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).

“I guess the main criterion is we got to like the music that the band or artist is doing,” explain Observatory guitarist Dharma, “in the case of Playfreely it has to also be something that would work in the context of the program (Playfreely is an event based on free improvisation). For the non Playfreely shows, it mainly happens when the said bands are touring around this region. This makes it possible also with the other contacts we have around this region (Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines)”.

Which accounted for the latest Observatory-curated arts event when Norwegian experimental noise outfits Black Packers and Staer played to a small albeit appreciative crowd at the Substation Theatre on 28th August. It was revealing to see Observatory members taking care of all the logistical details as Dharma confirmed the D.I.Y. nature of the venture – “from the booking to presenting the show, housing the artists, hanging out, cleaning up and everything else”.

On the night itself, Staer seemed at odds with the sound and played an awkward short set and local band The Psalms closed the evening with an sonic approach that can only be described as a mutated strain of a jazz-metal hybrid (with genre-bending songs like “Pigeonhole” and “Comfort”).

But it was actually opening band Black Packers who caught the attention of the audience and how! With John Hegre on guitar and Jean-Philippe Gross on Serge Modular synth, Black Packers’ modus operandi was to drench the entire venue with feedback and noise. At the door, audience members were advised to wear earplugs and certainly for the Black Packers’ performance it was probably the only thing saving you from going deaf! For 30 minutes, the audience was assaulted by noise so loud and intense, that at least five of them were literally driven out by the sheer discomfort. Enveloped by the sound emanating from the front of the stage, the vibrations soon became physical almost as if one was being submerged by the noise. It was a truly unique and innovative performance that was also dangerous at the same time. Edgy by its very definition!

In this respect, the event certainly fulfilled The Observatory’s own ‘KPIs’ in putting it all together in the first place – “To be able to see the bands or artists that we like perform here is something very satisfying,” Dharma emphasized, “we organize the show and we get to see them do their thing live, that’s a very big thrill to me. Besides that we hope to inspire the local music scene to create new and exciting music that may not necessarily be of the popular form”.

(Originally submitted to TODAY)

Thanks to The Observatory for making this review possible.