Photo credit Ravi Manthovani

Like most local events happening this year, the annual Singapore Writers Festival is moving online.

Instead of the lack of a physical space impeding their plans, the literary-focused festival will move forward with a wealth of talks, workshops, interactive programmes and Q&As — all conducted online.

In tradition with past editions, the list of esteemed speakers is thrilling: Margaret Atwood, Art Spiegelman, Zadie Smith, Liu Cixin, Naomi Klein, amongst others.

However, taking advantage of the festival’s newly-minted virtual setting, they have taken the admirable leap to experiment with formats. Night Spin 182.7FM is a festival highlight that rethinks our enduring relationship with the radio.

 

Transforming The Arts House into the festival’s radio station, Night Spin 182.7FM is a series of podcasts and vodcasts, including radio plays, artist interviews, insightful dialogues, and segments surrounding literature in Singapore.

The Love Radio segment, hosted by poet Deborah Emmanuel, allows listeners to make love poem dedications to a loved one. Emmanuel will curate & read out a poem especially for them.

On Shades of Self, MAMA MAGNET team up with writer Nyshka Chandran and Ashley Erianah for a series of conversations with notable Singaporean creatives, ranging from rapper Masia One and multi-hyphenate artist Rizman Putra to drag queen icon Becca D’Bus and writer Shivram Gopinath.

Malam Seram reaches back to the age-old tradition of horror storytelling. Abdul Karim Sadali, known to many as DJ KC, brings to life spine-chilling tales adapted from Singaporean short stories.

Access to all Night Spin 182.7FM shows come at $20 and can be purchased here.

To get a sense of the world behind Night Spin 182.7FM, we had a brief chat with The Art House’s programming manager Shridar Mani. Read it below.


What sparked the idea behind Night Spin 182.7FM?

With the festival this year moving to an entirely digital platform and coupled with the theme of intimacy, we tried to think of a way in which these two elements could come together in a cohesive way.

For many of us, the radio has always been a device that very intimately connects us whether it’s through music, listening to an audio documentary on a news station or in conversations with personalities.

We decided then to transform this experience into a digital radio station for SWF that would bring together all these elements of text, music and conversation.

How was it like putting together the various programmes?

We had quite a number of approaches in putting this together.

Some programmes were ideas that the team had about specific content that we thought worked well in this medium but that would also add an edge to the programmes.

For example, radio plays by Edith Podesta and Grace Kalaiselvi that explore the relationship between the female body in mythology and history and its relationship to the contemporary world. Or Deborah Emmanuel’s Love Radio, which plays off the love song dedication idea.

Others were programmes proposed to us by partners whose work we felt with within the radio station concept, such as radio plays adapted from Singlit texts by The Second Breakfast Company and specially curated podcast episodes by well-known podcasters in Singapore, Nicole Lim and DJ KC.

Writing’s On The Wall is a series of interviews with singer-songwriters, and it boasts a diverse range of lyricists! what stood out about their skills to group them for this show?

The selection, made by Aravin Sandran of Neighborhood, was done on the basis of singer-songwriters whose work was recognized for its poetry and lyricism, exploring songwriting as a literary form in and of itself.

The range of shows itself stretches quite far — was there any consideration into the kind of audiences you’re hoping to tune into Night Spin?

​We just wanted to reach out to a wide range of interests so there really is something for everyone — whether you like theatre, music, literary conversations, poetry readings or podcasts. We consciously chose and developed the programmes based on this range.


Singapore Writers Festival 2020 is happening from Oct 30 to Nov 8. More information can be found here.

.gif Intriguant Hanging Up The Moon The Analog Vault
Photo credit .gif

Hang around a record store for a while and you’d hear enough people groaning about prices — or catch some sneaking a pic of a record to look up on Amazon later.

We’re not skeptics of online bargains, and there are undeniable merits to the convenience of mail. On the other hand, the realms within a physical store, with a curated space specially made for conversations, are simply hard to match.

But instead of fine-tuning our argument, we thought to talk to some musicians about their own priceless stories forged at various record stores, before coming together this Saturday to celebrate one of our own local vinyl establishments.

Their tales span the globe, but Sean Lam of Hanging Up The Moon summarizes the shared sentiment nicely: “We also need brick and mortar stores because music appreciation shouldn’t just be a passive experience. It should be a communal experience.”

From hunting an elusive record, to picking up favourite new music on tour, here’s what .gif, Intriguant and Hanging Up The Moon have to say about memories made at the humble record store.


INTRIGUANT

The one record that eluded me for a long time was Delegation’s ‘Oh Honey’ on 7”.

It’s my all-time favourite soul track and I wanted it on vinyl. I had been looking for it everywhere for quite some time — asked many record stores and no one carried it.

When I was in Tokyo, I saw an event called Captain Vinyl which was run by DJ Muro, happening at the basement club Contact. It was a soul-funk music night — good vibes all around and it was packed on a Tuesday night.

There was an area in the club where a couple of guys set out tables and were selling their records — just like a mini record flea market — in the club. That’s where I found the 7”. The whole experience of finding that record brings back so many good times in Tokyo.


.gif

Din: I found these while .gif was on our UK tour in 2018. We had an extra day in Hastings and decided to explore the shophouses by the beachside.

We randomly found this record store — I don’t even know what it’s called. I really didn’t want to buy anything because I already had too much gear to carry on our tour.

I decided to anyway — against my better judgment — and came away with these really cool finds. No ragrets.

Photo provided by Din.

Weish: I remember discovering Sunset Rollercoaster at The Waiting Room in Taiwan, before they got famous!

.gif was on tour there and in the care of the coolest and most hospitable guy, Dan, who runs a dope live house called Revolver Taipei. He brought us to Waiting Room to hang out and listen to Taiwanese music and I just recall being so happy. Taiwan’s indie scene has some legit cool stuff.


Hanging Up The Moon

Sean Lam: If I were to pick one, it would be the compilation album A Secret History by The Divine Comedy that (if I recall correctly) I bought from the long-defunct HMV at Heeren.

This “record”, like most of my collection, was on CD, as this was in the 1990s and vinyl records had yet to make a comeback.

It’s special because while I have gone through many phases and genres of music, this particular record is one that I still listen to every now and then.

I know I’m showing my age here (laughs) but listening to it also reminds me of my younger carefree days. I clearly remember listening to this album at the testing booth with my girlfriend, now wife and mother of my child. We both agreed it was awesome and bought it there and then.

Like most music lovers, I have fond memories of record stores growing up.

There were the local independents like DaDa Records and Sembawang Music that were crucial to local musicians as they were key distribution points, as well as global giants Tower Records and HMV that brought a unique shopping experience and entertained many restless youths over countless weekends. Unfortunately, none of them are around anymore.

Thankfully, because of the vinyl resurgence since 2010, there’s now a growing number of new record shops in town. From a musician standpoint, record stores are an indispensable part of the local music ecosystem, even though there’s a lot going on digitally these days.

Just like how music is making a comeback in physical format, we also need brick and mortar stores because music appreciation shouldn’t just be a passive experience. It should be a communal experience.


The Analog Vault will be celebrating its 5th anniversary this Saturday, 10th October with live performances by Hanging Up The Moon, Intriguant, and .gif.

The event will be streamed on Singapore Community Radio at 3pm. More information can be found here.

The Analog Vault Interview Sharon Seet Esplanade Singapore
Photo credit Hafizh Rizqi Laksmana (left) / The Analog Vault (right)

A name like The Analog Vault suggests an obscured zone of the rarest records, hidden to many and attainable to few.

In the game of vinyl records, where arbitrary prices of early pressings can limit the access of certain records to a distinct class of collectors (read: ludicrously rich ones), that may not be completely surprising.

However, it would be a supreme misjudgment of The Analog Vault. Since 2015, the store has served as a reliable refuge for a repository of vinyl records — spanning the worlds of jazz, soul, indie rock, hip-hop, electronic music, among other specialized genres.

While the store has had Nick Bong and Leon Wan holding fort as the store’s main faces and store managers — and hosts of our Analog Club podcast (previously AV Club) — the store’s genesis is owed to the ambitions of Sharon Seet, who established the store five years ago at a cozy unit, which now faces its current, much larger location.

Working in the finance industry by day, Seet first forged her love for the format while living in London during her early 20s.

“While I was meant to be focused on studying and working, most of my time was instead spent immersing in the amazing music scene and vinyl collecting culture,” she says, “particularly at the record stores where I learnt so much about different kinds of music.”

The Analog Vault Singapore Community Radio

Having spent time in London with its particularly rich culture of record stores, steeped in decades of iconic music, Seet carried those memories back home — gradually nursing the idea of opening a store in Singapore that captures that same exuberance she felt flipping through endless racks of records. It was with Eugene Ow Yong, owner of Vinylicious Records, who contacted her about pursuing such a venture together.

A long-standing customer of his store, she seized the opportunity to try her hand at curation, zeroing in on the kind of music she adored. “I agreed to work with Eugene on starting The Analog Vault on the premise that I could forge it to become an establishment championing jazz, hip hop, soul, electronic, and world music,” she says.

As Sharon has continued to run the store without Eugene — “[he’s] no longer part of TAV, but we remain close friends till today!” — the selection offered at The Analog Vault has only grown to include more styles of music, with a substantial section dedicated to obscure Japanese titles.

At the root of the store’s curation, however, is an undying appreciation for jazz music.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to the casual customer entering its confines — boxsets of John Coltrane and Kamasi Washington albums are proudly displayed behind the counters, along with recent arrivals of the long-overdue Black Jazz Records reissues sitting comfortably on nearby shelves.

Bar Martha Tokyo The Analog Vault
Photo credit Sharon Seet

“Apart from financial sustainability, I also personally measure success for TAV in terms of customer happiness, employee meaningfulness, and how TAV can support, contribute to, and help grow the music ecosystem in Singapore.”

Sharon Seet, on running The Analog Vault all this while.

“While I enjoy music across a broad range of genres (and languages!), I have forged the deepest connection with the jazz genre particularly,” Seet says. She attributes it to a chance encounter listening to the 1963 self-titled album by Coltrane and Johnny Hartman on vinyl.

“It was a transcendental experience for me — listening to Hartman’s sexy baritone voice set against Coltrane’s poignant saxophone, in pure analog delight. I had stumbled onto one of the greatest albums in the jazz canon,” she recounts. “That experience alone had me hooked onto jazz and vinyl, and it is a love affair that has continued to this day.”

The album continues to be revered as a high point in the saxophonist’s career. But it also served as a gateway for Seet into a vast, almost unceasingly creative world of music that she considers “akin to a complex and engaging piece of intellectual artwork.”

The genre has also blossomed in recent years, thanks to an outpouring of newer musicians from concentrated scenes in the US, UK, Japan and Australia.

The store regularly brings in titles from these artists, including new releases by Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids, Nubya Garcia, Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange, Irreversible Entanglements, and even Jazz Sabbath, a tongue-in-cheek jazz project attempting the cavernous canon of Black Sabbath’s music.

As such, there have been several mainstay record labels that Sharon relies on for the kind of vinyl that belongs in TAV. Legacy names like Blue Note, Impulse!, Verve, Riverside, ECM Records, Columbia, Analogue Productions, along with newer ones like Brownswood Recordings, Mr. Bongo, International Anthem, 22a, Strut Records, !K7 are mainstays in the store’s catalogue.

Sourcing records from Europe, Japan, and the US, Seet makes it a priority to constantly devour new music through “record label websites, music review websites, Instagram pages, online vinyl stores, and Discogs”.

Reviews, sometimes found on Discogs, have been crucial to decide if an album’s vinyl pressing is adequate enough to be stocked in her store. The website maintains a database of over seven million vinyl records listed, each title armed with a comments section for users to pour effusive or critical reviews onto. “Good quality vinyl pressings are key,” she maintains.

Honing her analytical skills from years of collecting vinyl — and subsequently running The Analog Vault — led her, Nick, and Leon to establish TAV Records, an independent record label focusing on local and regional artists.

Beginning with the vinyl pressing of Fauxe’s Ikhlas, a collection of hip-hop beats playfully recontextualizing samples of old Singaporean and Malaysian music, it’s an extension of Seet’s mission to solidify the store as “one of Asia’s leading proponents of analog music culture and fine music.”

Just this year, amidst the perpetual pandemic, the label has put out .gif’s Hail Nothing in April, and are now preparing the release of Intriguant’s third album, Spirits.

While record sales of these titles have been made primarily through the store, Seet has used this outlet with Nick and Leon to build out a network of worldwide distribution, although that has proven to be no easy task. “Increasing our distribution continues to be a focus and challenge for us,” she admits.

Intriguant Spirits vinyl mock-up Singapore Community Radio

The vinyl mock-up for Intriguant’s Spirits, which will be released on vinyl on November 20th.

The pandemic has been a considerable obstacle for the vinyl record industry — the annual Record Store Day holiday, where exclusive titles are pressed in limited quantities for ravenous customers, accommodated social distancing measures by splitting its list of releases into three consecutive monthly release dates.

Record pressing plants have faced temporary shutdowns, and the obfuscation clouding the fate of the US postal service has made future imports uncertain.

The Analog Vault, like many stores, have taken to selling their titles online to feed and nurture demand — their debut podcast episode, which you can stream below, explains further.

All of this, coupled with the uncertainty that comes with any independent business selling a niche product, results in a venture some would consider risky. For Sharon, she has her sights fixed on the long-term.

“Apart from financial sustainability, I also personally measure success for TAV in terms of customer happiness, employee meaningfulness, and how TAV can support, contribute to, and help grow the music ecosystem in Singapore,” she explains.

Like how The Analog Vault was shaped by her vivid memories of London record stores, her plans for TAV beyond 2020 is inspired by another cherished analog destination of hers: Japanese jazz kissaten, enduring old-school hideouts where music lovers congregate for listening sessions and fine alcohol. The ongoing photography project Tokyo Jazz Joints documents this domestic phenomenon in all its classy glory.

Ideally, what would this space look like? She imagines it “flanked by superlative audiophile analog systems, amazing whiskies, and a space for live jazz performances”. It is still a dream — made all the more distant with existing nightlife restrictions — but the lasting work of The Analog Vault makes a convincing case that there’s always room for spaces like these in Singapore.

Even if that New Yorker cartoon can ring true for some, it’s the memories and stories made around these slabs of wax that make the “expense and inconvenience” worth it.


The Analog Vault will be celebrating its 5th anniversary this Saturday, 10th October with live performances by Hanging Up The Moon, Intriguant, and .gif.

The event will be streamed on Singapore Community Radio at 3pm. More information can be found here.