Sound Sensations: Singapore’s Music Scene Uncovered

Rizman Putra and Safuan Johari, better known as NADA, are at the forefront of Singapore’s independent music movement. Here, the eccentric, über-creative duo trying to recreate unlived nostalgia as well as paying homage to the golden era of Malay music talk about the people, bands and places taking their seat at the top table of Singapore’s indie scene.

The Small City Packing a Big Musical Punch

As Singapore reached its 50th jubilee in 2015, key players in the local music scene have also had a fruitful year, from The Steve McQueens’ London takeover to .gif’s special showcase at the legendary Rough Trade, in which we were also part. Alongside this new generation of contemporary musicians, we also have traditional musicians pushing the boundaries and blurring the line that separates them from their contemporary counterparts. We have the likes of Malay percussion troupe NADI Singapura, experimental fusion trio SA () and the global sonic melt of Kulcha whose instruments list includes the Indian flute and the Arabic oud. To sum it up, Singapore offers a wide palette of sounds that comes with the burgeoning music scene in our little dot of an island city.

Seek And Ye Shall Find…

With the growth of performance spaces and opportunities, one could possibly witness weekly countless gigs and events in venues featuring local acts across all genres. This is something unheard of fifteen to twenty years ago when the independent music scene was still in its infancy. We could easily provide you with a long list of clubs, bars and other venues for you to check out, but let us help you scratch below the surface or, in other words, things you need to spend an hour or more on Google to look for.

Just like other independent music scenes across the globe, we have our fair share of independent gig promoters offering their unique experience with a relentless do-it-yourself attitude. They often take a nomadic approach when it comes to venue and are willing to take over any space be it a club, theatre, bar, café or even a rehearsal studio.

Who’s Hot?

One of our favourite promoters is Ujikaji Records and as the name suggests, they operate as a record label and distributor too. They take on what other promoters shy away from as they feature acts that are inclined towards the experimental and avant-garde. Definitely not taking the populist route even from an independent promoter point of view, they provide an important platform for the experimentalists, both musicians and punters, especially here in this city. As Singaporeans we are known for being very pragmatic with a squeaky clean, almost clinical image, as if nothing exists at the fringes. Ujikaji is one of the key players that will prove you otherwise. You can expect free-jazz, noise, electro-acoustic and improv sets from the acts at their gigs. What Ujikaji does is Singapore’s answer to the spirit and curation found in places like John Zorn’s The Stone on the Lower East Side in New York City or Café OTO in east London.

Where’s Hot?

Talking about places, we’d like to highlight an exciting venue which is still a new kid in town. Opened in December 2015, Kult Kafé claims to be a cross between a dive bar and a concert venue. Located off the beaten track but still in the middle of the city, Kult Kafé occupies an old house in a nonchalant setting away from the hustle and bustle that is Singapore. In the short time since they open their doors, they have been playing host to a wide range of gigs and parties which had gone underneath many people’s radar – from a showcase featuring local folk musicians to the colourful beeps and bleeps brain-dancing session headlined by Andrew Hung of F**k Buttons.

During the weekends, the music or party would start in the day and sometimes they would surprise you with outdoor performances. Kult Kafé is keeping things fresh and is slowly making its mark and becoming one of the key venues for underground music in Singapore.

The Future’s Bright

And just like Kult, Singapore is historically still a young country. We are still experimenting and discovering ourselves musically and culturally. Some of us are travelling the world with our music and some of us are setting things up independently at home to push the scene further and we are lucky because it is made up of very dedicated musicians, collectives, promoters and labels.

What we have covered here is by no means definitive. But as artists ourselves we are not afraid to claim that culturally, Singapore is in an exciting period of time. Where we are now was unforeseeable fifteen to twenty years ago so we can’t wait to actually look back sometime in the future to see what the next decade or two will bring.

Words by Safuan Johari and Rizman Putra

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