Genre Equality podcast Hidzir Junaini Isa Foong Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Film/DC Films
Where to watch: HBO GO

The fabled #SnyderCut of Justice League delivers a four-hour epic that significantly improves upon Joss Whedon’s version. While a much stronger and more coherent film overall, your mileage may vary in this indulgent combination of the best (operatic grandeur) and worst (slow-mo, style-over-substance excess) of Snyder’s artistic vision.


Raya and the Last Dragon

Film/Disney
Where to watch: Local cinemas & Disney+ (additional fee required for Disney+ subscribers)

Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess leads this thrilling fantasy action-adventure. Buoyed by breathtaking fight sequences, stunning visuals, ambitious world-building, excellent humour, and a star-studded voice cast – Raya proves to be a fun, all-ages fable about the power of trust.


Dota: Dragon’s Blood

Season 1

TV/Studio Mir
Where to watch: Netflix

Dragon’s Blood is an exceptional adaptation of the DOTA 2 video game franchise that should delight fans and newbies alike. Featuring compelling characters, spectacularly violent action, beautiful animation, and emotional complexity on all sides – this stunning adult anime is a must-watch.


Godzilla vs. Kong

Film/Legendary Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

This heavyweight monster battle is a jaw-dropping spectacle. However, the movie is severely hampered by bafflingly stupid human subplots that distract from what we came to see: two titans clobbering each other.


La Llorona

Film/La Casa de Producción & Les Films du Volcan
Where to watch: Shudder (requires VPN)

This sophisticated horror film blends together the terror of myth and reality in a modern retelling of the genocide against the Mayan community in Guatemala. Smart, elegant, and suspenseful, director Jayro Bustamante uses folkloric fears to unpack even greater political atrocities.


Come True

Film/Copperheart Entertainment
Where to watch: Amazon (VPN required)

Come True is helmed by the one-person filmmaking crew of Anthony Scott Burns, who wrote, directed, edited, and composed the 80s synth-wave soundtrack under the pseudonym Pilotpriest.

The indie film is a surreal, unsettling, and genuinely disturbing horror sci-fi. Filled with nightmarish sounds and imagery that trigger deep, primordial fears, this film is one for fans of minor-key arthouse horror.


Solar Opposites

Season 2

TV/Justin Roiland’s Solo Vanity Card Productions!
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland returns with the second season of his hilarious animated sci-fi comedy. This fresh spin on 3rd Rock From The Sun flies with a breakneck pace — it coasts on a witty mix of goofy absurdity and good-natured warmth.


Chaos Walking

Film/Lionsgate
Where to watch: Local cinemas

A loud and tedious dystopian mess that should be avoided at all costs. Stars Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley need to be more careful about the roles they pick.


Boss Level

Film/Highland Film Group
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

This fun time loop adventure is like the action hero version of Groundhog Day. Starring Frank Grillo (of Captain America: The Winter Soldier fame), Boss Level is a muscular popcorn movie with plenty of thrills and little brains.


The Irregulars

Season 1

TV/Drama Republic
Where to watch: Netflix

Take pretty much any established cultural touchstone — here, it’s Sherlock Holmes — add a group of teenagers, and you’ve got a TV show. To play it safe, inject the storylines with supernatural mumbo jumbo for color and special effects. Voila, a perfectly mediocre Netflix show to put on the background at dinner parties.


Pacific Rim: The Black

Season 1

TV/Legendary Television
Where to watch: Netflix

Clunky cell shading animation and shoddy character work hinder what could have been a fun mecha vs kaiju romp.


Snowpiercer

Season 2

TV/CJ Entertainment
Where to watch: Netflix

Aided by the addition of Sean Bean, season two proves Snowpiercer to be a perfectly watchable yet totally inessential show. We’d still recommend Bong Joon-ho’s film version instead.


House of Leaves

Book/Pantheon
Where to buy: Local bookstores

In light of the book’s 21st anniversary this year, Genre Equality explores House of Leaves, which originally released in March 2000.

House of Leaves is one of the most disorienting and creative novels ever written. Mark Z. Danielewski’s cult classic book is an incredibly complex work of existential horror that plays with a variety of formatting and writing styles. The result is a story that is both intellectually challenging and profoundly disturbing.

Photo credit

There’s no doubt that hip-hop has been a dominant cultural force in recent years. While a genre celebrated for decades around the world, its assertive presence on the public airwaves has been a fairly recent phenomenon in Singapore.

For the formative years of Yung Raja, somewhere in the late-2000s, hip-hop opened up new worlds for him. And he was compelled to dig deeper on his own.

Now an emerging face in Singaporean rap, skillfully mixing club-ready hooks with an ear for low frequencies, Yung Raja is cultivating his own path owed to years of studying the greats.

While music geeks would spend hours on music blogs unearthing obscurities, Yung Raja dug into the then-popular sounds that populated the iTunes hip-hop charts, which allowed him insight into the cultural power the genre held in the rest of the world.

Fast forward to 2021 and he’s promoting his newest single ‘MAMI’, his first under US label Alamo Records. Yung Raja spent time talking with us about the 10 tracks that have shaped him.

He begins the list enthusing about the formative songs that clinched his love for the genre, but down the line, his love for the greats take different forms — from their work ethic, to their choice of producers, to the powerful moves they make culturally.

The full episode of 10 Tracks provides greater insight into Yung Raja’s own personal journey, but read the list below for a glimpse into the hip-hop blueprint that has guided the rapper all these years.



Lil Wayne – ‘A Milli’

I was 13 at the time and my dad got me my first iPod. I didn’t know who Lil Wayne was and Tha Carter III had just come out. ‘A Milli’ was on the Top 10 iTunes chart so I bought it. When the bass hit, a part of my soul just left — like, “What was that?”

It was a song I looped on my way to school and back home. I listened to it about a thousand times. It was one of the first few times I fell in love with the “sound” — the drums, the subs, the 808s. Lil Wayne was, at the time, somebody who showed me what the world had to offer in 2009.


TI – ‘Swagga Like Us’

The first song by him I discovered was ‘Whatever You Like’. It was everywhere, it was even the number one video on YouTube at the time. I got hooked on that song.

I dug a little deeper, and I found he had a song with Lil Wayne. I listened to ‘Swagga Like Us’ and that was the first time I knew what sampling was — with the M.I.A. sample (‘Paper Planes’).

It was just, like, “Wow, this is so cool!” This became the next song I kept looping on my way to school. That was the beginning of me understanding the other huge figures in the game at the young stage in my life.


Sid Sriram, AR Rahman – ‘Thalli Pogathey’

My parents have always been obsessed with A.R. Rahman. The South Indian entertainment space has had many greats, A.R. being one of them — especially as a musical prodigy. There isn’t another A.R. Rahman. He’s made so many evergreen songs since the 1990s.

In my household, one of the biggest South Indian influences for me was A.R. Rahman. At a much later stage in my life, I realized I’m now at a place where I can connect with other musicians. I connected with Sri Sriram, who’s also another trailblazer in the South Indian music space, and he’s worked with A.R. Rahman.

I went to India and met Sriram and he told me to come through to the studio. Once our schedules were aligned, and we were kicking it, he played the original demo of ‘Thalli Pogathey’, the original demo that A.R. Rahman sent him to work with. I was just blown to smithereens. It was so crazy.

A.R. Rahman basically freestyled the entire song — every chord and vocal melody, not one part of it was changed from the demo sent to Sriram. I was already a fan of the song, but to now understand the backstory of it, there’s not a song I would rank above it. I got to take a sneak peek into how it was made, so it’s cemented as one of my favourite songs.


50 Cent – ‘Ayo Technology’

My brother-in-law gifted me a $50 Amazon gift card, which I bought a bunch of CDs with. Curtis was one of them. I saw the music video for ‘Ayo Technology’ and it had a sound that I was not previously exposed to. This was when I had a liking to heavy production.

I wasn’t able to verbalize these thoughts then but I was attracted to the production side of things. The word is kilat, bro. 50 Cent’s sound was so kilat, and I fell in love with it. From that moment in time, I wasn’t just looking for the artist, but I was looking at Timbaland and what he was putting out.

I bought Nelly Furtado’s album [2006’s Loose] because he produced it. That kind of direction only came for me after listening to a production-heavy song like ‘Ayo’. I’m pretty sure that was the tipping point for me.


The Notorious BIG – ‘Unbelievable’

By the time I was 16 or 17, I had thought to myself “I know everything about rap there is.” Someone told me about Biggie and Tupac and I asked “Who’s that?” That person said “How could you be a fan of hip-hop without knowing these guys?”

I went home and did my research. I went pretty in-depth when it came to Biggie and Pac and all the other artists who were around them at the time. That trickled down into learning more about that music period in the 1990s, so it includes Michael Jackson, Prince, and whoever was making the dopest music at the time.

At a later stage, I went deep into Biggie’s music, and I was drawn way more to Biggie’s music than Pac. I was trying to understand it over the years, but now I finally get it — he had a sauce and a groove that nobody else could copy. He had a way to flow over beats that was very inimitable.

It was a style he had that took the world by storm. Biggie could claim a spot next to Pac as the king of New York. He claimed his lane like no one else did, and I was very inspired by that.


Kanye West – ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ & ‘Blood On The Leaves’

It wasn’t the most pleasant time for me in secondary school. I was constantly trying to fit in, and it wasn’t pretty, man. Hip-hop was instrumental in making me feel empowered and dope inside.

It was something that I constantly had as a pillar of strength. It was that one thing that made me feel strong, so I relied on hip-hop for that strength. I’ve never come across a personality in the hip-hop space that was so bold as Kanye.

‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ was the record I heard from Kanye that made such a big impression — that boldness was a source of strength for me at that time.


Drake – ‘Is There More’ & ‘Headlines’

I would say that Drake is the GOAT because of what he’s achieved with his day ones over the last 10 years. It’s not even debatable at this point. It’s just a consistent display of greatness. That’s just how I view it.

He’s someone who reps his hometown, his team, celebrates his life, his people, and the different parts of life he goes through in each album. The way he tells stories is what I’m working towards.


Snoop Dogg – ‘Vato’

Tha Blue Carpet Treatment was one of the other albums I bought with that Amazon gift card. ‘Vato’ is a very funny song, because if you listen to it, he uses the hook as somebody else talking to him, while he’s sharing a story from a Spanish dude he calls Vato.

The hook is what Vato is telling Snoop Dogg. Conceptually, it’s mad, and the song is a banger. Snoop Dogg’s sauciness is inspiring. ‘Vato’ is a song that is hard, and it has a creative storytelling element to it. It has his stamp, his sound on it.


Yung Raja’s ‘MAMI’ is now available to stream on digital platforms. Thank you to Universal Music Singapore for arranging this interview.

Genre Equality podcast Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit Disney+

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



WandaVision

Season 1

TV/Marvel Studios
Where to watch: Disney+

This wonderfully weird love letter to vintage sitcoms is easily the most daring and experimental thing the MCU has ever done. Formatting flourishes and the versatility of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany finds charmingly inventive ways to plumb Wanda’s traumatic history.


Saint Maud

Film/A24
Where to watch: The Projector

Rose Clarke’s directorial debut is the first great horror movie of 2021, and a great addition to A24’s arthouse horror canon. Led by fantastic performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle, this character study of religious fervour vs. mental illness is deeply unsettling.


Little Fish

Film/IFC Films
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (VPN required)

This melancholy indie sci-fi romance focuses on a world plagued by a contagious Alzheimer’s-like epidemic. Little Fish is a dreamy and devastating film about the disintegration of relationships without reason or closure.


Space Sweepers

Film/Bidangil Pictures
Where to watch: Netflix

This South Korean space opera may look great, but its story is a derivative slog.


The Watch

Season 1

TV/BBC Studios
Where to watch: BBC America (US cable access required)

Fans of Terry Pratchett’s satirical-fantasy Discworld novels will be sorely disappointed by BBC America’s moronic mess of an adaptation.


Superman & Lois

Season 1

TV/DC Entertainment
Where to watch: Amazon Prime (VPN required)

The latest entry into the CW’s Arrowverse is a mixed bag — buoyed by the charisma of Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch, but dragged by clunky melodrama.


Earwig and the Witch

Film/Studio Ghibli
Where to watch: HBO Max (VPN required)

Studio Ghibli’s first-ever CG film is ironically flat and lifeless, lacking the sense of wonder and whimsy of its hand-drawn predecessors.


Tribes of Europa

Season 1

TV/W&B Television
Where to watch: Netflix

From the creators of Dark comes this German post-apocalyptic series that feels like a tired re-thread of a million other YA dystopian stories. Disappointing.


Attack on Titan

Season 4

TV/MAPPA
Where to watch: Netflix

The insanely popular anime finally sheds its perennial problem with poor pacing. Now with mysteries revealed and questions answered, Attack on Titan steadily progresses to the exciting and action-packed conclusion to the saga.


Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World

Season 2

TV/White Fox
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Subaru-kun is back for more crying, suffering, deaths, and resets in the second half of the franchise’s returning season.


That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

Season 2

TV/White Fox
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Building upon a very well-received first season, overpowered slime lord Rimuru Tempest and his newly founded nation of monsters face threats from enemies new and old.

 


Dr. Stone

Season 2 (Stone Wars)

TV/TMS Entertainment
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Senkuu and his allies in The Kingdom of Science finish their preparations. Armed with a host of new science gizmos, they begin their preemptive attack on Tsukasa’s Empire.


Beastars

Season 2

TV/Orange
Where to watch: Netflix (scheduled for release in July)

Beaststars is back. The herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores at Cherryton Academy continue their tense coexistence while navigating their own complex emotions and interpersonal relationships.


Cells at Work!

Season 2

TV/David Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

We continue the journey with our favorite hardworking Cells, including lessons that important cells can make mistakes, and not all bacteria are bad. Cells at Work! (stylized for season 2 as Cells at Work!!) continues to be one of the best educational animes that we’ve seen.


Cells at Work! Code Black

Season 1

TV/David Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Cells at Work! Code Black is a much darker, more mature spinoff of Cells at Work!, set in a human body that’s in constant turmoil from poor life choices — making this a very different but no less enjoyable viewing experience.


The Promised Neverland

Season 2

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)
Season 1 available on Netflix

Having escaped Grace Field House, Emma and the older kids try to survive as they continue to escape capture from the demons. They are, instead, afflicted by the troubles of a missing story arc that has drawn the ire of fans.


World Trigger

Season 2

TV/Toei Animation
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Six years after their initial 73-episode run, World Trigger picks up where it left off with a second season. Ardent fans are treated to more great world-building, the continuation of Team Mikumo’s adventures, and some impressive improvements in animation and soundtrack.


Log Horizon

Season 3 (Destruction of the Round Table)

TV/Satelight
Where to watch: NHK Educational TV (subject to scheduling)

Log Horizon’s initial two-season run garnered a fair number of fans for their very different, detailed, and expansive take on the trapped-in-a-game-world genre. Now seven years later, we are brought back to the world of Elder Tale, starting Season 3 off with a heavy look at the political turmoil Shiroe and gang have become embroiled in.


Wonder Egg Priority

Season 1

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: FUNimation (VPN required)

With its gorgeous art style, amazing animation, and a top-notch soundtrack and sound design, Wonder Egg Priority is an arthouse film of an anime. Coupled with a compelling story, great voice acting, and some unexpectedly awesome fight scenes, this might easily be one of the best animes of the year.


HoriMiya

Season 1

TV/CloverWorks
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

A solid high school, slice of life rom-com about two teens living double lives, dishing out spot-on doses of romance, comedy, and drama in equal measure.


Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation

Season 1

TV/Egg Firm
Where to watch: Hulu (VPN required)

In yet another entry to the Isekai genre, a 34-year-old NEET has his fateful encounter with Truck-kun and gets reincarnated into a fantasy world with swords and magic. But with his memories from his past life intact, old trauma and wounds continue to haunt him even as he is given a new lease on life.


So I am a Spider, So What?

Season 1

TV/Millepensee
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

Basically, this is That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, but instead of slime, you get a spider instead. Despite the familiar (and at this point, frankly done to death) premise, this anime is a fairly hilarious take on the well-worn genre.


Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki

Season 1

TV/Project No.9
Where to watch: FUNimation (VPN required)

Top-tier gamer Tomozaki thinks that real life is a crappy game, with no proper rules and no way for a bottom-tier character like himself to ever beat it. An unexpected encounter with his gaming rival convinces him to give this game life a shot. An interesting and funny look at the idea of the “gaming” life.


Heaven’s Design Team

Season 1

TV/Asahi Production
Where to watch: Crunchyroll (VPN required)

What if God decided to outsource the creation of all the creatures on earth to a design agency? This anime is what you get. It’s an easy watch that’s funny, irreverent, and even educational in parts, and hits close to home for anyone who has lived the agency life.

Photo credit Ricks Ang

Imaginary Regions is a series of mixes made by Ricks Ang, head honcho of KITCHEN. LABEL. These mixes comprise of new age, ambient, environmental, and relaxation records, compact discs, and cassette tapes.

This episode, Fourth World SBC, features music channelled and shazamed from BGM used in shows by the now-defunct Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), which was active in the 1980s and early-1990s.

Most record finds were unearthed from the vaults of the legendary Red Point Records who had previously acquired the albums in job lots from defunct radio libraries in Singapore.

Here, Ricks Ang pens a piece about the music that defined this era — how new age and ambient tracks helped soundtrack stories of a reimagined and fantastical Singapore, and how he found these records at a local record warehouse.

Ricks Ang, pictured.

Listen to “Fourth World SBC”, the first Imaginary Regions mix:


How do we go beyond the “fourth world” musical ideas of pioneers like Eno and Jon Hassell?

Defined by Hassell as a kind of folk music from “unknown and imaginary regions”, the method behind making “fourth world” music was to disengage and create some other world while blurring our very own.

Subliminally, in television, fantasy/sci-fi/horror and melancholic drama series in the 1980s, produced by the then-SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation, now Mediacorp) such as Mystery (迷离夜) and Romance of the Season (恋曲 1991) — to name a few — are fine examples of what happens when you dive into this world.


Stills captured from existing footage of Romance of the Season.


The directors responsible for these works, hailing from Hong Kong, decisively chose to disengage from everyday Singapore life to draw a new myth of where we live.

From perfectly-dubbed Chinese dialogues, proto-vaporwave graphics, 80s interiors, and fashion, dreamy pastoral landscapes, to unrealistic story plots of a world reimagined, there was also a curious mix of music that straddled the line of pop, smooth jazz, new age, ambient music, and pure synthesizer noodling.

Before the advent of Netflix, reruns of these shows would air after midnight during weekdays. With the use of song identifiers such as Shazam, it has helped to find matches to musical accents and deep cuts, which unleashed a whole new music discovery level. There are some saxophones and a lot of crystalline synths, and that is a different kind of obsession I cannot escape from.

Aside from more prominent names like Enya, Kenny G, and Ennio Morricone, there was a treasure of musical delights by artists less-known in the public spotlight but prolific in their work. Keiko Matsui’s ‘Under the Northern Lights’ is found on the drama series The Magnate (叱咤风云), and the track ‘Chakra 4’ by Mannheim Steamroller was captured on an episode of Mystery.


The theme song for Mystery, which is currently available to stream on Netflix.


The first few seconds of the track ‘Belissima’ by Atmosphere (released on krautrock giant Klaus Schulze’s iconic label Innovative Communications) were often used on various scenes of heartbreak and shock throughout the era.

There are cuts from obscure Taiwanese ambient pioneer Chen Shyh Shing — released on Rock Records before the label’s mainstream success — and Toshifumi Hinata.

During this era, the latter was a much sought-after composer for Japanese film and TV, such as Tokyo Love Story, Long Vacation, and Gift, and whose work was recently reappraised by ambient music label Music From Memory with the compilation Broken Belief).

The old broadcasting station also had a streak of using instrumental pieces from labels such as Windham Hill (in particular, George Winston and Will Ackerman), New World Company, and Narada Mystique. For an extended period since then, the artists from their rosters were somewhat detested for being associated with that tag: New Age. Thirty years after, they have somewhat come full circle, regaining contemporary relevance among ambient music connoisseurs.

During this time, I started to put a lot of effort into research, and the experience made me understand what I wanted to reach for with my sound as a music selector. At that point, I began to buy records.

I buy most of my stuff on Discogs or during trips to Japan. In Singapore, I spend the most hours digging at Red Point Record Warehouse.

The owner Mr Ong is a massive collector. He helped me with the records that I wanted, always simplistically streamlining my preference as “the Enya type of music” (not that I mind) before unloading crates of 80s-90s new age LPs and CDs, inherited as job lots from defunct sound and radio libraries in Singapore.


The pile of CDs, vinyl, and cassette tapes used for this mix.


A lot of these have library reference numbers written on labels in marker pens. The album Crystal New Age by Robert Haig Coxon Jr even has a handwritten note to describe each track’s moods, quite likely as a reference to how it can be used as background music for films.

I might have completely missed out on Chen Shyh Shing’s album Emptiness if not for the fact that I vaguely remembered seeing the name on my Shazam list. I scored the LP for $15, and today it is worth US$150 on Discogs(!).

Coincidentally (or not), many of these songs and albums on my Shazam list were rediscovered at the record store. We cannot be entirely sure, but we hope to be optimistic in thinking that some of the rediscovered records at the record store might have been the same original source where the music was sampled for TV in those days.

The lost moods of old SBC drama serials and 80s new age records found at Red Point Record Warehouse have been an immense source I can draw from to create the mix “Fourth World SBC” as part of my new series “Imaginary Regions” on Singapore Community Radio.

I selected songs from tracks found on Shazam and mixed them with music from vinyl records, compact discs, and cassette tapes salvaged there, leading me to this imaginary atmosphere.

These are tracks that everybody could listen to with pleasure — but, at the same time, to be able to dig into strange elements that can be appreciated on a deeper level. It comes to mind a term I often use as “hard easy listening”.

I think you can find something in this mix to reimagine some of the inner scenery around you. And sometimes, these sounds have a way of coloring our memory in ways that we’ve yet to imagine.


Follow Ricks Ang on Instagram and visit KITCHEN. LABEL’s official website here.

deformed 10 tracks interview singapore syndicate
Photo credit deførmed

Energy is everything to deførmed, the main project of Abdul Hakiim.

A talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right — best displayed in his absurdly fun covers of songs from anime and Animal Crossing on his Instagram page — deførmed’s latest EP, LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR (all caps), is a jolt of frenzied breakbeats and engaging sonic detours that leaves an indelible mark just as it ends at 15 minutes.

Although this EP is not wholly representative of the music he makes under this project, it kicks off an ongoing exploration of fury and mayhem that draws from hardcore, gabber, hip-hop, and anything else that vibes with him.

His latest release — a two-track single release with the lead song ‘my crush should confess to me instead’, dropped just in time for Valentine’s Day via Syndicate — is a pleasant and offbeat side-step into heart-swelling indie rock, so there’s no guessing where else he might turn to.

Hakim’s ten tracks run a fascinating gamut from Indonesian jazz fusion to Aphex Twin and sprightly video game music, so listen to our conversation and read through his picks below.


Machine Girl – ‘DUMBASS!!’

Raw energy. This is my favourite track at the moment — the displaced rhythms, strong driving vocals, and unusual electronic timbres just activate my hormone glands.


Wet Floor – ‘Rip Entry’

Love the quirkiness of this track and this fictional band. It also fits perfectly with the wacky setting of (video game) Splatoon 2.


Hokago Tea Time – ‘Fuwa Fuwa Time’

This is the song from K-On!, my favourite anime. This is the song I’d always play when I pick up my guitar.


batta – ‘chandan’

I love the organicness and tightness of the band. It screams raw energy and chemistry which I absolutely love.


Krakatau – ‘Egrang Funk’

This one really transports me into an intermediate of another dimension and the current dimension. They blend tradition and modernity really well.


Hiroyuki Sawano – ‘亡KEI却KOKU心’

It’s from the soundtrack of the game Xenoblade Chronicles X. I love how Sawano is able to blend acoustic and digital sounds so naturally. It really paints the danger and atmosphere of the area in-game through the music.


Aphex Twin – ‘Funny Little Man’

The lack of a tonal center — yet still using pitches from the 12 tone equal temperament we are all conditioned to — makes it all the more ambiguous yet danceable with its four-on-the-floor beat.


Reizoko Cj – ‘CirnoRHTL’

Reizoko Cj is the mashcore/breakcore guy. Honestly, any of Reizoko’s tracks would do — all of them bang hard.


Manami Kiyota – ‘On The Fallen Arm’

Another track from Xenoblade Chronicles, my favourite game. The reason I like it is nothing more than it being a calm and melancholic song.


Razihel & Virtual Riot – ‘All for One, One for All’

This is the song that got me into the heavy bass style of music and sound design synthesis.


deførmed’s music can be found on streaming platforms. Follow deførmed on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo credit

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from the first month of 2021.

Follow Genre Equality on Facebook for more updates.



The Expanse

Season 5

TV/ Amazon Studios
Where to watch: Prime Video

This continues to be the best sci-fi show on air. Season 5’s gamble of splitting up the Rocinante crew to explore the nature of family, survival and the politics of radicalization pays off with richly layered stories.


Star Trek: Discovery

Season 3

TV/ Secret Hideout
Where to watch: Netflix

To a superfan like Hidzir, Star Trek is religion, and Discovery is blasphemy. In season 3, Discovery further abandons Trek’s thoughtful explorations of culture, faith, race, science and diplomacy in favour of dumb action.


Carmen Sandiego

Season 4

TV/ WildBrain Studios
Where to watch: Netflix

The fourth and final season cements Carmen Sandiego as one of the best kids cartoons Netflix has ever made. This educational espionage caper remains stylish and enormously fun till the end.


His Dark Materials

Season 2

TV/ Bad Wolf/New Line
Where to watch: HBO Go

While managing to be a slight improvement on the wonder and spectacle of season 1, this HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s beloved fantasy novels remains frustratingly imperfect and devoid of excitement in season 2.


Last and First Men

Film/ Zik Zak Filmworks
Where to watch: Vimeo via Anticipate Pictures (link)

The last project of late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is an experimental and immersive sci-fi documentary about the survivors of an advanced society two billion years in the future. It is profoundly haunting, poignant, beautiful, and ethereal.


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Part 4

TV/ Warner Bros. Television
Where to watch: Netflix

The final season of Sabrina is bolstered by familiar strengths (it’s queer, horny and Satanic af) and hindered by familiar weaknesses (messy stories, too many characters pulled in too many directions). In the end, this show remains a mixed bag of untapped potential.


Doctor Who: “Revolution of the Daleks”

TV/ BBC Studios
Where to watch: BBC/Prime Video (requires VPN)

Doctor Who’s New Year special is a contemplative endeavour focusing on why the Doctor is always the centre of the series’ universe — and if her companions should break free of her orbit. A good, if inessential, episode that clears the slate for Doctor Who’s upcoming season.


We Can Be Heroes

Film/ Double R Productions
Where to watch: Netflix

Robert Rodriguez’s loose sequel to The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl has its lo-fi, campy charms. But it’s ultimately too insipid and uninspired to enjoy.


The Stand

TV/ Vertigo/CBS/Mosaic
Where to watch: CBS All Access (requires VPN)

The latest miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic pandemic/supernatural novel is bolstered by great performances and production values. Unfortunately, it’s also dragged down by horrendous pacing, hollow exposition, and muddled stories.


The Promised Neverland

Film/ Shueisha Inc.
Where to watch: Golden Village

This live-action adaptation of the popular manga and anime is faithful to a fault. Sadly, condensing 12 episodes of story and character development into one movie isn’t the wisest of moves.


Equinox

Season 1

TV/ Apple Tree Productions
Where to watch: Netflix

Based on an acclaimed podcast, this Danish series uses Scandanavian folklore to propel a captivating mystery and investigate philosophical conundrums such as determinism vs. free will, alongside the toll of grief and loss. A decent binge that is impeded by a rushed climax and occasional leaps in plot logic.


Shadow in the Cloud

Film/ Automatik/Four Knights
Where to watch: Local cinemas

Centering on a WWII pilot (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) who fights off gremlins on her B-17 Flying Fortress, this indie sci-fi could have been a fun adventure. Instead, it devolves into something excruciatingly stupid.


Outside the Wire

Film/ Automatik/42 Films
Where to watch: Netflix

This Training Day-meets-Terminator hybrid is a flat, dour, snoozefest.


We Only Find Them When They’re Dead

Comics/ Boom! Studios
Where to buy: Local bookstores

Al Ewing’s gorgeous, cosmic series is one of the best new indie comic books out right now. Set in a future when Earth’s resources have depleted, this tale of poor miners who strip the corpses of giant space gods to survive is fun and propulsive.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin

Comics/ IDW Publishing
Where to buy: Local bookstores

Kevin Eastman’s climax to the TMNT series jumps to a post-apocalyptic future where only one Ninja Turtle has survived (his identity is a mystery). Seeking vengeance for his murdered brothers, The Last Ronin returns TMNT to its dark and gritty comic book roots for its heartbreaking final story.

If you’ve followed along the musical path of Isa Ong, the music of Claude Glass might come off as a startling left-field turn.

The songs of Isekai are rich and unfettered, with only a twinkle of his skillful guitarwork peeking out amidst the startling electronic production that defines this new project.

Ong is best known for bringing his instrumental chops to several Singaporean bands, on and off the stage — in the revered technicality of Amateur Takes Control, the theatrical experimentation of sub:shaman, and the infectious pop of Pleasantry.

Claude Glass is his outlet for pure studio work. These songs were only made with solitary listening in mind, although he has not ruled out pulling off a live show in the near future.

Glitched-out passages, assertive breaks, and melodic vocal lines glide over everything so smoothly, and it’s only the start. Claude Glass joined us to talk about the forward-thinking music that helped nudge some inspiration his way.

Listen to our conversation with him below and read through his picks.



Aphex Twin – ‘Flim’

Since hearing this for the first time in my teens (probably 10 years after it came out), I’ve been consistently obsessed with its drum arrangement.

It’s just so human, and yet it isn’t, which was mind-blowing to me at the time — there was so much human-ness in the programming and yet it still had that drum machine quality to it.

It’s brutally simple in its instrumentation too, and it’s exactly that combination of drums, synths, and those sweet, sincere pianos that makes it so unique. A timeless classic.


JPEGMAFIA – ‘Baby I’m Bleeding’

The first time I heard this track, I was amazed by his use of sounds — especially because he was sampling stuff that I would think to be seemingly unusable (or just difficult!) to form the base of a track.

In this one, he made an entire track out of “eh’s” and “ah’s”. How cool is that? And it works so well with his vocal performance and style to form this chaotic, f*ck-all energy that’s so infectious.


Son Lux – ‘The Fool You Need’

They’re probably my favourite band for the past two years or so. Their music hits so many spots — technical, emotional, and wondrous.

What astounds me is how each member has such a unique style and sonic characteristic that’s so distinct (from their own solo projects), and yet, in a band setting, it all comes together perfectly to form something so new — all the while still allowing each of their individual characteristics to shine.

It’s so masterful in production, arrangement, songwriting, and importantly — on navigating individuality in those aspects.


Gabriel Garzón-Montano – ‘Someone, Agüita, Bloom (Medley) | A COLORS SHOW’

I’m cheating a little bit here with the medley. I was floored when I first heard this on COLORS — there was so much freedom in his performance, and what really struck me was how he seemed to defy any need to have a set musical style or genre. He just did whatever he wanted, and that was so freeing and inspiring to me.



Nat King Cole – ‘Autumn Leaves’

This is one of my grandfather’s favourite songs. It always takes me back to a very special moment when we both sat down in silence listening to this on vinyl at my parent’s old place in Tampines.

I have a soft spot for schmaltzy love songs, especially from this era — it’s that sincerity and those idealistic musings in the lyrics and melody.


Golden Blonde – ‘We Begin’

Probably only came across this track by sheer luck while surfing through Bandcamp. I particularly love the way they used drums and percussions — that main drum section seems to be composed almost as a riff, and it had such a peculiar yet groovy rhythmic pattern to it.

It also had this melodic quality to it, through using different parts of the drum kit. It had an almost lyrical sense to it too.


alva noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto – ‘By This River’

This is a re-imagining of a Brian Eno track. I fell in love with how tactile the entire track is, and its use of glitch in such a controlled, warm, and melodic way.

Working so closely with the piano chords, the stutter-y glitches throughout the track never once felt intrusive or annoying. Instead, it elevated the emotion in those chords, with the perfect amount of restrained tension.


skillkills – ‘Count 2.9’

Heard about this band when sub:shaman was playing a few shows around Japan in 2017. We were working with a Japanese-based live sound engineer, So-san (who also did sound for The Observatory, and also for Boris!), who played some of their songs during a long van ride.

This band’s sense of rhythm is so insane — they create these badass, yet quirky and alien-like grooves that I’ve never heard or thought were possible before. It’s like dub on speed. It really has made me rethink what “groove” is and what it could potentially be.


Mun Sing – ‘Giant’

Mun Sing’s one half of Giant Swan. In this track, he created such an immersive world out of just drums and percussions. I fell in love with the track’s texture, chaos, and drive, and especially at how intense and hard it got while still preserving intricacy and groove.

His re-pitching of percussive elements was also really cool — using that gave so much interest without hammering down a clearcut, on-the-nose melodic hook.


Jockstrap – ‘Acid’

I was so enamoured by this track that I had to listen to it several times a day, every day for a few weeks. It captured some of that old school sweetness, while keeping things fresh and unique with its arrangement and choice of instrumentation — from those lilting violins to the vocal treatment and drums.

There’s so much good taste behind the songwriting and production of this track I actually teared when I heard it — half from its beauty and half from jealousy. (laughs)


Claude Glass’ Isekai is now available on streaming platforms and Bandcamp. Follow Claude Glass on Facebook and Instagram.

10 Tracks JAWN Interview Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit Cherlynn Lian

For many, exploring music is fulfilling and deeply personable — and sometimes the best songs arrive by happenstance. For JAWN, it happened in school.

If not for a chance encounter with a classmate putting on Kings of Convenience, he might still be hanging onto Contemporary Christian Music and Symphony 92.4.

Since then, he’s latched onto that feeling and turned it into a body of open-hearted work that evolves as he grows. While known for sparse acoustic arrangements, his latest single ‘Feel Too Much’ is pure joy, with an upbeat arrangement recorded with friends that still retains a personal touch.

“I actually recorded most of the guitars and violins in my room,” he explains. “It was an interesting experience because I thought, “You need to be in a treated room” but I was like, “F*ck it, I’m gonna record it in my closet and see what’s what”, and it turned out okay!”

To JAWN, the process is just as important, and many artists have helped him understand how that process does not need a large studio or a cavalcade of professionals to get things done.

In this 10 Tracks, he talks about the artists that have opened his eyes to music, and the ones that showed him how making it your own way is crucial — and also why Damien Rice isn’t an artist he wants to go back to anymore.



Kings of Convenience – ‘Know-How’

I was doing my art project in school because I had an art module in Junior College when I was 17. Someone put that on and I really liked it.

From there, I jumped into a lot of things, but here it was when I realized there were whole worlds of music that are apart from Delirious? or Planetshakers or Hillsongs.


Jon Chan – ‘Security’

There was this artist called Jon Chan I found while on Google just because his name was the same as mine. Turns out, he was the frontman of Plainsunset.

I discovered his album Pencil Tracings, which was among his first material. I wanna give a shoutout to his track ‘Security’ because that was the first local track I listened to that I liked. Thank you, Jon!

Listen to the track on Bandcamp here.


Sufjan Stevens – ‘To Be Alone With You’

Naturally, I had the transition from church acoustic music to inhabiting that realm of rationalizing your faith and who you are. Sufjan Stevens, very big shoutout to him!

He had his own struggles and rationalizations of sexuality, faith, and violence. One of the first tracks I heard from him was ‘Seven Swans’. It’s a beautiful track. It was the first time I heard a banjo in a track that sounded nice.


Bon Iver – ‘Blindsided’

For me, For Emma, Forever Ago broke down my preconceived notions of how a track can sound. You don’t need to have polished vocals — he recorded it all on super shitty mics. I also really like his way of song construction, because he would do vocalizations that fit that particular phrase and will find a word for it after.

He had really interesting ideas that I initially rejected — I listened out of hatred for a while, but it started to grow on me.


Sigur Ros – ‘Fjogur Piano’

The Valtari album was interesting for me — it was one of the first times I experienced an album through film and music. The great thing about Sigur Ros is that there is no barrier to appreciation.

You may never understand their language (aside from Icelandic, a good amount of Sigur Ros’ music is sung in Hopelandic, the band’s form of wordless vocals) and that’s fine.

You don’t need to in order to access whatever he’s trying to build or paint or say with these word images and music. It’s a whole moodboard that encompasses you in this world of soft voices and feelings.


John Mayer – ‘Gravity’

I can’t go through a list without talking about one John Mayer track. He’s been one of the most formative influences in my guitar playing and how I approach “band” music. he’s one of the rare modern guitarists who can make a guitar sing like a human voice.

It has inflection and imperfections. It plays into how he’s talking through his guitar, and I really like that. That was something I tried to bring into my own practice. He has really cheesy but effective lyrical imagery.


Dry the River – ‘Bible Belt’

I like the way they construct their lyrics, it’s basically biblical poetry. There’s a certain gravitas to whatever comes off the page from them.

It helps that they come from the UK — there’s the whole experience of church and state that informs their life experiences.

They have so many effortless metaphors about the practice of religion while noticing the shortcomings of life and happiness. They’re not a Christian band but they have a natural affinity for Christian imagery and metaphors.


Matt Corby – ‘Resolution’

This track is here just for his voice. If there was any voice I could have in the world, I would kope his.


Damien Rice – ‘Chandelier (Sia cover)’

It was something I found recently, and I didn’t even know he was still active in music. I was listening to it thinking, “I can get why I was into his music but that’s not a mental space I want to inhabit today.” Still, I wish him the best!


Samm Henshaw – ‘Broke’

He modernizes gospel music and there’s this element of joy I seldom get from other music nowadays. There’s a celebratory aspect to his music-making.

I just enjoy his energy. you can find it in Chance the Rapper’s stuff too — the references to family and religion, adding it all up to figure out what makes life good for them.


Follow JAWN on Facebook and Instagram.

Genre Equality podcast Singapore Community Radio
Photo credit Disney

The duo behind Genre Equality puts out a monthly review of the best and worst each month — whether if it’s a new series on Netflix to binge, a film to catch in cinemas (if you use TraceTogether, that is), or a book to simply plug out from the outside noise.

While you can listen in to their latest episode for a full breakdown of their verdicts, scroll down to dig into what they’ve loved (and disliked) from 2020’s last gasp.



The Mandalorian

Season 2

TV/ Disney
Where to watch: Disney+ (coming to Singapore Feb 23)

Season 2 of The Mandalorian was an exciting, emotional triumph! Economical episodic storytelling made it a breeze for casuals, while us hardcores freaked out over how the show organically weaved elements of Dave Filoni’s animated series, the expanded universe books, and video games into its plot.


Wonder Woman 1984

Film/ Warner Bros. Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

While we appreciated the film’s powerful message and brightly optimistic tone, they barely redeemed this overlong sequel’s many flaws — namely its nonsensical internal logic, horrendous pacing, and cheaply earned character beats.

Soul

Film/ Disney/Pixar
Where to watch: Local cinemas

Pixar hits it out of the park again! Featuring the studio’s first Black protagonist, this poignant exploration of jazz music and the afterlife tackles weighty existential questions about mortality and the meaning of life, while still offering lots of broad comedy for kids.


Wolfwalkers

Film/ Cartoon Saloon
Where to watch: Apple TV+

‌Easily the most dazzling animated film of 2020. This underseen gem from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon impressed us with its intricate and lush hand-drawn visuals alongside its potent themes of empowerment, anti-colonialism, and environmentalism — which reminded us a lot of Studio Ghibli’s canon.


Big Mouth

Season 4

TV/ Titmouse, Inc.
Where to watch: Netflix

From Missy’s identity crisis as a biracial girl (which elegantly leads to Jenny Slate being recast with Ayo Edeberi) to episodes hilariously tackling gender transition therapy, handjobs and tampons – season 4 of Big Mouth continues to mix obscene humour with genuine insight into the confusion of adolescence.


Hilda

Season 2

TV/ Silvergate Media/Mercury Filmworks
Where to watch: Netflix

Season 2 of Hilda remains one of the most charming, wondrous and magical children’s animated shows on Netflix. Its blend of Nordic folklore adventure and warm family dynamics between the free-spirited Hilda and her worried mom makes this one of our favourites.


The Midnight Sky

Film/ Smokehouse Pictures
Where to watch: Netflix

George Clooney’s bleak post-apocalyptic thriller tries to evoke the melancholy, thoughtfulness, and introspection of films like Gravity or Ad Astra. Unfortunately, it lacks the dramatic heft to pull it off. A worthwhile effort that’s watchable but ultimately forgettable.


Archenemy

Film/ SpectreVision
Where to watch: Amazon (VPN required)

This isn’t the best entry to the “grimdark deconstruction of superheroes” trend, but its raw energy, colourful palette, and Joe Manganiello’s lead performance makes this a fun if middling action-adventure.


The Walking Dead: World Beyond

TV/ AMC
Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The Wa‌lking Dead franchise continues to milk its undead premise for all its worth with a 3rd spinoff. World Beyond focuses on the kids who grew up during the zombie apocalypse, but it fails to add anything interesting to the franchise while continuing to bore us with contrived cliches.


Alice in Borderland

TV/ Robot Communications Inc.
Where to watch: Netflix

Finally, anime to live-action that works! ‌While it still pales in comparison to its source material, Alice in Borderland manages to engage with breakneck pacing, exciting survival challenges, and striking imagery of an empty Tokyo.


Detention

TV/ Outland Film Production
Where to watch: Netflix

This Taiwanese supernatural horror movie is a failure on nearly every level. It fails to use its “White Terror” period setting to craft any meaningful allegory, it fails to develop investment in character and, worst of all, it fails to be scary.


Monster Hunter

Film/Sony Pictures
Where to watch: Local cinemas

The king crappy video game adaptations, Paul W.S. Anderson, returns for another crappy video game adaptation. Due to a racist controversy over a distasteful joke, Monster Hunter was banned in China, but that’s the least of the film’s multitude of problems.


Piranesi

Susanna Clarke

Book/Bloomsbury Publishing
Where to buy: BooksActually, Littered with Books

After 16 years, Susanna Clarke’s long-awaited sophomore novel proves that she remains one of the best fantasy authors living today. Though this isn’t the 800-page behemoth of her debut, this slim new story is just as weighty. Piranesi is a complex, challenging, and transcendent puzzle box of a novel that leads readers to profound rewards.

Photo credit Chong Lingying

Saying Out Loud is a new recurring column by Chong Lingying — a book publisher, editor, and writer — where she shares her unfiltered views on work, creativity, and the conversations happening around her in Singapore.

She manages Asiapac Books, an independent publishing house specializing in illustrated and comic books on Asian culture, history, philosophy, folktales, and life skills.

In her inaugural piece, Lingying talks about the misfortune 2020 brought upon to Singapore’s creative scenes and how it affected her own workplace.


It was going to be a great year. The best ever!

Asiapac Books had an exciting publication plan for 2020: a graphic novel retelling of Elizabeth Choy’s World War II story, a Southeast Asian superhero saga, an illustrated book on the goddess Mazu, and more. A fan-backed collector’s edition of Return of the Condor Heroes was on the way.

As is the norm in book publishing, we had scheduled the new releases a year in advance, not including the years of development that each creation required.

Beyond our own publications, my team and I were starting work on Comix.sg, a new platform for Singapore comics. I had scheduled trips overseas to promote the new titles at book fairs and comic conventions. There was so much to do and so much to talk about!

And it was the last year of my twenties! I wanted to fall in love, write my first novel, publish a volume of poems, and do a painting show.

What happened? Everything was postponed, or cancelled, or downsized.


Comic artwork by Wee Tian Beng from the upcoming collector’s edition boxset of Return of the Condor Heroes. Buy it here.


The hardest thing was losing all expectations of perfection. You might think that with a great idea and great plan you’re at least somewhat likely to succeed. But none of that matters when you can’t see what’s coming. All you can really do is execute, fail, learn, and move on. Don’t forget to lubricate the painful process with copious glasses of wine, sake, beer or whatever you have in the fridge.

Bookstores were closed at one point, which was downright terrifying. If it could be done online, we did it online. We had already cancelled all new book projects. Then we let go of the warehouse and downsized our office.

Even during the Christmas season, I could see that the industry was still hurting. Bookstores are dependent on tourist dollars and lose out to international players online. I don’t think any of them are on the way back to recovery yet. Publishers have been running on the bare minimum, knowing that the little demand we have now could disappear overnight.

The small Asiapac Books team knuckled down to get through the first few months with Zoom calls, live-streaming, Facebook ads, and all that jazz.

My colleagues and I didn’t talk much about it, but as we sat one metre apart from each other there was a shared realism about the state of the company, the industry, and the economy. The company simply couldn’t take care of us. We’d have to find our own way out of the hole.

At the end of the office move, the company had one full-time employee left: me.


The messy remains after Asiapac Books’ move from their former warehouse and office.


I wish that I could say something good. I wish that I could reflect some positivity back on the smiling faces, wholesome thoughts, and balanced ruminations in my friends’ social media updates. They’re comforting, inspiring, even if a little grating on the nerves.

Wasn’t it a hellishly painful year? Wasn’t it exhausting? Reaching and grabbing non-stop for months, asking for help, frantically filling up forms? How quickly one realizes that there’s no end to it. It’s not a matter of managing risk when the uncertainty is this extreme. There’ll never be enough client work to pay the bills.

Government grants and subsidies, even loans — for most of the time, it’s less than what we asked for and with strings attached. What can we do? There aren’t many choices if you want to survive.

So, to be honest, I’m struggling. My publishing house is struggling. The book industry is struggling. The whole creative and arts scene in Singapore is struggling.

Things have been scary, but soon they’ll be just plain bad. All of the help we have had over the past few months has shown us one thing: it’s still not enough.

So what do I have for you today? A moment of catharsis, if anything.

2020, what the fuck was that?

Let’s forget about 2020 and everything else that came before it. It’s up to us to support and keep each other alive. If you’re still here, it’s because you chose to survive. Find your energy and confidence and hang on tight. Nobody will give you the power to go on. You’ll have to make it for yourself.

For 2021 and beyond, there are no rules in the game, only what you can get out of it.


Follow Asiapac Books on Facebook and Instagram.