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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This track is here just for his voice. If there was any voice I could have in the world, I would kope his.
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!
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.
The New York-based, Singapore-bred Slodown is adept at conjuring resolute moods that are now familiar territory in modern R&B.
His latest single ‘Ample Fruit’, released on Dec 18, is powered by warped sounds and twinkly synth-pads courtesy of producer WY Huang (who recently turned in an astounding Guest Mix for SGCR.)
‘Ample Fruit’ capped off a slew of singles from the artist, who has kept himself busy despite a year like 2020. It arrives at the kind of hushed intimacy that harks back to older soul records, and it’s no surprise that Slodown himself is a seasoned student of the classics.
But instead of handing in a laundry list of the usual suspects for this 10 Tracks, Slodown highlights a handful of lesser-known delights, while schooling us on the up-and-comers he believes will come to define the genre in the years (or even months) to come.
Of course, there’s also D’Angelo. No discussion of R&B and soul can omit that name.
Pore through his picks below and listen in to our conversation with the singer during his brief return to Singapore last month.
I know very little about this guy. It’s something Spotify algorithms fed to me. I’ve been listening to a lot of movie scores recently just because I love films as well. There’s always something about how movie scores can conduct and play with your emotions without needing words or lyrics.
At the core of it, that’s something I try to do with my music — to conjure certain emotions. So for me, I feel like movie scores are a really good place to get inspired by.
This guy has only two songs out right now, both similar in vibes, but I was immediately drawn to this guy because he wears his identity on his sleeves.
He’s not shy to have symbolism and references [from his Muslim faith] in his work and he uses that. He just speaks his truth. The nature of the content is familiar — it’s still street tales that we may be more familiar with, almost doing this folk/R&B thing while drawing so much from his heritage.
That’s my favourite D’Angelo song, and probably my favourite song of all time. That’s my most-played song ever.
I’m always in the mood to listen to this song. It’s the kind of vibe that inspired me to make music the most. The feeling that I got from this song was something I wanted to create with my music.
I found Xavier Omar on Soundcloud, never even knew how he looked like. No photos up. But that song ‘Blind Man’, I was like “Shit!” I think now he’s finally gotten bigger – I wouldn’t say he’s mainstream but he has at least come out of that. There’s a phase to his music now.
I found out about her from Xavier Omar, she was featured in one of his singles. She’s a new LA artist and her shit is all upbeat and dancey, and somehow it feels really fresh. I wouldn’t be sure to call it R&B but it’s fresh to me.
I’m a bit bored – to me, the sound of R&B has become so mainstream that PARTYNEXTDOOR almost sounds like it could be on the same playlist as an Ariana Grande playlist now. There’s still the new Ty Dollar Sign album, it’s still done very well, but I’m always more excited by fresher takes on R&B that retains the genre’s soulfulness.
Lucky Daye’s blowing up, and he’s probably going to be mainstream soon. He’s blowing up in the States, and he’s also super talented. His sound is fresh and different from the regular landscape of R&B right now.
Love when Shelley gets on his soulful shit, especially when it’s in that old-school vein like that.
Been really enjoying this Benny the Butcher album — gives me the same feeling classic rap albums like The Infamous and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… used to give me.
It just puts you in a good mood. Every time summer hits New York, that’s the song I go back to. It’s another vibe I’m trying to recreate with my more summery songs.
There’s a certain thing about it — I don’t know if it’s the “old” quality of the music, or the vocals — but it’s just so warm and soulful. It’s a blanket statement lah but a lot of new music nowadays is made to be played in the clubs or parties.
A lot of old music was meant to be played outdoors, like at a picnic. This is one of those songs that puts you in that mood.
This is the shit I pour whiskey and chain-smoke cigarettes to during the winter. It gets me to an emo place, but not a bad kind of emo.
As a kid, I’d always wanted to move to New York, even before I had ever seen the city myself. This song felt like New York to me. When I hear this song, I think of movies like Taxi Driver, like old New York. It’s a special song for me.
‘Ample Fruit’ and other Slodown singles are available on streaming platforms.
Chances are you won’t find a bigger advocate for Taiwanese indie music in Singapore than Tiffany Ho.
The effusive fangirl helms High Tide 開台, our monthly show on all things Taiwan indie — from its consistent output of accomplished albums to its staple music festivals.
The last episode of the show saw Ho and her guests relieve their memories spent at Wake Up Festival last year, an event billed as “the biggest summer music festival in Taiwan”. For these music junkies, recording the episode was simply filling in the void of the lack of travel this year.
But the conversational elements and laid-back nature that tie the show together, along with Ho’s extensive knowledge, is what makes High Tide 開台 a fun peek into its scene. Less music history, more music conversations that would last till 3am (if not for our programming restrictions).
Bands such as Sunset Rollercoaster, Elephant Gym, and No Party for Cao Dong are some of the successful crossover examples from the country, each gaining fanbases around the world. But ask Ho, and she’ll immediately dig out at least ten more acts worth a listen.
“I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong,” she says, “that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.”
Read on to find out more about the host of High Tide 開台 on her fascination with Taiwan (and feel free to reach out if you’re part of the people Ho doesn’t know yet!)
When did your love for Taiwan and its music start?
Since it’s US election season this week, we can trace everything back to Trump.
As Singaporeans, our media diet is dominated by the West. Back in 2017, when Donald Trump was newly elected as president, the entire western world was going through a collective mental breakdown — every headline was a reaction to what Trump did and it got really overwhelming overtime.
I was looking for an alternative to this madness and that’s when I stumbled into the Taiwanese indie renaissance.
It started on a drowsy weekday afternoon — Spotify was blocked on my office computer and I was secretly looking for music on YouTube.
God knows how YouTube algorithms work, but Sunset Rollercoaster’s ‘My Jinji’ started playing in the background and that brought me down the rabbit hole of Taiwanese indie gold.
My love for Taiwan kicked into full gear during one particular trip to Taipei in 2018.
It was a short three nights, but my friends and I were so well taken care of by our friends from a local production company.
One of them couldn’t make it for dinner because he had to get some drinks going with some triad bosses to convince them to make an investment in a film they’re producing.
It felt like a plot straight out of the movies, but it was nothing more than a regular, even common business practice in Taiwan. I was so intrigued — like I found a secret basement into the mechanics of how Taiwan functions.
After reading more into Taiwan’s history, it made me realize that there’s a whole different layer to Taiwan that I didn’t know about. I never knew that Taiwan is actually an extremely young democracy — that it was ruled under martial law for a period of 30 years and it’s first presidential election was held only in 1996.
Since then, Taiwan has been the main exporter of cultural soft power until China’s recent emergence. What was the catalyst for Taiwan’s vibrant cultural landscape? Could Singapore do the same?
We’ve barely scratched beneath the surface of Jay Chou, bubble tea and the old-dated variety shows that we grew up watching. The cultural anthropologist in me has been hooked ever since.
How do you usually look for new music?
I think about this question a lot. With social media, YouTube and Spotify, the discovery process is a lot more convenient — but I do miss how deliberate looking for music used to be.
Online, Streetvoice is probably one the best platforms to discover new music from Taiwan — think Bandcamp but Taiwanese.
There is a recent trend of shows online that are more music-centric — my favourite is Shot Gun, a weekly 90-minute programme on YouTube hosted by the lead guitarists of Wayne’s So Sad and Bisiugroup.
[The video below contains content in Mandarin with no English subtitles.]
The show is filled with industry gossip and insider jokes about the indie scene. They have a dedicated segment where they make recommendations of the latest releases — often from bands who are their friends.
The set-up might seem overly casual and nonchalant but you’ll be surprised by how informative it can be. I learnt so much about the music industry business just by watching that show.
Offline, nothing beats walking into a record store and keeping your ears peeled to whatever playing in the background.
Plus, music festivals will always be the best way to be exposed to new bands. Can’t go for one? Here’s a cheat code: look for the line-up and start listening to every band on the list. Works for any kind of music.
Your episodes for High Tide features friends who share your enthusiasm. Did this mutual appreciation grow over the years? Who was responsible for turning the other onto new music?
I have to thank Instagram stories for this.
If a friend is posting about Taiwan/Japan too often, you could probably guess that they might be into Chinese indie, but nothing confirms it until they start sharing a track from one of the bands you know.
It’s almost the equivalent of seeing someone wear a band tee or carrying a gig tote bag — the low key signalling of “I really hope someone out there knows, and if you know, you know.” Knowing how small the circle could be, my friends and I would slide new releases and good tunes into each other’s DMs regularly.
I could count on one hand the number of people I know who listen to Taiwanese indie and I really, really want to be proven wrong — that there‘s actually a lot more people who like the music than I’m personally aware of. I just haven’t met them yet.
I like to think that the ultimate goal of High Tide 開台 is to bring everyone who shares that same enthusiasm together.
High Tide started off with a primer for Taiwanese indie music. For those unaware, explain what has been the most exciting thing about its scene over these past few years.
For one, the generation handover from Mayday to No Party for Caodong, when the new band beat the old guard to the Best Band award at the Golden Melody Awards, the Emmys equivalent of the Mandarin-speaking world. If there was any indication that a new generation has arrived, this had to be it.
Another is the stronger crossover between mediums.
Along with music, we see an entire new generation of filmmakers, content creators, and bands collaborating together.
There are many outstanding pieces of storytelling in music videos – I highly recommend the music video for deca join’s 海浪, the works of 郭佩萱 Pei-Hsuan Guo, Jung-Kuan Chen a.k.a 陳容寬, and Spacebar productions.
You’ve made a playlist for some of your favourites. If you could list five modern Taiwanese indie albums people should check out, what are they?
Selecting these albums was a lot tougher than I thought! There are so many good albums that represent the many different facades of culture.
These five were picked ultimately for being each genre’s best, their rootedness in the Taiwanese culture, the way they‘ve blended influences to create a soundscape unique to them, and their potential in appealing to audiences worldwide.
Shallow Levée – The Village
Sunset Rollercoaster – Cassa Nova
拍謝少年（Sorry Youth) – Brothers Shouldn’t Live Without Dreams
Soft Lipa – Homely Music
Soft Lipa has made Homely Music available for digital purchase only. Preview the album here.
Prairie WWWW – Pán
What can we expect for future episodes?
As a long-time closet listener of hip-hop, I’m really excited to do a proper introduction of Taiwanese-hip hop. That should be happening pretty soon! (fingers crossed)
The next episode ofHigh Tide 開台 is scheduled to air on November 17th.
Community Spotlight is an ongoing editorial series by Singapore Community Radio to feature the creative minds behind some of our shows.
Every month, we have the distinct pleasure of hosting Lim Brothers Travel — not quite a travel agency, but their three-hour odysseys are, to put it succinctly, a trip.
The brainchild of BGourd (who has put out sterling hip-hop EPs under the same name) and Beansprouts, Lim Brothers Travel are a DJ/VJ duo whose unbridled love for music is united with a green screen.
Disorienting visuals are jumbled up with memes, tongue twisters are knotted up with voice messages — all sourced from the various corners of the internet.
It’s a unique take amongst a surge of DJ livestreams since quarantine began, and — like the windfall of content we all now consume from independent creators — it began in their bedroom.
“We wanted to find another way to connect with our friends and what better way to do it than through music and quality laughs,” says BGourd.
The show initially ran through May to June as a weekly special on Twitch, before taking a breather that finally ended with their SGCR debut last September.
Now a monthly pursuit, the show is guided by the masterful selections of Beansprouts — who can switch to hip-hop, metalcore, soul, dance-pop, or house music at any moment — and BGourd, who takes over the mic to engage with viewers, commandeering the green screen madness along the way.
Beginning with the farthest reaches of space in September, last month’s edition was a trip to hell, just in time for Halloween.
Audiences are encouraged to send in memes, voice messages, and anything else BGourd is able to squeeze in, while Beansprouts always leaves room for requests.
Instead of attempting to replicate the club experience online, Lim Brothers Travel push the DJ streaming experience to its limits, and they’ve only just begun.
Get to know the duo before their next departure this month on Singapore Community Radio.
Tell us how Lim Brothers Travel came to be!
BGourd: The idea started during Circuit Breaker. We wanted to find another way to connect with our friends and what better way to do it than through music and quality laughs.
Beansprouts: I was inspired by the DJ/MC setup I saw in various club events, and thought it might be fun to replicate that with BGourd. All the better that he knows how to work visuals as well.
We think anyone who tunes into a Lim Brothers Travel session is taken aback by the unfettered chaos that happens. Was it always this way?
BGourd: Yeah! Chaos is definitely the backbone of every Lim Brothers Travel episode and it’s usually derived from our interactions with the viewers.
Chaos usually arises when they request a funny song or, most recently, when they get me to do a Mandarin tongue twister.
Beansprouts: I actually didn’t expect it to get this crazy. In hindsight, however, I should’ve known the chaos was inevitable.
We try to be as spontaneous as we can when interacting with the audience, on top of the show we’ve pre-planned and curated. But I’m all the happier for the havoc, because it keeps us on our toes.
2020 has kept everyone indoors, and we’ve seen DJ after DJ find ways to intimately engage with audiences. How important is the audience to you?
BGourd: Super important! We’re very new to the DJ game, so I would consider our audience now to be our core-listeners/fans and I think I couldn’t have wished for a better group to tune into every show.
Beansprouts: I personally think our show is as much an interactive radio show as it is a DJ mix — taking requests for tracks we’ve never even heard of, flashing tweets we’ve not seen before, or playing voice messages sent to us live.
We try to play off that spontaneity and uncertainty as much as we can, and we’re thankful that it works as much as it has done so far.
Are there any DJ streams you would recommend?
BGourd: I’d recommend every DJ stream on SGCR!
Beansprouts: I don’t listen to as many streams as I should, but when it comes to mixes I’ve been putting Leon Vynehall’s 2019 DJ-Kicks on repeat. The way it amps up the energy is fascinating. I’m just studying mixes, at this point.
What do you miss most about clubs and the dance floor?
BGourd: Oooo, I really miss Headquarters. It’s was fun to hang around with my friends and, after a night of hydration, sit down by the edge of the Singapore River and admire the Singapore Parliament building.
Beansprouts: There’s many things to miss, but I miss most the visceral, palpable thump of booming club speakers. That’s not something that a pair of headphones can exactly recreate.
Music-wise, you guys aren’t afraid to explore different corners of genres — but have there been tunes or styles you wouldn’t touch? Why?
BGourd: I’m considering putting Vira Talisa’s Walking Back Home on a blacklist. Can we get requests for her other songs, please?
Beansprouts: By principle, we would like to keep exploring new sounds as much as we can. But it’s more a question of personal limitations: I’m not as clued in on the Soundcloud community as much as I should be, so I inevitably won’t be playing as many tracks from that digital realm of music. We’re always down for recommendations however, on-air or off-air!
We’ve been to space. We’ve been to hell. Where else are we going?
BGourd: (no comment)
Beansprouts: We’ve got a couple themes planned already, but we’re always open to requests! Literally everything lies between the planes of space and hell.
Last question: as veteran globetrotters, would you pay $321 to sit in SIA’s business class right now?
BGourd: …unfortunately, no. Maybe if it came with a Lim Brothers live DJ set XD.
Beansprouts: No. But I’m content that they’ve come up with a relatively harmless way to generate cash flow between people who can afford to throw that kind of money at such experiences, and the people whose livelihoods have been severely affected by the pandemic.
The next voyage by Lim Brothers Travel is happening on November 18th on Singapore Community Radio.
Follow Lim Brothers Travel on Instagram.
Ever since their fiery 2016 opus August is the cruellest, The Observatory have gone through an evolution in both sound and line-up.
What remains is their ever-present ethos — pushing past expectations set upon them, resulting in an electrifying body of work that defies the stagnant “art rock” category.
Now comprising of Cheryl Ong on drums, along with Yuen Chee Wai and Dharma on guitars and electronics, the three-piece have since ventured down the path of collaborations — beginning with Norweigian experimentalists MoE, along a split with prolific psych-rock outfit Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O..
The latter featured a recording of a concert where the band, in their last major concert, performed with a chorus of 30 young guitarists, conjuring an effect that they’ve described as “layering tiny tremoloes to create emotional earthquakes”.
It’s not an overstatement to say that their latest document dwarves that statement in sheer volume alone.
Authority is Alive captured the band during a surprise performance last year with avant-garde soothsayer Keiji Haino, whose ferociously prolific and boundary-pushing output has kept his cult-like following on their toes since the 1980s.
Within the first few minutes of the recording, the splintered potency of Haino’s poetry collides swiftly with the band’s improvisational approach. It makes for an intense listen — if otherwise bordering on inaccessible, if you find yourself stepping into this immediately after a propulsive rock album like August is the cruellest.
This edition of 10 Tracks not only captures the present earworms of the three-piece — they also freely exchange thoughts about performing with Haino, unravelling the power of free improv and Mandopop, and their current activities (they are, indeed, working on a new album).
Pore through their picks below and listen in to our conversation with them.
Dharma: There was a period I was listening to just Kate Bush, almost nothing else.
Once during this period, I travelled to KL to play some gigs and visit my grandma. It was a much longer journey than usual due to rain and traffic. When I finally arrived at my grandma’s, she was sleeping on the couch in the living room. I sat on the floor beside her, just watching her, and this song just played in my head, lyrics and all, bringing back much memories spent with her. It truly was comfort just being beside her.
She passed away in July this year. I was not able to pay my last respects.
Dharma: Suddenly in an FKA Twigs mood this week. Can’t say I like all her songs but this song especially stimulates my “Kate Bush receptors”.
Dharma: Initially, it can seem like “anyhow whack” but on closer listens this is an amazing gem. I always wonder how the Captain composed this. I don’t think he plays guitar. Lick My Decals Off, Baby is a very essential album besides Trout Mask Replica.
Chee Wai: Lately, the stuff I am reading has prompted me to revisit an era that played a significant role in forming my views of the world, the mid-90’s to early 2000’s. I am reminded of an era of the neon flush, a kind of decadence, self awareness and of course a lot of cyberpunk material from that time.
But this track — taken from the wonderful and unforgettable opening sequence of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Millennium Mambo — served to be a soundtrack for my own interrogation of the city for a long period of time. Soundtracks played quite a big part for me.
Chee Wai: I have been so familiar with this melody for decades. From since I was in my teens, this melody segued in and out as a soundtrack for growing up. But it took me a long time before I actually watched the film.
And I must insist for anyone who has not watched it, to not watch the director’s cut. Ennio Morricone’s melodies have an innate ability to touch one deep inside. The immensely talented Pat Metheny’s playing is sublime in this rendition, to say the least.
Chee Wai: Close friends who know me will probably know that I listen to Mandopop from time to time.
For me, while there is challenging music that I voraciously listen to all the time to open up my mind, there is also music that allows me to seek some kind of simplicity. Mandopop, amongst others, falls into that latter category.
This track was from her 2001 album where she collaborated with Tanya Chua for the first time, which resulted in a Leslie Low-esque folk song on waiting, longing and the etcetera. And with the lyrics of wordsmith 林夕 (Lin Xi), it’s hard to go wrong.
If there is space, I would also recommend Stefanie Sun.
Cheryl: I’ve been listening to these two albums: Nonagon Infinity and Flying Microtonal Banana. They’ve been on repeat for the past week, so it’s been real hard trying to pick one song from the albums!
I love the energy of Nonagon Infinity, microtonal melodies over driving post-punk drum beats. I’m just in awe at the speed of their releases considering the fact that each album has something different to offer. Mad skillz.
Another pick would be the track ‘Flying Microtonal Banana’ from the album of the same name.
Cheryl: This is a composition that grows after every listen due to its intricacies. The displacement of the rhythms on the flute with regards to the percussion or vice versa is really amazing.
I have a lot of questions about how he composed this and how it was translated into a score. We are usually so used to listening to songs done based on a Western construct that listening to a piece like that really opens up one’s ears to what other types of music exist out there and what music can be.
Cheryl: I’ve been revisiting this older album of his after listening to his mix for Resident Advisor. If I could choose a mix, it would definitely be that. It’s hard to find a DJ who can seamlessly transcend so many genres in one mix while keeping it danceable.
Truth be told, a friend and I were kind of dissecting this song to try and see how he produces music, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t hacked it yet. Looking forward to hearing his new release on PAN.
The band: We have been listening to this — collectively and individually — quite a bit since it was released last year.
It was said that the piece was not entirely composed and all the musicians met for the first time together when they headed for the studio. What resulted was a piece of rhythmic genius that traverses krautrock, techno and minimalist composition.
Chee Wai would play it in his car occasionally when we drive to places. Silence will immediately descend upon us, as we collectively listen deeply and marvel at the complexities and nuances of the piece.
Authority is Alive is now available via Ujikaji Records.
Now that we’ve shared some personal anecdotes forged at the record store, as told by musicians, we thought to ask some of our cratedigging local DJs about their own.
It’s no secret that DJs have been the ones keeping record stores and vinyl alive all this while — even before a vinyl resurgence of any sort, DJs from underground scenes were the ones still holding fort with piles of 12” singles and new discoveries with every visit.
RAH and MZA, both record store fiends themselves, share their own unforgettable experiences in different record stores — from finding a deeper appreciation for culturally-embedded samples to nabbing a long-elusive record.
Watch RAH, MZA, and Darren Dubwise perform at The Analog Vault’s fifth anniversary here.
Ok first of all, lemme just say that I don’t think there’s a record (yet) that eludes me – I recall really wanting Lata Ramsar’s The Greatest Name That Lives, and that’s still the only thing on my Discogs want list. And still so expensive.
I’m quite the lazy digger and would only really buy stuff when I’m travelling. Visiting record shops is always a trip, and something I always look forward to when travelling.
So two special moments that come to mind — the first was in Rotterdam’s Demonfuzz Records, highly recommended by Dutch friends (“it’s Madlib’s favourite record shop!”).
I really like Rotterdam, and this record shop is amazing — I must’ve spent hours there — picking out stuff, putting them back, chatting to the guys about stuff. Anyway, there’s this one record I got, it’s a Soul Jazz Brazilian comp, called Tropicalia. It’s a double LP and I was like “Ok, dope, am def getting this.”
Fast forward to a week later I was in Berlin and listening to the Tropicalia record and Jorge Ben’s “Take It Easy, My Brother Charles” comes on, and I’m like whaaaaaaat this is the OG sample from Drumagick’s “Easy Boom” — which I also have on vinyl, also a comp “Gilles Peterson WW2”, and how I discovered the track (great Brazilian D&B).
I think just being on a great holiday and listening to a Brazilian record in a hipster Airbnb in Berlin just elevated the experience for me.
The same week, still in Berlin, I went to another record store, a friend Nip who runs Potatoheadz Records (really good label, check it out) brought me there — I forgot what it’s called.
So looking through their 45s and was over the moon when I found Tilahun Gessesse’s Lanchi Biye on Philophon, another great OG sample from K’naan’s America feat Mos Def & Chali 2na. Two OG samples in one trip! I was ecstatic. Nobody could take me down. Invincible.
The record that had eluded me for a while was Alfa Mist’s Antiphon, a modern UK jazz classic, if I have to say.
I was close to picking up the second pressing in 2017 but hesitated somehow — ended up never getting that close again till one day in 2019, midday scrolling through Instagram and I happened upon The Analog Vault’s account posting it as a new arrival.
Immediately, I texted Nick asking to hold it and promptly headed to the store after work to pick it up. Victory in my hands, finally.
Record stores mean the world to me — from being just an emo The Smiths-loving poly student collecting records at Vinylicious Records till eventually working in the store. Eight years on since that fateful first shift as a record store clerk and I’m still in music retail pushing music culture.
There is truly nothing better than opening a new record or seeing a customer enjoy one of your recommendations. It’ll be a sad day if the only “record store” left was Amazon so I urge everyone to support your favourite independent record stores today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As his sophomore album Kindred came out to the world last December, Intriguant had already established Uploading, a platform serving an underserved beat community — a place the musician once started from.
By roping in producers who have staked their claim on Soundcloud but have yet to hone their live craft, unifying them under one beat night — not unlike LA’s Low End Theory — Uploading has since become a retreat for emerging talent, and a treat for discerning ears.
The night has asserted itself amidst the diverse terrain of Singaporean dance music, and has continued online since the sudden standstill that the nightlife industry now faces.
Kindred is, in some ways, Intriguant’s own version of club music — beats permeating its crowded spaces with pervasive tone and atmosphere. That concept is flipped in Spirits, where propulsive four to the floor rhythms dominate an uninhabited dancefloor.
We speak to Intriguant about his upcoming album — which is out November 20th — pressing it on vinyl with TAV Records, working with familiar faces, and how Spirits ties itself to Kindred (if pairing the titles together doesn’t give it away already).
Hi Intriguant! How was the production process for Spirits like?
Thanks for having me! Currently, I find myself in a headspace where I’m inspired by the club sounds of dark basements and spaces but what interested me was what happens when these spaces are not in use and vacant in the day. Somehow, it carries a certain energy in the space and I feel that it transcends a vibe that is equivalent to a crowded venue.
In Spirits, I have been expanding on the four to the floor sound as well as experimenting with other genres of music. It’s definitely refreshing to try different things and learn new techniques along the way.
With the relatively quick turnaround between this album and last year’s Kindred, were any of the ideas present in Spirits explored in those sessions?
Spirits is unofficially part two of Kindred, hence the title. But I didn’t want to promote it that way because I believe that each body of work tells its own stories and evokes different emotions.
Kindred is inspired by the journey and process of going into an underground space. But Spirits brings you into the space — allowing you to be in an empty venue, to experience and absorb these energies.
Juan Yong’s artwork looks incredible! Tell us how it was put together.
Juan Yong is definitely one visual artist in Singapore to keep a lookout for. His ideas and skills to bring both Kindred and Spirits to life were impeccable.
With Spirits, we were looking at how we wanted to create the scenario of how spaces and venues are like when it’s not used and as seen in the day. Somehow, there is a certain energy that you can feel and how we can make it relatable.
In the artwork, we wanted to give it some context to the space — given it looked like the interior of a shophouse, where most underground parties and events happen in Singapore. It is kind of a tribute to these venues. You can already think of a few names.
We’re also seeing some featured artists again — tell us about working with HYU and Fzpz and how they got to fit within the larger scope of Spirits.
It was refreshing to work with featured artists again, especially when the production process has changed to a more dancefloor/four to the floor concept.
It was great to see Hyu do her own thing and being an artist in her own right. She was the first musician that I played alongside with me and believed in the music.
It was funny how “Wind” came about — I was very curious about how the Korean language has inspired dance music in recent times and, to me, it always has a percussive element to it. We started jamming and vibing over a beat and that was how “Wind” came about.
Working with Fzpz was so smooth and it was crazy to see how fast he could come up with ideas. Fzpz is definitely one of the most talented producers in Asia and beyond. I’m definitely looking forward to working with him again.
And not forgetting the homie, Calvin aka CJP aka Feston for always putting his touch on the guitar for the track “Hours”.
Spirits is coming out on vinyl through TAV Records, and this isn’t your first time pressing on the format. Tell us more about it!
Yes, I never expected this opportunity to happen again. Vinyl has always had a special place for me. As a vinyl collector and DJ, I have vinyl records that remind me of a certain time in my life when I first heard them. Some records are special for how they have inspired my musical taste and knowledge.
To have my own music to the vinyl format, it’s a humbling experience. Nothing beats enjoying music in its physical form.
How was the process this time around, with TAV involved?
First of all, I just want to say thank you to TAV for believing in the music. I am very grateful that they are taking this leap of faith with me on this album, and big ups to Leon and Nick for being on the PR and marketing side for Spirits. They have been instrumental throughout the whole process.
There have been reports of delays from vinyl pressing plants around the world. Did that affect your plans on getting Spirits out?
Yes, I have heard about those delays. Now that there’s COVID happening, I was extra worried about that. We started planning out the production for vinyl around June/July so that gave us a lead time of 3-4 months to make sure we got the artwork and masters.
To speed up the process, we got James from Phantom Limb, who is based in the UK, to have a check on the test presses of the record. In our current timeline, I feel that we are lucky that there were no delays yet and the vinyl records will come in time.
What is something you’ve learned about pressing vinyl?
From knowing the pressing weight — whether you’d like it to be 140-160g or a heavyweight 180g — to the type of sleeves and colour/print for the record.
Another lesson is the physical distribution of your product. [For debut album Recluse] I received the boxes of sealed vinyl records, and it hit me that the real work started then. How am I going to see all these records? So I went door to door to many record stores in Singapore. Even when I was travelling, I brought my records with me and went to stores to sell to them. I’m glad that those records are now sold out.
Uploading Now is your way of pushing new music from the region under the current circumstances. What captures your attention about a certain artist before deciding to bring them aboard?
Uploading is a platform that allowed me to play the role of a curator/programmer for an event. I started Uploading because I have been seeing so many producers and artists coming up and releasing music but there wasn’t much of a platform for them to perform.
For me, I’m always looking out for electronic music producers/beatmakers/artists that have an eclectic sound. With Uploading Now, I have gotten back a few familiar faces who will be playing some new music, as well as new artists that I have come across over the years.
Spirits will be out November 20th via TAV Records. Pre-order the album on vinyl here.
Intriguant will perform at The Analog Vault 5th Anniversary with .gif and Hanging Up The Moon on Saturday, October 10th. The event will be streamed on Singapore Community Radio at 3pm. More information can be found here.
The next edition of Uploading Now will take place on October 28th.
NIKI sets the tone in our interview with an unwavering belief, molded after years being known as an R&B upstart out of Jakarta. Evolving into a self-assured artist in 2020, the release of Moonchild makes her case if you’re not convinced yet.
Now based in Los Angeles, NIKI has thrown down the gauntlet within, and beyond, the versatile 88rising roster.
A concise 10-track album, divided into three distinct segments, Moonchild is a sprawling display of the 21-year-old firing on all cylinders — a rare case for any artist making their full-fledged debut.
In our conversation, we touch upon the album’s production process, planning ahead for Coachella, her admiration for Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift, and how TikTok allows her to connect with fans back home. Listen below.
Special thanks to 88rising for arranging this interview.
Stream NIKI’s Moonchild below.
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.”
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.
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.
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.