SINGAPORE WRITERS FESTIVAL: BE HAPPY – THE BIGO YEARS

BigO 95

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.

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SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: KEVIN MATHEWS – PRESENT SENSE

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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.

PATRICK CHNG

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.

RAY AZIZ

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 TAN

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!

JOSHUA TAN

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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I REMEMBER SGINDIE: PATRICK CHNG ON WHEN THE INDIE MUSIC SCENE BEGAN

Photo credit: Koh Nguang How
Photo credit: Koh Nguang How

Yeah I borrowed the “I REMEMBER SG” motif – it’s valid and appropriate in the context. I have been thinking for quite a while that it is time to document the beginnings of the Singapore indie music scene (SGINDIE) and probably the easiest way to do so would be to get quotes from folks who are able to ‘remember’ (SGINDIE) and present them in this new PoP feature.

First off, I asked Patrick Chng (The Oddfellows, TypeWriter) about when the SGINDIE scene all began.

“For me it started with the No Surrender gig at Anywhere pub in ’87, organized by BigO. The vibe was just electrifying. It was packed. It was the first gig that BigO organized. It was featured in BigO too I’m sure. There was a bootleg cassette released too by Joe (Ng) for BigO. Two songs for each band.”

BigO (Before I Get Old) was an indie rock magazine (Singapore’s first) that championed Singapore indie music in the late 80s/90s. The magazine stopped publishing in the early 2000s. It still exists as an online zine.

“The line-up at No Surrender was Joe Love & The Hoodlum Circus, Earth Medicine Band, Don Victor, The Nonames, Opposition Party, Corporate Toil, Zircon Lounge (pictured above). Back then the crowd was tough… you get booed or jeered at if they don’t like you. Corporate Toil were heckled and jeered throughout their set cos their experimental electro music didn’t appeal to the audience who were more into guitar-rock. I guested on guitar on Corporate Toil’s last song… a cover of Joy Division’s “Exercise One”. Before I came on, I was thinking to myself, “OH SHIT.” Played with my back to the audience. HAHA!”

There you go, our ground zero is 1987. I am hoping for this to be a catalyst, a starting point of discussion about SGINDIE. Please get in touch (info AT powerofpop DOT com) if you have anything to contribute concerning that special epoch in our history.

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THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

Photo by Ray Aziz

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!).

Photo by Don Shiau

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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THE LISTENING BOOTH – THE DOLPHIN SONG (ROUND AND ROUND AND ROUND)

This is my contribution to ACRES Singapore’s World’s Saddest Dolphins Campaign. Recorded at Patrick Chng’s homestudio with Lydia Low, it is my version of the official campaign song and hopefully, it will assist to get the right attention to this cause. I personally find dolphins to be emotionally sensitive creatures and for the Resort World Sentosa (RWS) to hold them in captivity is scandalous. Surely, there are better ways to make money than to abuse these dolphins in this inhumane manner. So I would appreciate it if you could share this song with as many people as possible, get the word out and to pray to RWS to “let the dolphins go…”
Kevin Mathews (ft. Lydia Low) – The Dolphin Song (Round and Round and Round) by Power of Pop

More information on how you can contribute here.