Two experimental artrock bands get together to make sweet music together.
Closer to the Edge is the fourth incantation of Playfreely done in collaboration with Japan’s Asian Meeting Festival (AMF) and with event partner The Projector.
“… we wanted the music to embody the extremities of our current realities. Conflict, pain, anguish, heartbreak, discrimination together with moments of loneliness, gentleness, helplessness and melancholy. A perspective that is not just solely Singaporean, but human.” Leslie Low, The Observatory.
From 2012, remembering articles about the Singapore indie music scene from TODAY.
You can find my articles at TODAY online here.
Singapore indie music as an art form is still fairly young. Even the National Arts Council has in the last couple of years recognized Singapore indie music as a viable art form deserving of financial support. Despite all this, Singapore has in the last twenty years seen true indie music artists develop their craft to such an extent that acceptance at home has inevitably followed recognition overseas.
Amongst them, perhaps singer-songwriter Leslie Low is most worthy of the accolade of ARTIST OF THE YEAR for all that he has achieved within and without the Singapore indie music scene in 2014 (and the two decades before that).
As a key member of Humpback Oak & The Observatory (and various other side-projects) and as a solo artist, Low has constantly been on the vanguard of indie-art-rock. 2014 saw not only the release of The Observatory’s Oscilla album but also the solo efforts Longing and No such thing as ghosts. In addition, with The Observatory, Low has also played the role of curator/event organizer – providing Singapore with insights into fresh musical forms.
We caught up with Low recently to get his thoughts on 2014.
PoP: It’s been 20 years since the release of Pain Stained Morning (Humpback Oak’s debut album), where do you see your current work in the context of that?
Low: I’ve recently been reminded that it has been that long. Was doing a tour of living rooms and had to relearn my older repertoire of songs, a lot of memories came flooding back, locked up in the dark corners of these old songs. It was daunting initially, drudging back all those moments of my life. Re-living all those experiences. It felt pretty emotional and cathartic as the tour went on. I guess I was asking for it. When No such thing as ghosts was made, there was a conscious decision to revisit the past. Even the microphone used was one of the mics I used to record with during the Humpback Oak days. So it sounded familiar to begin with. And easier to take that trip back in time. Over the years, I’ve tried different approaches mostly informed by the people I make music with or by whatever I was into in that point of my life, and also personal experiences and relationships that play a huge part in shaping the emotional content of the work. It seems to all lead back to the heart and the mind. How it makes you feel above and beyond what the words may mean on paper. I think that still remains true today.
PoP: You were very involved in the Singapore arts/music scenes in 2014, are you optimistic that the scenes will develop further in the years to come? If so why?
Low: I think we have no choice but to evolve and grow. That is the natural way. Putting a stop to it would be unnatural.
PoP: From a third party perspective, 2014 seemed like a very good year for the Observatory and yourself – how was it for you? Are you personally satisfied with what you have achieved this year?
Low: It has been quite a long year of changes, ups and downs. It was an emotional roller-coaster to say the least. Despite all the difficulties, we still managed to finally release the songs we have been developing for about a year culminating in our 6th album, Oscilla. That felt good after we released it. My ears were shot by then from mixing. Our buddy Johnny Sarcophagus recorded us in our own rehearsal space. We could just focus on the playing in the comfort of our own space. We also toured twice this year with new band mates Wai and Cheryl, and it was Dharma’s last couple of tours with us. Still we managed to gain some ground musically and grew into our own as a new unit. I feel quite fortunate to be able to do this actually. Touring is a fairly recent thing for me, and as much as I enjoy staying put, being on the road chases the blues away, constantly slipping into the cracks of time.
PoP: Looking back, what were the highlights of 2014 for you?
Low: The recent Flux and Formlessness Tour with The Observatory was a highlight for me. It was gruelling with a lot of driving and train hopping but with the material on Oscilla, the highlight has always been playing the songs live. It’s probably the first album that I hardly listened to after it was mixed, other than checking the masters, because gigging the songs live has been a much bigger preoccupation. On the side with my solo stuff, it was a pleasure to have worked Jeremy, Tini and the Diarists team. It was quite an experience finally getting to meet different circles of people, friends in their cosy living rooms. It’s the closest I’ve come to touring Singapore.
PoP: What have you got planned for 2015? Anything you’d like to announce at this point?
Low: Hopefully a new record with this current line-up with Yuen Chee Wai, Cheryl Ong, Vivian Wang. January will feature two of our continuing projects, Anitya // Skandhas and Otomo Yoshihide & the Playfreely Ensemble and Far East Network (FEN) coming up. In February, we will be heading to Japan for a mini-tour with our friends from MOE.
Only one contender for PoP Album of the Year. JPNSGRLS epitomizes the best hope for the continuing history of Rock ‘n’ Roll even as the tsunami of prefabricated pop threatens to wipe our beloved music off the face of the earth. Nothing remotely hipster-ish about Circulation and thank GOD for that! Find out why below!!
Awaken the Dragon is a community art project surrounding the last two remaining Dragon Kilns in Singapore. The project aims to invite 3000 members of the public to participate in making a collective sculpture made from clay and fired in the Dragon Kiln.
The concert is part of the Awaken the Dragon Festival that’s happening from 17-23 November. There will also be demos and workshops by local ceramic artists, arts & crafts stalls, food and drink vendors.
The Observatory, Obedient Wives Club, Stopgap, Lost Weekend and The White Trip Movement will be performing on 22 November from 6:30pm. Admission is free.
For more details on the Festival, visit:
The kind folks at Spotify Singapore have provided POWER OF POP with our very own branded Spotify account which you can access at http://open.spotify.com/user/powerofpopsg. To celebrate this, we are giving away premium accounts – courtesy of Spotify Singapore – to the 3 best playlists of your favourite tracks from this year!
All you need to do is to submit ONE playlist of 12 of your favourite 2014 tracks to info AT powerofpop DOT com before the end of November and we will select THREE playlists we dig and the creators of them playlists will each receive a Spotify premium account for their listening pleasure. Yes, it is easy as that!
So check out a sample playlist of 12 of our favourite tracks from 2014 and get cracking!
… still there’s more …
Noise for noise’s sake
With Singapore indie pop music on the ascendancy, it is important not to neglect alternative music that embraces more artistic and esoteric values. Whilst the success of indie pop in Singapore will still be judged by the usual key performance indicators like number of digital downloads, ticket sales, radio play, Facebook likes and Twitter followers, this form of so-called art-rock deserves to be embraced on its own terms – art for art’s sake. In that respect, local art-rock collective The Observatory has taken the lead in not only organizing its own gigs but also curating music events that aim to expose Singapore audiences to new sounds viz, the Playfreely series of 6 shows and MOHA! in 2011 and for this year, the 3 day event Playfreely II, MoE (as part of the Transitions tour).
MUSIC… OR NOTHING
Being involved in the music scene in Singapore is all about what one makes of the situation. Compared to a mere five years ago, there are many opportunities to fill your time with life-enriching activities. You just know where to look…
On Thursday (21st August) I met up and interview Julie Edwards (above, left) and Lindsey Troy of LA-based blues-rockers Deap Vally and found them to be intelligent, beautiful women who knew exactly what they wanted out of life. Mightily impressed with them in that short space of time we chatted.
The Psalms have been added to Staer + Black Packers gig this Thursday (28th August). Check ’em out below.
$15 at the door. See you there.
Not only is The Observatory Singapore’s premiere art-rock band, it also provides an avenue by which experimental rock lovers can discover new music. Case in point, this Thursday (28th August) The Observatory presents Norwegian noise-rockers Staer (above) and Black Packers (below) at the Substation Theatre ($15 at the door) promising a night of noise, with an advisory for pundits to be equipped with earplugs. Tis gonna be loud!
Don’t believe me? Check Staer out below…
See you on Thursday night!
Now that was a music weekend to remember! I had been under the weather for a while and it was good to finally catch #sgindie gigs again! But before the gigs, I attended an intriguing (albeit ultimately bewildering) meeting with the local arts community and had a quick chat with Vivian Wang and Leslie Low of The Observatory. I did learn that the proximity of timing between the new Oscilla and Leslie’s own new solo LP was borne out not of design but of circumstances. Not that I am complaining… the more, the merrier…
Art-rockers The Observatory return with a new line-up and a new album. Founding members Leslie Low, Vivian Wang and Dharma are joined by SA’s Cheryl Ong on drums and Yuen Chee Wai on electronics/synths for this latest chapter of the band’s amazing journey.
Oscilla will be released in various formats – a limited colour vinyl release alongside regular black vinyl LPs, CDs and for the very first time, a limited run of cassettes with free download – on 15th August, which will be supported by two performances on 15th and 16th at The Substation.
21st CENTURY S-ROCK
Bandcamp.com is a good place to listen to indie music that is fairly under the radar. No other ‘genre’ can possibly be more marginalized than S-ROCK (or Singapore Rock or Singapore indie or whatever the fuck you wanna call it – don’t get your panties in a twist!) i.e. music made in Singapore. BUT there are numerous indie bands and artists that worth are investigating and these are the ones you can find at Bandcamp.com. Enjoy…
“And now for something completely different…” – Monty Python
Three days of workshops, a panel discussion, deejay sets, and three intense sessions that bring together musicians from diverse genres and backgrounds to experiment in spontaneous group composition. This is what one can expect from Playfreely+ to be run over this coming weekend.
Playfreely+ is presented by The Observatory, in partnership with Ujikaji. Supported by the National Arts Council of Singapore, norsk jazz forum, Music Norway, Mackie, Electronics & Engineering Pte. Ltd.
Can’t say The Obs have ever been into the nationalistic thing. But our bond and deep attachment to Singapore is undeniable. Like it or not, it is home to us and always will be. This country is yours and ours, the people’s, lest we forget.
Watch at Vimeo.
Performed live at the ‘Enter The Catacomb’ sessions at Goodman.
Filmed by Ler and his superb team at birdmandog.com
Follow the Headworm Hole on 24th & 25th August. Buy tickets.
Here’s the 2nd part of the the recent interview I did with The Observatory at its studio in the Goodman Arts Centre. You can read the first part here. More to come…
It’s Heavy In Here
The Observatory may have a reputation for being an arty, cerebral band but deep down the quartet (viz Leslie Low, Vivian Wang, Dharma & Victor Low) is a rock band at heart. Whilst previous album – Dark Folke – had strong elements of neo-folk sprinkled throughout, there is little doubt that the main inspiration for new album Catacombs is music of a heavier nature. Apart from the dirge-like reveries of “Insomnia” and “Anger & Futility”, long time fans may be surprised by the sheer visceral metallic envelopes that the band wrapped this intricate songs in.
The title track is a prime example of this. As heavy as something you might find on that legendary first Black Sabbath album, “Catacombs” is a cathartic squall as Low sings, “Behind these eyes are catacombs”, you will definitely shiver. Likewise on unsettling “Headworm”, the disturbing metaphor is raised – “For the worms in my head/How are you?/You have been with me through thick and thin” Brrrrr. And then there is “Accidentagram”. Is this dark atmospheric track an examination of lunacy? Taking the words and music together, it is a representation of madness that one will find chilling.
There is no pandering to hip and cool tastes on Catacombs. Only an uncompromising honest work of art that expresses the deepest feelings and emotions of the artist and lays them bare for its audience to dissect, absorb and devour. Kudos to The Observatory for being brave and talented enough to bring us all this sonic tour de force.
Online ordering for Catacombs is now available. Proceed to www.theobservatory.com.sg
Catch The Observatory live at the Substation. Details below.
April 20 & 21
The Substation Theatre
45 Armenian Street Singapore
Tickets available from The Substation Box Office
Open Monday – Friday
Phone +65 6337 7800
Regular PoP visitors will be aware that my favorite Beatles album is the ‘White Album’ so it’s terribly exciting when one of my favorite S-ROCK bands – none other than The Observatory – will be covering songs from this seminal double LP for the Arts Festival tonight! Factor also the guest appearance of one of my favorite people – Ray Aziz – on drums and this gig becomes one of those highly recommended, not-to-be-missed, once-in-a-lifetime affairs!!!! Details are in the above image – see you all there!
Now if I can only sneak on stage and do some backing vocals, the evening would be perfect! Heh.