the recurring protest that springs fully formed in head. I mean, the world is in bad enough shape without having these illogical trolls contribute absolute nothing to make things a little better.
Bottom line is clear – I must always be in a position to control what the comments I receive on social media. Which means blocking trolls essentially and avoiding being part of groups that tolerate trolls. Recently, I left a comic book group that seemed innocent enough when it started but of late has reminded me why I stay clear from these groups as a general rule.
Much safer to make my own opinion public via my own website where I can easily control the outcome of unwelcome trolls. Now you know why it’s always good to be king.
Back to normal programming….
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Phil 2: 4, The Message)
This passage of scripture drives and informs my life. It’s a difficult one to follow as it involves self-sacrifice, a quality frowned upon in our world. In April 2007, somewhere in New York City, I resolved that my area of influence was in music and I needed to use this influence to help musicians in Singapore. How exactly, I wasn’t quite sure of at the time but I knew that that had to be my purpose in this life.
Over the course of the last seven years, in the pursuit of this ‘calling’ I have faced tumultuous events in my personal life designed to test my resolve and to lead to new ways and means by which I could invest in and bear fruit from my gifts. It has not been easy, believe me. Often times, my eagerness to help someone else has led to misunderstandings and my fragile low self esteem has taken a lot of battering along the way.
At the end of last year, I rather fancifully imagined that I could venture into a totally new creative area but the last six months have proven how foolish my thinking had been. But through the disappointment, I have learnt to bring the focus back to music and to music people. It was appealing to my ego that new ‘friends’ had turned up to bring me into new pastures where I could prosper but that was my vanity speaking to me and I am thankful to have been put right and properly brought down back to earth.
In the last few weeks, this scope has expanded beyond our shores and has led me to make connections with various foreign bands and the joy I experienced in these encounters has made it clear to me that this was the path all along and all I needed to do was to stick with the program. I will be in Seattle and Vancouver in late September/early October and will take the opportunity to build on and strengthen these new ties as I push myself further into my beloved world of music.
None of these pursuits involve monetary gain or have been conceived to further business interests – I truly believe that that will take care of itself as long as my heart is in the right place. All I want to do is to help as many musicians as I possibly can in whatever shape or form. These are exciting times to be involved in music!
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Those of you who follow Power of Pop will know the name Eileen Chai as belonging to the violinist of my backing band, The Groovy People. But there’s definitely more to Eileen than that! Not only is she an accomplished musician in her own right but she was an athlete that represented Singapore in three different sports viz gymnastics, diving and track & field! Now add author to her list of gifts! Eileen has penned a book chronicling her life journey in sports and music, called “Teach A Life, For Life” which represents her personal philosophy in life. Concurrently, Eileen will be releasing her three-track EP, Spread Your Wings, which includes a track co-written with yours truly (the title track).
Eileen will launch her book this Saturday (14th June) from 6pm – 8pm at Balaclava @ ION where she will perform the three songs from her EP as well as autograph her new book for you. If you haven’t got a copy yet, you can do so at http://www.eileenchai.com/buy-the-book.html.
Great to know that life is still able to surprise me, even in this day and age. When I originally got in touch with JPNSGRLS regarding their performances at Music Matters Live ’14, all I was thinking about was getting an interview out of that contact. I seriously did not expect more than that. But from the moment, guitarist Oliver Mann recognized my name tag at the first day of the Music Matters conference (21st May) and introduced himself, it set off an unusual sequence of events where I would learn tons, enjoy awesome music and bond with four incredible young musicians!
DON’T SPOOK THE ALPACA
Over the course of the last three weeks, The Groovy People and I did a couple of gigs in support of #alpacablues. Overall, I felt that the band was in top form with Eileen Chai on violin providing the distinctive flavour that carried us over the top. Considering how badly Emo FASCISM was received last time out, I kept my expectations for #alpacablues extremely low. This was the best way to approach these bunch of gigs as well and in the final analysis, I had fun. It was great to see friendly faces at Artistry, Hood Bar & the Esplanade. Most of all, it was amazing once again to play with Patrick Chng, Ray Aziz, Nelson Tan & Benjamin Ang – I love them all as friends and respect them all immensely as talented musicians. It is never easy playing live in Singapore where audiences are not as appreciative as you would like them to be especially with music that they are not familiar with (i.e. NOT COVERS) but once you keep that firmly in mind, you can get by fairly well. Managed to get hold of the soundboard recordings from the Esplanade so check them out below.
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DON’T SPOOK THE ALPACA!
Six months after launching Emo FASCISM at Artistry, I was back to promote the release of #alpacablues EP with The Groovy People in tow. There wasn’t much of a crowd there but I do appreciate the kind friends who took the trouble and effort to demonstrate their support. Much obliged! These ranged from my latest RP students (Josephine, Fatin & Wei Ren!) to the legendary Vernon Cornelius (of The Quests!).
In the final analysis, I was just happy to be playing with some of my favourite people viz Patrick Chng, Ray Aziz, Nelson Tan, Benjamin Ang & Eileen Chai – all of whom I love and respect so much! It was historical occasion as well as I actually opened for myself for the first time! Basically, I did a 30 minute solo acoustic set before playing a full set with The Groovy People.
All good fun for sure, and it was great to have an appreciative crowd. Sure beats having a packed house ignoring you and talking to themselves! In any case, two more shows before DON’T SPOOK THE ALPACA is done. This coming Saturday (15th) at Hood Bar from 8pm (supported by the amazing Another Sunday Afternoon!) & next Saturday (22nd) at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre from 8.45pm. See you there!
In the meantime, #alpacablues is available at Bandcamp for US$1 until the 15th March! Get it now!
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I am proud to announce that my new EP – and my second official solo release – is now available at Bandcamp. You can buy the EP for US$1 until 14th March, wherein it reverts to full price. I am quite sure that #alpacablues is probably my best recorded music to date and this has been done to the fine work from my collaborators viz. Ray Aziz (percussion), Nelson Tan (upright bass), Eileen Chai (violin) and Pat Chng (recording/mixing). Not forgetting of course, the wondrous cover art from Andy Yang. Recorded in about five sessions, the songs on the EP represent a watershed of sorts for me. I have decided to put behind me the overtly melancholic sentiments evident on both Emo FASCISM and #alpacablues and move ahead to make brighter music. Already, I have in mind an electronic pop project for the latter part of 2014. But in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy #alpacablues.
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#alpacablues will be released on 15th February at Bandcamp for US$1 and will be available at that price for a month. Thereafter, the EP will be available at all good digital platforms for the full price (i.e. US$4.00) In the meantime, this is the world premiere of “I Want What I Can’t Have”. Enjoy…
Cover artwork by Andy Yang http://andyyangillustrates.wordpress.com/
(Savages | Siouxsie & the Banshees | PJ Harvey)
LIVING IN A VACUUM
Defining bands according to ‘genre’ or comparing them to bands that came before can be off-putting to most bands. After all, when you are serious about your music, the last thing you want (or need) are non-musicians pigeon-holing you into some consumer-friendly label or category. Music is an art-form and thus should not be treated as a product.
All of which would apply only in an ideal world, of course. In reality, music is a product and thus record labels, promoters and journalists require that in order to facilitate easier marketing and promotion, music must be defined and categorized like items in a supermarket.
On the other hand, bands should volunteer their crucial musical influences as a way to pay tribute to the musicians that made a difference to them. This also operates as a means by which bands can educate their fan base – to point the way to seminal inspirations so that their fans might be edified.
So it’s a fine balance between the two polar extremes, I would argue. In this manner, new bands can be assessed on their own merit (without the unnecessary weight of the past on their shoulders) but at the same time, without unrealistically ignoring their debt to the past either.
Of course, all this breast beating only makes sense if you as a music lover give a damn about music to begin with. Meaning: music as a significant art-form as opposed to music as throwaway entertainment. Like it or not, the reality is that in 2014, the latter probably holds more sway especially with video games and apps capturing the imagination of the younger generation in the manner in which music used to.
Does it matter? Only if you think it does.
Goes without saying that local original music needs more exposure and so I am pleased that STAGEFRIGHT @ Artistry is now into its 10th edition. Tonight, the lineup is –
8.00pm to 8.15pm Che Cereza
8.20pm to 8.35pm Hiroki Sunayama
8.40pm to 8.55pm Richard Philip
9.00pm to 9.15pm The Winged Butter Cats
Come on down and enjoy some mid-week refreshment. I will be playing a couple of new tunes from the upcoming #alpacablues ep at the end. See you there!
It’s easy to be glib about the year that has passed and focus simply on how time flies and all that. I want to resist that temptation and reflect upon the amazing experiences I had in 2013 that I will always cherish to assist me in looking forward to 2014.
Two months after the release of Emo FASCISM, I am working on my new 4-track EP, #alpacablues. Why so soon? Well, in actual fact, Emo FASCISM was recorded a year ago and most of the songs are already old news to me. I am a naturally restless soul and thus…
In any case, I don’t want to say too much about the new music but instead will let you listen to a sampler of the raw mixes so far below.
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It’s been two months since the release of Emo FASCISM and people have asked whether I was happy with the response to the album. Well, no, to be honest I am definitely NOT happy. It’s not that I expected massive CD/merch sales or crowds at my launch gigs – but perhaps I had thought that the music scene had grown somewhat since the last time I had released an album in Singapore viz Popland’s Groovy (1998). Back then, I had pressed a thousand CDs and sold more than half (yes I still have about 200 copies at home) but this time I cautiously pressed only 300 copies and at this stage, 250 copies remain unsold.
Pardon the shameless self-promotion but here goes…
Mathews has written for Singapore newspapers like the New Paper and TODAY, print magazines like BigO (Singapore), Amplifier, Pop Culture Press (USA) and Bucketfull of Brains (UK) as well as online zines like his own PowerofPop.com, MTVAsia.com and PopMatters.com.
He has interviewed the likes of Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Al Jardine (The Beach Boys), Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Ian McCulloch (Echo & the Bunnymen), Robyn Hitchcock, Sean O’Hagan (The High Llamas), Edwyn Collins, James Morrison, Regina Spektor, Conor O’Brien (Villagers), Jimmy Shaw (Metric), Mat Osman (Suede), Michael Franti, Imogen Heap, Buddy Guy, Trombone Shorty and many many others.
He has conducted music-related talks on subjects like rock journalism and songwriting and was a mentor for the Baybeats/Esplanade Youth Budding Music Writers Programme from 2011 to 2013. He has also conducted modules on Arts History and Creative Concepts at Republic Polytechnic where he has been an Academic Associate since 2010.
…still there’s more…