Xiao Zar Bo (“Crazy Women” in the Hokkien dialect) is a bi-annual music initiative fronted by iNCH and Esther Lowless, designed to provide a platform to female singer-songwriters to showcase their own works. The rather stately environs of the Singjazz Club delivered a suitable venue for this sold out ticketed (over 80 pax) premiere event. The audience was appreciative of the efforts of the ‘crazy ladies’ throughout and there was an air of community and collaboration about the performances as performers fronted and backed each other seamlessly.
For the two headliners – iNCH and Esther Lowless – it was an opportunity to share music from upcoming releases in a safe environment. Eschewing the need for a rhythm section, relying more on backing tracks (for iNCH) and copious harmonies and stringed instruments, there was a beatific ambience about the entire proceedings. iNCH went further and shared with the crowd a sensational little secret (which shall remain so till officially announced) and new songs from her much anticipated Letters From Ubin EP. Esther herself played a couple of new songs – “Warpaint” and “Withered Oak Tree” that highlighted the cinematic prog-rock style that distinguishes her music from the rest. Watch out for the new album!
KindaKim (aka violinist Kim Eun Hyung) set out an astonishing live looper performance complemented by what would be described as commercial-alternative pop songs. Her use of a looper was illuminating – taking occasional to speed up her loops which made her songs quite distinctive in the main. Though self-deprecating about her singing, it fit her songwriting perfectly (one of the main rules of songwriting) and overall, her set was an engaging one.
Lisa Haryono opened the night with a enthralling lineup of piano-based originals that hearkened to old-school pop compositions. jazz-pop-soul numbers were thrown out effortlessly as Lisa’s gorgeous voice bounced around the walls and into our collective hearts, sending chills down spines. It’s amazing to think that Lisa is already such an accomplished musician (as a session cellist) as well as fronting one of most promising Singapore bands out there (Enec.e), and to add this other musical persona to the list was simply mind blowing. Please record these soulful gems soon, Lisa!
One of the best local gigs in recent memory left me with mixed feelings somewhat. On the one hand, I appreciated the coziness of the affair and being able to savour the wonder of some of my favourite singer-songwriters up close but on the other hand, I would have loved for 500, 1000 or even 2000 people to have witnessed this! So good! But also, the sight of iNCH’s producer Evan Low in a tight-fitting dress was enough to gain him the accolade of Xiao Zar Bo of the night! See what you missed?
XZB is a bi-annual showcase of music from Singapore female singer songwriters who have that good bit of craziness in them to go against the grain, make their own music, and carve their own unique identities in this crazier society of rigid convention and uniformity.
This showcase features quietly sensual Lisa Haryono, cute and quirky Kim Eun Hyung, dark and moody Esther Lowless, and one of Singapore’s biggest pioneers of singer songwriter music, Inch Chua.
On the 9th of October, experience an aurally pleasing burst of girl power with these 4 lovely ladies at Singjazz Club.
This coming weekend (October 2nd & 3rd), Power of Pop recommends the following live gigs for your rockin’ enjoyment. On Friday, Esther Lowless will thrill us with her art-rock stylings whilst Gareth Fernandez & The Momma Shop will get a groove on. That’s MAAD Sounds at the Red Dot Design Museum. On Saturday night, over at Hood Bar, Melbourne rockers EMPRA (with S-ROCKER frontman Sanny Veloo) will take no prisoners. Post-hardcore local legends Caracal will open the night!
Am not much of a theatre-goer but my main interest in covering Ragnarok has always been the fact that Esther Lowless would be acting and singing her original compositions within the body of the play itself. A unique opportunity to catch Esther in an entirely different creative environment.
According to its press release, “Ragnarok serves to confront its audience with difficult questions about issues of identity, power and illness that have evolved within the global gay community” but what makes the play ambitious is the concept of using Norse mythology and the apocalyptic myth of Ragnarok as an allegorical device. Of course, to appreciate this, one would need to understand Norse mythology to begin with and it’s much more than that hunky God of Thunder in the Marvel movies (and yes, the next Thor movie is sub-titled Ragnarok as well)!
So I reiterate that the purpose of this review is not really to evaluate the merits of the play per se, although I did find it intriguing if somewhat overwrought with the performances uneven. Instead, I focus on Esther Lowless. She plays Hel (in Norse, mythology, a being who presides over a realm of the same name, where she receives a portion of the dead), the bartender and musical performer at gay bar, Asgard. Her role is mainly as a passive observer and commentator (through the music performances) although Hel does have her moments as agent provocateur.
The key challenge for Esther is that Hel is on stage throughout the entire duration of the play! Thus, there is no break for Esther whatsoever! In that respect, she performs admirably combining her acting with musical performances superbly with wonderful new songs that imbue the play with much gravitas and emotional resonance. Some of my favourite moments – when the cast joins with Esther for bizarre singalongs – the play takes on the tone of a cracked musical – unsettling but transcendent at the same time!
There are 3 more performances of Ragnarok. Saturday 18th is sold out but tickets for tonight and Friday night are still available at time of press. Don’t miss this #sgindie music lovers!
Singapore indie music fans know Esther Lowless as an iconoclastic and talented artist but may be less aware that Esther is also an accomplished and versatile actress as well! Besides appearing in Mediacorp dramas, TVCs and theatre plays, Esther is also going to try her hand at comedy in Singapore Stripped (at Paulenar Clarke Quay) where she plays opposite Crispy, the Talking Cock as they strip away Singapore’s artificial, shiny façade to reveal its comical dark side (not our words)!
We understand that the first two shows (tonight and Saturday night) are sold out but you can get tickets from the remaining shows from SISTIC.
It’s the first Originals Sing @ Artistry on 11th Feb. A special one for me, personally, as the songwriters featured are distinct artists within the Singapore indie music scene.
Esther Lowless – I first met when she was fronting Indus Gendi – and whose musical career I have been following closely since then. Esther is also an award-winning actress and sometimes it does seem that there is no limit to what she can achieve with her talents. She released a well-received EP in 2013 – Strange Place to Meet – which was presented also as a short film, which you can watch below. A true artist.
Debra Khng approached me some time back to teach her about songwriting and last year she released her debut EP – Wolves in the Night. Debra has certainly come a long way with her unique pop-rock sensibility (Mariah Carey singing Tracy Chapman songs!) and it’s a particularly proud moment for me to present her at Originals Sing. One of the songs we worked on together remains one of my favourite of her songs. Check out the music video for “All of Me” below.
Support your local music scene, my friends – hope to see you pack out Artistry on Wednesday, 11th Feb from 8pm.
I’ll be honest with you (stop laughing!) – I haven’t been pushing this years’ Baybeats Festival as hard as I have in previous years because I think it’s reached a critical mass where it doesn’t need my 2cts worth anymore. Also, with the number of local music blogs that have appeared in the last year or so, I don’t feel that Power of Pop needs to carry that burden any longer. Which is an excellent sign for the S-ROCK scene, of course.
Suffice to say that if you’re a music lover and happen to be in country during those three days – 28, 29 & 30 June – then you cannot miss Baybeats 2013. And…which bands would Power of Pop recommend? Here goes.
This is special. I’ve first came across Esther Lowless back in 2007 as the frontperson of the now-defunct Indus Gendi and was duly impressed by her vocals, songwriting and keyboard playing. With respect to the last matter, enough to have her on board as part of The Groovy People and she contributed amazing vocal and keyboard parts to the Watchmen@Midnight EP. Since then, she’s gone on to be a side-woman of sorts in Monster Cat and DEON but finally, Esther Lowless steps out of the shadows and releases her debut EP, Strange Place to Meet, on 21st June.
But there’s more. Esther herself is also a freelance actress and in that spirit, decided that her project could serve as an “anthological mosaic of short films that displayed the brilliance of Singapore’s filmmakers” with the music films in Strange Place To Meet made possible by Henry Hiah, Leonard Soosay, Gerald Stahlmann, Sivaraj Pragasm, Wu Jun Han, and Esther herself.
To be released via http://www.youtube.com/user/estherlowlessmusic from 19th of May onwards, the 6 short films – visual representations of Esther’s songs – will lead up to the album launch of Strange Place To Meet, to be held at the Esplanade Recital Studio this 21st June 2013, 9pm. Tickets can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org one’s name, contact details, and number of tickets one wishes to purchase.
Apart from the launch, Esther will also be playing with a full band at Hood Bar and Cafe on the 18th of May 2013, 7.15pm, and three acoustic sets on Baybeats Day 3 (30th June 2013): one acoustic set at the Esplanade library at 3.30pm and two acoustic sets at the Chillout Stage at 7pm and 8.30pm.
Reviews to come. Suffice to say that Esther Lowless has truly evolved into a genuine art-rocker and the music on her EP will rather amazingly evoke the likes of Sakamoto, Massive Attack, Russian Circles and more. A truly scintillating EP!