An ambitious concert mashing up the creative talents of local music and literature resulted in an entertaining and inspiring experience for all who attended Dimensions & Demons at the Esplanade Recital Studio last night.
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.
As promised, we present to you thoughts of the collaborative artists behind Dimensions & Demons, to be performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 5th November.
“An exercise in deromanticizing nostalgia, A Carnival of Confessions is a collaborative piece by prolific writer Dave Chua and music wondergirl weish, exploring the relation between guilt and imagination.”
As promised, we present to you the thoughts of the collaborative artists behind Dimensions & Demons, to be performed at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 5th November, as part of Singapore Writers Festival 2015.
“The work of Ferry and Stephenie Ye, Rain City is a series of bittersweet narratives that charts a course through a web of parallel existences and possibilities.”
“Dive into dream worlds coloured by words and music, the creative outcomes of three collaborative projects between Singapore writers and musicians. Each interprets a dream in all its intimacy and duality, navigating through the blurry spaces of consciousness and the boundaries of conscience.”
Another music event that one should not miss at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival is the performance of New Zealand artist Tiny Ruins (aka Hollie Fullbrook). Last time out, Hollie touched Singapore audiences with her gorgeous fragile folk-pop in May 2012 at the Esplanade Recital Studio. Since then, she has released a critically lauded sophomore effort, Brightly Painted One, and will be back on Sunday 1st November at the Arts House, Chamber from 8pm. We caught up with Hollie via email with our queries about her inspirations, influences & receiving acclaim.
What do you remember from your last visit to Singapore?
Moseying around the botanical gardens with my bass player Cass; delicious food from the night markets; taking a walk along Arab St & a curry in Little India; the humidity and walking around without a coat at night! All the lush greenery & flowers. Looking across the city from a tall building and seeing some of the crazy architecture; meeting many lovely Singaporeans, and being given a beautiful scarf which had a different material for each of the different cultures in Singapore.
Since then, you have released a critically acclaimed 2nd album – Brightly Painted One – did you anticipate the album being as well-received as it was?
Being an island nation, maybe you can sympathise, but as a musician working & living in New Zealand, you’re a long way away from the action, and the idea that your music could cross oceans and make any impact in what sometimes feels like an impenetrable industry is kind of crazy. So for me, the real feeling of success was actually getting to tour with my band overseas for as many months as we did last year – even though we are still small fish, so to speak, the feeling it gave me was that there was some momentum behind us.
What do you think is the strength of your songwriting?
I hope it strikes a balance between truth/reality, the real world, the way I really speak, for instance, and then also a sort of hyper-reality or dreamlike world, where I am free to tackle some bigger thoughts. It’s a bit of a mash-up of my real life, and the flashes from my subconscious & memory. I hope the writing is honest and relatable, but also with an element of strangeness or sort of contemplation about it.
Where do you get your inspirations for your lyrics/stories?
I try and be open to possible songs while reading newspapers, in conversations, observing politics, characters in books, films, or other peoples’ songs; just generally everything, everywhere! I also believe in the idea of the muse – one person, or a small handful of people, who are sort of mental gatekeepers.
There is a sense that Tiny Ruins is of another time & place – is the evocation of the UK 70s folk scene deliberate, or simply a by-product of your influences. In either case, why so?
Yeah, the British folk sound, well – it’s true that was an early influence on me. I was born in Bristol, and lived there ‘till aged 10. My Mum was in a London folk band in the 1970s, and I grew up listening to a lot of her & my Dads’ records. I was especially drawn to fingerpicking guitar, sad mysterious stuff – Fairport Convention, Lindisfarne, Pentangle, Donovan, Leonard Cohen (though not British, his was the first record my Mum bought when she was 12, and she gave it to me at the same age with a sense of ceremony!), Irish folk music etc. I was enthralled watching my mother and grandfather play the guitar, and they taught me my first songs. I also played the cello from a young age – maybe the music I was exposing myself to there was also of the more melancholic variety. I remember being thirsty for pretty much anything throughout my teens that wasn’t on commercial top-40 radio, which I found cheesy. Given how sparse a lot of songwriter stuff is, there’s often a lot to unpack in the songs – things to decipher and stories to keep returning to. So I did love songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Nick Cave and The Smiths in my later teens and then Joanna Newsom, Nick Drake, Smog/Bill Callahan in my early twenties, too.
Is the minimalist style evident on your first two albums, something you are exploring now and do you intend to add more textured arrangements or even change directions completely in the future?
The songs I’m writing now are still fairly minimalist, yes, but different too. I won’t say anything about them until they’re ready to be shown. I have no rules for myself in terms of ‘where I am going sound-wise’…it’s really just where the songs point to, and with whom I end up working.
There have been a couple of female Kiwi singer-songwriters that have left NZ – Kimbra, Gin Wigmore – do you see yourself following the same path one day?
Not really. I love to get home to Aotearoa, and at the moment there is no pressing reason to have a full-blown life upheaval.
What can Singapore fans expect from your performance at the Singapore Writers Festival?
I’ll be playing solo, and will be sure to visit every record I’ve released so far, as well as some new material.
What’s next for Tiny Ruins?
I’m releasing an EP in a month’s time (single, Hurtling Through, is out now), which I collaborated on with Hamish Kilgour from a great New Zealand band on the Flying Nun label, The Clean. I’m also writing our next album, to be hopefully recorded as a band early next year.
Tickets for Story Songs by Tiny Ruins, available from SISTIC. If you want free tickets for this show, simply write in to email@example.com with a 50-word note on why you love Power of Pop so much! (Also include your full name and NRIC No., please) Oh and winning entries will be published! Be warned!!
Alright, here’s the concept – let’s have ‘crossover’ events with music for the Singapore Writers Festival 2015. All perfectly logical – after all songs have lyrics.
Now, let’s stretch that further and have the opening event a concert featuring two of Singapore’s leading INSTRUMENTAL rock bands!
Yes indeed, that’s the way to do something completely different and with In Each Hand a Cutlass (left, above) and I Am David Sparkle on board, one can be sure that the music will be up to the task.
Luckily for Power of Pop, we get to quiz the bands and they get to write some words to – hopefully – offer some clarity about Island of Dreams.
How did the organisers set out the task assigned to you regarding Island of Dreams?
Sujin Thomas (IEHAC): We were approached at first as a potential band to write the theme song for the Singapore Writers Festival and later commissioned to do the job. I think the organisers decided on an instrumental band because we offered that element of songwriting without words. What was cool was that they left the creative process entirely to us to work out.
Daniel Sassoon (IEHAC): We definitely appreciate the creative freedom given to us, although the track is ultimately a commissioned piece. We shared our ideas and vision of what the song was meant to capture – namely, the spark of inspiration that ignites the whole creative process, and the birthing of new worlds as a result. They saw where we were coming from and liked the demo, and gave some feedback; we tweaked it a little when recording it, and off we went to Snakeweed Studios.
I Am David Sparkle: Expressions of life’s liberties.
What was the main challenge in coming up with a set that would be suitable for the theme assigned to you?
Sujin: For the theme song itself, we had to think outside of our familiar realm, that is, to steer away from the technicalities and mood shifts of our own tracks. We kept in mind that we had to create an instrumental song that could not only be catchy and engaging but also be palatable for mainstream listeners. Our set for the gig is made up of a range of songs off our second LP, The Kraken, with a few tracks from our debut album, and of course, the theme song. Again, we kept in mind that the audience at the gig may not all be familiar with our stuff so we’ve curated a set list that will offer them an easy introduction to the band, with a few fan favourites thrown in the mix for good measure. Basically, we plan to blow their minds to bits.
IADS: Aggressive discipline and barbaric control.
What is your interpretation of Island of Dreams – what does it mean to you?
Amanda Ling (IEHAC): Dream factory, through the mind, to the hands and out to the world.
Daniel: I imagine this island as a safe space in the middle of the ocean, which carries certain danger and the unknown that lurks in its depths.
IADS: No disguise can deface evil, that stains the primitive sickle blood red.
As an instrumental band, how do you convey your ideas effectively, without the use of words?
Amanda: Music is a universal language that can be understood through its emotive nature of the mood, tempo, instrumentation set by the musicians. The dynamics of each element interplay with each other and the wordless nature provides the listener with a vast possibility of interpretation through their imagination.
Nelson Tan (IEHAC): Most of the time I go with the flow. If I feel that it sounds right, I would go for it. I also try not to focus too much on the technical aspect of my bass playing but more like let the song develop into the way I feel is right. Many a times I’ve tried to introduce more advanced ways of playing only to find that grooving with the drummer prevails over tapping demisemiquaver notes over a 3 octave B harmonic minor scale in major 3rds using both hands at 300BPM. Sometimes less is more for most of the time.
Daniel: I didn’t even understand that, but that’s why Nelson’s got that music degree!
IADS: Oppression ruled by bloodshed.
Besides the music itself, are there any other aspects of your performance that will go towards an interpretation of the theme?
Daniel: We should be having some background visuals and mood lighting that would enhance the atmosphere; but we’ll leave that to the professionals to come up with all that good stuff. We’ll just focus on playing as best we can.
IADS: Seizing all civil liberties.
Island of Dreams will be held at the Victoria Theatre on 30th October.
An excellent sign that Singapore music is slowly (but surely) permeating the mainstream consciousness is the clutch of music events to be held in the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival, from October 30th to November 8th 2015, organised by the National Arts Council.
Kicking off is Island of Dreams, an instrumental rock concert at the Victoria Theatre on 30th October, featuring In Each Hand a Cutlass and I Am David Sparkle, two heavyweights in the local indie scene.
From epic rock bombast, the music gets all stripped down and fragile with Story Songs by Tiny Ruins. Kiwi Hollie Fullbrook returns to Singapore on 1st November at the Chamber, the Arts House.
Finally, we have Dimensions and Demons, with artists from literary and musical disciplines collaborating on works to be presented on 5th November at the Esplanade Recital Studios. Writers Dave Chua, Daren Shiau and Stephanie Ye have been rehearsing with musicians weish (.gif), Riot !n Magenta and Ferry (Giants Must Fall) for the past few months for this co-presentation with The Esplanade.
Power of Pop will be in the thick of the action with reviews and interviews but so can you. The Festival organisers have kindly offered a pair of tickets to each of the above events to lucky PoP visitors.
Now, you can only select one of these events to apply to – simply write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with a 5o-word note on why you love Power of Pop so much! (Also include your full name and NRIC No., please) Oh and let us know which event you would like to attend and voilà (!) you could be on your way. (Winning entries will be published here! Be warned!!)
First come, first served and all that jazz. The decision of Power of Pop regarding the identity of the lucky recipients shall be final & conclusive. Closing date is 27th October.